Archive for the ‘Cuckoo’ Category

First cuckoo

September 12, 2017

Last night I heard something from the stand of trees in the grounds of the nearby public school.  It sounded like a bird but I couldn’t work out which.

This afternoon I unmistakeably heard a channel-billed cuckoo in full voice.

Could it be the more subdued sounds last night were the marks of exhaustion after a long commute?

Spring in Sydney

October 22, 2016

This year, Spring sprang right on time: 1 September was distinctly balmy.

After that, I went away – to Albany, WA, where my maternal aunt had died suddenly.  Only a few blossoms were braving it there against a generally wet and windy outlook.  Seasonally speaking and indeed in other respects it felt like a trip back in time.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed the following seasonal harbingers around our place:

  1. The channel-billed cuckoo – websites say they are supposed to reach Sydney in mid-September, but this year I first heard them in early October;
  2. Koels – this year, the CBC beat them here;
  3. Star-jasmine – hedges in neighbouring houses were pregnant with buds, then all of a sudden, they all burst forth. The common jasmine is sweeter but the nutmeg-like star jasmine (actually a jasminoid) is intoxicating;
  4. JACARANDA! – I’d had my head down last weekend and this week for a trial; on Friday I looked out of the train window on the way into town and realised that they’d snuck up on me.

I’ve always liked seasonal returns.  As I experience more of them, they have a cumulative reminiscent affect. Now I’m beginning to sense a glass-half-full-half-empty tipping point: how many more of these have I to go?

I suppose it’s partly the passing of my father and my aunt this year which fuels such thoughts.  Then on Friday morning I read a surprisingly upbeat final letter (a note, really) which had been admitted to probate as the informal will of its author, aged 35.

Overnight birdwatching

September 17, 2015


I have been staying up too late at night.

Last Saturday I went to hear the Australia Ensemble. After I dropped my AE companion, P, at her home I made an almost-midnight sortie to Woolworths for the week’s supplies. After a Skype with D who was in Taipei on a visa-run out of China (he has been in Shanghai since June; his multiple-entry visa is only good for 90 days each visit) it was 1.30 before I sat down to dinner.

Some hours later, at the quietest time of the morning, I heard a muted “whoop-whoop-whoop” noise from outdoors.

I have heard this sound at night before. I told myself that probably it was a pump or something similar associated with a hot water service or other nocturnal mechanical process, but I could not help the romantic hope that it might be some kind of nocturnal bird. I took a torch and went into the back yard to get a clearer aural fix on where the sound was coming from.

I decided the noise was coming from the front of the house and so turned back towards the house, intending to renew my search out the front.

All of a sudden, I was flat on the ground. I had tripped over the tap supported by a star-picket pictured at the beginning of this post. This was not the first time I have walked into this garden feature when preoccupied with some higher object, but it was definitely the worst. “You fuckwit,” I said to myself, though not so quietly, after the first grunt of shock and pain.

My right knee was very sore, as knees are if you fall on them. I’ve had a bit of trouble with this knee recently so was a bit concerned that any recovery might have been set back. I went inside, thinking frozen peas and ice packs.

Then I noticed my left trouser leg was torn. I must have torn it on the star picket. I took off my trousers. Underneath I was wearing black woollen long johns (sorry if TMI). I could see a tear in those and a glint of red blood. Did I catch a glimpse of white? I could not even bear to look at it more closely, let alone take off the long-johns which I now hoped were acting as a kind of supporting bandage. This was too much for me to deal with myself. I called a taxi and gathered the necessaries: earplugs, reading material, extra warm clothing. By about 5.10 am I was at RPA (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital).

I knew the taxi driver was overcharging me for at least the radio hire fee but I wasn’t up to arguing over cents that I would have given him as a tip anyway.

It was a good time to arrive. I was seen straight away and hardly waited at all before the excellent nurse Sean rinsed the wound out (having first mercifully made sure I had a local anaesthetic) and bound it up. I was put on a bed in the ED. The surgeon had been sent a photo of the wound by SMS. He came in and told me I would need to have the wound cleaned out and stitched up under general anaesthetic. I would be in overnight.

