Birdwatching Australia Style

February 1

Birds. There are a lot of birds in Australia! I count over fifty species of parrots, over twenty five species of dove and pigeons, and over seventy species of honeyeaters and closet kin. All in all there are approximately 800 species of birds living across the Australian continent. But this doesn’t mean that they are necessarily easy to see. There are some interesting explanations of just why this is so, hopefully which I can make clear. But when you do see one, wow! Just look at this picture of a galah, a type of parrot. I bet you have never seen a prettier bird.

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First, Australia is a continent of change. Annual patterns in climate are not super predictable and thus animals have evolved to take advantage of moving resources. For example, although an area may get plenty of rain one year, it may not the next year. Species either move and follow the riches or they must hunker down and wait out the hard times, perhaps not breeding, perhaps experiencing population slumps. And so the bird watcher must be flexible in where they go and what they hope to see.

Second, the Australian continent is a nutrient poor landmass and this affects bird populations as you will see. Australia is rather ancient and most mountain building and volcanism ceased millions and millions of years ago. In broad areas, the important nutrients have washed off the land and gotten lost in the bottom of the sea. In some ways it reminds me of a Virginia or Carolina farm that has entered its terminal period because of the soil nutrient losses incurred on it though tobacco and cotton farming over the last two hundred years of potentially poor agricultural practices. So in Australia the density of individuals in any particular population or bird community are lower than what one might expect because the old soils are just plain worn out and don’t provide the plant community with a super abundance of nutrients for excessive and vibrant growth. This in tern affects their fruiting and seed production as well as the insects that eat those things and all other animals up the food chain.

Third, bird watching in Australia can be challenging because the birds have this uncanny ability to hide behind the barest of foliage. Many of the Australian trees have relatively thin canopies (not necessarily true in the few coastal rainforest tracts). It is my understanding that since most of the continent has a fairly harsh climate with hot sun, low precipitation levels, and strong winds, trees minimize water loss by having fewer leaves. It is totally amazing to watch a flock of crimson rosellas zoom in and lite in a treetop fifty feet away and you won’t be able to see a single one! Here is a picture of a crimson rosella and clearly you won’t understand how a big, bright red parrot could disappear. I think that predation pressures on birds has helped shape the evolution of behavior so as to minimize getting eaten!

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Fourth, besides the disappearing trick, birds here seem to be constantly on the move, rarely sitting still so the bird watcher can get a decent look. And the thornbills are amongst the worst offenders. I have almost given up trying to identify these little guys! I think all this flitting about is the result of two things. First, as in the above topic, birds don’t want to be someone else’s dinner. A moving target is harder to catch. And second, because of a previous topic, food resources are scarce. It’s hard to know what many species are eating up there but I am guessing if they are insect eaters, the insects are not abundant and if they are nectar eaters (like the many honeyeater species) tiny sips of nectar from hundreds and thousands of different flowers is what it takes to stay alive. So birds have to constantly flit through the canopy to find enough to eat.

Fifth, those bird species that do live in the rainforests have lots of cover to hide in, just as birds do in all rainforests of the world such as those in Costa Rica. The east coast of Oz does indeed have a thin strip of tropical forest stretching in parts from Sydney to northern Queensland. We have spent months plying some of the rainforests around Coffs Harbor on the central coast and have only seen the noisy pita a few times. And that’s just one example from the rainforest. But probably one of the more elusive birds for us, the ground parrot, lives in dense waist-high shrubbery in a coastal heath community not far from rainforest habitat. We have never seen one and most people we know have not seen one either. As their name implies, they stay close to the ground and don’t often fly above the level of the heath. And my is the heath dense! Impossible to walk through; it would probably stop the speeding arrow from a strong bow in a few meters.

Fortunately, there are lots of exceptions and easy to see birds which continue to motivate the dedicated bird watcher. This is a picture of a tawny frogmouth (sorry about the red-eye flash effect). These birds are nocturnal, eat mostly insects, and if located during the day, freeze in the position of a dead branch, hopefully to elude detection. Like for an owl, other species of birds become alarmed if a tawny frogmouth is discovered during the day (they do look like a bird of prey). I once witnessed a poor frogmouth being tormented by a whole mob of birds, the worst offender was the kookaburra who was intent on pulling on the tail feathers of the motionless frogmouth. The frogmouth finally retaliated by opening its mouth as wide as possible, which was very wide, and threatened the kook. He got the message and flew off with the other birds.

