HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus)

female House Sparrow

House Sparrows are as common as mud, but that doesn’t take away the pleasure of observing their habits and trying to photograph them from the comfort of my desk chair.

They’re fascinating.

Sitting at my desk with intermittent glances out the lounge windows gives me a ‘birdseye view’.

I got fed up with my sore neck and headaches this week so put my new(ish) 27″ iMac back down on a box atop a low table behind my desk again this week and discovered that with the screen 5-6″ lower, I was able to observe the Sparrows (and sometimes the Superb Fairy-wrens) in the nearby Eucalyptus tree over the top of my iMac screen.

The fixed stand on the iMac (desktop) is one of the few daily and rather trivial annoyances that have entered my life since my crashed Mac Pro laptop and Dell high resolution 27″ screen left my life mid-May 2019.

The Dell screen could be moved up, down and even turned portrait size (as well as the usual landscape view).   i could tilt it any old way.  I had it connected to my 13″ Mac Pro on my desk and with the slight colour tone differences could correct any colour saturation that looked a wee bit off on either screen.   The Mac Pro laptop had a slightly richer colour.

(note: in the series below the window was dirty from recent rains so the images are a bit faded).

A couple of days ago, a male House Sparrow seemed to be actually enjoying bouncing up and down on a small branch.   For once I could clearly see through the thick foliage.

If I didn’t know better, I might suggest the bird was bouncing up and down on the branch in the brisk winter wind for the sheer fun of it.

Seriously.   The bird stayed on the branch for quite some time.

Took me a while to focus over the top of my (lowered) computer screen and through the louvred window panes on that side of the room.

NOTE: I have reduced the shadows, increased the contrast and ‘black point’ in photo editing so you could see the bird more clearly, otherwise, the bird’s outline would have been almost invisible.

You will notice this male Sparrow has a beautiful soft thick grey winter coat of breast feathers and in the cold winter morning the bird has also fluffed up its feathers to retain some warmth.

Here’s example of a couple of Spotted Turtle-doves in Frogs Hollow Nature Reserve behind my apartment building in winter 2017 below. Note how they’ve fluffed up their winter coat in order to retain some warmth.

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Back to the story……….

One other day this week, the sun came out and several sparrows came to play and splash around in my (temporary) birdbath.

Actually, it’s not temporary.

A large plastic plant saucer atop an even larger empty plant pot makes a wonderful birdbath.   It’s higher up so I can take photos more clearly through the windows.  Since the water is quite deep, I have put 2 small metal water bowls in the centre so the birds have a sturdy bowl rim to stand on and bend over when quenching their thirst.

The Avian species on my balcony needs some good ergonomics just as much as me with my desk chair height  😀

One day, when the stores open again, I might buy a real birdbath.   The blue ceramic one has broken twice over the last few years necessitating 2 trips to the local Bunnings Hardware Warehouse with its attached plant nursery.    It’s only 15 minutes walk away but closed for 6 weeks at the moment.   I usually book a taxi to go there (and back home) as I always buy too much.

For the newer followers who have just joined me, this series (below) gives you an idea of where I buy my herb and veggie seedlings each Spring.   Bunnings is the name of a larger Hardware warehouse chain of stores and they must have millions of products indoors, let alone the large outdoor plant nursery.

The House Sparrows play and splash around and make great entertainment value in this current ‘lockdown’ in Melbourne.

If you’re a bird photographer.  Even an amateur like me.   Don’t dismiss the fun in observing these common little birds that frequent our urban landscape in the absence of more exotic species.

I’ve taken so few photos in recent weeks, I actually leave my cameras packed away in their soft pouches most days.

I saw a grey Fantail land on my balcony fence this week and missed the shot due to having no camera ready and waiting.

Just to share what a Grey Fantail looks like, here are the images made last year when I spotted one in my Japanese Maple.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things.

Schopenhauer

CHEIRANTHUS Sugar Rush (Cheiranthus cheiri)

…and right now I’m enjoying the flowers of the Cheiranthus Sugar Rush (Cheiranthus cheiri) blooming on my apartment balcony.   We’re only 10 days into the current 6 week evening curfew and strict lockdown in Melbourne and I’m missing all my herbs and veggies I used to grow on my balcony.   I re-homed or planted out most of them when I temporarily moved house last month and with the lock-down and all the stores closed, I am missing their fragrant cheerful presence in my life.

SHOT(s) OF THE DAY

Today, out of 45 shots, I managed to capture a (blue) male Superb Fairy-wren with a rather large caterpillar and female foraging in the English curly Parsley bush.  It was only a narrow gap between the plastic pot and the plant foliage.

