Chicks in Colditz: this week on Chicken TV

For a gardening blog, we get our fair share of disappointed p@rn watchers, or so I surmise from the viewer stats*.  Having excitedly entered the search terms “nude” and “naughty birds”, it must be a real passion killer to find yourself reading about pied currawongs defoliating my pine tree.  And I do pity the devotee of BDSM hunting for “rubber” “bondage” and “backyard” and coming up with a pic of my bespoke, soft-to-the-claw chicken perch.  So I suspect it’s possible that some of the readers of this post may be disappointed not to encounter saucy black-and-white photos of girls in revealing military uniforms leaning provocatively over the wooden glider (built for an escape attempt from the Nazis’ high-security prisoner of war camp) known as the “Colditz Cock“.

But surely even elderly erotica enthusiasts couldn’t fail to be charmed by these pictures of the real chicks that have arrived in Colditz, our predator-proof chicken enclosure, this week.

“Dunk her in cold water” was the hard nosed advice RB’s workmates gave to get our broody Light Sussex Treasure out of her nest full of golfballs and plastic easter eggs.  Then it came to me in a flash: I’d been stonewalling our eight year old’s pleas for baby chicks for at least a year – and this was the perfect time to give in. I put two and two together and came up with five: five little fluffsters – two Barnevelders, a Barred Rock, an Australorp and a patterned Leghorn.

RB collected them from our local supplier of fancy vaccinated hens to bourgeois urban chicken lovers on Friday, and Operation Instant Motherhood was put into action later the same day`.  Sneaking into Colditz in the dead of night kind of breaks with tradition. Equally, I’m sure no escape attempt was ever made with a peeping chick in either hand.  But slipping the littlies underneath Treasure’s wing wasn’t the nerve-racking part of proceedings.  That came at dawn as the youngest and I stole into the coop to see whether our broody was a natural mother or a natural eye pecker.

It was a close thing for a while. Treasure seemed disoriented and faintly hostile at the unexpected transformation of her golfballs into hatchlings, as well she might be.  There were a few savage pecks, which thankfully caught my reproving hand rather than the chicks’ tender eyeballs.

Then Morgan, the feisty pattern leghorn, stepped out from under a wing towards the bowl of chick food.  She was spotted and instantly froze.  Treasure stayed curiously immobile too.  They stayed stock still for at least a couple of minutes (to me, dwelling all the hard work and poo removal involved in raising chicks in an indoor brooder, it seemed like an eternity).  There was some sort of transcendental moment in which all things seemed to somehow resolve themselves, and the vision of five cute little bloodied corpses laid out on the floor of Colditz began to dissipate.

When Morgan tentatively stepped forward again, Treasure left her in peace.  In fact, after watching the little ones tucking in, she started to refuel too.  She seems to be eating in a new and odd way, crunching the chick starter in her beak as if breaking it into tiny chick-friendly pieces and making a new short clucking noise that I think means “try this, it’s really not too bad“.

The chicks seem most interested in eating bugs, including a range of invisible bugs from Treasure’s face, which seemed to endear them to her tremendously.

If Treasure has come round to mothering, Snowball the silky bantam seems to be longing to join in.  She spent most of Saturday doing laps of Colditz, looking for the entrance to a secret tunnel.  Silkies have a reputation for being exceedingly motherly, so I’m assuming she wasn’t spoiling for a fight, but I’m not sure we’ll smuggle her in with the others quite yet.  We’ve been told to leave it til the chicks are ten weeks old before we let them demob and mingle with the older chooks and, of course, the young team of brush turkeys (or “flying disease vectors” as I sometimes like to call them) hanging around our backyard.

There probably isn’t going to be a happy ending for every one of the chicks stationed in Colditz.  Our copybook is far from unblemished and there’s a worrying rattle in Treasure’s chest (I fear sputum rather than gold). But I guess it wouldn’t be top rating Chicken TV without the plot twists, the high drama and the fear that any day now those enchanting characters might meet their doom.

*Yes, WordPress knows a lot about you, noble reader, but then, if you live in Australia, every petty official has access to a complete collection of your metadata without a warrant, so better get used to it

Previously on Chicken TV:

My little herders

We have egg-quilibrium! After a long six months, the eggs produced by the household finally balance out the eggs consumed. At last we can egg-xit the dodgy “free range” aisle of the supermarket (okay, I’ll stop now).
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If we were serious survivalists this would be a tremendous day.  There’s nothing like a sorrel quiche to ring the changes from sorrel soup; sorrel and jerusalem artichoke stirfry and sorrel, mustard and parsley salad.  And lemons.  Lots and lots of lemons.  We’d be hungry but we certainly wouldn’t get scurvy.
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To what do we owe this embarrassment of eggs?  The days are getting longer and chickens do have that proto-third eye (okay pineal gland, but it has photoreceptors) inside their noggins to detect that kind of thing.  But with snow at the Queensland border and  the coldest spell of weather in Sydney for the better part of twenty years, it’s not like spring has convincingly sprung.