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I’ll end this post with our favorite Australian bird, the satin bowerbird which we are conducting our research on. We have gotten some stunning video footage of bowerbirds for we always know exactly where to leave the hidden, spy camera! You see, the male builds his bower and maintains it throughout the year. So if you know where to look, you can easily see satin bowerbirds. In these photos, the male is at his bower, displaying to no one in particular. In the first, he’s holding one of his favorite display objects in his beak–a bright blue ring from a bottle. In the next photo he is holding another one of his special objects, a natural-yellowed banksia leaf. In the final photo, he has the best of both worlds, a combination preference we have witnessed countless times with many bowerbird males. Exactly what is the allure of a blue ring and a yellow leaf we will never know :-). But obviously, the female bowerbirds are smitten by this behavior for if they weren’t, the males wouldn’t do it! Ah, female choice drives evolution once again…..

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Reproduction

January 29

Life goes on. Just look at these two crested pigeons! The male is bowing to his potential mate, trying his best to impress her. If he does everything just right, if his feathers are in fine shape, then perhaps a bond will form and he will be the father of her offspring. In many animal species it is the female (and not the male) who decides who will be the father of her offspring. Female choice is a very powerful evolutionary force and has shaped secondary sexual characteristics such as the long tail of the peacock, the huge claw of the fiddler crab, and the mane of a lion. If the females of a species prefer males with certain attributes, those males who happened to be born with those things luck out. Their genes get selected, end up in the offspring, and over many generations, certain traits evolve and flood the population.

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If it weren’t for reproduction, not only would a species go extinct in short order, but for humans at least, it would be a sad day watching your elders pass away with no one to fill in the ranks. Perhaps dolphins, elephants, chimps, and parrots can also feel the loss of an old one passing. A few moments ago a friend told me about a flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos that flew into her yard to have a bit of food from the bird feeder. One of the cockatoos must have been a hundred years old, it’s feathers were in a bit of a mess, it had lots of age visible in the skin around its eyes. It couldn’t get to the feeder and just perched nearby on the lawn. The other birds would bring it food from the feeder and make sure it had enough to eat! Surely we try and keep care of our own as long as we can, but eventually there is a time to go. One day that oldest parrot won’t fly around with the flock anymore.

If you have never seen a baby kangaroo, you have really missed out on witnessing the ultimate cuteness factor!

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Often baby animals of many species appear really cute. I don’t think it is just a human feeling, but that perhaps animal cuteness evolved in many species because the young probably look cute to the parents too and in that way the parents are tricked into feeding them and taking care of them even when the babies are annoying! It’s summer now in Australia and many fledgling birds are about begging for food. Interestingly, across the species chasm, the begging calls clearly ring out as one in the same. I think these helpless sounds tug at the heart strings of the parents and serve to make sure that junior gets the next bug or grub. In this photo, the

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I have a grand baby now and wow is she cute! Babies are kind of like that, aren’t they. I wonder what a mother kangaroo would say, if she could pull the thoughts together and talk, if she saw a cute baby girl like my Elsa? I’m ending this post with a cute picture of my parents taken a long, long time ago and one taken the other day that shows Elsa and Lyra on the left, my beautiful Mom in the red sweater, surrounding by loving family. In these times, thankfully, we have reproduction and our family will go on.

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Dead phones don’t matter

January 19

It’s been awhile since my last post on the bowerbird blog, the main reason being that the bowerbirds are all on vacation! Actually, I am sure they are still very busy with bowerbird things, it’s just us who are on vacation. We have switched gears just a bit, but still living in the A’Van camper trailer and loving it. We have changed camp grounds a few times in the last two weeks, but since we have been staying at two world famous surf destinations, Noosa and Byron Bay, our routines have generally been to get up before the sun, go surfing, come back “home” mid morning and work, work, work till about 3-4:00, then back to the surf break for a late afternoon session. This works out ideal for the work part keeps us out of Australia’s burning midday sun.

Most of my work lately has been in drafting plans for the house we are going to build. The bowerbird research is on hold for a few weeks. We have a deadline of the end of January and must have everything ready; quite the daunting task for the planning department we are dealing with is very thorough and wants no stone left unturned. Sheet after sheet of architectural documents are rolling off my outdoor work station. I constantly move my little table and stool around to remain under the shade of the nearby trees. I use a box of pasta to hold down various papers so they don’t get frazzled by the breeze. I sharpen my one and only pencil with a carpet knife and since I don’t have an architectural rule spelled out in feet and inches, I use a standard ruler and crunch lots of proportional calculations on my iPod. Slowly, the drawings are coming together.