(needless to say, I wash the herbs VERY thoroughly before I use them in cooking  😀 ).  

Today’s female had what looked like a broken claw on her left foot, so from now on she’ll be identified as Miss Broken Claw 😀   I haven’t seen Miss White Foot or Mr Speckled Black Bib for quite a few days now, but I’m sure they’ll return once the intermittent rain showers stop.

It’s freezing cold in Melbourne this week – more like Winter than Autumn – very windy too.   I have to go out tomorrow.   First time in a month (apart from picking up my supermarket delivery from the building’s front door each week).

But the great part about these lazy days at home doing nothing much in particular is that they too shall pass.  So if you’re getting bored stuck at home in ‘lockdown’ mode, I challenge you to take a serious look at how you’re living your life during normal pre-Coronavirus days.

If you look at what you have in life,
you’ll always have more.
If you look at what you don’t have in life,
you’ll never have enough.

~ Oprah Winfrey ~

The cropped shot below shows the broken left claw.

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I couldn’t resist copying this from a friend’s Facebook page.

I hope Barry Evans won’t mind me sharing it with you today.

Having perspective is good, but using it is better.  I received what is written below from a friend. I do not know who wrote it, but I think it makes an excellent point relative to what is occurring now. 

We probably all think that it’s a mess out there now. Hard to discern between what’s a real threat and what is just simple panic and hysteria. For a small amount of perspective at this moment, imagine you were born in 1900.  Many would think that that was a pretty simple time of life. Then on your 14th birthday, World War I starts, and ends on your 18th birthday. 22 million people perish in that war, including many of your friends who volunteered to defend freedom in Europe. 

Later in the year, a Spanish Flu epidemic hits the planet and runs until your 20th birthday. 50 million people die from it in those two years. Yes, 50 million. On your 29th birthday, the Great Depression begins. Unemployment hits 25%, the World GDP drops 27%. That runs until you are 38. The country nearly collapses along with the world economy.   If you were lucky, you had a job that paid $300 a year, a dollar a day. 

When you turn 39, World War II starts. You aren’t even over the hill yet, but don’t try to catch your breath.  If you lived in London, England or most of continental Europe, bombing of your neighborhood, or invasion of your country by foreign soldiers along with their tank and artillery was a daily event.  Thousands of Canadian young men joined the army to defend liberty with their lives.  Between your 39th and 45th birthday, 75 million people perish in the war. 

At 50, the Korean War starts. 5 million perish. At 55 the Vietnam War begins and doesn’t end for 20 years. 4 million people perish in that conflict. On your 62nd birthday there is the Cuban Missile Crisis, a tipping point in the Cold War. Life on our planet, as we know it, could have ended.  Sensible leaders prevented that from happening. 

In 2020, we have the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands have died; it feels pretty dangerous; and it is. Now think of everyone on the planet born in 1900. How do you think they survived all of the above?  When you were a kid in 1965, you didn’t think your 65-year-old grandparents understood how hard school was, and how mean that kid in your class was. Yet they survived through everything listed above. Perspective is an amazing art. Refined as time goes on, and very enlightening. So, let’s try and keep things in perspective.  Let’s be smart, we are all in this together.Let’s help each other out, and we will get through all of this. 

AMEN!

Barry Evans is a Villager and columnist for Villages-News.com

 

LOVELY, LOVELY RAIN!

It rained on/off most of last week (note: many of these images (with the exception of the young Sparrow image above) were taken through dirty or raindrop covered lounge windows, hence a slight blur).

One day it rained all night and all day – Thursday.   Not heavily.   Just constantly.  Deeply enriching the soil of my Balcony Garden.   I cannot express how grateful I am for the cool days and rain.

Autumn has got off to an incredible start.   If this keeps up all our dams and reservoirs will fill up.

Dry creeks and river beds will flow with water.

New leaf shoots will burst out of tree trunks in the Bush-fire affected areas.

I haven’t got any exciting new images, just images of the rain and how lush my Balcony Garden is looking at the present time.

The Italian (or European) flat-leaf parsley is now weighed down by the weight of rain, not wilting due to the heat and dry soil.

FLAT-LEAF PARSLEY

Some of these herbs I cut down to 1″ stubble (after the red dust storm at the start of February) and with all this rain they’ve fully recovered now.

SORREL

I pulled the sad-looking 3 Heirloom Tomatoes out of their pots, but left the pruned stubble of the Sweet Basil in each of the 3 large pots and the 6 plants are beginning to grow again (well, except for one which seems to have ‘nibble’ marks – probably from a Harlequin bug as I can’t find any caterpillars).

Long-time followers will remember my poem about the  Caterpillars.

