Last week the plumbers arrived early to
excavate and replace the old worn pipes under the house which carry the waste
water from the bathroom and laundry. [Our house in Townsville (19* south) is a
typical post war timber and fibro Queenslander set on small stumps to allow
breezes to flow under and hopefully keep termites at bay]. As I
followed the plumbers down the side path to the old concrete cowling I
gestured towards a dead thicket in the garden bed which tidier gardeners would
have long removed.
"If you hear a lot of twitterings it's the finches
- they arrive here every year just after the bush fires start."
If they heard me they showed no
interest and in any case twitterings and every other sound were soon drowned as
they hove into the old cowling with electric drills.
The laundry opens out onto the back verandah, an
inner courtyard with the tinkling sound of water in the garden ponds and the
bird feeding table with its water baths which is in an open area sheltered
on two sides by palms, draceanas and gingers and the shade house on the third.
As the day wore on I went outside the house to find the pumber and his mate
in excited conversation. "Are they WILD birds???" the plumber asked. "The ground
was carpetted in bullfinches."____"There were
other birds too,' added his mate.
"Chestnut-breasted Mannikins, zebra finches and
peaceful doves," I replied. "And yes they are WILD birds. The zebs and
doves are here all year round, but the mannikins only arrive
with the bushfires and leave after a couple of weeks. There's a
lot of young chicks with them."
Not to reopen the 'to feed or not to feed' debate,
the finches are not forming a dependence on the seed we provide as a supplement
but really enjoy the water baths and also graze the grassy nature strip
between the garden and road, which Norm keeps watered. The dead thicket
provides a roost safe from predators, palm fronds and poinciana
branches are transformed into platforms for preening and socialising. We
would never remove the old thicket and find it hard to understand people living
in the dry tropics who give their lawn a military haircut when a light trim to
ensure good root growth and careful watering is all that is required.
We always feel a little saddened when the
mannikins move on, but glad we are able to provide a 'pit stop' when most
of the natural forage has been blackened by fires, many of which are
deliberately lit. But their departure signals its time for the Koels and
Dollarbirds to return. I wouldn't want
it any other way.