My theory is that the egg-drought has come to an end because we’ve gone from being ranchers to herders.
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“Too few and too busy with other endeavours, early colonists lacked the labor force and the time necessary to supervise livestock closely or to contain them adequately within fenced perimeters; livestock were turned out to fend for themselves… ranchers deliberately neglected their livestock and let them roam at will” (La Rocque, 2014, 76)

Sounds like us, alright!  Except we don’t grab a gun and ride out on the range to kill the varmints, which is what LaRocque reckons was was the inevitable outcome of roaming-animal-neglect in the US West.  Although, I’ll admit, when the population of brush turkeys in the chookyard was triple the number of chooks, the temptation was certainly there.

Legal protection for top predators has meant the “git-ma-gun” strategy won’t wash these days, so instead LaRocque advises US ranchers to follow the path of African herders who “have exquisite control over the whereabouts of their animals…[taking them] on daily treks and bring them back at day’s end to a safe haven where animals and humans mingle in a common area.” (LaRocque, 2014, 77).

I wouldn’t say we have exquisite control over Abby (skittish) or Snowball (faster than fluffy greased lightning), but I guess the kids scaring off peckish brush turkeys by leaping around on the trampoline while the chickens have their breakfast might count as “animals and humans mingling in a common area”: “all parties find[ing] satisfaction in a mutualistic interaction of sorts” (LaRocque, 2014, 77).

Has hanging around to watch the chooks eat entirely “resolved [the] ecological contradictions” (LaRocque, 2014, 73) in our backyard? I don’t think so.  The magpies and the brushturkeys still mooch about waiting for me to be so distracted by chicken portraiture that I don’t notice them sneaking in for a mouthful of bean sprouts (Chickens love them.  Who would have thunk it?  Or maybe it’s just our hippie chicks).
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That said, our new herder lifestyle has given us the opportunity to get to know the girls’ table manners a lot better.
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Breeders are feeders it seems – just as poor old Andy Ninja’s lost her spot as Top Chook once she stopped pumping out the eggs, now hen-pecked Abby is back on the lay, she’s shoving the other girls out of the way to get to her tucker.
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And how’s this for a before and after shot?

Treasure – pre and post egg laying.  If you’re ever wondering whether to serve omelette at your next dinner party, take a Dulux colour swatch to your chook’s comb.  Is she Pastel Barren or Fiery and Fecund?

As I’m idling at the bottom of the garden waiting for the girls to finish their meal, I’ve started to think we herders need a new term for talking about our animal friends.  From the wonderful Mildly Extreme blog I’ve learned that evocative word koremorebi for light filtering through the leaves.  I wonder if Japanese can offer me a word to describe the exquisite glow of sunlight filtering through a flushed and fertile comb?

LaRocque, Olivier (2014) “Revisiting distinctions between ranching and pastoralism: A matter of interspecies relations between livestock, people, and predators Critique of Anthropology 2014, Vol. 34(1) 73–93

Brush turkey mathematics

Four hens + eleven teenaged brush turkeys + several decoy eggs in the henhouse = one fresh chicken egg a day.  I can’t quite nut out this equation.  There are three intractable maths problems here.
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One is agricultural-cum-mathematical.  Why are three of our pampered pets failing to lay eggs?
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The second is at the point where philosophy meets mathematics, along the lines of “how many angels can dance on the head of pin”. Just exactly how many brush turkeys can occupy one suburban backyard?  And why are there so damn many of them?
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And then there’s the ethological question.  Given the apparently infinite number of turkeys, and clear evidence that they are unrepentant egg eaters, why are we enjoying any omelettes at all?
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What with the festival of poultry diseases we have been hosting lately, it’s not a big surprise that only sprightly Shyla continues to lay a regular egg.  She’s an Australorp, a new fangled breed, presumably with disease resistance as one of her mod cons, while, say, Treasure with her tedious moulting and brooding, is a Light Sussex, a breed that’s been around since Roman times.  I reckon that kind of pedigree is going to her a proclivity to old fashioned things, like the distinctly medieval-sounding fowl pox.

