Yep sprinter is definitely here! I’m a firm believer in Tim Entwisle’s re-definition of Australian seasons. We are not quite finished with winter but the garden is well into spring, never mind the calendar.

I may not have heard the Bronze Cuckoos yet, but the Spotted Pardalote’s are actively inspecting our compost heap and drilling test nest burrows and the magpie’s are mating on our neighbour’s lawn (don’t look Gladys!).

The female Spotted Pardalote sitting just above the nesting hole
The male Spotted Pardalote waits near the nest

Elsewhere in the garden I am seeing the first flowering of the hellebore plant’s that our friend J and neighbour V, gave to me two year’s ago. Unfortunately my plan for a woodland vignette has descended into a replica of a miltary redoubt, surrounded by wire and posts to keep the marauding chickens out.

Hellebore under siege

Never believe anyone who tells you that chickens and your garden can cohabit happily. For along with all those tasty insects, they will devour your favourite plants. Our chickens appear to have inherited the palates of dissipated Roman emperors. Nothing is beyond their capability to eat, should they desire it. So far they have demolished both the leaves of my waterlily and the known toxic Small Leafed Nardoo, (Marselia angustifolia), toxic to humans that is, but obviously not to chickens. I placed both of these plants in my stone water trough, thinking that they might help oxygenate the water, but once the chickens found them they were decimated in days.

Meanwhile in the front garden my Blue Veronica (Veronica perfoliata) has put on several flower shoots and the yellow-flowered Bulbine Lily (Bulbinopsis bulbine) is thrusting out of the ground bearing fattening buds.

Veronica perfoliata with flower shoots
Bulbinopsis bulbosa, the yellow flowering Bulbine Lily

The flowers of the only Australian ground orchid in my garden, the Blunt Greenhood orchid (Pterostylis curta), have pushed up above the rosettes of leaves filling their terracotta pot. I have also sunk a pot of these orchids into the front garden. I will soon plant them out properly as I see that they have managed to survive the winter frosts (so far).

Buds of the Blunt Greenhood orchid, Pterostylis curta

We have taken advantage of this wonderfully sunny day to plant out lots of Native Bluebell’s (Wahlenbergia sp.) that my partner has a real knack for propagating. I’ve also committed three Eremophila and a Correa, grown from cuttings to the ‘mercies’ of the real garden, death by being ignored in a pot being the alternative.

Alas the weeds have also registered the upswing in the season. At least I can feed them to those marauding imperial chickens!

Coming home to roost

Chickens are everywhere at Chez Fork. We have just returned from the Hunter Valley with five fairly new chicks (about 5 weeks old) from my sibling’s flock.

Five Frizzle chicks!
Five fiesty Frizzle chicks!

 If these chicks look a bit unusual its because they are Frizzles. These are chickens with a genetic disposition to have curly feathers. Here’s a close up of one.

One of the Frizzle chicks
One of the Frizzle chicks

At present they are living in their own pen away from our other girls, for several reasons. Firstly to avoid any spread of disease from either group. Because until they are a bit bigger the two hens might attack them. Also because they could easily get out of the big girls run and become prey to any many of bird, dog or cat in the vicinity. So for now we’ll watch them grow.

And just because I can here are some photos of the other girls. TB had the digital SLR camera out today and took some lovely photos.

The two of us, Letty on the left and Artemesia on the right
The two of us, Letty on the left and Artemesia on the right

Up close and personal with Letty the White Leghorn.

Letty giving us her best 'look'
Letty giving us her best ‘look’

And head of the hen house, Artemesia (Arte), the Ancona. 

Artemesia the Ancona
Artemesia the Ancona

Strange behaviour in the garden

Even as I’m sitting to write this post there’s a bump on the front window – it’s that Red Wattlebird again! For the past few days I’ve seen them scouring our windows and those of my neighbours, not for insects as I first thought, but spider’s webs. It’s nest building time! Try as I might I’ve not caught their activities with the camera as yet, but the Peewees (or mudlarks for those from further south and west from where I grew up) are another matter.

Checking out some nest building material
Checking out some nest building material

It took me a while to realise that they weren’t digging around our water chestnuts for insects or the corms. They wanted that muddy spent foliage for their nests. Peewees build the most beautiful mud nests, somewhat smaller than the large mud bowls built by Choughs. The Peewee’s mud bowl is built on a branch high enough and far out along the limb enough to make it hard for predators to get them. In the past I’ve seen these nest built out over creeks, or in the absence of a watercourse built over a busy road.

About to fly to the construction site
About to fly to the construction site

These birds are nesting in our neighbours tree, one of the few large trees still around us. I fear that the number of really tall and old trees that have been cut down in our area will be having a negative impact on the number of birds nesting in our suburbs. I’m pleased that in our own small way we are providing ‘garden services’ for those who are trying to raise their young.

PS Pardalote Palisades seems to be keeping the Currawongs and neighbourhood cats at bay. Fingers crossed.


Build it and they will come

Last Sunday I spent the morning in the garden. The weather was reasonable and all those little jobs were waiting to be done.

First on the list was doing some hand-pollinating on the apricot tree. I know, not a lot of fun and just a wee bit anal, but the low temperatures mean that bee pollination is not guaranteed.

By brush, pollinating the apricot tree
By brush, pollinating the apricot tree

Luckily for me I was about a third of the way around the open flowers when I realised I had some help.

An expert shows the way!
An expert shows the way!

Good enough! No need to get in the way of the experts.

Earlier in the week we had found some vegetable seeds in one of the Asian supermarkets near the university, so job number two was planting these out.

Chinese celery and white radish
Chinese celery and white radish

I had chosen seeds that would be able to bear the cold temperatures, Chinese celery, also called mitsuba and a short white radish, that grows to about 20cms.

I also planted out my old garden boots. Yes, they had done their job and while the uppers look quite OK the soles were completely broken and holey. These now are planted with chives, that came free from a magazine cover.

Old boots, new purpose
Old boots, new purpose

And while all this busyness was happening I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. At last, our nesting spotted pardalotes have arrived. Once more our large compost heap has been pressed into service for these tiny nesting birds.

One of the pardalotes sitting outside their nesting hole.
One of the pardalotes sitting outside their nesting hole

This is one gardening service we are happy to provide.