As to the Harlequin Bugs, well, they ate every single leaf in my garden last Summer, including the more pungent Sage leaves.

The Sparrow’s swimming pool is full to overflowing, including the 2 metal water bowls I put in to replace the pebbles which were covered in algae, (and I extracted to clean).  Normally, the House Sparrows have to lean over from the saucer rim very low to take a drink.   Hence, me putting in the full metal bowls so they didn’t have to reach down so low.

Birds can happily splash and play all day.

My new Sage seedling died after the Red Dust Storm.   I left the 1″ stubble but its definitely dead.   I thought it might grow new shoots, but no, it’s definitely gone to Heavenly Pastures.

I’ll pull the roots out when I go outdoors next.

But the new Rocket seedlings are looking lush and I’ve had several meals off them.

In fact, about 1/3 of my garden died after that storm.    And if the red dust didn’t suffocate the plants, the heavy rain downpour a few days later, bringing even more red dust sealed their fate.

The Blueberry ‘Nellie Kelly’ has lots of new green leaves and branches.   (you can faintly see the burned brown leaf tips of some old leaves in the background in the image below).

The Lemon Verbena has lots of tiny new leaves also.   You can faintly see some of the remnants of the red dust on the older large leaves below the new shoots.

I’ve seen the male blue Superb Fairy-wrens but they were too quick for me to get a decent photo.   The one below keeps coming back to the shade of the Sorrel plant and scratching around in the soil.  Don’t know what the wren is looking for?

The taller flowering branches of the Lemon Thyme I left after pruning, are weighed down by rain droplets.

Note: I normally remove the plastic saucers from under the pots when the rain is heavy as herbs don’t like wet feet, but I wasn’t going out in the constant rain to remove them all on that particular day.

….and the Mint actually flowered.   First time I’ve seen a Mint flower as I usually snip all the branch tops off to use in cooking or salads.

Even, the Rosemary, which was looking poorly, has new shoots.   This past summer is the worst I’ve ever seen my new(ish) Rosemary bush.  I had great trouble trying to wash the Red Dust off the spiky leaves.

The Japanese Maple in front of my balcony had its branches weighed down quite heavily with the continuous rain.

 

 

All in all………my balcony garden is thriving again 🙂

THIS TIME LAST YEAR

It’s always interesting to see what was happening in my life at the same time in previous years.

This time last year……

I was trying to come to grips with the fact that the severe osteoarthritis in my R hip was going to be a permanent fixture and I could no longer go for long walks doing Nature Photography…….even on a good pain day.  (other pre-existing conditions precluded total hip replacement surgery).

 

The tiny female Superb Fairy-wren made its presence more visible.

 

It even posed for a formal picture every now and then.

 

This Eurasian Tree Sparrow came to call and I suddenly realised that this was a different bird to the House Sparrows I saw regularly.   I never saw it (or any other Eurasian Tree Sparrow) again.

 

The Asian Climbing Spinach seeds my brother gave me were making a promising start.   (Note: they died after only a couple of harvests.   Never found out why).

 

This male Superb Fairy-wren was a regular visitor.

 

These tiny female House Sparrows started to visit more often than the Brown-capped males.

 

The (male) Superb Fairy-wrens loved to visit the baby spinach crop.

 

But maybe the females looked the cutest.

 

I also accepted that there were more back views of these tiny wrens in my Photo Library (than front views).

THE BEGINNING OF THE END

After much thought, I decided to harvest/pull out about 1/3 of my Balcony Garden last Saturday.   The sight of the damaged (or dead) leaves was a wee bit depressing.

I decided the Dead, Damaged or Dying are not worth the nightly chore of carting heavy water cans of water from the kitchen tap each evening at dusk (when one has permanent bad lower back and hip pain).

I’ll leave the chore of washing the 2nd lot of dust off the balcony tiles a bit longer.   Seems like the rain is carrying much dust permanently, (and perhaps taxic chemicals?) in recent days.   I certainly have to wash the cut Herbs multiple times before using.

This year’s crop of Blueberries has amounted to about 2 dozen small, fairly tasteless, berries over a two month period, instead of last years small delicious handful every day (for 3 weeks or so).   All those hundreds of blueberry flowers a few months ago amounted to nothing (above).

The leaves, after I cut off the worst damaged, still look pretty burnt and brown (below) and despite pouring water over the leaves, most leaves still have dust on them (below)

The bush is looking as sad as I feel.

On Saturday I didn’t get around to taking out the 3 Heirloom tomatoes which have deteriorated so much. While they withstood the 44C (112F) day some week ago, the Dust Storm (and subsequent heavy rain leaving a second covering of red dust) has really had an adverse effect (as I mentioned in a previous post).

