Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Spiny Norman

I discovered Monty Python's Flying Circus as a teenager. The program was broadcast weekly on the local station "WOSU" (OSU being Ohio State University). I adored the humor, even when I didn't totally "get it". One of my favorite sketches involved a story about the "Piranah Brothers" - gangsters who terrorized their neighborhood. Doug and Dinsdale Pirhana used "violence and sarcasm" as their main weapons - and wreaked general havoc.

Dinsdale, as bad as he was, had an Achilles' heal - he was terrified of an imaginary hedgehog named "Spiny Norman", who apparently grew to enormous proportions whenever Dindsdale was depressed.


I'm not going to try and explain about the Pirhana Brothers or Dinsdale any more... this post will get too long and you'll either get bored or confused or both (after all... who can really explain a Monty Python sketch in writing?).

Why am I talking about it at all? Just to explain where I got the name "Spiny Norman".

We have an echidna on our property. An echidna is not a hedgehog - but they do have spines. There's the connection: the spines.

Night before last, our neighbor rang to say her cat (recently acquired) had bolted out the door and, she was sure, was wandering our property. It was getting dark, so Stephen went out with her to have a look around and see if we could find Miss "Willow". They didn't find the cat, but did come across the echidna - and here's a photo:

 Probably a foot from end-to-end, this little guy is NOT happy. We saw one before, a couple of years ago, and that little fellow was pretty bold - completely ignoring the two excited humans snapping photos. But this one has his head pulled in and spines out.

I wouldn't call that "the welcome mat" at all - more a "Get Lost!" gesture.

So Stephen snapped these two photos and came away, leaving "Spiny" unmolested.

We sincerely hope that Miss Willow hasn't been overly curious and has, like Stephen, given Spiny a wide berth.

Miss Willow is still "at large", but we expect to corral her soon.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


... Last night the much-longed-for quenching rain came through.

A mild thunderstorm rolled over us and torrents of rain fell. There was flooding in some places and a lot of rain came down all at once, but oh... it was simply divine to lay in bed and listen to the much-missed sound of rain hitting our metal roof.


This morning the trunks of the gums (which are exposed when the bark peels away like unwanted wallpaper strips) went from chalky brown to vibrant green - as they do after a good rain. And from 6AM until just after midday a soft drizzle continued, pattering through the trees and onto the ground.

I had to stop in the post office to mail a small parcel and was greeted by Peter who weighed my package and smiled more easily than I've seen him do in some time. We smiled at each other and said "Rain!" - almost in unison.

All of us on Mount Dandenong are breathing more easily. It's been a very scary summer.

We all hope that the weather patterns will turn now - and the temperatures will be more moderate, and the rain more regular.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

King Parrots with Unusual Markings

King Parrots are easy to spot and we see them daily. The brightly coloured males and more pastel females (and juveniles, which resemble the females) all have the same markings of red/orange, green, and blue. Here's a photo showing the side and back of an adult male - notice that other than the little turquiose "racing stripe" on his wing, his wings and back are solid green:

In the last couple of years, though, I've been seeing individuals which have splashes of yellow on their backs, like this one (below):

And here's another picture of the same bird, with it's companion. I had a tough time getting these photos, as this little guy kept running up to me (looking for a treat, no doubt) and every time I tried to maneuver behind him to get a photo of his back, he turned toward me again.

Here's another bird with even more yellow:

The dark beaks on these birds show that they are youngsters. I've not seen yellow markings like this on adults, at least not yet, so I'm wondering if the yellow feathers molt out - or if what I'm seeing is simply a mutation in the wild.

I did a little research online and found some discussions about these markings. One person posted that the markings were caused by Pittascine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) - a virus which causes deformity in feathers and beaks, ultimately fatal. I know that PBFD is found in the wild parrot population in our area, so I searched for PBFD and King Parrot information and found another discussion forum with a posting from a person who claims to be an avian vet - and who said the same thing. Finally, I came across a reliable source - a PDF from Australia's Department of the Environment and Heritage) which confirms that yellow feathers on a normally green bird are the first "clinical sign" of PBFD.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Bassian Thrush

Ever since we came here over 6 years ago, my husband has been keeping a list of each species of bird that we've seen on our property. Last week he added another one: Bassian Thrush
(Click the photo above to see a larger image)

The bird suddenly showed up last week and landed on the deck just outside Stephen's office window. Stephen was quick to grab his camera and get this picture.

After looking up this bird online, I've learned that they tend to stay in dense cover, preferring well-shaded gullies. I can only imagine what this one was after - landing on our deck, well away from any shrubs or other cover.

I found a recording of a Bassian's call - and noted that they are most often heard at dawn. I'll be listening now in the mornings and hope to hear one chirping.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


We've only had two decent rains since before Christmas. The forest around us grows drier every day, it seems. The forecast for the next few days calls for hot and sunny. I'm just hoping we don't get "windy" to go with it.

According to the CFA (Country Fire Authority) website, there are three big bushfires still out of control in the state. The biggest is in the Baw Baw district to our east (quite a ways off). It's burned over 82,000 hectares. I found an online calculator to convert hectares to square miles, trying to get some idea of what that means. The calculator told me that 82,000 hectares works out to 316 square miles!

My car is covered in dust - a normal condition during summer when our dirt road is a factory producing fine powdery dust which flies all around when you drive on it. The last time I washed it was the day before our first good rainstorm this year. Coincidence? Of course! But yesterday I decided to hook up the hose to our rain tank and rinse it off, and for good measure I gave all my potted plants a good soak, too. After all - you wash your car and it rains, right?

The effect? We woke up to find a thick cloud laying on the mountain, but no rain. So much for superstition.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

More Babies: a Wallaby!!!

Y'day afternoon I was busy looking after the potted plants we have on the balcony when I spotted an adult wallaby on the slope below the house. And oh, what DELIGHT! She had a joey in her pouch - as she was nibbling on the grass, the little baby poked it's head out and was sampling the greenery, too.

 And LOOK! I managed to get a photo!

(Click the photo for a larger image) 

The picture is grainy, as I was some distance away and used the "zoom" on my camera to get the best possible shot.

 Our wallaby residents pretty much prevent me from having much of a flower garden (they devour everything), but oh... how lovely they are! I can buy flowers at the flower stand. Our wallaby family is priceless!