In the gutter

Recently I’ve been more vigilant about scheduling things into my calendar in order to Get Things Done, and have been including regular maintenance-type tasks like cleaning the gutters as a monthly event. Our house is surrounded by eucalyptus trees constantly shedding leaves and bark, and if the gutters clog up, we either don’t gather much water when it rains, or the water we do collect is stained yellow from the leaves. It is slightly embarrassing serving a glass of water to someone and have them peer at it silently wondering why it’s yellow. Surprise yellow beverages are never a good thing.

We clean the gutters with a leaf-blower, which is noisy but effective. I am not very fond of heights, but once I’m up the ladder it’s rather fun striding around (carefully, along the lines of bolts) on the roof, blasting leaves away. During a recent cleaning effort, I had made my way towards what I think of as the “back” of the roof (because it is furthest from the ladder). A spiky tree has grown over the gutter in that section, and in order to keep my feet on the bolts I had to push my way through it, a rather unpleasant experience while wearing shorts. I was revving the leaf blower as I went, and came across what I thought was a particularly stubborn clump of leaves. I vroomed the blower loudly at the clump, until a bird suddenly flew away, revealing a nest with some tiny baby birds staring up at me. I immediately took my finger off the trigger, feeling terrible – the birds were awfully small and scrawny, although they did have feathers. I backed away and waited for a bit, but the mother didn’t immediately return. It didn’t seem ideal that there was a bird nest in the gutter, but there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it – if I moved the nest, the mother might abandon it, and any place that I put the nest would no doubt make the babies vulnerable to predators.

I moved to the other side of the roof and cleared out the rest of the gutters, leaving the nest in place. During the process, I finally found the willie wagtail nest which has been causing the resident willie wagtails to aggressively and noisily attack every large bird in the vicinity of the house – it is perched precariously up on the TV antennae. (It’s still there, and the willie wagtails continue to be very territorial, including towards any humans who wish to use the washing line.)

Once I was off the roof, the mother bird returned to the nest, and I was relieved that all seemed to be well. I took some photos from the ground, and consulted our bird book to discover it was a common bronzewing (a -you will be surprised to hear this – very common pigeon).

Unfortunately a couple of weeks after I blasted the poor bronzewing, we had rather a lot of rain. The first couple of days, the bronzewing was bedraggled but still in place on the nest. However after that, the gutter was empty. It seems likely that the volume of water rushing along the gutter disintegrated the nest, and I need to get back up on the roof soon to check whether there’s any sad little corpses that need removal. Given that I was trying to avoid our water supply flowing over dead leaves on the way to the tank, stopping the water from flowing over any dead birds would also be a fine goal to achieve.

Well-behaved ducklings


On a recent visit to Mum’s Daintree property, we spent some time in the afternoon sitting in the bird hide next to the main wetland watching the radjah shelducks go about their business. One of them stood guard, standing on the edge of the water looking outwards, while the ducklings stayed hidden in some reeds. The other duck joined the first, and off they flew together. Parental abandonment! The ducklings stayed well hidden for the twenty minutes their parents were away – occasionally standing up and getting themselves re-seated more comfortably, but mostly being the most well-behaved ducklings you could hope for. Mum and I were most fascinated by this, and speculated how on earth the parents impress upon the ducklings the importance of not emerging from the reeds until their return. If my children were ducklings they would no doubt get themselves eaten by an eel the minute my back was turned.

The adults flew back in, and then both stood around as the ducklings tidily trotted down and stood in a line on the water’s edge, poking about and finding things to nibble on. The adults stood watch, and when a magpie goose came over to bother them – quite unnecessarily and rudely, we thought – they loudly yelled and moved the ducklings away swiftly to another area. This impressive work is no doubt why they still have seven ducklings of their original eight hatchlings.

