Baby birds, raptors and shipping containers.
Early summer is a really busy time in nature. Baby birds are out and about without their parents for the first time, and plants that you had forgotten about suddenly appear in the garden, bigger and brighter than ever. And when it unexpectedly rains heavily we can experience an exultant feeling of being a part of nature’s wonderland. And if we can tune in to this non-human real world, we discover that it’s not just the temperature or the weather that gets our attention.
Bird activity can be one of the more noticeable events that signal the changing seasons. Birds that have wintered further north arrive in our region in late spring and early summer. One of these, the Rufus Whistler, has been serenading us for a week with its loud and melodious song. The tiny but striking looking black, red and white Mistletoebirds can also be more easily noticed during the breeding season when they are paired and remain near their nest, moving about lower down in the eucalypts wherever there is mistletoe fruit to be had. One can easily surprise you when it turns up on your birdbath for a quick drink and a momentary cleaning of its sticky mistletoe fruited bill.
One of the problems we have when living in or close to the town is the excessive numbers of sparrows that nest in the roofs of our older houses and other buildings. This is the moment when I grump about the folk who put out scraps for the birds, giving them the false idea that food is plentiful and causing them to opt for raising another family before quitting for the year. Thankfully, very few native bird species will eat your leftovers – kookaburras and magpies being the major exceptions. Most times you are feeding sparrows, Indian Myna’s, and starlings, along with the occasional mouse, rat or possum. (The dastardly Indian Myna evicts Rosellas from their nests.) Should you want to experience that feel good feeling by feeding native fauna, plant some indigenous flowering shrubs near windows and sit back and enjoy the visitors.
The upside of our current sparrow plague has been the surprise visit to our inner town location in the past few weeks, of an Australian Hobby (Falco longipennis), the smallest of the Australian Raptors. This family includes eagles, falcons, hawks and kites. The Hobby’s prey includes the excess fledgling sparrows along with other small birds. The speed at which the Hobby travels is amazing. On my first ‘siting’ I only heard a ghostly swish and noticed low bush branches and plant stalks waving for no apparent reason. The second time, I was lucky enough to glimpse the bird as it lifted upward with its catch in its claws. Now if only we had a slightly bigger version of the Hobby, to collect the killer cats roaming free instead of being safely caged. (The laws will change and be enforced soon, we hope.)
The Elephant in the driveway
What can be as hard and expensive to remove as an unwanted tattoo? Answer: A shipping container. Like tattoos and other personal adornments, it’s mostly other people who have to look at them. The container owner only sees a cheap way of storing more stuff, not the giant uncompromising steel hot box that others see. Freud – if he was still around – might have put it in the penis substitution category that insecure males might suffer from. “Real men have a shipping container”.
As most of you know, the world is awash with containers – literally. They now pose a threat to shipping as so many have been lost overboard (or dumped) and they tend to be submerged and not easily visible. We understand – though we haven’t confirmed it yet – that because Australia is a net importer of containerized goods, rather than ships returning with empty containers, we are a good place to flog off older or slightly damaged units. They are heavily promoted. We can just imagine Paul Hogan doing an ad similar to his famous ‘Put another prawn on the barbi’ only now it would be ‘Too much stuff? put another container in the driveway’.
Maybe the sudden influx of containers to Maldon suggests that someone should be investing and building storage sheds. We know a lot of people stow their stuff in rented lock-ups away from Maldon. We also know that many of them rarely visit their lock-ups, which suggests that the stuff stored there could be got rid of. And we suspect that this is what will happen to the containers. People will discover they don’t really need them. By then, a cat will have had kittens under it, the snakes and/or rats living under there will have eaten some of the kittens and the feral kitten that survives will launch itself onto the unsuspecting birds on the ground nearby. We know someone who recently witnessed the death of a young Kookaburra, killed by a cat doing just that – coming out from beneath a container in a bush garden on the edge of Hepburn. Containers should be banned from all but farm properties.
A final note: When you see a container arriving somewhere on a house block near you, it is important to lodge a complaint immediately. We understand that once a container has been in place for more than two years, a complaint is not permissible. Check with your council office or your local councillor.
Country Notebook articles are written by Richard Lee for his monthly newspaper column of the same name.