Yesterday I had the delight of being the guest speaker at the Mannum Garden Club. The small river port of Mannum is less than an easy half hour drive from my home. Like Murray Bridge, it is situated on the banks of the River Murray here in South Australia.
I should add that the speaking duties were actually shared with my wife. Almost exactly three years ago I spoke to the group about Australian birds, so this was an invite back to this very friendly group. I modified my talk this time around, talking about how to attract birds to our gardens, in particular native species. Because my wife accompanied me – and shared in the talk – I tapped into her expertise in the area of native Australian plants. We focussed on those species we knew would grow well in the area, and which would attract our birds. We made a good speaking team and were well received.
And the chats over morning tea were engaging – made even more pleasant by the lavish good old country style cooked cakes and biscuits.
I have another talk about birds coming up at the end of June to another group here in Murray Bridge, and just a short while ago had a call from the president of the local bird club, asking me to speak again at their meeting in two weeks’ time.
Offer: I’m getting to be quite in demand as a guest speaker. Book me up while I still have vacancies in my diary. I’ll even travel interstate if a plane ticket is included in the deal!
Instead of photos of birds today, I thought I treat my readers to some of the flower photos I showed the group yesterday. Enjoy.
Last week we went for a short picnic lunch to the Pangarinda Arboretum at Wellington East, South Australia.
The breeze was cool – it is winter after all – but the sun was pleasant if you were out of the wind. While we had our lunch about half a dozen Welcome swallows entertained us by swooping all around. Two of them seemed to be having a race (breeding behaviour?) and as they swept past me they nearly collided with my nose.
While there were plenty of plants already flowering this spot will only come into its own in the coming month of so. Many plants were not yet flowering. Despite that the birds were already busy feeding on those plant that were in flower. The New Holland Honeyeaters, Red Wattlebirds and Singing Honeyeaters were particularly active everywhere through the park. We only stayed several hours but it was a pleasant diversion from the intense writing I have been doing over the last few weeks.
Losing native birds from suburban gardens is an Australia wide trend. The introduced species have largely taken over, especially the Indian Myna and the Common Starling, as well as the Common Blackbird, House Sparrow and Spotted Turtledove.
These species have taken over gardens aggressively and compete with our native birds for food and nesting sites. Added to this mix is the very aggressive native species, the Noisy Miner which exhibits similar tactics to the foreigners.
Cats, dogs and human activity also discourage native birds like the Wrens. Once gone, they are very difficult to get back into a suburban landscape.
Having only native trees and bird baths are a good start, but not the complete answer. Providing smaller bushes and ground cover for the smaller birds such as the wrens is most important. Our smaller birds need protection from predators and food such as insects, seeds and also nesting sites that are hidden from those predators.
If you look at a natural environment you will observe many layers – ground covers, small shrubs, taller bushes, medium and large, old growth trees which provide nesting hollows for parrots, lorikeets, possums, owls, bats and so on.
All are essential for a balanced, natural ecosystem and very hard to replicate in a normal suburban backyard. But that should not stop us trying. The more people who take this path, the better the chance of survival will be for many of our lovely birds.
- Keep providing water in the form of bird baths (but not food).
- Plant a wide variety of Australian species, preferably species found locally.
- Keep all cats away – they have no place in the Australian landscape. Period.
- Provide nesting boxes for parrots, possums and bats.
- Encourage all your neighbours to do the same.
- Spread the word: our native birds are threatened with extinction.
- Caring for orphaned birds
- Caring for injured birds – including links to animal rescue groups
- Great birding moments: Cockatoo Valley – an example of an excellent native garden, together with some beautiful photos of Australian plants.
- Mallee Native Plants Nursery – my wife’s blog about growing Australian Native Plants.
I love seeing dozens of tiny thornbills flitting around our garden. The most common thornbill here is the Yellow-rumped Thornbill with its bright yellow tail. Less common is the Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, an occasional visitor to the garden. Even less common is the Yellow Thornbill (also called the Little Thornbill). We recently had several of these quite close to the bird bath, but it didn’t stop to drink so I can’t count it on that list.
The Yellow-rumped Thornbills must have had a very good breeding season; there seems to be about 30 or 40 around at present. It is lovely seeing them come to the bird bath or just hopping around on the ground just a few metres away.
Despite the numbers I have found it very hard to get a good photo of one, especially of the yellow on the rump. They are constantly on the move – and when they move it can leave either a blur or an empty frame in the camera. The two in the photo above were bathing in a little pool of water near the base of a rose bush. They were having a great time on a hot day.
The photo below was taken several years ago in another location. It doesn’t show the yellow rump.
The Singing Honeyeater is a common species in suitable habitat throughout much of Australia. It tends to be absent only from the eastern coastal areas, most of Victoria (except the south coast), and the far north of Queensland and the Northern Territory. It’s preferred habitats include mallee scrubs, mulga, roadside vegetation, orchards, vineyards and gardens. It tends to be rather solitary in habit. On occasions I have seen small loose flocks of up to four or five birds, usually where the vegetation is dense, for example, coastal dunes.
Resident Breeding species
The Singing Honeyeater is a resident breeding species in our garden. Their numbers never seem to go over about four or five on our 2 hectare (5 acre) block of land. The dominant plant species is mallee scrub (click here for a photo). They were perhaps more numerous more than ten years ago, but in recent times the New Holland Honeyeaters have become the dominant – and very bossy – species.
Updated November 2013
The resident Singing Honeyeaters are regular visitors to our bird baths. I don’t think I’ve seen them actually bathing in the water; they just tend to come for a drink. Next to the bird bath is a sprawling bush called Eremophila glabra. In the photo this plant has the bright red tube-shaped flowers. (Click on the photo to enlarge). The honeyeaters frequently stay for five minutes or more feeding on these flowers. A quick return trip to the water for a drink and then they are off to feed elsewhere.
In the photo you will observe a black hose in front of the bird. This is part of our watering system. We have installed many hundreds of metres of similar hoses throughout our garden and orchard. Wherever there is a plant we place a dripper. Each dripper then allows a steady stream of drips to the plant when the tap is turned on. We have timers on each tap which then turn off the water to the dripper hoses after a set time, usually one or two hours.
Many Australian gardeners have recently moved to this system because of the severe drought we are experiencing. Many areas are on severe water restrictions. In some places you cannot even use dripper systems like this one. We have certainly done our bit to conserve water because we’ve been using drippers for over 20 years. Most people are only installing them now.
Plants in our garden
For more photos and information about the plants in our garden and in our district go to Mallee Native Plants Nursery, my wife’s blog about our beautiful Australian plants.