Little Dude

Hi All

This morning I was hobbling about filling up the water bowls for the birds while Steve was out braving the dogs on a walk. My knee is just about better now but we are giving it a couple of days before I tackle 2 walks a day again. Once Steve heads off with the boys, I sweep the carpets with my amazing stiff broom. I never thought that a lazy person like me would ever laud the benefits of a “good stiff broom”. Hopefully I am not turning into my nana even though she was the sweetest loveliest person around. This broom removes all the dust, the dirt the hairy bits (we have LOTS of hairy bits from various humanoids and canine critters) with no electricity and giving me a bit of an arm workout at the same time. It also gives me the satisfaction of just bumbling around doing something when I am otherwise feeling a bit guilty with a picture in my mind of Steve being dragged around Deviot by 2 mental canines. I then headed outside to release the various poultry that needed releasing. I have to add here that the chook that disappeared reappeared the next morning when we were heading out the door to go to town. She has obviously gone clucky and were worried about her being scoffed by quolls, feral cats or anything else wandering around. Steve was talking to our pet meat lady whose husband is a poultry collector of all sorts. He has turkeys, guinea fowl, and regular chooks of all kinds, peacocks, ducks and lots more. She is going to provide me with some turkeys and some guinea fowl as a swap for some of our chickens when they get older. One thing that affects someone who wants to increase their flock is working out how they are going to bring diversification into their flock. No-one wants 4 headed chooks with 1 leg as a result of inbreeding, so you need to expand your flock using birds from different populations.

We started out with some chooks from the neighbouring suburb Deviot when we were visiting their regular Saturday basket markets. Our girls were sitting in a little triangular rabbit hutch and we had been looking for chooks other than mass produced egg layers, for quite some time so we bought those that we could and the woman selling them said that she could sell us some more. We ended up buying 8 chooks initially and set up our chook yards including an area for them to be enclosed in should the need ever arise. We like to think ahead and plan for any eventuality if we can. The old wood shed is now separated into 2 areas. One for the broodies and one for non-broodies (and Yin). We have a small door allowing the broodies out into the enclosed area and another small door to allow the regular chooks out into that same area. Each door can be shut and locked to allow a variety of chook ‘events’ to occur. At the moment the broodies and their chicks are the only ones that have access to this enclosed area until the chicks are old enough to be integrated with the main flock. I can let the non-broodies out in the morning and leave the little door to the enclosed area open for the broodies and their chicks to come out. I then let out the ducks to do what they will in the day. That usually consists of them alternating between their boatpond and preening themselves outside the enclosure with the chicks. Who knows where the broody hen is that we can’t find. Our pet food lady Suzie told us that nothing will bother her, its only when the chicks hatch that something will have a go at them so we just need to find her in the next 3 weeks…that’s easier said than done as this place is like a jungle and perfect for hibernating brain comatose clucky chooks. Ethel Doocark is still on her nest every day. We might see about getting her some fertile eggs as she never gets off. She is one of the pure Wyandottes and is a blue. If we could get some ‘interesting’ eggs from another source it would be good but we just have to go hunting. It’s like anything else, you have to be in the ‘know’ to identify sources or you just have to put in the hard yards hunting down possible sources and asking people as the most useful contacts and information in Tasmania come from strangers that you start a chat with.

Apart from poultry we have all sorts of obligations that we need to fulfil. First up we get a morning visit from the cuckoo shrikes who want some cheese. I offered them some of the mince that dad used to give them and they turned up their noses (the feral cat got it) as they are now vegetarians. They come when they can’t find insects and we have no problem giving them a source of food because this is a relationship between wild birds and man that has been going on for a good 20 years and as such, it should be maintained. I think that the chicks have hatched that the pair of shrikes that come up to the deck for cheese are sitting on. As there are more and more insects around, they will come less and less through the summer until just on autumn, they will start bringing their babies up to the deck for some cheese and the cycle starts all over again. We put water out for the birds on a daily basis and keep it clean. I think that above all things this is what brings the wildlife here. We have so many different kinds of birds that all take a dip, have a drink or just hang around the water. It ranges from green-eyes; wrens; robins; cuckoo shrikes; honey eaters; kamikaze birds (we call them that because they are nectar eaters but they are mental); wattle birds through to large birds like crows; Currawongs; herons; the odd butcher bird; Kookaburras; enormous black cockies and now… the final and closest to my heart, we now have a pair of magpies. I guess that doesn’t bring any sort of happiness to most people but I love magpies. There is something about their happy little chortlings that make me feel glad to be alive. I used to walk very early in the morning (5am is early for me!) around the streets of Albany in Western Australia in a vain attempt to lose weight and get fit. I would almost get home and on the church where Steve and I got married which is just behind where we lived would be a lone magpie serenading the new day. If you haven’t ever dealt with magpies you have no idea about just how clever they are.

