happy hens

Our crazy Barnevelder chooks are now nine years old. Two died last year in their sleep and the remaining duo hadn’t produced an egg for many months. We don’t have the heart to despatch them and so, we welcomed four newcomers instead. This time, we veered from any particular breed and sourced them from a local “farm”. I didn’t realise the state they were in until I got them home, many feathers missing at the back end, they obviously had worms and possibly lice. We treated their ailments and have become very attached to these lovely red hens. They are intelligent (for chooks), inquisitive and each has her own personality.

Winter has been wet and dismal, our poor girls have endured without complaint. We took to the internet in search of ways to make life more interesting for them and made it our mission to cheer them up. Having seen videos of chooks playing on a swing, we were inspired to make one. Unfortunately, our girls haven’t seen the videos.

We then fashioned a couple of hooks on string to hang vegetables from (silverbeet is prolific in the veggie patch) and that was a hit, though they make short work of it.

At least the swing is getting some use, for hanging long grass over.

Next came a forage cage so the girls can nibble the greens that grow through without scratching and ripping them out of the ground. Someone was eager to try it out, adding her own brand of fertilizer as a bonus.

We gleaned from our search that chooks find mirrors fascinating, this was more successful than the swing.

So, they now have a playground in the secure pen.

They also have a larger uncovered area that is fenced to prevent the destruction of our garden. We created another forage cage and the same cheeky chook couldn’t wait to check it out.

Last weekend, we added another novelty for them, a chair made out of old fencing posts.

I’m pleased to report, spring has sprung and we are now having more sunny days than wet ones. The forage mix is starting to grow

and the girls have all recovered their health and fluffy bums.

The two old girls are going strong and one has even started laying again.

The ultimate indication of chook happiness is indulging in a dust bath in the warm sunshine.

avian ablutions

We have had the most stupendous summer here in northwest Tasmania – long, hot, sunny days stretching into warm evenings with not a breath of breeze. It will all come to an end in the next few weeks and we will be stoking the fire and donning coat, scarf, hat and gloves to venture outside. There has been a preponderance of birdlife this season, perhaps due to the absence of our usual resident tiger snake. I could spend hours watching the antics of these wonderful creatures making good use of our many birdbaths. The Black-headed Honeyeater is endemic to Tasmania and is a very sociable sort. The youngsters have a brown head and bill, looks like this was a family outing.

An Eastern Spinebill arrives but, after observing the zealous activity, seems reluctant to take the plunge.

No such reticence from the House Sparrow, he just dives straight in.

When the splashing abates, a New Holland Honeyeater sneaks in for a quiet drink.

A lone swimmer enjoys the peaceful interlude before the next family arrive.

miscellaneous moments

A few years ago, I posted ‘random rambling’, a selection of photos that didn’t really fit any one subject. I have since accumulated a few more that I thought I would share with you. The male blue wrens have been in their eclipse phase through winter and are now bobbing around the garden in their bright blue plumage in pursuit of the ladies.

In the forest, flowers of wild white clematis transform in autumn to feathery seed floss.

Here is a bit of silliness. Spreading a few tons of mulch, Michael captured this from his perch on the tractor. He calls it, “burying the wife”.

After dark, our garden becomes a marsupial playground and sometimes the critters are slow to leave come morning. This pademelon didn’t seem in any particular hurry to return to the forest.

The elegant art installation by a local orb spinner decorated the verandah. Backlit by the morning sun, it was fortunately too high to trap the unsuspecting human.

Sitting at the dining table one afternoon, I saw a flash of white in my peripheral vision. I assumed it was a sulphur-crested cockatoo but on closer inspection, a beautiful Grey Goshawk had landed in a tree just outside the window. The threatened species has a population currently estimated at less than 110 breeding pairs in Tasmania, we are hopeful our forest is home to at least one of those pairs.

I spotted this humongous fungus in the crevice of a tree trunk in the garden,

ten days later, it had started to shrivel and change shape.

Our magnificent Golden Ash tree provides shelter through summer before the leaves turn gold in autumn and fall to the ground.

On this particular day, I looked up from my usual gardening position on my knees and was awed by the comfort of the canopy. I felt as though the tree was embracing me

or maybe it was my handsome North Wind man?

Looking out of the window one day, I could see black objects on the horizon (my eyesight isn’t what it used to be). I took a photo for identification purposes and confirmed nothing more exciting than the neighbouring cattle searching for tasty remnants in a barren field.

I discovered this delicate, white fungus while picking the last of our daffodils, it reminds me of coral. Apparently, it is called Shizophyllum commune and is very common on dead wood.

Our holly tree, once starved of light under a huge gum tree we have since removed, has flourished. I think this is proof that Christmas should be in winter.

Both the red and yellow waratahs are presenting a stunning display this year

and the port wine magnolia is again in bloom.

Motuoapa Bay

Our few days at the Lake House remain in my memory as the most idyllic sojourn of our trip. On the southern shore of Lake Taupo, Motuoapa Bay is a tranquil cove that is situated to capture the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets. A short stroll on our first evening delivered a fine example of things to come.

The bay is also the location of a fabulous marina and home to an assortment of pleasure craft. The $6 million redevelopment took 18 years from original plans to completion in November 2017. For those into statistics, over 39,000 cubic metres of sediment was removed from the original marina basin and channel before being turned into 5.5 acres of reclaimed land. Nearly 1,600 square metres of concrete floating docks offer 158 berths. There was very little activity during our stay.

The next morning, with cups of tea in hand to warm against the chill, we ventured out in the early light.

We weren’t the only ones enjoying the serenity.

Taking a closer look at the marina,

I wondered about the intriguing names on some of the boats.

We returned to our base to prepare for an exciting day out at Tongariro National Park.

The following day was one of relaxation and, as the light began to fade, we couldn’t resist one last dose of the stunning surrounds. Canada geese and black swans were seeking their supper in the spotlight of a descending Sol.

Another round of the marina and still no sign of life.

We spied a few of these unusual birds and have since discovered they are California quail, an introduced game bird with an interesting head dress.

Reluctant as we were to leave Motuoapa Bay and the Lake House, there were new adventures awaiting.

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.