piccioni Italiani

The mention of pigeons in Italy usually conjures images of tourists in Venice being smothered by masses of the unruly birds, left with hair dishevelled, clothing akimbo and the odd splattering of egesta. The feeding of pigeons in Piazza San Marco was legally banned in 2008 with a penalty up to €700 to discourage the practice. While we saw the occasional pigeon on our travels, they were very discreet and didn’t exhibit any manic flock behaviour. A paddle in the waters of Fontana dell’Acqua Felice cooled the feet on a warm day in Rome.

The ancient stonework of the Colosseum now serves as a comfortable columbarium. The word is from the Greek for pigeon or dove and describes the niches in walls designed for roosting and breeding.

The merging of local and imported breeds over the centuries has led to an array of colours and markings. There aren’t many places better to enjoy the morning sun than the walls of Chiesa di San Pietro at Porto Venere.

Pigeons have long been maligned as bearers of disease, possibly due to their indiscreet toilet habits and their link to the infection, psittacosis, which causes a pneumonia type illness in humans. Along with that, it seems they were responsible for the closure of five rooms in the Uffizi Gallery in April 2016. An infestation of ticks was discovered by a security guard and the rooms, displaying 15th century Italian paintings, were closed for two days to undergo pest control. The outbreak was blamed on the pigeons that perch on the Uffizi’s windows. No such problem in the Torre Guinigi at Lucca, there is plenty of aeration and fabulous views.

Pigeons obviously have a head for heights, what bird doesn’t? They can fly at altitudes of 6,000 feet or more with speeds up to 90 mph and can travel 700 miles in a single day. Some are happy to just find a quiet perch and admire the fabulous vista in Pienza.

One of the most intelligent birds on the planet, the pigeon can apparently recognise itself in a mirror as well as all 26 letters of the alphabet. Sounds like interesting research, some do look more inquisitive than others.

The belltower of Chiesa di San Donato in Bagnoregio provides a perfect niche from which to observe the wanderings of tourists in the piazza.

Pigeons have been used as messengers for centuries, the earliest reference dating back to 2500 BC. They have been credited with saving tens of thousands of lives in both World Wars with their efficient, reliable service. It wasn’t until 2006 that the last service, used by the police force in Orrisa, India, was disbanded. Presumably, the Orsini family relied on the birds to keep in touch at their palazzo in Pitigliano.

As well as breeding for food, sport and as messengers, pigeons were found to have another valuable resource. In the 16th century, their excrement was found to contain saltpetre, a substance used in the manufacture of gunpowder and fertiliser. It seemed to be in plentiful supply on the window ledges of Acquapendente.

The first mention of domesticated pigeons being used for food was in Egypt in 3000 BC and it is not unusual to find a piccione dish on menus throughout Tuscany. In January 2016, Italian celebrity chef, Carlo Cracco, caused controversy when he cooked a pigeon with turnips on Masterchef Italia. The president of the Italian Institute for the Protection of Animal and the Environment reported him to the police for encouraging people to cook wild animals. He overlooked the fact that pigeons are farmed for food and the law protecting pigeons only applies to wild ones. Of all the pigeons we encountered in Italy, this was by far my favourite.

avian interlopers

Our garden has no shortage of birdlife. The wrens bob around happily keeping the insect population down and the honeyeaters commingle with the bumble bees around the flowering plants. Sometimes, all is not so peaceful. In summer the swallows appear, desperately seeking out their ideal position for the new seasons arrivals. This year, they built a cosy nest under the eaves at the southwestern end of house, not anticipating the unseasonal gale force winds that ensued. Plan B was in the more sheltered northeastern corner but they must have found a Plan C because there was no evidence of them using the nest. I’m sure they will be back next summer.

3.swallow

Kookaburras are one of my favourites, they are so handsome and their distinctive calls that sound like anything from a chainsaw starting to a raucous belly laugh always make me smile.

4.kookaburra

Our relationship was tested when our goldfish started disappearing and one day, Michael observed the kookie culprit. We really didn’t want to put a net over the pond and, knowing kookaburras are territorial, installed a metal facsimile to guard the pond.

5.metalbird

It seemed to work for a while but, long story short, there is now a net over the pond and our new fish are safe.

6.pond

We often have visits from the yellow-tailed black cockatoos, usually for water from the stock troughs. I like their mournful, wailing call and they work together as a team with one keeping lookout while the others have a drink. They, too, have recently tested our hospitality. We have a beautiful banksia that has finally reached the perfect dimensions to disguise a rainwater tank – the very reason it was planted.

7.banksia

One afternoon, the cockatoos decided to bring the family and feast on the seed pods.

8.yellow tailed black cockatoo

About a dozen birds created havoc, breaking branchlets and flinging debris in all directions. They have returned numerous times, hopefully the tree will survive the onslaught.

11.yellow tailed black cockatoo

The lounge window has always attracted birdlife, the double-glazing provides a flawless reflection. Most of them just look at themselves, some will tap and flutter against the glass while others will stand there and call incessantly. Tasmania is the only place you will find the Yellow Wattlebird, Australia’s largest honeyeater. It has a range of distinctive calls, all of which are very loud and not of the soothing variety, more like a soprano cough. One recently became completely enamoured with his own reflection, I took a closer look.

