My wife and I have just finished a very busy weekend of hard work. On both Saturday and Sunday we spent all day at the Australian Plants Society autumn plant sale at the Wayville Showgrounds in Adelaide. We also plan to attend the spring plant sale and flower show on the 7th and 8th of October. We took several loads of plants to sell at this event, totalling over 1500 individual plants this time. These are grown in our Mallee Native Plants nursery.
My wife spends most of her time keeping an eye on her plants on the tables and assisting customers with their purchases. She also networks with other growers attending the sale. These growers are an excellent source if information and most are very willing to share their knowledge. At the same time my job is to assist at the Help Desk, usually situated near the entrance. Many customers come to the help desk asking for help with plant selection. I have my laptop there in front of me, my laser printer alongside and with a monitor facing the customers. We step them through a selection process, keying in their preferences and then print out a list of plants available at the sale which potentially meet their requirements.
One of the others at the Help Desk is Howard Harvey who has written the program called APS Query which we use during the sales. This program helps us narrow the search for plants. We key in the unique planting situation of the customer, such as whether they are planting in full sun, dappled shade or full shade, whether the plants need to be drought, frost, wind or lime tolerant, the Ph of the soil, the desired size (height, width) of the plants and many other fields to choose from. This narrows the search from some 1500 species available at the sale down to a manageable 20-50 species, which we then print out for them. Most customers then happily trot off with this list to the tables displaying the plants that are for sale. I find it very satisfying helpingpeople in this way.
Birds and Plants
What has this got to do with birds?
Many birds rely on plants for their food as well as for nesting and roosting sites. By careful plant selection we can encourage our native Australian birds to become and remain resident in our gardens. The result can be most satisfying. The colour of the flowers is augmented by the activity of the birds. They not only add their own colour, their movements flitting from flower to flower and from bush to bush adds much in the way of interest. A garden without birds is sterile and uninteresting – to me anyway.
Bird Attracting Plants
This is a huge topic. I will mention only a few of the types of plants we find work in our garden and district. I have already written (in other posts) about the delights of Correas, those beautifully coloured bell shaped flowers that will light up any garden with colour and which are so irresistable to our honeyeaters here in Australia.
The eremophila species (commonly called ‘Emu bushes’) are another attractive species for birds in our gardens. Their curved tubular flowers are nectar treasure troves to our honeyeaters. They come in such a wide range of colours too. Callistemons (or ‘Bottle-brushes’) are plants that can be covered in flowers – and simply filled with honeyeaters getting drunk on the nectar. A flowering bottle-brush plant can aslo be noisy with the screeching of lorikeets or the squabbling of honeyeaters.
Eucalypts (‘gum trees’) offer much for the birds of Australia too. When in flower the honeyeaters, lorikeets and other parrots swarm all over them. The tiny pardalotes have a smorgasbord of insects such as lerp to feast on. Sittellas, shrike-tits, tree-creepers, babblers and currawongs search for insects, beetles and spiders lurking under the bark. Robins and Flycatchers use the branches to sit quietly, watching for passing insects to fly by. Gum trees provide many opportunities for nesting and roosting sites. Older trees provide hollows for nesting parrots, owls, frogmouths and pardalotes.
As I said, this is a vast topic. I have mentioned only four genera of plants. There would be few, if any, Australian native plants that are not used in some way by our birds. Some species show a decided preference for some plant species, but most birds use our plants in a variety of ways.
One of the common bird species around home here in Murray Bridge is the Willie Wagtail. This is a widespread species throughout Australia and is familiar to most people, even those with little interest in birds. We have a resident breeding pair in our garden.
From time to time one of them comes to visit our bird bath. This morning I saw the water splashing in all directions so I raced into the office to grab my digital camera. This is one species that has eluded my camera thus far.
I managed to take about eight photos before disaster struck. The Willie Wagtail upset the bird bath, knocking it and the contents to the ground. I was surprised because I had thought that even bigger birds would not be able to tip it over. It’s perched on the cut down trunk of an old dead mallee tree and has a brick inside it.
The Willie Wagtail nonchalantly flew to a nearby branch, gave his feathers a shake, preened for a few seconds and then flew off.
Perhaps I need a bigger brick.
Today I was working in my wife’s plant nursery and about mid-morning we stopped for a cuppa. While we were enjoying the cuppa and the lovely sunshine a New Holland Honeyeater came down from nearby trees. It landed a few metres in front of where we were sitting and started feeding on some Correa flowers.
Correas have beautiful bell shaped flowers in a variety of colours, especially pink through to deep red. Some species have yellow or green flowers, or a combination of all these. This small plant was still in a nursery tube waiting to go to a plant sale. It was much smaller than those one would find in a garden or out growing naturally. This didn’t seem to upset the honeyeater; as it started feeding the whole of the plant swayed and leaned over until it had moved through about ninety degrees. The New Holland Honeyeater just kept on feeding until satisfied and then it flew off elsewhere for another feed.
This morning while working in my wife’s plant nursery (see Mallee Plants Nursery) we were delighted by the many birds calling all around us and feeding in the nearby trees. About mid morning I went inside to “boil the billy.”
I brought the teapot and cups on a tray out into the nursery so we could sit down for a break and enjoy the beautiful weather and lovely surroundings. Imagine our delight when a Weebill, Australia’s tiniest bird, came to sit on the ground no more than a metre from our feet. Of course – I didn’t have my camera at the ready! Next time?
This blog is usually about Australian birds but I couldn’t resist writing about Chucky the South American blue and gold Macaw. Chucky is a resident here in Murray Bridge South Australia.
Twitchers* – at ease!
Now before we get a huge influx of twitchers* here in my home town , let me explain. Chucky is not a wild bird – well, not normally. He usually lives in an aviary belonging to the Bozetti family. Earlier this week he was spooked by a sudden noise, escaped and flew off into some tall pines in Pine Park in the centre of town. The Metropolitan Fire Brigade was called on to help but Chucky remained up in the tree enjoying his taste of freedom on the wild side.
Fear of Heights
Finally a local engineering firm was called upon. Ignoring her fear of heights Mrs. Bozetti used their cherry picker to go up to 30 metres to where Chucky sat. Everyone was relieved when Chucky calmly walked on to her arm – to much applause from the crowd down below. I guess his bid for freedom comes at a price. Because he is valued at about $9000 I think he will be watched very carefully in future.
A twitcher is a bird watcher who will travel great distances or make extra special efforts to see a rare bird or a bird not seen before. For more details read the article on bird watching in Wikipedia (click here).