Being Top Chook doesn’t hurt Shyla’s capacity to pump out eggs. She makes sure she gets the best snacks by belting up to the garden gate as soon as she hears me coming and bounding in the air to grab scraps before I get a chance to dish them out.

But I’m not sure the other girls are getting quite enough to eat.

Now, I’m not saying that they’re wimps.  Even ancient, diminutive Snowball the silky bantam will frighten off nosy megapodes that try to butt in while she’s in the middle of breakfast.  But the trouble is, the chooks never sit down for a three course meal.  They’re snackers.  A few minutes of frenzied eating, and they wander off to nibble grass, have a dust bath, or in Shyla’s case, follow me around hoping I have better treats – say, limp grapes or weevil ridden grain.  If that’s not forthcoming she’ll taste-test the wet washing or have a red hot go at pecking my butt.

Shyla’s certainly not one to let starvation diminish her egg supply.  But by the time the other hens realise seconds wouldn’t go astray, it’s a teeny bit late.

No-one is 100% sure why there are so many damn brush turkeys in Brisbane and the northern suburbs of Sydney.  “I’m supposed to be the expert on brush turkeys and I still can’t explain why that’s going on,” commented Professor Darryl Jones of Griffith University, talking to the ABC.  He reckons numbers in Brisbane have increased by 700 percent in the last 20 years.

In the early 1990s, scientists thought moggies snacking on the unprotected chicks would put a stop to the urban invasion.  Nope.  The cluey babies will listen out for the alarm calls of just about any old bird, and as long as there’s enough cover they’ve got a chance.  Fox and dingo baiting mean grown-up life has been less brutish and short, and the water-wise mulching habits of modern gardeners have made mound building in suburbia extremely convenient.  The odd gormless adult bird might be taken by an ambitious powerful owl, willing to have a go at prey “at least 103%” of its own body weight, according to the remarkably precise estimates of scholarly birdwatchers.  But let’s face it, these owls are just not powerful enough in the brush turkey execution caper for my liking.

If anyone knows about megapodes it’s Dr Anne “Brushturkey robochickGöth, working down the road from here at Macquarie University. She’s explored every aspect of the weird story of how brush turkey babies, all on their own, dig their way out of their giant natal compost heaps – “the most nonavian life history you can get among creatures that are still feathered and lay hard-shelled eggs” – and then figure out without any parental guidance what they should eat and what will eat them, not to mention what the hell other brush turkeys look like without a glimpse of their parents or siblings.  Its no wonder they have a thing about mirrors.

Dr Göth’s erstwhile colleague up in Queensland, Prof. Jones, comments “fortuitously her arrival [in Sydney] coincided with a marked expansion of populations in the vicinity of the northern suburbs of the city” (2007, 3).  Mmmm.  Coincidence, eh, Dr Göth?  The gardeners and chicken keepers of the north shore are deeply, deeply suspicious.  Anyway, whether or not she has been deliberately breeding an evil army of brush turkeys in her secret underground lab, Dr Göth is on the money about the cause of the population explosion in my back garden – the ready supply of chook food.

So onto the final maths problem.  If there is an apparently infinite number of megapodes in our backyard, how come they haven’t spotted Shyla’s daily egg, sitting there, sometimes all day, next to its plastic companions?  Can’t brush turkeys count?

Rumour has it domestic chickens are a dab hand at maths.  Three day old chicks can figure out where to go left or right for a bigger pile of edible stuff even when items are added one by one, and each pile is hidden behind a screen.  This research by Rosa Rigosa from the University of Padua has been reported in the Telegraph under the headline “Chickens are cleverer than toddlers”.  But on my reading, 3 day old chicks should be put in charge of pairing our socks after washing, as they seem to a better grip on arithmatic and object permanence than the adults in our household do.

I have looked and failed to find for research on megapode counting skills. Dr Göth obviously hasn’t started work yet on this critical issue in animal cognition.  So I can’t tell if our continuing egg supply is a consequence of brush turkey innumeracy or if they are just lulling us into a false sense of security before brutally snatching away our remaining hope of home grown-protein. I guess we’ll have to see how this one plays out with our convenience sample in the back yard lab.

And if 1000 words on brush turkeys is barely enough for you, why not go read some more?