Meanwhile the magpie geese goslings were far more undisciplined. The little threesome moved across the pond cheeping away constantly – looking far too big and ungainly to still be cheep-cheep-cheeping in such a babyish way – and the various adults that make up their family group followed them, a couple posted around on other banks and up trees as look-outs. The goslings seemed to tootle along in a very carefree manner, while the adults puttered after them making sure all was well. There was none of the attentive discipline of the shelduck family. The benefits of sharing childcare responsibilities in a large family group. Cheep-cheep-cheeping without a care in the world.

(Mum wrote about these birds in a much more well-informed way here, along with photos).


Up north

Some scattered memories from our recent holiday:

Green Ants

Edward and I left a chilly winter morning in Brisbane, and arrived to warm sunny weather in Cairns. Mum picked us up from Cairns airport in a borrowed car. “The air conditioning doesn’t work,” she said. “I mean, you can test it, but I turned it on and it just made the car hotter.” The sun burned my legs through the windscreen on the drive to Daintree as Edward obliging fell asleep in his car seat.

Mossman smelled of the distinctive heavy molasses of cane harvesting, and a thick column of smoke was rising from the working mill. Closer to Daintree, a couple of kids perched on the back of a truck on the side of the road next to a hand-painted sign advertising “$10 ugg boots”, which presumably fell off the back of a truck themselves.

Sacred Kingfisher

We spent a lot of time at a local beach, tropical winter being the perfect time for a toddler to waddle around in the sand digging holes and joyously crushing the sandcastles painstakingly made and decorated for him by his grandmother. I spent a lot of time wandering around with my camera, taking photos of hermit crabs and snails squiggling around in the shallow water of low tide, and a hopeful kingfisher perched on a log, waiting for something to catch.


Edward wasn’t as captivated as I thought he would be by floating past basking crocodiles and he lost interest in our surroundings about halfway through the morning cruise. I suppose it isn’t entirely clear to a three year old that crocodiles are really real, particularly as the most attention they tend to pay to the boats is to follow us with their eyes.


The bamboo garden now looms metres high above our heads, and the wind blowing through the trunks made a complex background creaking soundscape as we walked down to one of the wetland ponds. After Mum paddled Edward around for a while in a little canoe I took a turn and promptly got tangled up in weeds, causing Edward to shriek with gales of laughter as I pulled wet bladderwort into the canoe. “What?! Are you doing?!” he gasped in between giggles when I got us lodged on some fallen bamboo. Mum laughed along unhelpfully from the bank and took a number of unflattering photos of my concentrating expression, as a mother should.

In zid

Things I’m loving about New Zealand:

– the amount of farmland, and the sheer number of sheep I have seen grazing in fields, in the snow, and on seemingly sheer mountainsides. I love sheep. I am going to move here and run a sheep farm. With other people doing all the hard work – I’ll do the fun stuff, like moving stock (well, it looks like fun).

– “Sweet as”
– seeing an ad for a type of sheep dip while watching rugby on tv

– being able to chuck some wine and a six pack of beer in your trolley at the supermarket
– the fact that it’s not a trolley, it’s a trundler
– that the sort of weather that results in road closures is so beautiful

– the national and very enthusiastic obsession with rugby and the upcoming World Cup
– the graceful way that keas waddle towards vehicles pulling into carparks

Long weekends

We stayed in Stanthorpe over the long weekend, and did a walk in Girraween National Park to Castle Rock – it’s about a 5k return walk, with the most fantastic views up at the top of the rock. It was overcast and freezing, as we were trying to fit our walk before the forecast rain, which helpfully arrived later in the evening. Despite the temperature we got hot while walking and took off our jumpers – we were amused when descending (in our shorts and t-shirts) to see other people beginning the climb in long pants, jumpers, beanies, gloves – it wasn’t that cold. And I was pleased I actually had removed the jumper I’d borrowed from the husband, as it has a pair of mating unicorns on it and I feel a bit self conscious when people give it sideways glances.

