Saturday, April 07, 2007

Nature notes

This is a little house, a single-fronted maisonette with a front garden the size of a hanky, and only three rooms apart from kitchen and bathroom.

But then when you look out the back door, you realise the yard goes on forever, long and narrow. The large tract beyond the garage was pretty much reclaimed as bushland by whoever planted the fifteen or so native trees that have, since I moved in nine years ago, grown to twice the size they were when I arrived: eucalypts, acacias, ti-trees, bottle-brushes, Geraldton Wax, a pepper-tree that used to be a sapling but isn't any more. The back yard is so big that instead of the usual three neighbours (both sides and down the back), I have five. It's a very old suburb with some nineteenth-century law about subdivision.

So I was down there today, attempting some hopelessly small and fussy task by way of land management, when I heard an explosion of bird-chatter over my head and a little off to the right, which is, I read later in the bird book, what happens. I followed the noise, expecting to see a flock of noisy littlies -- sparrows? Honey-eaters? Or rainbow lorikeets, perhaps? -- but instead what caught my eye was a big, dark shape on a branch about twenty feet up. At first I thought it was a possum, but it was completely the wrong shape. Then I thought "cat" -- but no cat up a tree would sit in that position.

Then I registered that it was looking straight at me. Out of big, unblinking, yellow eyes.

It was an owl.

Four o'clock on a sunny Easter Saturday afternoon in suburban Adelaide and I'm being stared down by a boobook owl.

The bird book says they're active at night but roost in the daytime, when they are often buzzed by flocks of little birds, usually honey-eaters. (Honey-eaters are cheeky little sods and wouldn't think twice about buzzing a velociraptor, much less an owl.)

I don't think it took fright at me. We looked at each other for a bit -- if I didn't know better I would have thought it had come to tell me it was time to get down to Diagon Alley for next term's Hogwart's supplies -- but then the buzzy little birds started to annoy it and it flew away: low and slow and heavy, but silent, in that glider way they have. The most I heard by way of noise was a soft whfffff, like an arrow.

And then my heart, going kafoomp kafoomp kafoomp.


Elizabeth said...

Years ago when we lived in Canberra we had a Ford Falcon station wagon with a bench front seat. It had been left outside at night with the driver's window open (life seemed safer then), and coming outside in the morning I saw an owl sitting on the back of the front seat. I have never forgotten it, and haven't seen an owl since.

Mindy said...

How fantastic.

Meredith said...

Wow, wow, wow. Jill at Ruby St had a boobook owl in her yard earlier this year...

sophie_cunning said...

They've started turning up in Fitzroy in the last year. A couple of times, when I've been walking back from the bookshop where I work at around midnight I've seen one sitting on the powerlines in our street. They feel magical.

tigtog said...

How marvellous. The birds around here are much more populous since the council got serious about streetscaping with native trees about 10 years ago, but we've not had an owl yet.

Anonymous said...

Oh, what a wonderful thing.

(Word verification is Zurtoo, which sounds like a good name for an owl.)

Cast Iron balcony

pippa said...

there seem to be so many kookaburras flying around unley these days. i saw one on the garage guttering as i rode off to the farmers' market. that's the closest i've been to one since moving down from the hills years ago.

and then this afternoon we saw a sulphur crested cockatoo flying overhead.

there's a theory that the bigger carnivorous birds are moving into the suburbs because of the drought.

oh, but an owl. that is amazing.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Pippa, that sounds right. Apparently last time there was a drought, the wedge-tailed eagle population took a pounding because they were all into roadkill (a dearth of small prey elsewhere, I guess, and also heading closer to the cities in search of water), and kept getting run over in the middle of their lunch because they didn't understand cars and couldn't fly away in time. Obviously I'm going to have to work out a way to put water for birds in the back yard.

Kookas in Unley -- that's amazing!

Mummy/Crit said...

Wow, that is amazing. I get lots of birds where I live, but not much in the way of wols (had to leave that tyop)though when I was a child we hit one in the car driving somewhere late at night, and there was a great palaver getting it into a box so we could take it to the wildlife carers. It was amazing.

Anonymous said...

WOL, oh yes--

Cast Iron Balcony

GoAwayPlease said...

Congratulations on your owl encounter.
I have had 3, and they were all thrilling.
The most ridiculous was a barking owl sound asleep in a bare winter tree, right on the main truck route through the city part of Ballarat, at 2:30 in the afternoon.

R H said...


Chris said...

Just fill a plastic tray with water and leave it up off the ground somewhere -- ours is in the corner where two different height fences meet.

The birds will find it, and so will the possums (I originally put one up after the ring-tailed possum started coming onto the deck to drink from the flowerpots, looking nervous as hell).