Russet trees & scarlet tails

Is that fall colour I see on the hillside as the mist parts over Calabash Bay?  Nope, wrong season, wrong continent.  It’s the golden-brown tips of the casuarina trees, the males that is, laden with pollen and catching the morning light.

For all their evocative latin label – named after their cassowary-like foliage – the casuarinas are a mournful kind of tree, I think.  The wind whistling through the wispy branchlets of the she-oaks takes me straight back to solitary times in childhood.  Even Wikipedia notes, rather poetically, how quiet it is in a she-oak forest, sound muffled by the blanket of fallen “needles”, in an understory where other things refuse to grow.

Not so quiet this morning, though.  Just as I was cursing my missed train, there was a “kraaaaak!” and a flash of red in the trees between the commuter car park and the RSL.  New guys in town (or new to me anyway): glossy black-cockatoos.

Two young fellas and an older female, I reckon – a typical little group for these birds, it seems, unlike the yellow and red tailed black-cockatoos that stay in bigger flocks.  The two lads flapped from tree to tree, red tails glowing in the sun, while mum (or cocky-cougar?) chilled out next to Berowra Car Care, having a good old preen.

Glossy black-cockatoos are fussy eaters.  The penny has dropped for yellow-tails that they need to diversify their eating habits and these days they’re doing okay, thanks to pine trees like the great big decrepit ones in our yard.  But these birds really only like the woody fruits of the allocasuarinas  – and turn their noses up at even some of those.  The black she-oak, casuarina littoralis, is a particular favourite and, now I’ve started to notice them in their winter finery, it seems there’s plenty of them around here.

But the black oaks don’t come back too well from big, hot fires.  And the glossy black cockies are competing with galahs, corellas, sulphur cresteds and mynahs – birds that don’t mind land being cleared and subdivided.  Humans knock down the big old trees, feral bees nick the nesting hollows and possums steal black-cockatoo eggs.  Perhaps it’s not surprising I haven’t seen these lovely birds before.

Or maybe they’ve been here all along, “inconspicuous and cryptic”, leaving a trail of half-chewed casuarina orts, just a red flash in the golden silence of the she-oak trees.

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7 thoughts on “Russet trees & scarlet tails

  1. What a lovely co-incidence that you’ve written about she-oaks as on my recent walk through Toohey forest I enjoyed seeing them again after a long break and they brought back memories for me. I planned to write about them too! I must admit that it was only during my most recent walk that I noticed for the first time that there are male and female trees. I had never really taken notice of the small red female flower bursts before, only the golden brown tips of the males. I agree, they are rather mournful trees. I remember listening to the wind whispering through them when I lived on the farm years ago. I also remember how devoid the ground beneath then was apart from their fallen needles. When they grew by creeks we tended to get more erosion as there was less ground cover to hold the soil together. Thank you for bringing back some memories for me and also for sharing the great glossy black cockatoo shots as well. Loved seeing their antics. They are characters!

    • They are such evocative trees, aren’t they? I believe they are allelopathic and so chemically suppress germination of other things, even apart from the mechanical covering of the soil. Interesting to hear about the erosion thing. I believe they sometimes use coastal she-oaks to try to stabilise dunes where there has been mining – I think they are nitrogen fixers as well. So the erosion issue would be a problem there. I have never noticed the female flowers either – I’ll definitely be on the look out for them this year. I couldn’t fit it in here, but it fascinates me how the way you view a landscape changes as particular plant flowers or its leaves change colour. I really noticed it last year when we have a really noticeable flush of flowers from the angophoras – I got a bit obsessed with taking photos of the changed scene (I wrote a bit about it too… https://berowrabackyard.wordpress.com/2014/11/22/mapping-in-bloom/ )

      I’m not sure I’ve read your Toohey Forest walk yet – I’ll have to check it out! Thanks as always for reading, Jane. I do look forward to hearing your thoughts….

      • I haven’t written the Toohey’s Forest walk up yet. That’s the blog I am planning this week. I’m including a pic of the female flowers in it.
        I’m also very interested in the changes in a landscape during the seasons. I’ll have to check out your other blog post now. It’s amazing how a scenery can change as the seasons change. Have a lovely week. 🙂

  2. A very poetic post!
    Despite not being able to download all the pictures as I first read this on my way home, I was still able to visualize everything in my mind thanks to your lovely descriptions.
    Red-tailed black cockatoos seem to be a bit more common (though not common enough!) in Victoria. They are quite large birds so it’s quite a treat to see them fly – watching them float through the air so gracefully and efficiently; it’s the best way to tell black cockatoos from crows/ravens at a distance.
    Getting great photos like you’ve achieved is somewhat harder – well done!
    (I’m also looking forward to Jane’s Toohey Forest post. More anon.)
    😊

    • Thanks Dayna, glad you enjoyed it (and hope the photos downloaded eventually – maybe I need to upload smaller ones?). I normally play my blog posts for cheap laughs but somehow the cockies and the casuarinas seemed to demand something else.

      Having never seen glossies or red-tails before I actually thought these were red tailed cockies at first until I figured out that they really visit Sydney. Then I looked again and realised that the yellow headed one really must be a female glossy not a juvenile. I’m really not a twitcher, though I do wish I knew more! I’ll be on the look out for red-tailed cockies if I get to Victoria or inland NSW or Queensland – good to know to look out for that floating style.

      Thanks for the kind words on the photos. Luck, I think. If the tree they were perched in had leaves it would have been a whole lot harder. I look a bit ridiculous doing the commute with my chunky camera slung round my neck but it’s working well for me so far (I got some ok pics of firetails on the way to work today ) so I think I’ll keep doing it!

  3. Pingback: Sunday afternoon service at the Church of the Double Bladed Paddle | Berowra backyard

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