19 June 2010

A kooky visitor

A few days ago, when I sat down to write Feathered visitors, about the birds that visit us regularly, I was surprised to find I had no photographs of a bird we hear almost every day, though we don't see him as often as that. That bird is the kookaburra, an Australian icon, also called the laughing kookaburra because of his curiously raucous birdsong.

Then today, just as A and I were coming up from the lower garden where we'd gone to pick a few oranges for tomorrow's breakfast juice, we were surprised to see a fat little kookaburra resting on an overhead branch quite near the back porch.

These birds don't usually hang around near the house, preferring to spend their time in the branches of the tall gum trees down in the paddock and up along the edges of the road. I think this year one family was roosting every night in the row of small bushy trees that our neighbour has planted as a hedge along the fenceline that divides our properties. I would hear them there every evening at dusk, noisily calling out the end of another day. But even when they are singing from the highest branches of gum trees across the road, we easily hear them. Theirs is not an especially beautiful song, but it is peculiar and distinctive among Australian birdsongs. And the cackle of kookaburras never fails to bring a smile to my face, sounding as it does as if the birds are having a boisterous quarrel.

A couple of years ago I had a close encounter with a very fat specimen. I was turning over the rich soil in this newly constructed vegetable patch. Sackfuls of horse manure had been spread on the new beds and left to rot over several months. And as I turned the rotted manure into the topsoil, scores of juicy big worms appeared. Not long after I started the job, I noticed a large kookaburra perched in a nearby tree, watching me, obviously uncertain whether to risk diving down for a feed of worm. I picked up a large worm and threw it onto the gravel path alongside the garden bed. The kookaburra immediately flew down and pounced on the worm. The he flew up to the sit on one of the bamboo tomato towers in the next plot. I continued turning over the bed, throwing the bird a worm now and then. He didn't catch them in mid-air, as the butcher birds do whenever I toss them scraps of leftovers. But he was quite comfortable being fed by me for nearly an hour. Don't look for the bird in this picture, though. As soon as I went up to the house to get my camera, he disappeared!

Up close, the kookaburra really is a most magnificent fellow, not as splendidly coloured as his smaller kingfisher cousins, perhaps, but thickly plumed, and as he often sits hunched over in a little ball he looks more like a child's fluffy woollen toy than a bird. He's well known as an early riser, too. Often he's the first bird to sing at the crack of dawn. In fact, if a family is nesting or roosting in a tree that has a view of our house, and for one reason or another I get up before dawn and switch on a light, the kookaburra will mistake my lit-up window as the dawn's early light. And sure enough: a short sharp chorus of kookaburra laughing will start up right after my light goes on, and stop when I turn it off. Because of that, plus the bird's slightly bizarre looks and strange guttural song, I can't help thinking of the kookaburra as being slightly dopey. Even so, he's always welcome at our place.


Zoe said...

It has been a while since I've seen the vegetable garden looking this good. You need to weed down there!! Ours are coming along nicely - the snow peas have all attached to the wire so they'll start climbing soon. Cauliflower looks a bit ordinary but it's early days yet.

Chartreuse said...

OK you two (John said as much on Facebook): I'm on to it!

Stafford Ray said...

Digging a drain using a tractor and rear scoop, family of kookas was swooping on worms and curl grubs as I tipped each load. One young one became too brave and was buried under the falling soil. Usually they will defened themselves with their formidable beak but this one seemed to know I was helping and relaxed as I freed him/her and it was right in there with the others next load!

I can hear some as I write this, laughing at their morning joke.
Regards to A, still waiting to see his artwork.

Chartreuse said...

A's not yet happy enough with any of his 'sketches' to post. But I may sneak one away from him and post behind his back soon!

Anonymous said...

I always think they are rather smart, with a good sense of humour ;) but I may be wrong. I know they have the sharpest beak ever. I might have to recover some of my kookaburra shots for my blog - thanks for the bird talk.

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I started this blog in 2009 when I became a full-time caregiver. My husband had been diagnosed a few years earlier with primary progressive aphasia. Over the next four years until his death in 2013, we went on a journey of discovery about this rare condition. My blog is about what I learned, how we both coped and how the journey deepened our love and appreciation of each other. Allen’s journey is over, but mine goes on.