Monday, 29 October 2012

In which a family of Silvereyes might regret choosing my garden

Today I almost murdered two baby birds. I might well have murdered them still, despite all my efforts to save them. It remains to be seen whether they will survive today's ordeal. Tomorrow I will check.

The lesson to be learnt here is CHECK there are no BIRDS' NESTS hiding in branches you're about to saw off.

I have this Lillipilli tree, which I don't like much. It drops squishy pink berries all over my garden twice a year, and I've been contemplating removing it for years. Every so often, I chop off the branch that overhangs my lemon tree. Said branch came under attack today -- as did a great many other bushes in my garden -- but it wasn't until the branch had reached the ground that I saw the nest.

It was a tiny thing, about 10cm in diameter, neatly woven with twigs and spider-thread. My gut lurched and I had this vision of eggs tumbling to the ground... and then, as we were investigating it, trying to peer inside, out toppled two tiny baby birds.

I felt aghast. These birdlings were so tiny. Their eyes were still shut. They had no feathers. They could have been a day -- or hours -- old. They floundered around in the foliage, caught up in the leaves and branches of the chopped limb. I wanted to cry.

Carefully, we cut out the fork with the nest attached and placed it in a shallow plastic flowerpot. Then we cut away the foliage the babies were caught in and --whizzing off into the shade -- somehow got them back into the nest.

They huddled there, taking up all the space, dazed and confused.

And then, oh how I wanted to weep, as mummy and daddy bird (Silvereyes - tiny little things) appeared back in the tree, beaks full of food for their little ones, clearly perplexed at finding no sign of their nest. They hopped about the tree, searching, determined, because they left them right here just ten minutes ago!

Somehow we had to get that nest back into the tree before mum and dad gave up the search. The location needed to be shady and protected from other predators. And it had to be as near as possible to the original location, so mum and dad could find it.

In the end, we hung the pot, cradling the nest, in the tree and suspended off-cuts of foliage around it to provide shelter and camouflage. I was happy that we'd done all we could do, but it would be all for nothing if the parents didn't find the nest.

It took a little while. The parents had disappeared again and I feared they'd given up already, but then they reappeared. We decided to retreat from the vicinity and watched from a distance as the parents hopped from branch to branch, searching, searching, and then finally found their nest and chicks. They disappeared into the little bower we'd built for them and their birdlings got fed.

Silvereye feeding chicks - from Wikipedia

I can't express the relief I felt at this. I was so upset at having chopped down the branch and destroyed their carefully built little home. I feared I had killed those baby birds. I didn't really think we could get that nest back into the tree where the parents would be able to find it.

I still worry that the location is inappropriate -- that the sun will be too hot, or some rodent will get them in the night. Or that the ordeal of being tumbled from their nest and man-handled back into it will simply be too much for them. Maybe they had to wait too long for their meal? Maybe the parents won't like the new environment and abandon their babies. I don't know.

Tomorrow I will climb up the ladder and see if the babies are still alive. I'm going to cry if they're not.

Now, when I look at my Lillipilly tree, I don't see an ugly waste of space that needs to be pulled down at my earliest convenience. Now I see in its substantial crown of foliage a massive habitat for these little birds. This experience has really struck home the reality of deforestation that's happening all around the world, and how it's affecting the natural habitat for so many creatures.

I can't believe I had a real birds' nest, with tiny baby birds inside, in my back yard and I might have murdered them. I really hope they're alive in the morning.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Playing with fire

The past several weeks I've been doing fire warden training. Our first session was all sorts of theory about fire -- commonsense stuff about "the fire triangle", which is constructed of oxygen, fuel and heat. Take one away and the fire is gone...

They showed us videos of how fast fires can get out of control, the most memorable being the video of a famous stadium fire from the 1970s or 80s (I can't remember the name now), which flared from cigarette butt to entire stand ablaze within about 2 minutes. That particular disaster evidently led to a whole renewal of fire safety regulations. Safety features like fire exits and fire extinguishers were introduced. Had fire extinguishers been available, the flare up would have been put out when it was still small.

The main point, though, was making us aware of standard emergency procedures, making us aware of what can happen and how to react in various situations. And to STAY SAFE under all circumstances.

The second session was fire extinguisher training. They got us out there in the carpark with a tray full of fuel in water, set it alight, and had us take turns in putting out the fire. We practised with pressurised water, foam, carbon dioxide and chemical powders... Then a fire blanket.

All our fire fighting efforts (overseen by representatives of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade) were based on the principle of removing one of the "sides" of the fire triangle -- either heat or oxygen.

