Friday foto


ZOMG! Game of Thrones wasn’t lying: there really ARE dragon’s eggs!


Do magpies grieve?


One of my first Australian memories is waking up in a pup tent at Katoomba on a freezing cold morning to the sound of magpies carolling. It was utterly gorgeous and a clear sign that, Toto, this sure ain’t Kansas. Or, in my case, Cumbria.

Australia is believed to be the home of the songbird, something that would have surprised the early British colonists, many of whom found Australia’s birdsong raucous or screeching or even – in the case of the satin bowerbird – “like the sound of someone dry-retching”.* But surely no one could ever not like magpies?

I was in Richardson Park with Jambo recently, the Tuesday morning after a huge storm. I’d been avoiding the edges of the park for a few weeks as a magpie pair had a nest in the figs and had taken up the habit of swooping; a couple of close calls (a loud beak clack next to my ear) and I decided that discretion was the better part of valour. But swooping season was over and so I was strolling under the gangly arms of the fig trees again.

Something moved in the grass. It was a young magpie, almost fully fledged. Another week and it would probably have been independent. Perhaps it had outgrown its nest and this had made it vulnerable to a sudden gust in the storm. I said, “Hello!” and it squawked back at me. I knew that mum must be around somewhere but couldn’t see her. Then …



She must have been watching me, waiting for the right moment to come boring in from behind. Such a powerful blow, it was like a punch to the back of the head. Thankfully I was wearing a hat and so I got away with just a nasty scratch.

I thought, this little fella’s going to be all right with a mum like that to care for him.

Is there something more than pure instinct at work here? Was it just DNA that made mother magpie hurl herself at full speed at this gigantic lumbering creature threatening her offspring? Is it possible that there’s some deeper feeling at work, or am I just being romantic and naive?

Sadly, I was wrong about mum’s ability to look after junior. Two days later I came across him, cold, and with no mum or dad to guard him.


I wonder if his parents simply flew off to start a new nest somewhere else with nary a thought. Or did they feel something – a pang a sadness or regret – when junior lay down and didn’t get up again. I don’t mean a fully formed humanoid wailing and gnashing of teeth but just something, some feeling.

I know that I did.

*Tim Low explains it all very well in Where Song Began.

Rot and decay


It’s still spring and so I should be thinking about new life and Nature’s fecundity and so on, but our recent warmer weather has also reminded me that in the midst of life is … well, you know what. This pile of cuttings in the Council pen in Richardson Park looks like it belongs on a 1980s Smiths LP cover.


The blooms were perfect. It was as though an evil Super Villain had gone around town, determined to make everyone unhappy by stealing all the best flowers. Mwa ha ha!

The lads in the creek seem to have finished squirting their goo under the concrete. The science behind the process is completely beyond me but I assume that the goo somehow retards the flow of toxins into the water table. Good luck, I say. The warm weather has really got things moving in the gasworks and it’ll take a lot of goo to stop that.


How big is the gasworks site? I’d say it’s about 10 hectares or so. That’s about 10 hectares of subterranean bituminous gunk with a life of its own, spreading at about 1 centimetre a day.



They’re back


The Japan Ministry of the Environment estimates that 70% of the 5 million tonnes of debris that was washed away by the Fukushima tsunami sank close to the coastline. The other 1.5 million tonnes is bobbing around in the Pacific, with expected landfall on the US West Coast any time soon. Which puts the bagful of rubbish that I sometimes bring back from the drain into proper perspective.

I’ll generally go for polystyrene foam, a pet hate of mine as it breaks down and down and down into pellet-sized orbs that are perfect for fish and birds to swallow. I don’t do the big things, such as the fridge that washed up the other week. Or this fire extinguisher.


The tides have been high recently and so it bobbed around and landed all over the place.


You could point out that if I can stop and take the trouble to photograph it then I could also take the trouble to pick it up and take it to the tip.


Fair comment. I don’t claim to be any kind of environmental hero, but I do my bit. I just have my limits.

Of course, a fire extinguisher in the drain means only one thing, and it has nothing to do with the heroic dowsing of blazes. I soon found out where they’d worked when I headed down towards Chinchen Street. This is the first spray job I’ve seen in ages. I was beginning to think it was a phenomenon that had had its day. Not so. They’re back.


I’ve never been fond of the spray job, it’s too loose and sprawly for my taste. It’s just BIG and there and that’s it. No artistry. All you need is guts, determination and a big wall. But this effort looked particularly poor.

A couple of days later, as I cycled over the Donald Street bridge, I thought I saw the real target. After all, how else could they get there without ladders? That’s a pretty tall gable end.


Who knows. But tonight the fire extinguisher was still there, now with a pair of laceless joggers, like a 21st century urban re-interpretation of a Rembrandt still life.


By the way, if you’re wondering how on earth they do the big spray jobs then this short video might help.

The turning


On Facebook the other day, a friend posted “Feeling a general air of melancholy … Not sure if it’s a general sadness … or whether It is just the witching hour and I need to go to One Penny and get a coffee.” In the end I think he went for coffee, and everything turned out just fine. But I know the feeling he described. Maybe it’s the turning of the seasons, which always creates in those of us who have reached the “more yesterdays than tomorrows” stage a moment’s reflection.

The creek has turned the seasonal corner. My Styx Creek bird list is well into the 70s now, with a royal spoonbill sighted down by the TAFE weir and a sacred kingfisher (whose ki-ki-ki I’d been hearing for some time but never actually spotted) seen flitting between branches by the Chaucer Street drain.


There’s a lovely sense of renewal. The bamboo is beginning to collapse under the weight of its new growth and the lantana is alive with blossom. The fuchsias in the gasworks have sprung up, showing the ghostly pathways and flower beds of the now long-gone manager’s residence.


The Chaucer Street drain (the original Styx) is almost clogged up with reeds and lilies and a thick, cress-like plant that ducks thrive on.


The time around dusk is particularly beautiful at the moment, but also triggers that sense of melancholy my friend wrote about.


Strangely, I don’t mind this feeling. There’s something in the disquietude of melancholy that keeps me alive to the natural world. Perhaps it’s the realisation of how fleeting it all is (“it” being life, Nature, the world, whatever). It’s certainly something that coffee won’t cure.