Wouldn’t you know it – on Sunday, some of the 22 tiny green Truss Tomatoes, which have been green for weeks,  started to change colour and ripen.   This is the second time I’ve thought about taking the plants out, left them one more day, and the fruit changed colour.

Methinks nature is doing this to tease me.

So I’ll leave that one in a bit longer, despite the fact it looks more like an ‘anorexic‘ bush with a few dead or dying branches and leaves, instead of the bright lush green bush at the start of Spring (below).

THE TOMATOES LIGHT UP WITH A RICH GOLD HUE IN THE GOLDEN HOURS OF THE DAY AROUND DUSK.

Tomato #3 – ‘Genuwine’- has 2-3 new flowers on it and a few new leaves.   Rather pale and insipid compared to the rich greens denoting the start of Spring.   The rest of that bush is almost dead.

Within 24 hours, all the herbs I cut down to 1-2″ (about 4 cm) stubble burst into tiny new shoots.

I regularly prune or give my herbs a ‘haircut’, so cutting off 90-99% of the foliage and branches is actually no big deal.

I cut the dead flowers and spindly branches off the grey-leafed Curry Plant and it’s looking much better (below).  All the branch tips have new shoots.

The only herb not sprouting is the dead Sage seedling which I only bought about 3-4 weeks ago.   It was thickly coated in red dust and despite lots of watering by me in an attempt to wash the dust off, failed to recover.    I’ll leave the dead stubble in the long trough as that plastic trough has a Rocket plant either end which has already started sending out new leaves.

In fact, the Rocket seedlings which I harvested will be ready for another harvest in about 5-7 days at the rate they’re growing (below).

The Rocket leaves 24 hours after being cut down to stubble are already starting to sprout .

The Perennial Basil, of which I cut about 99% off, is starting to sprout too.

Basically, many of the Herb leaves suffocated.   

My Rosemary doesn’t look as good as usual either, but I’ll leave that in the pot in the hope Autumn and Winter rains and some Osmocote slow-release fertilizer pellets revive it.   It usually grows well in the Australian hot summer, but the severe dust storm was a whole new ‘ball-game’ for it to contend with.

My Balcony Garden gets a lot of dust from the construction site on the other side of the road in the last few months, but this Dust Storm was a major calamitous event for it.   I often find sawdust covering the plants and balcony floor, so I’ll be well & truly glad when the apartment building is finished – if that EVER happens LOL 😀

I am just fed up with the noise of nail guns, electric saws, loud radio music and sometimes………loud swearing drifting across to my apartment and waking me up in the morning.   I have been known to swear occasionally, but all $%#@ day like the construction workers?   I guess the workers don’t realize how much the sound carries from the cliff face down to the apartment block below.

NOT LARGE, BUT THIS YEAR’S BEETROOT ARE GROWING IN THE SMALL SPACE.

I pulled all the Beetroot out and cooked the golfball-sized beets and they were delicious – more earthy in flavour (compared to the supermarket variety).

Remember my gorgeous crop of leaves which I’ve been cutting raw for salads as well as cooked as a dinner vegetable or omelette ingredient?

Beetroot leaves are packed with high amounts of vitamins and nutrients, including iron, protein, calcium, magnesium, zinc and fibre. They also are extremely low in calories, fat and cholesterol.   No wonder they are ranked among the top 10 healthiest foods on some websites.   I usually cut the leaves when they’re relatively small.   This year is the first time I have left them for long enough to harvest beets to cook.

Kale (of which I have none at the moment) is another dense nutrient-packed green leafy vegetable.   I usually have at least one plant growing all year round.

I’ll wait until the end of the hot summer to plant another seedling though.

I took out the French Bean plant as well.   It has never really cropped much since the leaf damage.  I think I can see black dots or insects on the underside of the leaves too.

Perhaps I now have a pest on them.

 

 

I’ve snipped off the dead and dying leaves from the 2 Flat-leaf Parsley plants in the bright blue trough and left it on the ground and now that it’s away from that hot fence railing, they seem to be OK.   I wondered if it was the burning hot railing that damaged it, not the storms and severe 44C day a few weeks ago.

It wasn’t until I was washing the dust off the fence rail that I realized the metal was as hot as a stove hotplate on high.

Don’t know how the Sparrows (and Wrens) can tolerate standing on the metal on superhot days.

Then the pests moved in with their voracious appetites the other week and took hold of some of the other herbs (Sorrel) below.

I found mint leaves stuck together with the faint outline of caterpillars under a web of cocoon threads.

The Sorrel leaves had round bite marks but I can find no caterpillars, so that might be Harlequin Bug infestation like I had last year.