Here is a photo of our little ford Capri that got totalled by an elderly lady named Thelma who was 86 years old. Her husband had passed away and after many years of paying for her driving license without actually driving she decided that she would buy a little car and head out into the big wide world of independance. The only problem was, that traffic lights had been invented since she last drove and she didn’t know how to use them and so this lovely little car that we shipped over by container to Tasmania was mangled. It was very sad because I, especially, loved this little car. This photo was taken in Kings Park. Its Western Australias botanical Gardens and its a massive area donated to native plants right in the middle of Perth. You can even see a lovely transplanted hemiparasitic plant called the Western Australia Christmas Tree (Nuytsia floribunda) that needs a very specific range of hosts to be able to grow. We have some seed that my mother sent, but they didn’t germinate, let alone get needy for their hometown host. These magpies were just hopping around waiting for the lunchtime crowd to bring them some grub. This photo was taken when we were waiting to drop off the car at the transport depo, just before we headed off to catch our plane to bring us over to Tasmania.

We have always been a bit of a soft touch and when we were living in Albany we started to throw bread out to a wattle bird that had 4 babies that were driving the poor thing nuts. We noticed it trying to cram anything that it could get into these gaping maws and felt sorry for it and threw a bit of bread. We knew full well that wattle birds are nectar eaters but it was just on the vain hope that it might give the bird something to cram them till he found what he was actually looking for. We didn’t realise that we were setting ourselves up for something a whole lot more regimented from that point on. The wattle bird must have been grateful for the bread, it stuffed the maws and filled a gap and as such became a prized source of peace and quiet for this poor wattle bird. It became such a routine that we used to throw bread out every day. Eventually we caught the attention of a pair of crows. Australian Ravens to be exact. They are very VERY clever birds and can actually be taught to talk.  This pair couldn’t go past the opportunity to get free grub and started coming each time we threw out bread. After a while they brought their 3 crow babies that used to spar on the front picket fence using a most hilarious way of side kicking like they were using karate on each other. Pretty soon the word that free food was available got around. We don’t have sparrows, blackbirds or starlings in Western Australia so it was just the natives that were getting in on the action. The magpies who had taken over a very large pine tree just up the road from our rented house started to take an interest. Magpies form large colonies and tend to stay within those colonies for life.

This is the clan of magpies that came down throughout the day to get grub. Some of the babies in this group are third generation birds that had gotten used to coming to get the odd handout from us and as such were tolerant of us. These birds lived in a massive great conifer and were the scourge of walkers and their dogs in the mornings. Not ONCE were we ever divebombed in breeding season and people all around us that were running for cover must have thought that we had some sort of magical amulet or similar. The magpies knew that they should look after their food source!

They started coming down to our garden for a bit of a look-see to find out what was going on. Within about a fortnight we were buying “yesterday’s bread” from the bread shops for them and after worrying a bit about how bread was probably not the best thing to be feeding birds that ate insects and lizards and frogs we started experimenting with mince. Mince is an expensive thing and when the bird populations started to swell exponentially we started to use Cole’s brand pet meat rolls. We ended up with about 20 regular birds coming twice daily for a feed. After a while the birds started to trust us and after about 3 generations it started to get interesting. The crows never got any less timid and despite being very clever creatures, never developed any sort of trust with us. The magpies on the other hand knew when they were onto a good thing and chased off any other members of any other magpie clan like they were a biker gang. Lord help them if they were caught pilfering the gang’s grub. They would be chased off and attacked, so we ended up with the Conifer Hill gang as the home boys of our yard. They got very cocky towards the end of us living there and used to tap on the window when they wanted some food. We had one little fellow that Steve called “Little Dude”. He used to come up and take food directly from Steve’s hand. He would also play with anything that we left outside the front door and used to especially like Steve’s hex keys and other small tools that he used to work on his remote controlled petrol cars. When we moved to Tasmania we left my son Stewart with the birds but being a busy working man, he only occasionally threw food out and I would imagine that the birds adapted to their new regime where they had to actually hunt more for food. Magpies are consummate thieves and can always find themselves some sort of food somewhere.