  • Goth, Ann and Maloney, Mary. Powerful Owl preying on an Australian Brush-turkey in Sydney [online]. Australian Field Ornithology, Vol. 29, No. 2, Jun 2012: 102-104
  • Göth, Ann and Uwe Vogel (2002) Chick survival in the megapode Alectura lathami (Australian brush-turkey) Wildlife Research 29(5) 503 – 511 Published: 30 December 2002
  • Göth, A., Nicol, K.P., Ross, G. & Shields, J.J. (2006). Present and past distribution of Australian Brush-turkeys Alectura lathami in New South Wales – implications for management. Pacific Conservation Biology 12, 22–30

Latchkey chicks

The local youth have been loitering around our place, nicking in without so much as a by-your-leave, cadging food and then disappearing as soon as the adults arrive with a basket of washing or a lawnmower (or a camera).

Normally at this time of year the offenders are brush turkey chicks, absurdly tiny and fluffy to be so completely unattended by any kind of parental figure.  Chooks the same age and size would be under the watchful eye of some stern motherly type, but brush turkey babies are the original latchkey chicks.  From the time they burrow their way out of the incubating mound, they’re on their own.

Brush turkey like to make their mounds where it’s really shady – 85-90% cover.  Our neighbours’ backyard is perfect and every now and then the little chicks squeeze through the fence  – or fly over it, something they can do from the time they’re only a few hours old – into our place.  This one doesn’t quite have the heft to work Grandpa’s foot-pedal activated chicken feeder, but it’s giving it a red hot go.

But this year the brush turkeys are not the only feckless youth about. One morning last week, I spotted two scrawny youngsters scuttling away behind the woodshed.  Two?  I’ve never seen a brush turkey babe with a buddy before.

It seems the neighbours’ pair of fledgeling Barnevelders occasionally like to slip away from their adoptive mum to rampage through our yard.  I was baffled by the sudden demolition of the “clucker tucker” patch –  a mix of tasty greens and seeds like bok choy, buckwheat,  clover, linseed, lucerne, millet, silverbeet and sunflower that I’d been carefully cultivating as a cover crop and future fodder supply.   Green Harvest’s website makes the droll comment that these plants “have vigorous root systems that will quickly regrow leaves that are cut or eaten”.  I’d carefully fenced it off from our own poultry demolition squad and the damage didn’t have that “visit from by a front end loader” look so characteristic of the work of brush turkeys so I was at something of a loss until I saw two sets of skinny dino-legs through a pullet-sized scrape under the fence.

I’m not sure what the allure of our backyard is.  I guess there are no handy bus shelters for the young team to hang out in around here, so our woodshed is the next best thing.  Recently I’ve seen one of the neighbour’s teenage chickens in the yard again, this time fraternising with an adolescent brush turkey. All fine and dandy, I’m sure (like any naive parent, I’m carefully not thinking about this kind of thing).

I’m taking tips on bringing up the kids from the chooks – the case for a free range childhood seems pretty sound to me.  So bring on the latchkey chicks!  I’m here to embrace the modern fowl – whether she be Alectura lathami or Gallus gallus domesticus – with her busy life as a working parent, and to celebrate her offspring’s initiative and spirit of independence. As long as the little fiends stay out of my silverbeet!

Andy Ninja, cannibal chicken?

A good couple of years after apparently going through the “the change” and only a few months since she was regularly crowing at dawn, Andy Ninja’s back on the lay.  They’re not particularly beautiful eggs – sometimes crimped like they’ve been extracted with forceps or she’s stopped for a breather mid-lay; sometimes exceedingly delicate; often broken – but eggs nonetheless.  She seems to favour the long abandoned compost bin: quiet, private and less heavily policed by huffy uber-femmes than the nestbox.  And thanks to my laziness in the composted-cardboard-shredding department, eggs laid there are even honestly labelled.

At the very same time  Andy starts producing her miracle eggs, The Phantom Egg Eater has returned.  It’s a suspicious coincidence. The veteran, yearning for the good old days when she trotted up to the house to lay an egg a day, regular as clockwork.  The aging chicken willing to do anything to return to those glory days….

…anything… even taking other hens’ eggs… younger hens… pretenders to the throne… taking their lesser eggs and transmuting them, creating… yes!…. my very own marvellous eggs…

Okay, so I had fully worked up a vision of a tormented yet triumphant Andy Ninja, guiltily gorging herself, all to restore faded reproductive glory. But natural justice must be done: I needed proof.

In the quest to catch the egg eater in the act, I hot footed it to the bottom of the garden at the first triumphant cackle yesterday morning.   Andy is just lifting herself off a still-warm mid-life egg.  This one’s intact and I’ve stolen it before she has a chance have any kind of peck.  She retreats, a picture of innocence. Content of the paragraph

Suspicious andy cropped

Andy walks straight past the pre-damaged plastic egg in the least favoured laying spot – the old lawn mower catcher under the granny flat. Only used in moments of desperation.