So…….’off with its head’ as the saying goes.  The sorrel (and 2 Mint plants) pruned down to 1-2″ stubble.   I usually cut the Sorrel down to stubble once every month or so anyway.  

This ensures a lovely new crop of fresh young leaves within a week (example below).

So, in general, don’t be afraid to prune your herbs back hard if the leaves start to get a little bitter, or the plant grows unruly on your limited balcony or courtyard space.

Most will regenerate and offer up new young leaves for your kitchen.

Regretfully, this is the beginning of the end of this Summer’s crops.   Premature I may be in pulling some out, but I don’t see any sense in wasting my precious energy watering crops that are so sickly.

Never mind, there’s always next year  🙂

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

In the meantime, I’m nurturing the 3 Herb seedlings my friends brought me a couple of weeks ago.   It’s far too hot on my balcony for the Coriander anyway.  So they stay indoors for the time being.

2019/2020 Summer has left a devastating impact on the Australian environment.   Now, will the politicians stand up, take notice and do something about Climate Change.

THAT IS THE QUESTION ON EVERYONE’S TONGUE THESE DAYS!

Australian Government, stand up, and act (otherwise you’ll be out the door in the next election).

This will be the last post on my Balcony Garden for a while unless I have something exciting to share.

Every time I say that, something pops up to photograph, so it’s a good sentence to use when I want Opportunity to Knock on My Door.

ACID RAIN?

What is in the atmosphere at the present time I ask, as I checked out my balcony garden yesterday afternoon.

I had spent Tuesday night in the hospital (again) on the other side of the city as all ambulances were being diverted from the 3 major hospitals on my western side of the city.  Those hospitals were overwhelmed with patients and couldn’t take any more with long queues, so my ambulance was diverted to the major trauma hospital on the southern side (of the city).

A severe allergy attack (which presents for me, not unlike a heart attack and exacerbates my Paroxysmal SVT, newly diagnosed last October when my main inherited heart condition was upgraded to severe),  involves my heartbeat going crazy and actually quite scary at the time it occurs).   I’ve had flare-ups of skin rashes recently too.

I’ve been coughing quite a lot lately, especially during the night, but no trace of illness or lung problems have been diagnosed.  Last night I was exahusted after not sleeping much the previous night in the hospital’s short stay unit and I kept waking every couple of hours coughing incessantly for fairly long periods then lapsing into exhaustive sleep, but have no flu, cold or anything else.

I’m much better during the daytime as I keep my lounge sliding door wide open to let in fresh air during the shady mornings.

This morning, I finally got up just after 6.00 am instead of the usual 9.15am.   I figured if I’m going to keep coughing, I may as well be upright.

WATERING AT DUSK TO PUT A FEW SPOTS ON THE FRUIT FOR THE CAMERA SHOOT

I’ve been thinking a lot about the deterioration of my balcony garden and on reviewing images I made a few weeks ago on that 44C (112F) day when my garden recovered perfectly well after the searing heat, I really can’t understand why some of the herbs and vegetables have taken such a dramatic dive for the worse (since the dust storm).

I can’t see any Harlequin bugs (which devastated my garden last Summer -left).

I cleaned up and moved all the potted plants after the first major dust storm (as mentioned in a previous post), but a heavy rain last week has left the second layer of dust and damaged leaves again.  Now, in the last day or two, insects with rather voracious appetites have moved in.   Can’t see anything when I turn over the damaged leaves though.   But in the last couple of days, many leaves show caterpillar nibble marks.

I can’t quite face another massive clean-up a second time, which involves mopping and then scrubbing all the balcony tiles and fence, but I’ll get around to it.

The term acid rain was first coined in 1972 by Robert Angus Smith and was used extensively in the 1960s.   I’m beginning to wonder if the recent rain and red dust also contained some sort of acid and other chemicals/pollutants?

I live in a wonderful green belt along the Maribynong River in a new Housing estate, filled with trees and landscaping in the front of each building and townhouse.   Between my building and the river is Frogs Hollow Nature Reserve and some 400 hectares of parkland up and down the river (for the benefit of new followers).

The first year I lived here 2016-2017, I was just fine.  Although I have had daily headaches for some 3 1/2 years since.   Daily headaches are part of my health symptoms, but I’ve never had such a long period of them as this current lot.   There are many new apartment building construction sites up on the main road at the top of my short steep hill.

But recently, I’ve sensed something is in the air and suffering from MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity) for some years as I have, has meant I try to stay away from heavily crowded shops, heavy traffic and smoky areas in general.  Sometimes it is unavoidable, so I complete my errand(s) and get back home fairly quickly.  If I go to Melbourne’s city centre, I do my errand, or attend my medical appointment, and come straight home, not wander around doing street photography as I used to some years ago.

