We have a fig tree down the back of the yard in our (rented) house. It looks like two trees but they are probably joined underground.
Last year was the first time I really had cause to watch the genesis of figs up close. I couldn’t quite account for it. It seemed as though there was a fruit without any antecedent flower. Now I know that the fig starts off as something like an inside-out flower – the sexual parts are all inside. Apparently sexual reproduction of figs depends on symbiotic species of wasp specific to each species of fig: in New Zealand it was many years after the importation of Australian species fig cuttings that the relevant wasp caught up. It gets more complicated than that: some figs have male and female plants; vegans apparently fret over the fate of the wasp which goes in to lay its eggs and apparently dies in there. But I digress.
Birds started taking the odd fig off the tree. All of a sudden we noticed nets on other people’s trees. Walking around Ashfield we saw one particularly well-netted set of trees, but we were deterred from asking the older (my guess: Italian) gentlemen tending the crop-filled garden by his fierce mien and the sling-shot in his hand. That man, we thought, is obsessed!
In the end we got some nets, but not enough for the size of the tree. Having just moved house, we were reluctant to buy even more.
D wanted to prune the tree to bring it within our netting, but I remonstrated with him. He did his best to wrap things up.
By then, currawongs were hanging round from about 8 to 9 o’clock each morning.
One bird got trapped in the netting. D set it free.
It still seemed as though there would be enough for all of us. I tasted the odd just or nearly ripe fig.
Then one morning the currawongs totally cleaned us out. There must have been 10 of them. Mostly they had just hopped along the fence at one end and come in at a gap in the net at that end of the tree/s. I saw some of them doing it.
This year the first crop of figs appeared on the old growth. They seemed few. Then, perhaps in answer to my fertilizing nudges, a second crop appeared on the new growth.
D, who had been in China since July, returned on the ides of November. I told D I hadn’t seen any currawongs around yet. Trees we had spotted with nets last year still lacked them. It was too early to worry: the figs are far from ripe.
D pointed out some half-eaten figs on the ground and the odd missing fig from our tree. D swung into action.
D pruned the tree some more. I held the ladder. He has extended the legs of the ladder with pieces of wood secured with industrial-grade sticky tape. Did I mention D comes from China? He was raised to be practical and resourceful, if sometimes a little alarmingly (the sticky-taped clear plastic tubing to take the gas to a relocated stove in an earlier flat comes to mind). With the help of a long pole with a hook on the end made from part of a wire coat hanger, we got the different pieces of netting over the top of the tree/s and joined together.
Now we were obsessed, especially D.
The netting still wasn’t enough. We drove to B__ings for netting. On the way we passed the garden of the fierce old Italian. His nets were up.
The spot adjoining the fence still had a gap which I thought might still get hopped through, but our obsession had subsided a little by then.
That was Sunday, On Monday morning I looked back from the house. The gap in the netting by the fence had widened considerably. Closer up, I could see and hear a bird frantically and unsuccessfully trying to fly up through the top the the netting. Going closer still, I realised there were two birds. The the less frantic was a large black bird with a red eye. That is the male koel, long heard but only seen by me for the first time this year as it has called from the neighbouring jacaranda and taken an interest in the last of the mulberries. The frantic one, with a specked back and a banded front, I knew to be a female. I hadn’t actually seen one before – maybe it was more reclusive and hence more distressed.
We opened up the net. We banged on the net with the pole to drive them to the opening. Once they found the gap they were out like a shot.
People complain about the male bird’s constant call but I quite like it: it doesn’t keep me awake and it is lively and exotic.
We wrapped the tree up again. Christo was here!
I also saw a pair of channel-billed cuckoos being chased away by magpies a few weeks ago. What was odd was that the magpies left alone another CBC which remained quietly perched within a big tree as the other/s were chased off. At the time I wondered if this was a juvenile which was still “undercover;” on subsequent reading up I see it could have been a female waiting to pop an egg in – though this would mean that I only saw one being chased away, which is not my recollection.
There is something fascinating about brood parasites. Is it a “hiss the villain” thing?
The koels weren’t there on Tuesday. We hope they have been put off. I saw the male around again on Thursday though he steered well clear of the fig tree.
I spotted the first currawong hanging around on Friday. I used to like currawongs but I find my attitude to them quite altered.