“What was James Bond’s number again? Zeros… it has zeros in it. Nine zero zero?”
“Are you kidding?”
“Oh! Double oh seven. I remember now. Well, it does have two zeros in it.”
“Nine zero zero? [in evil Bond villain voice] ‘Come come, Nine Zero Zero – you enjoy killing as much as I do.'”
“If double oh seven is a license to kill, what is nine zero zero’s license? To severely bruise?”
“It’s a license to carry a hammer.”
“Is it a license to carry a concealed hammer?”
“No, not concealed – just out in the open, in a hip holster.”

Apart from walking, we also occupied ourselves visiting wineries and gardens, playing tennis on the derelict grass tennis court where we were staying, and eating enormous amounts of cheese and wheat and sugar. We planned to do a six week cleanse when we returned home, and frankly I think there is no healthier way to start a cleanse than by filling yourself full of crap.

[The husband is in the kitchen of our cabin as the football comes on.]
“I’ll commentate for you, shall I? That was a tackle. That was another tackle. They’ve kicked the ball. Oooh, it just hit someone in the head. Now a Titan has grabbed the ball and fallen out of the field.”
[The TV commentators scream, “What a magnificent try!”]
“Yes, thanks all the same, I think I’ll just come and watch it myself.”

Bee IV

The sun burned through the clouds on our last morning, and I found a bee and played around with my macro lens. I feel I am finally getting the hang of this lens, particularly when there’s plenty of sunshine – it either needs flash or a lot of light if you’re getting really close to something. I love getting so close to a bee, and being able to see all the little tiny hairs on its legs – bees don’t seem particularly bothered by an camera lens following them around. They’re focussed on the task at hand.

Scritch, scratch

Last night I was sitting at my laptop, while ostensibly supervising some spaghetti cooking on the stove (my last two attempts at cooking gluten free spaghetti had resulted in nasty sludgey texture, so I was trying to take more care with the cooking process this time) when I heard the possum that lives in the chimney rattling around, as it does most evenings when it heads up to the roof and out to rampage around. Yes, I know it’s odd that it lives in the chimney, but I suppose it’s dark and protected, and for most of the year it’s unused. Given that we live in a semi-tropical area. But whenever it gets chilly and we light fires, it doesn’t seem to bother the possum. Maybe it’s addicted to wood smoke.

Anyway, I began to half listen to an irritating sort of scratching noise, which I ignored while nurturing a simmering annoyance at the cats, who seem to spend their time either sleeping or destroying something. I presumed they were busily destroying something and ignored the noise, but it persisted. I looked up to find a rather fat possum wedged behind the glass door of the wood heater, sitting on a partially charred log, and scratching hopefully at the glass. Horace was standing in front of the heater with his head to one side, looking slightly bemused.

We had seen the possum in the wood heater once before, so I presumed it would make its way up the chimney again. I went and stirred the spaghetti and sat down at the laptop again. The possum stared at me, unmoving. I felt a bit self conscious. I went and flapped my hand at it through the glass, hoping to frighten it up into the chimney again, but it continued to gaze mournfully at me. I drained the spaghetti, which had cooked perfectly for a change. I think it depends on the batch you get – well, that sounds better than blaming my slapdash cooking method, anyway.

Eventually the husband returned to the house, and I showed him with the wood heater, now with all new possum resident. We looked at the possum. The possum looked at us. We wondered what the possum would do if we let it out into the house, and decided it probably wouldn’t get on with the cats.

We ended up forming a little tunnel out of a sheet we held up between the heater and the back door, and then we slowly opened the door to the wood heater. The possum hopped down, and slowly waddled off out the door, its dignity somewhat bruised, its fur covered in soot. Hopefully it will go and find itself a slightly more suitable new home. We ate our spaghetti. The cats went to sleep. And all was right with the world.


A hive of bees – or what looked to me like a hive of bees – have been collecting pollen from the blossoms in one of the palms for the past week, thrumming away as we walked somewhat warily underneath them each day. I have been wondering what their honey will taste like. I suppose unless you plant specific things near your bee hives, your honey is going to be a bit of a mixture of whatever is flowering near you at a certain time.