This is “Little Dude”. He was a third generation baby magpie but took his job quite seriously. He was the least afraid of us and would come up and knock on the door for his bit of dog polony. Steve couldn’t leave any of his tools laying around as Little Dude would take them. One day we were watching television and heard a tapping sound on the window and there he was, tapping on the window for his food. We learned so very much from these magpies. We learned all about their social hierarchy and how complex their collectives of magpies are. We also learned that not everything is as it seems. I made Steve stop to help a poor magpie that was obviously injured and his mates were trying to help him once. When Steve stopped, the poor ‘injured magpie’ flew away with the rest of them on his tail like lightning. Magpies protect their turf to the death and I now know that this magpie was not injured, but fighting for his life. It never ceases to amaze me how clever animals are, especially those that realise that humans are easy pickings. Sparrows that follow the cuckoo shrikes around because they get the bits of cheese that they leave behind…blackbirds who eat the cat biscuits and dog biscuits…starlings that make nests in the church and that come up to get their mornings bread. We make sure not to feed anything too much. We also make sure that any bird that comes to us is not made tame or human desensitised in any way. We just co-exist with them and in times of lean pickings, we help them out a bit. I know that there are people out there that say that you shouldn’t feed wildlife. I wonder if they are the same people that say that you shouldn’t feed starving Ethiopian children? I think that there are altogether too many people out there stuffing their opinions down other people’s throats when they haven’t quite managed to reach Nirvana themselve’s  yet…as with everything, you just have to learn to get yourself a thick skin and ignore these people. No-one is better than anyone else, we all have the propensity to greatness and to being total losers in equal proportions to anyone else. We choose how we live and people that spend all of the hours that God gave them telling everyone else how great they are and that they are doing everything wrong, should just get over themselves. Life is too short for bad wine…AND social climbing nay-sayers (and therein is Fran’s sermon for today! :o)

When we moved to Tasmania we were so used to feeding the magpies that we attempted to do so here. Magpies, crows and anything else that eats meat for a living has no need to interact with humans in Tasmania because they are spoiled for choice with all of the road kill on the roads. Wallabies, wombats, possums etc. are all out there for the scoffing and so I didn’t get any magpies coming. What I DID get was noisy minor birds and when they came, everything else left except for a pair of most stubborn wattle birds who had claimed the large pear tree as their own and a pair of doves that returned in spring each year to raise a clutch of babies and coo on the roof. Noisy minor birds are VERY noisy. I suppose we should have realised that by looking at their names. We ended up with a flock of them eating enormous quantities of bread and making a huge racket from sunrise to sunset. The girls just ignore them but they still know the car and a few will come down and squeak a bit. I have been known to toss a sly piece of bread to them for old time’s sake. We did eventually get a few magpies coming to the house in town. Mainly because they were in some way disabled. One that Steve named “Little Man” that was always scruffy and runty ended up getting killed by a car one day and we buried him in the front lawn under camellia bush. We can’t help being softies at heart and to be honest, we don’t really care what other people think. We can’t just sit by and let something go hungry or suffer and so we try to do our best with what we have available to us.