Finally, our third session was a full site evacuation, which happened this last week. My role was to sweep a certain section of the building, check rooms were clear, and close doors. (And I've just realised I missed the second set of bathrooms -- oops!) The MFB briefed us before and after, critiqued our procedures and gave us some things to work on... Communication methods being a big one to sort out. In emergency situations you're not supposed to rely on mobile phones.

I've enjoyed broadening my horizons with fire warden training -- and I would have said I hope I never to have to use it... But my new knowledge has already been put to the test!

A couple of weeks ago, we had a family gathering at my parents' house, and a kitchen fire flared up. It seems a plastic container had somehow found itself on a hotplate, and it burst into flame. We were all gathered at the kitchen table, waiting for the coffee to percolate, when the flames were spotted. It must have only just started, because it wasn't long before the kitchen was filled with acrid smoke.

But I had just done my training! My father grabbed the handily placed fire extinguisher, but I stopped him from using that right away (because it would have made an awful mess), and grabbed an apron with which to smother. It wasn't as effective as a fire blanket would have been, but it was close to hand. I edged up to the fire as we'd been shown and dropped it on top. Then my mother grabbed a towel and added that on top. (A small hiccup occurred when the hotplate, which we thought we'd turned off, turned out not to be turned off...and we almost had it flare up again.) The plastic container was shoved onto the floor, wrapped in its apron and towel, and the roll of paper towelling -- in such close proximity it's remarkable it didn't go up in flames -- was also removed.

All in all, we managed to deal with it, with only one slightly panicked and shrieking child ready to evacuate the house. (The rest were playing kick to kick, oblivious, outside.) I did send dad up into the ceiling to make sure no flaming embers had gone up the flue into the roofspace -- as the firemen said they did when called to house fires, even after they've been put out. Apparently this can lead to a housefire hours after the kitchen incident. In our case, all was clear.

This has all taught me to make sure smoke detectors are in working order and to install a fire blanket in the kitchen -- preferably away from the stove. I just couldn't believe this happened less than a week after I'd done my fire extinguisher training!

Friday, 5 October 2012

And there went September!

Er.

I'm sure I said I was going to blog weekly here. Oops.

September was a very busy but productive and eventful month. There were a four-day writing retreat to Mulwala, a free ticket to a Katie Noonan recital, an international netball game, regular Saturday writing dates in a local cafe, family visiting from Newcastle (which included a sleepover by my 9yo niece), a photo shoot, an MTC play (not to mention a couple of plays in preceding months I've failed to document), two Dungeons and Dragon sessions... not to mention much dayjob work.

I've now reached the end of double workhell month -- yay! -- and have to say that I'm in a good place. My new writing philosophy seems to be helping me stay positive. Basically, I'm focusing on enjoying the process and using this to drive me back to the wip every chance I get. And I'm not beating myself up if I don't get there, or demanding unrealistic achievements of myself.

The writing retreat was of course fabulous (I blogged about it here and here), but it's also been really great to have regular writing sessions with friends in one of my local cafes. This new habit ticks multiple boxes:
1. Carves out a definite writing window, which might otherwise get consumed by housework if I was at home. And with work the way it has been, the cafe session has been my only definite writing time.
2. Provides writing time away from the internet, which is vital
3. Doubles-up as socialising!
4. Makes me feel cool and groovy - I'm such a poser! (hehe)

The Katie Noonan concert was an unexpected pleasure. I scored a free ticket for a Friday night from a colleague, who couldn't use tickets provided by a customer. She sang at the Melbourne Recital Centre, which is a modern, airy auditorium of casual elegance. Katie sang to the beautiful accompaniment of classical guitarist Karin Schaupp. Their focus was songs of Australia and New Zealand, ranging from traditional through to classic pop and modern hits -- their cover of Gotye's Heart's a Mess was the highlight for me. Katie herself was a delightful host, at all times charming, gracious and witty. Really impressed.

It was also fabulous to have my niece come to stay last weekend. I don't think I've announced this yet, but my renegade family are finally coming home to Melbourne for good in time for Christmas. So I suspect last weekend was the first of many sleepovers. For some reason, Miss 9 equates DVDs with staying at Aunty Ellen's, so of course I comply. I had been looking forward to watching the second Harrpy Potter movie with her, but she decided it might be too scary, so instead we watched Tangled (Saturday night) and then Stardust and The Spiderwick Chronicles in the morning. After that we went to the Melbourne Museum, which seemed to go down well. Miss 9 loves the natural world, so dinosaur bones, volcanos, crystals and meteorites were popular.

So despite workhell, September was actually a great month. You can read about my Dungeons and Dragons adventures here -- I'm keeping a chronicle of my novice experience. It's hard to believe it took me until my forties to play for the first time!

October is looking like a much less crazy month -- which is good, because I think I need to recover!

Oh yeah, and I also got some PURPLE put into my hair!