Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Wild Gifts at Christmas


Christmas decoration: the flower of a Tasmanian waratah

Christmas is a bittersweet time. There’s joy in spending the day or days with friends and family, but there are also pangs for those you love who are absent or gone. And then there are the presents: a whole mixed bag in and of themselves. They can range from funny to groanworthy, and from over-the-top to very touching.

But sometimes gifts at Christmas can be unexpectedly wild. Like the late gift that came to our habitat garden on Boxing Day. With a mixture of science and faith I had planted a garden that was supposed to be something of a gift to the wild creatures of the local area. The theory was that planting local native plants in your garden would attract wildlife, as they would see it as part of their habitat. “Build it and they will come” as Danielle Wood had written in a newspaper article on my book and garden. There’s more in my blog here: http://auntyscuttle.blogspot.com/2009/07/habitat-garden-chapter-1.html

And sure enough, on Boxing Day 2010, three wise birds came calling. Actually “calling” isn’t quite how most people would describe the sound made by yellow-tailed black cockatoos (Calyptorhyncus funereus). As the three seriously comical birds raucously squawked and flapped and lolloped their way over the valley, they spied a couple of honeysuckle banksias (Banksia marginata) in the garden.

For the next quarter of an hour the birds sat in the tree working over the banksia cones to remove the seeds, chattering to each other in a series of low-key scratchy squawks. For the gardener it was like having a child open their present, then leap and squeal with joy.

A black cockatoo: a late Christmas gift in a banksia tree

The local bush too is capable of decorating itself for Christmas, and offering gifts to those who seek them. On a Christmastide wander on Kunanyi/Mt Wellington we found Tasmanian waratahs (Telopea truncata) lighting up the bush with their wonderfully red spidery flowers. They obviously have sweet nectar too, judging by the plethora of winged and legged insect life they were attracting.

A scoparia bloom: sharp but sweet

Small patches of scoparia, normally the (literal) scourge of the bushwalker, were also in bloom; all sweetness and coloured light to suit the season. The flowers bulge with nectar-filled globules. A few year back I saw a Bennetts wallaby supping on some of these flowers. Out of curiosity I too nibbled a few, and they were indeed as sweet as honey.
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