Feeding the feral cats is an example. We are between a rock and a hard place with that one. We only started feeding Felix because we didn’t want her eating the birdlife and then she brought her kittens here. After that it was always a matter of looking after the birds and now Jacko actually lives here, he gets sulky dogs steak for his breakfast the next morning. We often get our boys sulking and trying to manipulate us into doing what they want by refusing their food. Bezial was amazing at this and would go for days without eating. I have had kids and know that it’s a ploy, but Steve would get very worried and give him little sly treats reinforcing the manipulation. At first, Earl was great. He would just wade in and scoff anything that Bezial was using as a manipulation tool, but the older he gets, the more he learns from Bezial and they both sit there looking at us as if we have poisoned their food sometimes because we didn’t give them an extra walk…we didn’t let them eat Pingu…we didn’t let them eat Ethel Doocark (that was last night’s efforts) and most especially, we took them to town and left them at my daughters place. Bezial refused to eat whenever he has been left at the girls place in town. He is one of the most manipulative, sulky dogs that I have ever met! Now that Earl is joining in on the sulkfest, we have to show them whose boss by giving their uneaten food to the cats (their mortal enemies).  All this generally results in is more sulking, but at least we have taken back our sense of control and the cat is happy and doesn’t scoff birds. Jacko was lazing around on his bit of carpet and I tossed him some cubes of dog rejected steak. He isn’t fussy and loves meat when he can get it and was playing with his bits of steak before he demolished them. I then took the rest of the steak (before the blowflies warmed up and got stuck in) down to the cats bowl and Jacko had a most beneficial and unexpected mornings treat. He is now out there on the carpet sunning himself and generally enjoying his day. Perhaps the dogs will actually be hungry tonight. If not, Jacko might get another bonus. Either way someone gets something and that’s how it goes around here.

We like to share. It doesn’t cost us much more to throw in a bit of extra cheese and a few cans of cat food each fortnight when we do our shopping. We have cats without the hassle of having to clean up after them. We have dogs that don’t cost us much as they don’t eat…we have all sorts of animals in various stages of growth that eat and that give us back something (manure, eggs and spent hay for the compost heap and the garden) and we are starting to form ourselves a little Serendipity cycle out here. Pretty soon the gardens will be taking part in this cycle of life and we can use more of our ‘waste’ out there in the gardens and the compost heap including shredded cardboard and all of our kitchen scraps. It feels great to start working with the earth’s natural cycles rather than simply taking from it. I think that all of us have a deep seated need to fall into line with nature and how things work. We have removed ourselves so very far from what we were meant to be that it’s no wonder we are so confused about who we are, where we are going and what we are supposed to be doing. All it takes is a few months out in the country working with animals and you certainly learn about cycles! Some less attractive than others (like the cycle of cleaning out the chook yard or turning compost) but it’s curiously and most deeply satisfying to live like this. Its messier than I would usually even contemplate, it’s somewhat manic, it’s even chaotic when you throw Steve into the equation but everything seems to be moving forwards and even if it is like a car with square wheels at the moment, one day it will be a massive great smooth running machine that can’t be derailed just like the amazing Aussie made Oka. If I had enough money (and a lot more to afford the diesel or a home-made bio diesel still) I would get one of these in an instant.

Here’s what they say about this pop top Oka… “For that unforgettable tour around Australia that you always promised yourself, or simply for regular weekend forays into the bush, OKA’s NT 24 Pop-top Van offers high mobility caravan style living. With an optional winch, there are few places imaginable that this vehicle cannot access – giving you a privileged view of nature. Specify the optional 95 litre water tank and auxiliary batteries for self-contained living. OKA can help too with the fit-out of the living quarters through trusted camper van specialists.” Look at this sucker…it’s amazing! Why would you ever want to go home again? Just live in the Oka and travel wherever you wanted to go. It looks like it could go anywhere

They are amazing and good luck trying to get one to stop once it wants to get going, and that’s what Serendipity Farm is going to be like one day. A huge mo-fo of a machine that simply can’t be stopped…just don’t tell that to the Americans or I am sure that they will think that I am trying to take over the world and will start tapping our phones.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. mum
    Nov 24, 2011 @ 11:14:16

    That OKA vehicle looks to have been thunk up from army all terrain vehicles. Yes, there should be more around,& they look like you could go anywhere in them . That’s nice of the pet meat lady to sugges a swap too. The guinea fowls are ideal to get rid of insects around the garden, & can look after themselves too.I think they like to roost in trees, so the cats would have a job on their hands stalking them . It bought back memories seeing those photo’s, of when you were living over here love. It’s HOT, HOT, HOT !


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