Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Mainly Birds

It's cool, cloudy and drizzling fine, fine droplets of rain. How can this be so in an Australian summer? This is more like the weather we hoped to leave behind in Vancouver. On Katoomba's main street, cleverly named Katoomba Street, there are still plenty of people in T-shirts and shorts, although there are equally as many, mostly older and wiser, in long pants and rain jackets.
The view from our windows today is into trees shrouded in mist, but every now and then some of the magical birds of this region appear among the branches. Today they are Crimson Rosellas, beautiful small parrots with scarlet bodies and sky-blue wings and tails. Although so striking, they blend well into the young pinkish-red leaves of the eucalypts so that they are harder to see than you might think.
Morning and evening the sulphur-crested cockatoos dominate the sky, screaming harshly at each other and at any other birds that cross their path. They favour a huge pine tree close to our property to the extent that all the locals know not to park underneath if they want their cars free of droppings. They are the hoodlums of the bird world, noisy and destructive, given to nipping off flowerheads or young fruit just for the fun of it, but they have some virtues too, including their enthusiasm for driving crows away.
Occasionally we hear a high whistling call that reminds of us the eagles that used to circle over our Langley farm, and we know that black cockatoos are in the neighbourhood. These are larger birds than the sulphur-crested ones and at first I thought they were an Australian version of turkey vultures. They don't alight nearby so we've just had glimpses of their black shapes with long yellow tails hurtling above the trees. Local legend says that they come before a storm.
Also in the mornings, if the cockatoos haven't driven them off, we hear the calls of the currawongs, large black and white birds with sharp predatory eyes. Indeed, they do prey on smaller birds, but their song is so pretty that it's hard to dislike them. Magpies, which are slightly smaller and have more white feathers, sometimes join in with a rippling melody of bell-like notes. To hear what this dawn chorus sounds like, you have to watch the opening minutes of the Australian movie My Brilliant Career. It is one of my all-time favourite movies, not least for the sound track of that first early morning scene.
Smaller birds with quieter plumage hunt among the blackberries that are threatening to take over one side of the garden. (English ivy is similarly encroaching on the other side.) I think I recognise silvereyes with their olive and brown plumage, and some slightly larger birds that seem to be a type of honeyeater.

Monday, 1 January 2007

Centennial Park

With Sydney in a holiday mood, ie. just about everything closed, we went for a walk in nearby Centennial Park. This is one of several large green spaces that function as the lungs of the inner city. There are separate routes throughout the park for cars, cyclists, pedestrians...and a special track for horseriders. You can rent a bicycle or a horse if you don't have your own.
Vast lawns dotted with shade trees comprise most of the space, but there are several small lakes supporting an assortment of ducks, moorhens, ibis, swans, and even a few pelicans.
There's a scruffy rose garden, confirming for me once again how much I dislike hybrid teas planted in mulch, and some spectacular circular beds, like the one above, done in high Victorian style with palms, agaves, phormiums and grasses.

There are a few other borders of flowering shrubs, including the ubiquitous agapanthus and a couple of impressive brugmansias, also known as 'Angel's Trumpets'. There's a close-up of one of them on the left.