12.yellow wattlebird

He retreated to the safety of the nearby birdbath and scanned the area

before returning to his mirror. In the meantime, I had adjusted my perch for a bird’s eye view.

17.yellow wattlebird

Back to the bath for a quick dip

and he seemed satisfied with the result.

20.yellow wattlebird

It is lovely to have so many birds around. Despite my grumbling, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

barmy beachcombers

Tasmania is renowned for having four seasons in one day and spring is especially unpredictable when any one season could stay for the whole day. My sister had come to visit, we had planned a day out to Stanley and nothing was going to stop us. After browsing the array of wondrous shops in the main street and a delicious lunch at the hotel, we braved the inclement conditions for a spot of fossicking on Godfreys Beach. My sibling is more practised at the fine art of beachcombing and it wasn’t long before I left her behind in the shadow of The Nut.

1.Godfreys Beach

I was distracted by the lovely reflections cast in the shallow water of the incoming tide.

2.Godfreys Beach

Despite the drizzle, there was a serene stillness to the air and the ocean was calm as far as the horizon.

5.Godfreys Beach

Returning to the task at hand, I didn’t find anything of human value, though the sand was scattered with nature’s wealth.

15.sponge

19.seaweed

My attention was again diverted by the amusing antics of a lone gull abluting in a shallow pool amongst the rocks.

The appearance of a second bird didn’t interrupt the routine

24.gulls

and a third sat nonchalantly before finally giving in to the temptation.

Further along the beach, the rocks appeared to be wearing green toupees.

33.rocks

The tessellated pavement of rock ended at the northern headland, I had walked the 1.1km stretch that is Godfreys Beach.

37.Godfreys Beach38.Godfreys Beach39.Godfreys Beach

Now, where was my sister?

40.Godfreys Beach

beautiful firetail

Venturing out for another bout of gardening, I saw movement from the corner of my eye. Expecting to see the resident fairy wrens bobbing around, I was excited to see two little birds I haven’t seen before.

1.beautiful firetail

I wasted no time grabbing my camera and returned to find they were still in the orchard. They certainly weren’t disturbed by my presence.

2.beautiful firetail

I consulted our Guide to Australian Birds book and found out they are beautiful firetail finches. The only finch endemic to Tasmania, (the European goldfinch and greenfinch are introduced) appear to have an olive green head but it actually has the same fine dark barring as the white body.

3.beautiful firetail

The bright red rump and beak, highlighted against black tail and mask, co-ordinate perfectly.

4.beautiful firetail

Males have a black centre of abdomen and undertail, their plumage darkens and eye ring becomes bluer during breeding season.

5.beautiful firetail

Usually seen in pairs, the beautiful firetail eats mainly grass as well as casuarina and tea tree seeds. I don’t know what they were finding so tasty on this occasion, either the grass or some small insects to complement the herbivore diet?

6.beautiful firetail

These birds share an equal partnership, both construct the nest, incubate the eggs and care for the young. Fortunately, their conservation status is secure, hopefully they will visit again.

7.beautiful firetail

The Gorge

We recently crossed another item off the bucket list with a wonderful lunch at The Gorge Restaurant in Launceston. Located in the Cliff Grounds at Cataract Gorge, the building was constructed in 1896 as a tearooms, replacing the white refreshments tent that previously served picnickers.

1.The Gorge Restaurant

In the early 1970s, the Gorge Restaurant opened, being the first licensed alfresco dining area in Australia.

2.The Gorge Restaurant

The Victorian style gardens were showing signs of spring.

2a.Cherry blossom

We opted to dine inside, the relaxing ambience was most welcoming.

3.The Gorge Restaurant4.The Gorge Restaurant

Our window seat afforded lovely views over the garden and tree tops.

5.the view6.rhododendrons7.the view

We settled in with a refreshing Clover Hill sparkling rosé from the Tamar Valley

8.Clover Hill Non Vintage Rosè

while nature provided the entertainment.

9.sparrow

The extensive wine list was narrowed down to a Frogmore Creek 2016 Riesling, sustainably grown in the Coal River Valley. It proved to be the perfect choice.

The friendly waiter was very patient while we decided on our meals, there was so much to choose from. We were very happy with the Crispy Spiced Quail, red cabbage & gin slaw, cauliflower puree and maple bacon,

12.Crispy Spiced Quail

Braised Beef Cheek, Paris mash, thyme roasted baby carrots & lager jus

13.Braised Beef Cheek

and Tasmanian Bush Pepper Calamari, chilli & lime rice vermicelli, coriander & rocket.

14.Tasmanian Bush Pepper Calamari

We savoured the wine while the chairlift glided past the window, sometimes with a passenger, sometimes uninhabited, before ordering dessert.

15.chairlift

My Deconstructed Pumpkin Pie, candied pecans, ginger crumb & spiced cream had to be seen to be believed.

We shared tastings of the Warm Chocolate & Hazelnut Brownie, white chocolate parfait & raspberry coulis

19.Warm Chocolate & Hazelnut Brownie

and the Coconut Lime Tart with rhubarb & blue curacao sauce.

20.Coconut Lime Tart

We walked off some of our decadence returning to the car park, pausing on the suspension bridge to take in the stunning landscape.

21.Cataract Gorge upstream22.Cataract Gorge lower basin

It was difficult to focus on this magnificent cormorant enjoying the sunshine, the bridge was swaying not me.

23.cormorant