Duncan’s in town

Well the day is finally here.  After over a year of research, and a couple of false starts, we got the message -Duncan’s Poultry’ is in town and he has a supply of 18-week-old pullets ready to go. I suspect these are the same pullets we had to turn down a few weeks back.

A combination of factors – bush fires, extreme heat, and then the sudden realisation we were going to be away for 3 days just after we picked them up – meant it hadn’t seemed the responsible thing to do, to bring these girls home just before Christmas. But now there was nothing stopping us.

So what do you need when you pick up 18 week-old pullets?

Given we literally lived 5 minutes along the road for Coastal Rural Traders (CRT) which is where Duncan parks up with his lorry, all we needed was a cardboard box or two with enough holes for them to breathe (and the air con going in the car). The first week of February on the East Coast of Australia is extremely hot so it was important to keep the girls comfortable even for such a short ride – they get dehydrated very quickly.

As we parked our own car and walked across the road to the squawking, rocking, feather wagon, I felt all the giddy excitement I used to feel going to the Pet Shop as a child (and you know how that turned out …Freedom for all Puppies).

And then it hit me …”phwoa – what’s that sme-eell?” I screw my nose and face up as though I’m eating a Brussel Sprout.

“That’s how chicken’s smell” Mr P answers simply (in that ‘everyone knows that’ tone of voice ) “Or at least that’s the smell of chicken sh*t.”

Well, not my chickens, I thought.

‘What yis afta?’ Duncan says amiably enough in his slow Australian drawl.

I was ready for this – I had done my research.

“Two black cross, one white white cross and a Brown.”  I hand over my cash and feel like I just had handed all my pocket money over to the ice cream van man. I then offer up our open boxes.

The next scene wasn’t quite as shall we say ‘gentle and fluffy’ as I had anticipated. Duncan made his way unseen around the truck (in a manner that made it clear why it was rocking from a distance) and then appeared with four birds swinging upside down. I suppressed a squeal of horror inside. I’ll never be the blasé style of farmer that can swing a pullet by its feet and I’m still easily shocked by this when I see birds handled this way.

“No I want 2 blacks”, I say as he tried to hand me another white. “oh right yeah’ he says as he darts off again and I feel sorry for the white pullet that is being unceremoniously swung back into her box. 

After a few scuffles and scraggly legs going everywhere, we have possession of our 4 girls.

“Now when you get back home don’t let them sit in the coop – just put them in the run – because if you let them go up to the coop they’ll just stay there – and it’s too hot for them to stay in the coop – they’ll die – alright?’ 

We nod our agreements and thanks and head off. 

“We have chickens!!!” I squeal. Another of those things I had always wanted in life had just come true.

“Time to go home girls. You’re going to love it.” 

As I looked at the two boxes in the back of the car, I couldn’t help thinking ‘Chicken to go – who ordered the chicken to go?’

Scraggy Maggie

One of the most amazing things about Magpies and Butcherbirds is if they trust you or have developed an attachment to you, they will actually bring their young to visit you. It feels like an honour to be presented with the offspring of a bird that’s been visiting you since it was a tiny fluffy bundle of feathers itself.

I never in a million years thought I would become so familiar with wild birds that I would be able to discern between them. They all look the same right? Take the Magpie for example. Black and White? They all look the same … beautiful and majestic in their own way but hardly distinguishable from each other.

Well, that’s what I thought until Scraggy Maggie showed up. The proud parents presented Scraggy Maggie to us a couple of months ago. Mother Maggie looked pleadingly at us. Please love my baby. We know she looks a bit … well … a bit higgledy piggledy … but she’s ours. Scraggy Maggie didn’t have a feather sticking the right way and she looked like a pinto horse in bird form. It was as if Mother Maggie was relieved we accepted her as one of our own because after that Scraggy Maggie just showed up on her own – her parents were off- warbling and frolicking further down the paddock without a care in the world. Free at last!

I thought at first Scraggy Maggie would change colour as she got older – but she hasn’t seemed to so far. Her feathers are a bit tidier these days but that’s about it. She’s quite a ballsy bird too. If we’re not out there with provisions or water first thing in the morning she hunts us down – she literally stalks as through the window or on the back balcony. ‘Oi where’s my breakfast? I can see you in there you know.’ We actually try not to feed her as we don’t want her to get lazy and rely on us. That doesn’t do any wild bird or animal any favours. But every now and then when we are feeding Fergie we’ll throw a few seeds her way.

She’s actually much more trusting of Mr P and has taken food from his hand, but Angus is always glued to my side so I think she is rightfully a bit more wary of him. That said,. she doesn’t fly away, she just creates a bit more distance between us. One of my favourite things about Magpies is their warbling song. They throw their heads back and call out to whoever is in the area. “Come and get it – free grub here.” It’s the most beautiful sound. It’s a good job Scraggy Maggie’s got a great voice because she ain’t much of a looker …lol. There’s probably a song about her – but she’s too scraggy to be a Maggie May.

A new visitor to Lorikeet Lane – the Square Tailed Kite

There was mayhem from above and mayhem in the treetops at the bottom of the front paddock.  A great noisy chirping air raid at 1 o’clock.  I was standing out on the front deck, a cup of coffee clasped in hands, trying to get a better view on what was causing the commotion.

Those damn Noisy Miners were in a flap. They never cease to amaze me the way they ‘take on’ other birds.  I can’t figure out if they are really brave and bolshy or whether they are just downright stupid. Either way, they are well named.

It wasn’t long before I discovered why they had become so agitated.

There was a great swoosh through the valley of the properties to the left of us. A bird with the wingspan of an Eagle was flying straight towards our property before it soared above the roof, turned to the left and swept down the sloop of the front paddock to the trees at the bottom. The Noisy Miners came out to surround and attack.

I rushed to grab my camera so I could take some shots for analysis later.  I watched for some time, taking note of the shape of the wings and tail as well as its approximate size and colour. Definitely a bird of prey but which one? Luckily the winged beauty looped around the properties and through the valley about five times before it decided to head off again so I was able to capture a few images as she flew above me. 

On screen it became obvious. We had been visited by a Square-tailed Kite. No wonder the Noisy Miners were in a flap.

While we were excited to see the Kite soaring around us it did call into question why we were only seeing her here now. Had her habitat been destroyed by the Rail Maintenance Facility development across the valley? It may have been purely co-incidental since the trees in the ‘war zone’ had only just been destroyed. 

I wonder if we’ll see more of her. She would be more than welcome to soar through the skies in our little corner of the world.  Maybe she could teach those Noisy Miners a few manners while she’s at it.

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.

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

The Sulphur Crested Cockatoos are fairly common in Sydney. They are noisy, brash birds but I love them just the same. If you listen to them call each other through the trees sound like they are calling for ‘Kevin”, “Ke-vin”. Most Sydneysiders will say they are a pest as they will rip apart the wood around your home if given half a chance. These guys seem to swoop in the early morning and late afternoon. Luckily there are so many trees around here, I don’t think they are too interested in creating havoc for us.

cockatoosilver crested cockatoo