I can’t quite understand why my Tomato #1 – Truss Sweet Tomatoes, has so many fruits for the last couple of weeks and they’re not ripening as the initial lot did.   Remember those gorgeous red jewels I shared with you in previous posts (left).

Most of the Herbs damaged leaves are on the western sides of the plants.   Is there something emanating from the construction site across the road?

MY NEW ITALIAN or FLAT-LEAF PARSLEY IS MORE DAMAGED ON THE WESTERN SIDE. YOU CAN SEE THE FAINT BLUR OF WHAT LOOKS LIKE SAND ON THE BALCONY FENCE RAILING ON THE RIGHT-HAND SIDE OF THE IMAGE.

Did the dust storm and subsequent heavy rain (leaving a further layer of red dust), contain some sort of chemical or ‘acid rain’?    (I’ve checked previous year’s gardening exploits and none show the same kind of damage as this year – insects/pests sure, but not leaf drying/damage as above)

Who knows.

But I’m not feeling much better than my poor garden at the moment.

I’m not sick, but I’m not as well as usual, either.   I’m one of those people that is super-sensitive to the environment around them.

I’m feeling like a bird that has had its wings clipped.

MORE ON THAT HEAT……

Despite me watering at Dusk each night, my garden has started to really go downhill since the dust storm 10 days (?) ago.   I think it is the dust caked in the pores and furrows on the leaf surface that is having such a detrimental effect.

Yesterday, at 2.56pm DST (daylight savings time), this is what my garden looked like.

  1. The Italian flat-leaf Parsley.

2. The Heirloom Tomatoes and Sweet Basil (this shot was made through the window, hence the blur in the middle of the image below).   About 25% of the tomato leaves higher up (not in the shot) are dead.   No way to resuscitate them.

3. The French Beans…….although I can see from my desk this morning that there are more beans hanging down on the side of the pot to harvest tonight.

4. The Perennial Basil, which is partly in shade in the afternoon.

5. …..and of course my new Sage seedling, with its leaf furrows clogged with red dust still.   Shot taken from my desk hence the reflection from the cloth indoors.  The photo below was made yesterday and I can see this morning, the seedling is about 85% dead, so I will definitely lose that one.

Today, Saturday, it’s rained overnight and brought back all the dust again.   Not as bad as the day of the Dust Storm, but still a very thick layer.

According to the forecast, it’s supposed to rain all day today, but at the moment, midday, the rain showers have been pretty light.   The actual temperature won’t drop until the cool change tonight.

Keep your fingers crossed the rain this weekend and cooler days next week will resuscitate the plants in my garden.    I’ve replaced several Herbs already in the past couple of months due to heat.  The parsley twice.

Another shot of a House Sparrow enjoying the shade and water.

Too Hot! Too HOT! TOO HOT!

Yesterday was hot (39C 102F) and today is even hotter (43C 112F), but hopefully, despite the heat tomorrow, the forecast thunderstorms will bring some heavy rain to the city/state.

It’ll be much cooler next week thank goodness.   In the meantime, I am in Hibernation mode and keeping off the computer for the most.

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I spent 2 1/2 -3 hours last Sunday cleaning up after the previous week’s dust storm and the repercussions on my back/hip/knee pain are still around, so despite a lovely afternoon with visitors for lunch on Wednesday (who I hadn’t seen for about 7 months), I’m keeping a very low profile indoors, just moving every 15-20 minutes so I don’t get too stiff.

I had to scrub every pebble in the large saucer I use for a birdbath last Sunday.   In fact, where the dust had collected in the corners of my balcony, or under the potted plant saucers, I had to get the scrubbing brush out.  The rest of the balcony I swept and then mopped 2-3 times which removed the loose dust.   While you can’t see it in the image below, the pebbles were caked in algae and red/orange dust.

My friends were saying they hadn’t attacked the dust on their verandah or garden pond.

I guess they’re hoping the rain might do the job for them as they travel a lot and have very busy lives.  They live in a southern bayside suburb and it seems they received as much dust as the city and my western suburb last week.   I might add, a heavy rain shower didn’t clear the dust as expected – it only caked it on harder 😀

Still, the big clean-up is 97% done on my Balcony I’m happy to say, well, except for a few leaves still showing signs of red dust on the edges, as my friend’s son pointed out when he checked out my herb garden – the Sweet Basil and Tomato plants in particular.

By the way, most of the large tomatoes are still not ripening so I’ve cut them off and brought them indoors to sit on my desk and ripen that way (I hope 😀 ).