But here’s a plot twist: as soon as Andy leaves the compost bin, Shyla the Australorp moseys in.  Is she settling down to lay?  No – moments later she reappears, looks around (are any witnesses?), and darts away.  So it’s Shyla!

But wait! A minute or two later, Luna the Barred Rock arrives on the scene, ducks into the compost bin, peers about and then pops out again.  Nothing to see here.

Oh my god!  They’re all at it. It’s like Murder on the Orient Express!

I need a plan.

Someone on a backyard chicken forum recommended a strategy for dealing with egg-eaters:  fill a cracked egg with hot English mustard.  The culprit will gulp down what it thinks is the yolk and learn its lesson rather sharply.

No English mustard in the house, just a rather toothsome wholegrain French. And no broken egg.  So why not cover one of the plastic ones with mustard and do a bit of pre-emptive operant conditioning?  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Only I forgot: the chooks like to snuggle up to the fake eggs as they settle down to lay, scooting their little plastic treasures from one side of the nestbox to the other if need be.  With their beaks.  I race down to the henhouse to find Luna and Treasure looking they’ve just eaten their first vindaloo.  I do the only thing an empathetic chicken keeper would: given them a cooling slice of watermelon*.

So, chicken tongues soothed. But I’m still no closer to bringing to justice the Egg Eater.

This morning Andy popped out a broken egg, so it’s back to a more standard use of the mustard technique.  We still don’t have English mustard so it’s a pretty disturbing looking yolk – if chooks are anything like as smart as animal behaviour researchers say they are they wouldn’t touch it with a 40 foot pole.

This time there’s no sign of repeat offenders panting in the evening breeze.  But by nightfall the egg and its condimenticality have disappeared entirely.   No shell fragments.  No spillage.

Now, it is possible that the hens as a group are very very tidy eaters with a surprising love of spicy flavours.   Alternatively, maybe somewhere nearby there’s a diamond python with a serious stomach ache.

*Okay, rather suffering from mustard-mouth, Luna and Treasure might have simply been hot, since chickens don’t sweat and it was a steamy old day.  Did I mention that chicken breathe using air sac that extend into their bones?!!? Oh yes, I did.  Well, they also maintain a consistent temperature by dumping heat into those air sacs (and connected pneumatic bones).  Dinosaurs probably did it that way too… according to Mathew J Wedel in “Vertebral pneumaticity, air sacs, and the physiology of sauropod dinosaurs” Paleobiology 29(2) 2003 pp.243-55. 

Literally and figuratively cool….

Death, hot compost and chicken addictions

Something weird happened today.  With a self-important summons to the other chooks, Treasure sped over the large disgusting vat of compost tea lurking under the tumbler and took a long, luxurious drink. After a good sup, she briskly trotted away with the kind of dirty stain on her snowy chest that speaks of an all-absorbing gastronomic experience.  Is this a chicken version of the breakfast long black?

Chicken coffee

Nom nom nom

Knowing as I do in the contents of the compost tumbler – innocent things like lawn clippings, comfrey cuttings and fallen maple leaves; but also less pleasing items –  mouldy citrus peel, rotten pears and fetid greens, barnhouse bedding weighed down with healthy gobbets of chicken manure, and in consequence a fine array of crawling and creeping things, their offspring and their excreta – the idea of the chickens necking great drafts of the liquid that oozes from this brew is really quite disturbing.

In general, I view keeping chickens as bit like teaching adults (my day job).  Kindy teachers have to wipe away tears, give cuddles and clean up vomit, but when you teach in higher education you can more or less rely on students to handle the basics on their own.  I don’t like to patronise my chooks – I reckon they have a fair idea of where to hang out, how to spend their time and what’s okay to eat.

But perhaps I’m being too laissez faire.  Maybe I should treat my hens more like my children and start policing their behaviour a bit more vigilantly.  Possibly letting the girls drink compost tea is the equivalent of doling out supersized glasses of Coke (and a Happy Meal?) to under tens.

