Tawny Frogmouth

Tawny Frogmouth
Two of our resident Tawny Frogmouths

The very first time I came face to face with the Tawny Frogmouth was a surprising and wonderful experience.  I was particularly spoiled on that occasion because I actually came face to face with not one, but four of them – staring at me through the kitchen window as I stood at the sink. About seven years ago we lived in a rented townhouse with no real ‘nature’ to talk of though frogs could be heard in the evening (yes they do follow us around don’t they?) There was a large tree in the yard that was only ever useful to the possums as they legged it up on to the roof or the balcony, so seeing these majestic birds sitting blinking in a row was quite a surprise.

Since moving here though we have become aware of truly spoiled we are. We seem to have a family of resident Tawny Frogmouths living on the property. They are masters of disguise so it’s quite something that we have spotted them at all, let alone on numerous occasions. 

To the untrained eye, these birds just look like stumps of wood – and indeed at one point that’s exactly what Mr P though they were. They were sitting at ground level after all. It was only because Peter then thought ‘hang on, I don’t remember tree stumps being there’, that he went to investigate.  These birds blend in perfectly with tree bark – it’s quite uncanny. We have probably walked past them countless times.

Lately, we’ve seen them in the trees down in the bottom paddock where they seem to prefer, though I can’t say their choice of tree is ideal if they are trying to remain inconspicuous as they have chosen skinny trees with little in the way of foliage.

The Tawny Frogmouth is native to the Australian mainland and Tasmania. They are big-headed, stocky birds which are often mistaken for owls due to their nocturnal habits and similar colouring.  In fact, many people call them Tawny Frogmouth Owls.  They are bonded birds and they sit close in next to their mate, often touching. The male Tawny Frogmouth is an attentive fellow. He carries out grooming by gently stroking through the plumage of the female with his beak in sessions that can last for 10 minutes or more. The birds are generally seen in pairs, and when they mate they tend to mate for life … aaah.

Down to the wire

chicken coop
rickety old chicken coop

There are two projects we really must get a start on. One is suitable fencing for Angus and the other is to figure out what we’re going to do with the ramshackle chicken coop that seems to be held up by willpower alone. There is a tin shed wedged between the chicken coop and a slightly newer, though badly damaged metal shed. Beside this, there is an old bath filled with water, plants and green gunk. I figure just by knocking this all down we are going to significantly improve the value of the whole property – it’s so uncared for.

As far as the fencing goes, the perimeter fencing around the property seems pretty secure so it’s more a case of creating a fenced area where Angus can run freely without getting himself into too much mischief. To the right side of us, the neighbours have chickens, an alpaca and a dog, while the neighbours down the drive have a rather cantankerous German Shepherd (the one that doesn’t like people or other animals – or life in general by the sounds of it). I think our nearest neighbours on the left have just said goodbye to their own dog recently though of course, they may get another one soon. The next nearest neighbours have cattle and horses. This is pretty good news for us because aside from the property boundaries, our neighbours have made sure their respective animals/livestock can’t break out. All we have to do is designate an area for Angus where he can’t eat poisonous plants or do his own creative landscaping – and – when the time comes keep him from trying to herd the chickens too much.

After a quick measure up and a trip to good old Bunnings to price some options we think we’ve got a handle on what needs to be done … until I spied wood and various rolls of chicken wire in the chicken coop.  This in itself sorted the priorities between the two projects.

The timing was good. I had spent a couple of weeks feeling very frustrated with my lack of progress in any of my writing/business projects. My motivation seemed to have melted in the searing heat and humidity of an NSW, Central Coast Summer. What better therapy than to get outside and get my hands dirty… hmm … did I mention the heat?

Still, when I decide to do something, I want to get on with it there and then. Patience is not my middle name. On with the big hats, thick gloves, hard boots –shade and ice drinks on standby. It was hot, dusty work, not to mention a bit scary, walking into the unknown in the deepest recess of the chicken coop. Either it was going to fall down around my ears or I was going to find something living in there. This was a job for my big girl pants (‘undies’ if you are in Australia). Thankfully none of our neighbours visited at that point.

The first step was to empty all the contents of the coup out onto the grass so we could see what was worth keeping and what was old/rotten. This in itself was a big job lugging lengths of wood and countless rusty star poles. Then the removal of glass from the roof!! I know glass – and surprise, surprise under a canopy of trees, a branch had fallen and broken the glass. In their wisdom, someone had laid a glass shower curtain across the chicken wire. The whole thing was a rigged, ready to go death trap.

Luckily for me, Mr P’s middle name is Patience, so he began the delicate operation of removing the glass ceiling!  

It’s taken double the amount of time I expected, by the time we wrestled chicken wire from old wood, and rolled decent chicken wire up, threw out pots of white powder (probably bone meal – either that or we’ve just lost a fortune), random black stockings – which I hope were holding up plants – ashtrays and other odds and sods you find in a rickety old chicken coop.

water feature
Lorikeet Lane’s very own water feature
death trap
Ready to go death trap
the haul of wood and wire










To see the wobbly (yet stubborn) old wooden structure come crashing down was a joyous moment. There was suddenly a lightness, a brightness to that pocket of land that had been so dour and depressing before. I was beginning to get quite excited about knocking down the tin shed and taking my chances with the newer shed too.