Working and living in a caravan park is actually a pleasant way to spend the year. It’s been four months now and we are staying at our eleventh caravan park. Each one has its own attractions. There are many similarities which I will list the big 10:

1. We get the water we need from an outdoor tap and bring it into our camper trailer one bottle at a time.
2. Our living room is as large as the sky and when it rains, it’s wet, and when the weather is glorious, it’s amazing.
3. Our bathrooms and toilets are always someplace else, usually huge and clean with hardly anyone around.
4. We typically do the dish washup at the camp kitchen and not in our little camper trailer for it is just easier that way where we have big sinks, hot and cold running water, and often a dish-rack.
5. The ground is usually very flat and it takes mere minutes to set up our home (unless we are also putting up the canvas annex).
6. Sara and I each have our own cubby for our clothes and a bit of counter space for personal items like iPods, books, or day packs.
7. I always sit on the right side of the table, Sara the left, and junk up the seat nest to me any way that I wish during the day!
8. I always fold away the table at night and make the bed while Sara performs the reverse magic in the morning.
9. The back of our car contains a bin for field clothes, a bin for surf related stuff, and a job box with maps, insect repellents, first aide gear, pens and paper, etc.
10. We always cover the bucket of trash with a plastic plate and the rubber snake; keeps the brush turkeys out!

There are plenty of other things that are similar, but let me list some differences that we have seen.
1. Most of the time we have electrical power and don’t have to rely on using the propane option for running our little fridge (plus, electricity allows us to use the microwave and the electric tea kettle as well as charge up all our electronic devices).
2. About half the time we are camped close enough to the ocean to hear the waves rolling along.
3. Sometimes we have really interesting neighbors that turn into friendships, but other times we just do our thing and let the world roll on by.
4. No two sites have the same ground cover; it varies a lot and we have had for our front living room dried and smashed grass, concrete, gravel, lush grass, sand, and packed earth. No matter for we bought a bit of landscaping fabric designed to place on the earth and it feels great on the bare feet!
5. No two sites have the same types of trees and shade. Most the time we have been lucky and had a site with a few trees, occasionally, we have been in the forest, and rarely have we been in the full sun. In this climate it really helps to have some shade around.

We have met the occasional grey nomad couple who have sold their home and invested everything in the nomadic way of life, jumping from caravan park to caravan park. As grand as it’s been, I wouldn’t want to do that for I have far too many ambitions as far as making things and I do feel a bit hampered here in not have a nice shop to putter around in. But for this year, our goal was to spend as much time as possible in the great outdoors and so I can live without lots of materialistic projects for the time being.

I’ll end this post with an amazing story that all came together by us staying at a caravan park four years ago. Sara and I had been doing errands in Byron and we stopped at a little sidewalk cafe and were staring at the outdoor menu when a couple about our age sitting behind us, having lunch, said that we should definitely have the “such and such”. After a short conversation we left them to finish their lunch, but before we got away we mentioned that we were staying at campsite number 70 at Clarks Beach.

That evening when we got to our camp, there was a note on our tent, from Penny and Bruce, inviting us to dinner at their house! We took them up on the offer to get out of the campground and had a really nice time with them and some of their Australian neighbors. Most vividly I remember tales of a local snake catcher who would come around on call and remove unwanted vipers and other reptiles from your attic, garage, or even underneath your house. One python was so long that he sent his young apprentice underneath the house to grab it by the tail and then he grabbed the kid by his feet and drug both boy and 15′ snake out and into the sunshine!

Over the last four years we probably sent Penny and Bruce one or two emails just to stay in touch a little bit. The other day, Sara sent them a short message saying that we were in town and that we should get together for a cup of coffee at the Top Shop. They replied and sent their mobile phone number. Well, here’s the amazing part of this story (finally)! This morning after surfing a bit at The Pass we headed over to the Top Shop to refuel with a bit of a surfer’s breakfast. While parking the car we got out the phone and tried to make a call to them, but the phone was dead. Rats! Well, we went into the cafe and got in line to order some food and coffee. One of the baristas delivered a couple of lattes to the counter and yelled for Bruce. The couple right in front of us said, “Yes, that’s us.” I looked at Sara and she looked at me and then I said why don’t you ask them if they are Penny and Bruce. So she did and guess what, they were! So our four year gap evaporated in an instant and we spent the next half hour catching up with them. One could never have planned that reunion to the precision that it did with all the working technology in the world! For us it didn’t matter that our phone was dead.

