The Birds and Bees of a Book-lover’s Garden

It’s been a blustery old week in Perth, but between the squalls, grey skies and showers, a few hours of winter sunshine warmed our rain-soaked garden. We have planted native West Australian trees and shrubs to attract insects and birds to our plot of suburbia, so it was a thrill to observe the buzzing activity around our pin-cushion hakeas and grevilleas.

Shaun and Sarah’s bee pollinating our pin-cushion hakea. Photo: Katrina Kell
Bees pollinating our Spider Net Grevillea. Photo: Katrina Kell

Our lovely neighbours are keen home beekeepers, and whenever I sample their delicious honey, I can almost taste the native flowers their bees have collected pollen from our garden. The bees, butterflies and insects that are now pollinating these blossoms, also attract New Holland honeyeaters, wattlebirds, silvereyes and Australian ringneck parrots to our native and non-native shrubbery.

New Holland honeyeater. Photo: Katrina Kell
Australian Ringneck or “Twenty-eight parrot” guzzling on sunflower seeds. Photo: Katrina Kell

Hopefully, one day soon, when the native plants have produced their delicious nuts, we will enjoy regular visits from the beautiful Carnaby’s cockatoo, one of Western Australia’s most endangered native bird species.

Male Carnaby’s cockatoo. Lake Richmond, Western Australia. Photo: Katrina Kell

A flock of Carnaby’s cockatoos captured my heart on the first day I set foot on Australian soil. It was a steamy Christmas Day morning, and as I wound down the car window on route to my first Aussie barbecue, an enormous flock of birds blackened the cloudless sky. I was ten years old at the time, and my heart raced at the wondrous sight and melodious sound of the birds above me. I remember asking our friendly host if the birds were crows, and was astonished to discover they were black cockatoos. The only cockatoos I had seen as a child in Scotland were the white cockatoos that nipped at my fingers as I scratched their feathery heads through the rungs of confining zoo cages.

My maternal grandmother was Australian, and she was preceded by several generations of Australian women, a heritage tracing back to my convict g-g-g-grandmother Abby Desmond, an Irishwoman who was transported to the Antipodes for the “robbery of a person” in 1828.

In a special kind of way, my arrival in Western Australia really felt like a homecoming, and the wonder of seeing a flock of black cockatoos for the first time has never left me. So, it comes as no surprise that Carnaby’s cockatoos often appear in my dreams and imaginative musings, and yodel their haunting songs onto the pages and lines of the novels and poems I love creating.