My friends were amazed at how well my Herb & Veggies were growing and I assured them it needed constant attention, especially this Summer 2019/2020 – watering each night, pruning unruly branches and keeping the whole lot neat and tidy.   My balcony is relatively large for a modern apartment block, but small for the amount I grow on it, so pruning regularly is mandatory 😀

Actually, looking at it just now, 2.30pm Friday, nearly every plant is hanging its wilted leaves in exhaustion.   I think I’ll have to water again at Dusk, despite tomorrow’s weather forecast for rain all day.

I think my new Sage seedling is going to die.   It’s choked with dust on its leaves and while I’ve watered the tiny seedling several times, the dust continues to lie in the tiny leaf furrows, but the rocket and baby spinach seedlings in the long troughs next to it are ‘hanging on’ in the heat.   In general, compared to 2017 when I had bumper crops, this year’s harvest has been mediocre at best.

The heat hasn’t helped.   But it was probably the lack of Winter and Spring rain in 2019 that normally mark the start of the growing season that has played havoc for the farmers, residential urban gardeners, as much as my balcony area.

The poor birds have been wilting in the heat as much as me. (despite me having my air-con on as low a temp as it will go, each afternoon and evening indoors.   (I can only guess at what my next inflated electricity bill will be).

After getting their thirst quenched in the freshly washed water bowls, they usually jump down to stand in the shade of the potted plants for a while.   I put iceblocks in their water a couple of times yesterday and hopefully the re-filled ice cube tray is ready to dump some more iceblocks in the water bowls today.

I feel deeply for their ongoing thirst and well-being and I can clearly see their constantly fluffed up wings trying to get some air-flow and opening their mouths very wide ‘panting’

 

EVEN THAT shade over the WATER BOWLS HAD THIS SPARROW ‘GULLERING’
HERE’S AN IMAGE FROM A MONTH AGO IN LATE DECEMBER WHERE THE SPARROW HAS OPENED IT’S MOUTH WIDE AND STARTED TO FLUFF IT’S WINGS/FEATHERS UP TO INCREASE THE AIRFLOW.

It really is a hit or miss affair in trying to photograph the birds on my balcony.

Sometimes, the more I try to hold the heavy telephoto lens still, the more likely I am to wobble and miss the shot.

There must be hundreds of photos lying on my cutting-room floor (see below).

But when the birds DO stand still for a length of time, I’m rewarded with a better opportunity (below).

I had a very unusual experience last week.   My older brother had sent me an email regarding our Father’s memorial service and I started feeling very sad again and couldn’t help tearing-up and having to grab a handkerchief.

All of a sudden a whole lot of House Sparrows came to visit and stood on the balcony fence railing (or Tomato bamboo stakes) in silence, looking this way and that.  Not stopping for a drink as usual, just standing in silence as though to cheer me up.

They looked up, down and all around – even at each other, but not a drop to drink.

I was deeply touched by their appearance and after about 15-20 minutes when I’d regained my composure, they all flew away.

On another ‘bird’ matter, I’d noticed a larger than usual pile of bird poop on the balcony railing recently and wondered which bird had paid me a visit.

I hadn’t seen any other birds (besides the House Sparrows) for quite some time, despite several species visiting me last Summer…….even on very hot days last February.

Lo and behold a Spotted Turtle-dove landed on the fence and walked quickly along the railing as fast as it could go, then turned and dashed back again.   I just had a thought, the metal fence is very hot.   Maybe the metal was burning its feet (to account for the swift “power-walk“).  Not having any cameras on my desk at the time, I scrambled to get the long telephoto lens out of it’s the overnight padded bag and quickly held it up to try and capture the sight.   I only managed one shot before the Dove quickly turned, walked quickly down the rail a third, even faster time, and promptly flew away.

So it seems I have been receiving other avian visitors lately, just never when I’m sitting at my desk with the block-out blinds pulled up.

It was hot as a Sauna indoors and on the balcony garden at that time.

The last few nights at dusk have brought some soft pale pinks and mauves into the sky above the construction site across the road, but as I’ve said previously, this building is now blocking my beautiful sunsets almost completely.

 

I’m feeling a little claustrophobic these days now the various apartment levels are being completed and the construction building is towering over where I live 0n the lower side of the cliff face.

I might just have to move apartments again! LOL  😀  …..especially if the local Council allows the Consortium of Owners to build another 250 townhouses and apartment blocks next door on the large open field (left).   They’ve submitted an application to Council, but many us, already living in the quiet green belt along the river, have protested.   It’ll have considerable impact on the local indigenous flora and fauna and certainly impact Frogs Hollow Nature Reserve behind my apartment building.   Here’s a reminder (below) of what it might impact.