This is the dark side of the compost tumbler.  It seems so sleek and neat, holding its dubious contents high above things that squirm and scamper and gnaw in the night.  You spin her wheel and steer her like a noble vessel towards the promised land of super-speedy compost, black gold faster than lightning.  And I can say, hand on heart, that after fifteen years of steadfast unintentional cold composting, one bucket of kitchen scraps at a time, with this tumbler, I’ve seen my very first batch of the good stuff, cooked within an inch of its life.  While most things (except for teaspoons and the plastic tags on bread bags) will rot down eventually regardless of how incompetently you build your heap or how infrequently you turn the pile, there is something glorious about seeing steam rising from your compost and knowing the nasties – weed seeds and plant viruses and pathogens – have been fricasseed.

But the path to hot compost is not pure.  Here’s what I found on the innocuous sounding Soil Forum while hunting out the best compost recipes, the perfect balance between browns (carbon rich things that crunch) and greens (nitrogen rich things that squelch):

“when we say that “anything” can go into a tumbler, we do mean “almost anything”. Whole small animals are OK but I would do deer heads in a separate pile! (Make too much noise flopping around in there!) I do have 20 deer lower legs on hand but they’d create quite a tangle sent through in one batch. However, I may simply saw them in half and run them all through the next hot batch.”

No, that wasn’t a post from Sarah Palin, though I’m sure she could cook up a fine tumblerful of deer-heads if she turned her hand to it. In case you were wondering, deer body-parts would count as greens (squelch).  Always put them in the very centre of your tumbler, where it’s hottest. (seriously, in contrast to anything Sarah might say, for rat, health and aesthetic reasons I never compost dead animals – there’s not a lot of corpses going round in a vegetarian household, and any tragedies that do occur are accompanied by a tiny funeral and ceremonial interring)

That said, there’s no getting around it: composting is still all about death and decomposition.  An interesting bit of that Peter Greenaway film “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover” comes to me.  The cook says:

“I charge a lot for anything black. Grapes, olives, black currants. People like to remind themselves of death. Eating black food is like consuming death. Like saying: “Death, I’m eating you”. Black truffles are the most expensive. Caviar. Death and birth. The end and the beginning.”

I quite like the idea that the chickens are engaged in some kind of philosophical act drinking up their ordure-enriched powerade.  That it’s not just forbidden pleasure, the subtle piquancy of insect exoskeletons or a health-giving blast of liquidised potassium that holds such appeal, but that they’re drinking deep from the existential heart of gardening.

Things that go clang in the night

Tiptoeing down to the bottom of the garden through the midwinter gloom (or, to be precise the astronomical twilight) for some last-minute salad greens, I hear a sudden clang in the chook yard.

It’s grandpa. Well, Grandpa’s patented galvanised iron chicken feeder, slamming shut.  Something’s been chowing down on the chooks’ supper, and it isn’t Andy Ninja.

Andy at the feeder cropped 2

According to the manufacturers, Grandpa’s are vermin proof, requiring the heft of a chook to access the munchies inside.  And we carefully checked the skies before training our girls, since apparently cockies, despite being lightweights, comparatively speaking, have be known to figure out to jump mob-handed on the foot-pedal to get to the goodies.  And it’s not a brush turkey, for all their proprietorial air.  It’s after their bedtime.

In my fantasy life, my garden, as well as being effortlessly fecund with nature’s edible bounty, is an ideal habitat for rare and exciting native creatures.  The clang, in this universe, would be a shy and endangered Long-Nosed bandicoot, taking a detour from its usual diet of grubs and tubers to snatch a mouthful of scratch mix, as if to assure me, through this moment of dietary eccentricity, that I am walking lightly on this earth.

long-nosed-northern-bandicoot.ashx

In fact, I’m pretty sure we do have bandicoots in the back yard, but I’ve only once had a fleeting glimpse a white bum disappearing into a disorderly pile of prunings (or “habitat” as I like to think of it).  If they are attempting to communicate with me through the medium of conical nose-holes disturbingly close to my seedlings, I’m not quite sure what the message might be.

In my nightmares, on the other hand, the visitor at dusk is a Liverpudlian Super Rat, that somehow sneaked into the shipping crate when we left the UK seven years ago and has been loitering in the bottom of the garden ever since, disembowelling cats and swallowing brush turkey eggs whole. Okay, the Super Rat may be not all bad.

A giant rat caught in Liverpool.

There’s a more endearing rodent possibility: perhaps it’s a hard working and cooperative clan of mice, like the very cute singing ones in Bagpuss.

Mice in bagpuss 2

I could hide behind the generous leaves of the custard apple and try to catch the interloper in the act.  But since there’s a sharp westerly blowing and further research is bound to disappoint, one way or another, I think I’ll allow the Clanger to remain a mystery.

clangers