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The land leech and the blue lobster

January 10

I regret not getting a picture of all the blood, but seeing as how it was streaming down the legs of two young female joggers, I could not ask for fear of them thinking I was a bit weird. Sara and I were a couple miles into the Lamington National Park rainforest trail; it was mid morning and misty when we came across the two girls. At first sight, I thought they had fallen down a rough section of trail. At second thought, maybe they’d been attacked! Final thought, their legs were covered with land leeches, so many that they were not bothering to pick them off anymore. Each leech was latched on tight, sucking blood, inflated to the size of an almond. The multitude that had already drank their fill had dropped off, but the injected anticoagulants were still at work in the body and the blood was flowing freely. After our brief encounter, they were off at a jog, heading for civilization to deal with the leeches there.

We had been having our own troubles with the land leech. Insect repellent around the socks, overtopped with our knee length gaiters were a pretty good deterrent. In theory, anyway. It was a constant battle though to keep them off our legs and from crawling up inside our shorts! Every hundred feet or so we’d stop and briskly wipe the sides of our gaiters with our hands; the leeches couldn’t stick to that surface very well. And the ones that conquered the moat and made it over the top to our bare legs, got picked off with the fingers, one at a time. Then we’d speed on down the trail hoping that fewer would hitch hike a ride if you were briskly walking than just standing there. The fun part was trying to get them off your fingers and flicked into the bush while walking down a bumpy trail! The best method seemed to be to roll them gently up, one at a time, into a little ball and flick them deftly between the thumb and first finger. The idea was that the little munitions would sail out into the forest. The reality was that the leech would end up sticking to either your thumb or your finger! Remember that Cat in the Hat story with the red snow? Well, it was kind of like that. The leeches were very hard to efficiently get off your fingers.

When we first realized that our gaiters were swarming with dozens of leeches, I thought that our hike was a lost cause. I didn’t really want to end up like the two girls. Leeches apparently don’t harbor any ill diseases, but their bites do bleed for an hour or so plus the site really itches for days. And the bite seems to leave a bit of a scar that takes a month or more to disappear. These leeches were tiny ones, but Sara has proof that they too were able to puff up with lots of blood and cause a Niagra Falls of blood letting when finished. Our crazy drive however, to see the Lamington blue lobsters, really drove us on, leeches or no leeches. We had also hoped to hear or see the paradise riflebird as well as look over the escarpment and see down into New South Wales and all the way to the sea. These last two things didn’t happen, but hang on, we did finally see the lobsters.

These lobsters are small as far as lobsters go, but when you see one on the trail in the rainforest, it is quite the sight even if they are only 6-7 inches long. They have pretty big claws for their body size and seem to be able to spend a bit of time on land; we saw them both in and out of the stream. And yes, they are blue! I wonder if a bowerbird has ever tried to decorate his bower with a blue lobster? I am sure they would make a mighty fine Cajun creole dish in the authentic New Orleans style. But they are protected and so we let them be. As we headed out we found a bowerbird’s bower in the middle of the rainforest, which was a real bonus. And then to our surprise, along the road we spent some time walking and found three more! One was well established and in the exact same location as one we’d seen up here eight years ago! Bowerbirds can live to be over twenty years old and I’d bet a million rupiahs that he is still alive and building :-)

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Cows

January 6

Been awhile since my last post; we’d been out camping in the remote bush at a place called the Gorge and there was definitely no Internet. Mobile phones don’t pick up a signal either! The Gorge is a multi thousand acre ranch way up the Clarence River and the owners have opened the flat open places to camping. They offer the camper many things. First, our site had sweeping views of an amazing canyon/river landscape and it was a pleasure to just sit there on the bluff and watch the landscape breathe. Second, we had a metal porta-potty that had seen much better days (and we wished that we had thought to bring our own TP). Third, we could swim in the Clarence River which was pretty clean and just a short five-minute hike down a gigantic grassy slope, through a bit of thistle, and over some gravel deposits. Fourth, we could swim in a beautiful spring ten minutes walk up the hill through open eucalyptus woodland and cattle paddock. Fifth, we could get a bucket of clear water from this spring and boil it on an open drum barbecue with hot burning eucalyptus wood to supplement our drinking supply. Sixth, we could venture anywhere on the property from ridge line to river, up and down as far as one could see. Seventh, we could hunt for bowerbirds and their bowers (and we did find one). Eighth, we could snuggle our Avan camper trailer right up to a line of mango trees (which did have huge, but not yet ripe, mangos) that afforded protection from the hot afternoon sun, a luxury that most campers did not have. Most of the campsites were in the flood plain of the river containing only scraggly willow trees with no way to park or pitch tents near enough. Ninth, our site, being up on the bluff like it was, generally had a nice, cooling breeze. And tenth, cows galore; I’ll say more about these!