I had at least two large spiders crawl across my pants today when I flapped my hands frantically at them and did a graceful little dance trying to get them off. We were moving a stack of wood that had been cut from a dead tree that we took down a year or more ago – it has been left in a pile ever since, being a good example of our general attitude of benign neglect towards our property. But this year we are trying to be better landowners, and have been spending time each weekend in the garden, weeding and mowing and hauling things around.

We loaded the rotted pieces into the ute to take down to the dump, and I carried the rest up to the woodstore underneath the house. Yesterday we bought a chainsaw, which has made pruning tree branches a much quicker process – although to my mind, the more exciting part of that trip to the shops was firstly, the discovery of a huge secondhand bookshop (one of those wonderful ones where all the shelves are at least double-stacked with books) and secondly, dropping into the produce store and putting my name down for four laying chooks for us to pick up next weekend. Chickendome will finally have residents. And we will have eggs. Well, once they have relaxed into their new surroundings and get down to laying.

We have started getting boxes of fruit and vegetables from Food Connect – local and mostly organic produce, from farmers who get paid more than they would selling to big supermarkets. I have been wanting to eat more seasonably and sustainably since reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma last year, and so far had only succeeded in feeling vaguely guilty. This seemed like a good opportunity to do something differently. We’ve only been getting the boxes for a couple of weeks – so far, the only unidentified item was some sort of yellow squash, which I am going to grill. The most wonderful thing has been the red Muscat grapes, the most beautifully sweet and juicy grapes I’ve ever eaten. And there’ll be no more of them in a week or so – the tragedies of seasonal produce.


  • These Top 14 Astronomy Pictures from 2010 are incredible – I particularly like shots of the moons of Saturn, and the dunes of Mars.
  • A couple of very thought provoking posts about intellectual property.
  • I really liked this post by Flinthart about lifelong learning.
  • A couple of interesting videos from TED – Brene Brown’s talk on vulnerability, and Dan Gilbert’s talk on happiness.
  • The podcast The Marketplace of Ideas has some very varied and interesting interviews in the archives.
  • From Brain PickingsAround the World in 80 Diets, and Your Brain on Love.
  • Studies in Crap, a look at books found in second hand stores, makes me cry with laughter – examinations of books like Unicorn Vengeance (which contains neither unicorns, nor vengeance, but does contain possibly the worst sentence ever written), and The Living Animals of the World from 1901, which says of koalas, “These animals make a peculiarly plaintive cry when molested in any way.”

  • To the other side

    We were driving home the other night, puttering along watching out for water over the road, and we stopped for a koala – the first I have seen in the wild that hasn’t been an unmoving lump in a high tree. It was pacing across the road and paused as we slowed and stopped, staring at the car’s headlights before speedily moving on, faster than I thought a koala would move across the ground.

    When we first moved onto this property, about three years ago, we would hear the grunting noise of koalas in the night – I haven’t heard them since that first month we were here. It’s nice to know there’s still koalas around, even if I don’t happen to hear them. I imagine our neighbours’ dogs have something to do with that.

    On this last day of the year, I have been thinking about some of my plans for 2011:

  • Getting chooks – I have been researching the construction of a chook pen. I have a hankering for eggs laid at home.
  • Growing some of my own food, even if it’s limited to some herbs and greens in pots.  I know from experience that any plans for a veggie patch are doomed to failure.
  • Travelling to New Zealand in the winter.
  • Giving more.
  • Getting back into running.
  • Camping

    The weather was a little damp for camping this weekend, but we still had a lot of fun.

    I found a bees’ nest. And jammed on the ukulele. And read Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword.

    And when we got home, we found the biggest group of king parrots we’ve seen feeding on some seed we had left out on the verandah. One female and four males, being occasionally harassed by a couple of lorikeets. They’re such pretty birds, I love seeing them around the house.