On another note, after sharing images of the Red Flowering Gum in a previous post, my younger brother sent me a iphone image of his own ‘orange’ variety of the same plant.

It’s a beauty.

Well folks, that all my news this week and remember……

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow

Audrey Hepburn

I’m going back into Hibernation mode in the Heat and staying off the computer.

I believe in living Mindfully, taking pleasure in the simple things in life each day, but dare I say………………I hope Autumn comes soon 🙂

Blessed are they who see beautiful things
in humble places
where other people see nothing.

~ Camille Pissaro ~

FOR THE GARDENERS – HEIRLOOM TOMATO #3 – “Genuwine”

This year’s tomato variety – No 3

Two days ago, my 3rd Heirloom Tomato plant I’m trialling this year, had a fruit which was finally, fully ripened.

For the gardeners in Australia, this was Tomato Genuwine (Lycopersicon esculentum) from Bunnings Hardware Warehouse and plant Nursery, a mix of Costoluto Genovese and Brandy Wine tomatoes.

The first large tomato was 200grams and such a heavy fleshy tomato with almost no juice and actually…….. not a lot of seeds either.  

It was what most cooks might describe as a good sandwich tomato which would keep its shape well and not reduce the bread to a soggy mass in a packed lunch box.

Like a fine wine, I popped the first two slices in my mouth and gently bit through the gorgeous flesh to find such a big bold taste and couldn’t help sighing in appreciation.   It was divinely delicious and I thought I’d gone to heaven, is the only description I can relate 😀

I fiddled around with the white balance of my camera to try and get a true replication of the colour under the kitchen artificial light for you (above).

The flesh had a faint pinkish tone, rather than the common pillar box red one finds in the usual common supermarket tomato variety.   I hurriedly placed the rest of the large fruit slices on some rice cakes and sat down at my desk to slowly enjoy this beauty (I have a dairy/gluten-free diet for the most, so tend to eat rice crackers or rice cakes as a good bland carrier for dips and ‘sandwiches’). 

It was worth the wait.   I think I planted it (and the other 2 Heirloom varieties) on the 25th September, 2019 – I would keep a garden diary, but take so many photos of my balcony gardening exploits, the date on photos does well enough.   (I’m starting to photograph seed packets too, but usually keep the empty packets in a box anyway).

I ate the second ripe fruit yesterday for lunch, along with several ripe Truss tomatoes from Tomato #1 which also had some riper fruit/veg.

Now, if you’re used to junk food, or heavily processed over-salted tinned or packet food, covered in bought tomato or chilli sauce, the taste of this tomato would be wasted on you. But, if you’re like me and eat mostly fresh food in its natural state (or even organic), you would truly appreciate the rich bold taste.

It’s a winner.

I can see a third tomato ripening on the bush and can’t wait to eat it too.   Should be ripe over the weekend perhaps.

Note the middle Tomato #2 – Tomato ‘Sauce maker’ (left) had a weight of 300grams and was almost all flesh when I cut it.   I have eaten a couple of tomatoes off that bush, but the remaining two fruit have been green ‘forever’.

If you look at the image below, you’ll see #2 variety is much taller with thicker foliage, but I suspect this was the pot I filled with fresh organic potting soil.   If you can see the Sweet Basil on your computer at the base of #2, you will notice that bush has many more leaves and more productive than the bushes either side too.

#2 AND #3 both have lots of flowers since the heavy rain on/off in the last week or two.  Before, the many flowers seemed to be dead or dying.

For those overseas folk who are not familiar with the chain of Bunnings Hardware Warehouses (with their attached open-air plant nurseries) here are a few images I took recently.   My Bunning’s branch has its plant section covered with shade sailcloth to keep the hot Summer sun filtered from the bulk of the plants.   Can’t remember whether they take these shade cloths down over Winter.

(The images were mainly taken using my Canon DSLR and Sigma 17-50mm lens – its a nice sharp lens, even hand-held and I use it constantly as my Canon f1.4mm lens can’t get close enough when I only want to carry one camera and lens in my shopping trolley. If I catch a bus down to the pond of the local wetlands and am not shopping, I take all 3 cameras I own in my shopping trolley as there is a good solid path and I never know what I’m going to see or photograph).

I don’t have a car so can’t visit the many smaller plant nurseries scattered around Melbourne’s suburbs or the nearby hills and country towns.   As you can see, this plant nursery has more than enough variety to buy for my tiny balcony garden and is local, so one assumes the nursery is stocked with plants that grow well in this area.   My balcony garden shots always have to compete with very gusty winds, so the images below, taken in an enclosed space with no wind, are probably sharper in focus than usual.