It’s good to be on a roll – but it’s just the beginning.

Let the sunshine in!

Australian brush turkey hatchling

bush turkey hatchlingIt’s probably hard to see in this picture but if you zoom to the centre you’ll see a wide-eyed little chick with brown fluffy tufts on her head and a useful looking beak. I say ‘little chick’, she’s fairly large by ‘chick’ standards. I discovered her yesterday foraging for food amongst the leaves in our backyard. After some research, I discovered she was an Australian brush turkey hatchling. We’ve been away for 2 weeks so she may have hatched while we were away. We had heard something rustling around in the leaves before and wondered if it was our resident Blue Tongue Lizard (we’ve since named him Russel as the rustling of leaves always signals his appearance) but perhaps it was this little cutie, or it’s mother looking for a suitable mound for her eggs.

There are many people who don’t like Brush turkeys. They do tend to tear up the garden on their hunt for food and I have heard that in the absence of a female the male will single out your black chickens for some special attention, but they are native to Australia and I’m happy to let her be. The odds are stacked against her as it is with snakes and a Guana (though we’ve still to spot him) on the property.

Brush turkey chicks look similar to quails, with plain rich brown feathers over their entire bodies. As they mature they lose the feathers on their heads and necks, where the bare skin turns a deep pink colour. It’s at this point they take on that turkey look and become less ‘cute’. In fact, they are quite ugly as adults but hey that’s life for most of us.

So I turned to trusty McGoogle to do some research and as I read about their breeding habits I couldn’t help but feel a bit of respect for the female bird.

Using vegetation gathered from the forest floor around them, male brush turkeys build a large and distinctive ‘incubation mound’, which can be up to 4 m wide and up to 2 m high. I have to confess if there was a such a mound on the property I would have missed it as it is all a tad overgrown at this stage.  A female will then lay 18-24 white eggs in the mound, with intervals of two to three days between the laying of each egg.

Female brush turkeys  ‘shop around’ before adopting a mound to lay their eggs in. They assess the quality of the mound since it reflects the quality (attentiveness and experience) of the male who made it. How sensible is that? A good quality mound will have several females laying in it, while poorer quality mounds may have only one or no females laying. Females may also lay in more than one mound each season to spread the risk. (Take note men out there – you have it easy.)

As the vegetation in the mound decomposes, it gives off heat which warms the eggs. The optimum incubation temperature is 33-35°C which the male brush turkey maintains by removing and adding layers to the mound. Apparently temperature regulation is the only assistance the parents provide to their offspring. The young brush turkeys hatch after about seven weeks, amazingly fully feathered and able to run. They dig their way through the layers of the mound and into the open air. After that, they are totally on their own which is why I’m probably feeling protective of our little hatchling.

If I see her again I may give her a name. She looks like a Matilda to me.



When life hands you lemons

when life hands you lemons My first morning in our new home and the air is well and truly alive with the sound of … music perhaps? Of sorts. The air is alive with the sound of baby birds squawking urgently for their next mouthful. In every tree, it seems, there is a flutter of wings as desperate parents attempt to pacify their young. The Butcherbirds are already on the marble pedestal demanding leftover fruit or meat or whatever else is on the menu. ‘Sorry guys, I’m all out today,” I say making a mental note to make sure I was prepared for future mornings. 

But today’s excitement is all about the lemon trees for me. For as long as I can remember I have wished for a lemon tree in my garden. Being born in Glasgow and brought up in Fife, there was a distinct lack of lemon trees (I may have mentioned it before – ha)- a bit too chilly for all that malarky. In fact, as far as fruit goes, I remember the traditional orange and apple in my Christmas stocking, but that was about it. I guess it was fairly expensive when I was growing up. Seems like a different world now. Anyway back to the lemon trees.

The front of our house has a swathe of land that slopes downhill almost as far as the gates. The land is divided by a meandering and fairly steep driveway. On the right-hand side, towards the bottom of said ‘swathe,’ I discover not one but two lemon trees.’OMG, OMG’.

Some of the fruit has already dropped and looked like shrivelled pumpkins from a halloween long since past with eyes eaten out and gaping wounds for mouths. I feel like screeching with sheer joy. This is such a novelty for me. Not only did we have a garden big enough to ‘explore’ (a garden where you had to don sensible shoes no less),  but a garden that had established fruit trees.  Peter was less impressed.  ‘Everyone’s got a lemon tree. It’s not a big deal.’ Ahem, I beg to differ.  I ran back to the house up the grassy incline (oh God, I’m so unfit) and collect my gloves and a woven basket which has now become my official ‘fruit basket’. I salvaged the fruit that was still good. Now I was going to have to figure out what you do with a surplus of lemons. It was quite a responsibility – to make good use of what nature had provided. 

Satisfied with my morning’s haul, I washed the lemons and put them in a glass vase in the kitchen. The spoiled lemons would be turned into natural cleaners for the home (more on that in another post). 

How exciting – Lemon Trees! You know the old saying, ‘when life hands you lemons … make lemonade’. Well, I’m going to make a heck of a lot more than just lemonade.