First, I would need to be found a bed. At about 9.30 I was told I would have a bed but it took a few more hours before I got to it. More disappointingly, at about 8pm a nurse told me that I wouldn’t be operated on that day. As we lawyers put it, I had not been reached. A cheese sandwich, an apple, some apple juice and some yoghurt were cold consolation for a fruitless day of nil-by-mouth.

Fortunately, Endone was ungrudgingly dispensed, which kept any pain at bay and also, it must be said, helped the time to pass in a hospital haze.

I got to the theatre a bit before 11 on Monday morning and came round in time for a hot lunch back in the ward.

For the second time this year, I was to spend two nights in hospital. The last time I spent a night in hospital before this year was 40 years ago. I hope the mathematical trend does not continue.

I now have the letter for my hypothetical GP whom I am meant to see in the next week – not that you can get an appointment with any doctor so quickly. So I now know that the gash was 7 cm long. This is hardly very much and less than the tear in my trousers. The real problem was that it was down to the bone.

Apart from being constantly asked your name and date of birth, the other thing that happens when you go to hospital with an injury is that people ask you how you sustained it. Some of them write down what you say. Somebody (not necessarily anyone you told the story to) then writes the discharge letter. This is what mine says:

Admission notes extract

It sounds unbelievable: birdwatching at night, injured by a wooden stake. I don’t think it’s what I told anybody, but there it is now in the records.

I was listening, not watching, and the stake most definitely was not wooden. I am certain I always said it was a star-picket and I never said it was wooden.

Hospital records are business records and so are admissible as evidence and even if they are not strictly evidence of what happened, they can easily be evidence of what a patient has told hospital employees, which could well be either an admission by the patient if the patient is a party to litigation or admissible hearsay evidence by a dead person who is no longer available.

Professionally, I shall now treat such records with caution, and with skepticism (if it is in my client’s interests to do so). After all, patients are often not the most reliable informants, especially when they come into casualty, and hospital staff may also jump to conclusions. A lot of what they record is only incidental to their main task and their mind may not really be focussed on details which somebody may subsequently wish to rely upon.

Here’s a picture of the scene of the crime, taken on my return. It must be exactly as I left it. Maybe I tripped over something else first rather than simply walking into the tap:


But now the best thing.

Just now, staying up too late again, I heard the same “whoop whoop” noise. I went out, to the front this time and very carefully. The whooping stopped as I got closer to where it had come from, but there was movement in the tree and twigs and other detritus falling down. I returned with a torch and in amazing, slow winged flight, quite close to me, this bird emerged.

tawny frogmouth

Not my picture: Wikipedia’s.

It didn’t seem especially scared of me but perhaps it was just following its instinct as it perched motionless on a branch, caught in the beam from my torch. Its eyes were red against the glare. It seemed cruel to prolong this. I moved around so I could look at it from behind but a little while after it flew, not far, to a branch where it could, once again, look at me. I left it alone.

So now I really have been birdwatching at night.

“Are you a twitcher?” Sean the excellent nurse asked me as he directed a thin stream of saline solution into my leg (it was cool and strangely refreshing). I demurred at that. I haven’t the patience to be a true birdwatcher. But I find it difficult to see how anybody could not be interested in such few birds as come our way.

It’s a Shelley thing: flight signifies freedom, at least as a romantic dream. Flight also accounts for birds’ resilience in a man-made environment. It’s not resilience of all species because obviously many birds have disappeared from loss of habitat, but I also love how others, like the (often hated) ibis or, in the inner west, the Rainbow Lorikeets, have established essentially feral populations in the new environment.

Just this week, I have heard the first channel-billed cuckoos, the butcher birds have sprung into renewed song and yesterday afternoon I am sure I spotted a king parrot. Even if it was only a crimson rosella (the call suggested parrot) that is an unusual sighting for the Inner West. It was in a stand-off with a truculent looking cockatoo in a much fought-over tree with hollows, and I doubt the parrot/rosella will prevail, but it cheered me to see it.

To see a tawny frogmouth in Ashfield is really special.

The first cuckoo

October 21, 2014

I heard the first koel just now – the upward penny-whistle-ish call.

I expect to see them in our mulberry tree (just coming to its prime) shortly.

There has been another more raucous bird call (a bit like a wattle-bird’s but not) heard over the past few days which I am investigating.

Affternote: the raucous one was/is probably a channel-billed cuckoo.


November 30, 2013


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.