Yes, this camping opportunity is on a working ranch and even though it says so on the website, we didn’t actually expect to be living amongst the bovines. Sara once read a review on a Trip Advisor for accommodation on a tropical, coral island on the Great Barrier Reef in which the guests complained because there was a bit of sand on the floor of their cabin. Well, we thought that amusing for what might you expect when living on a beach! So we were careful not to complain about all the cows. We had ample opportunity to complain to Neil (owner) for he often parked his truck underneath a big fig tree nearby so that he could assess his holdings, both cows and campers, up and down the river, but we didn’t. We did talk a lot about the cows to one another.

We discussed things like, “Oh, watch out, you’re about to step in another fresh steaming pile of cow poop!” There really was a lot of it around and at night when the cows seemed to congregate around our car and camper trailer, I’d hear the unmistakable liquid-like sounds of plop, plop, plop coming out of the rear of another uninvited guest. It was always exciting in the morning to get up and see if anyone pooped on the 6’x8′ piece of fake carpet we have as a floor mat just outside our “home”. No one ever did, thankfully! What I found most amazing was the habitation of bright green flies (non-biting) that smothered each fresh pie throughout the day. What were they doing there? There might be two hundred flies on a big one and if you walked by too close they would all take off in a noisy rush that resembled the rattle of a gigantic rattlesnake. Sometimes it would scare you if you were not paying attention to where you were going. But mostly we did pay attention where we were going for it was a virtual mine field of possible unexplored ordinances.

We discussed other things like, “Oh, did you hear the cows last night?” Yes, this was a problem, especially during the first night for many of the bovine beasts showed up to moo us lullabies throughout the long night. I got up several times and yelled at them to get away and shut the __ __ __ __ up. I was tempted to throw green mangos at them but wasn’t sure if that might make them charge! I learned how to mimic the most horrible sounding animals of the herd so that I could get back at them the next day. Unfortunately, it didn’t work and no matter how much I mooed at them, they didn’t seem to mind.

And then there were conversations that ran like this: “Why do the cows always come over here!” Odd, they got like twenty thousand acres to roam and they show up at our place to chew their cud. I must admit though, from our perch up on the grassy bluff, when we saw the mob milling about some other campers’ local (as the sun was getting low) we loved it and hooted for joy. To get a cowless night, meant a solid night’s sleep for us, a major victory!

We learned that Neil hoped to build a new house on the bluff and so I asked him if he’d make a fence around the yard to keep out the cows. He said, “No, mate. That’s just nature!” To him having cows pooping anywhere they wish is no different than to me having bowerbirds building bowers behind the garden shed. Personally, with so much land to use for cattle, I’d fence off some areas here and there for the camping public so that they don’t have to worry about where they step. On second thought, maybe that’s the wrong kind of thinking; I don’t want to be quoted on Trip Advisor of saying something like “There is sand on the floor of my bungalow.” After all, if it weren’t for the cows about this blog would be very different! I do have a couple other things to say about cows in general.

Cows eat grass and people like to eat beef, so I guess that is one good way to harness the sun’s energy and turn it into food. I don’t think one could grow anything else out here on this ranch. So cattle ranching is taking advantage of an otherwise untapped resource. But cows do cause a bit of erosion and I wonder if cow poop and river water is really as benign as we are all led to believe. Where do all those nutrients really go? To the sea? Then what? It is staggering to estimate just how much land in Australia is used for beef. Hard to believe that there really are that many people on the planet who need to eat! I crave to know what the country looked like before Europeans came and started their industries. How many wild things have suffered for our love of meat?

Well, there are many amazing things to describe about the Gorge. Stay tuned!

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Generosity

December 28

Generosity abounds in Australia and we were the fine recipients of a heaping pile last Christmas Day. We’d been camping at Red Rock for the last week or so and mingled with our new neighbors whenever we could. And so they invited us to have Christmas dinner with them at their campsite. This would turn out to be a dinner like we’d never experienced before! Attending would be two of us, Sara and I, and eight of them, Tony and Lana, their three daughters, two grand kids, and son-in-law. We were thrilled to have something special to do for our own families were half way around the world. To help us span that great distance we only had to look at or hold their grandson for he was born on the same day last August that our granddaughter was!

Tony said the meal would start up around 2pm, but we left our chocolate concoction for safe keeping in our car, straddling a large ice bag inside a rubber bin, packed on top with towels and spare clothes to keep it cool, for it wouldn’t be needed for quite a while. We brought over our own plates and chairs and sat down to several rounds of oysters on the half-shell with fresh lemon and spices. While we were digging into the oysters, Ben was thinly slicing some jucy roast beef and marinating it in ginger and soy sauce. Served with crackers and a bit of red wine, it was superb. Throughout this part of the feast, everyone took turns holding the baby or spiriting little King Harry around on his new red tricycle!

Next on the menu was a platter-full of grilled prawns, butter, garlic and who knows what else! By my recollection, the plate passed around the table several times and over and through many stories and tall tales before it was finally picked clean. Those were the best prawns I’d ever had! I wasn’t keeping track of the time, but it had already been a magic while and I figured we were about done. But oh no, I couldn’t have been more wrong!

It was finally time to do some washup of the dishes and utensils in order to get ready for the next course. Can’t have dirty dishes tainting what was coming next. At least I could help do a bit of that by taking a large bucket to the camp laundry facility and toting back a load of hot water. There was more baby holding and more site seeing with Harry as he patrolled the larger campground on the tricycle. During the interlude Tony prepped scallops for the sauté pan perched on the barbeque. Those were worth waiting for and again the plate made many rounds of the table before it was licked clean. And by now its about dark, if you can believe a meal can go on that long!

After everyone had had their fill, and told snippets of their life story, out came a wonderful salad of broccoli-rab, feta, and other vegetables. This was served along side hunks of roasted potatoes and I thought for a bit that I might not be able to finish my main. More wine helped us pace through the meal and relax into our conversations. By now little Javi was put to bed and Harry was slowing down, finally! The head chef suggested that we do a plate and washup again and so we took breaks and helped out the best we could.

Then came our desert, which we must confess, we ordered from a bakery the day before. It was an Isle of Sky cake, dense, decadent, layers of chocolate and other confections. I went to the back of the car and unearthed it, and some white wine, from the rubber bin. It had not yet touched the melt water and was as pristine as it had been when we had picked it up for the bakery yesterday. I centered it on a new cutting board that I had made from a plank of forest oak that a local landowner had given me. Positioned round and round on the newly washed plates, topped with wheelbarrows of fresh fruit and smothered in different types of whipped cream it was truly amazing.

We took our time eating that desert and sipping the good wine. Obviously, there were too many good conversations to fit into one evening, but we tried. Finally, everyone felt tired and ready for bed. It was time to stack the dishes, put away the perishables, and trundle off to bed. By the time we walked back the twenty steps to our own camp, it was after 10pm. So indeed our Christmas meal spanned a magical eight hours, a record for me for sure. May we be so lucky as to have a meal like this again!

Christmas gift

December 24

I received a nice Christmas present yesterday while checking out a bower in Coffs Harbor. I bumped into an old friend, Phil, whom I hadn’t seen in three years. We had tried to get in touch, but some things had changed in their lives and it just wasn’t happening (yet). I could only show an unanswered email for my efforts. Let me explain then why finding Phil was so remarkable, so back to the bower.

I was a bit pressed for time and was planning on slipping into the bush, deploying a simple experiment, setting up a camera, and getting out. We had Christmas errands to take care of. Well, when I went into the forest and got close to the bower site, I saw a man in coveralls, with a backpack sprayer, working on bush regeneration. That surprised me for I thought that no other human on the planet had ever been to this particular spot. We call this bower the school swamp bower for it is really located in a swampy place. Once, I had come in right after a big rain event and the bower was mostly flooded and a rushing torrent had swept all the guy’s blue decorations down stream. So yea, it’s a bit kinky and hard to get to.

Well, I didn’t want to scare the man so as I approached, I gave a big old American “Hi there, what’s happen’n”? And all along I am thinking how am I going to get my work done? Will it be ok to leave the camera? Things like that. So, he turned around and said, “Hey Elliot, what are you doing here? I’d recognize that voice anywhere!” It was Phil! So yea, pretty cool. One of the few people that I really wanted to see in the last three years shows up at my bower in the middle of the swamp on the day before Christmas. Had I been there five minutes earlier or later, I’d have missed him completely. Surely the universe works in mysterious ways.

I don’t have a picture of Phil, but here’s one of some of my other friends that I hang out with :-). Perhaps we will share Christmas dinner together!

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