When I posted about my visit to Cranbourne Royal Botanic Gardens last week, I didn’t have any photos of the Honey Eaters we saw, so these excellent pictures are courtesy of my nephew Tom.
Last Sunday we took a trip to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Cranbourne. We started off with a good lunch in Boon Wurrung Cafe, and then had a leisurely walk around the beautiful gardens. It was a dull day, but not too cold, and the rain stayed off long enough for us to enjoy the spring flowering plants and trees.
Little birds, called Honey Eaters were darting in and out of the flowers, supping on nectar – they were far too fast for me to capture on camera, but a Superb Fairy Wren paused long enough for me to get his picture.
There are a number of different walks around the gardens, depending on your fitness level, and the time you have available, and for a Sunday afternoon with rain forecast, the short one suited us fine. We finished at the cafe for a final cup of tea, and got back to the car just as the rain was starting.
I’m on holiday in Australia, staying with my sister and family in Beaconsfield, Victoria. It’s a beautiful area, and their house is situated at the head of a long wooded valley, teeming with wildlife and birds, all very different to those I’m familiar with back home in England. It’s spring here in Australia, and I’ve been woken every morning by the laughing call of Kookaburras, and the burbling of Australian Magpies. While we were having lunch on the veranda, a pair of King Parrots entertained us with their chattering, and stayed long enough for me to grab my camera, and photograph this one before it flew away.
The third stop on our Caribbean cruise was Antigua. We docked at the capital, St John’s, in the north-west of the island, which has a deep harbour suitable for large cruise ships. Antigua was named by Columbus when he first visited the island in 1493, and means ‘ancient’ in Spanish, but is also known locally as Wadadli, which has a meaning similar to ‘our own’, and gives a delicious meaning to the name of the local beer! By 1674 its main crop was sugar, and by the 1770’s it had a slave population of over 37,000, and a non-slave population of 3,000! The slaves lived terrible lives, malnourished, cruelly mistreated, and even killed by their owners. The slave trade was abolished in 1807, and slaves freed by 1834. In 1981 Antigua and its sister island Barbuda, became an independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations. Antigua’s economy now relies on tourism, with luxury hotels along the coastline, and throughout the summer months cruise ships visit almost daily.
Antigua is surrounded by coral reefs, with a coast-line of about 54 miles, and (we were told) 365 sandy beaches, enough for one a day for a year! We had decided it was time to spend a morning on the beach, so we took a taxi ride to Fort James, a quiet and pleasant bay not far from St John’s. After paying an ‘umbrella rent’ we strewed our belongings under our huge, hexagonal wooden umbrella, and went for a dip. I expected the aqua-blue water to be warm, or at least warmish – it wasn’t! Instead it was a refreshing cold, not the gasping cold, we’re used to in the UK. There were large, long roller waves that almost swept us off our feet, we were later told this was quite unusual. We dried off quickly in the sun, and did a bit of beach-combing across the hot sand, finding shells and pieces of coral that had washed up on the beach. It was hot but not overwhelmingly so, and a bottle of Wadadli from the beach bar, went down very well!
Palm trees grew along the beach, and there were scrubby trees with bright orange flowers, rather like azalea. A bird, with black plumage and bright yellow eyes hopped around in the sparse undergrowth at the edge of the beach, and then perched in the bushes; we later discovered it was a carib grackle. Fat pink doves cooed at us from the trees, and humming birds hovered around the flowers, iridescent blue and yellow, but they moved too fast to photograph. There were also huge, black frigate birds soaring high in the sky, and then swooping low over the sea.
The beach at Fort James, Antigua was completely what I expected from a Caribbean island beach – pale dazzling sand, clear blue sky, aquamarine sea, and wall to wall sunshine!
Yesterday it snowed some more, but once again not as much as was forecast. It was still very cold, -3C, and if it still wasn’t ‘deep and crisp and even’, the earth was certainly ‘hard as iron, and water like a stone’. I defrosted the bird bath every time I had a hot drink, and the birds were very grateful. Mr and Mrs Blackbird took it in turns, and kept coming back for more. A pair of magpies stopped by, and a small flock of four starlings bickered and chattered as they filled their beaks. Some great-tits, blue-tits and long-tailed-tailed-tits flicked around from bush to bush and tree to tree, along with a tiny wren, but they didn’t join the drink queue. Most of the birds sped off as soon as they saw me with my camera, but Mr and Mrs Blackbird posed beautifully. The birds were obviously finding enough to eat, as they were only interested in the water, and largely ignored the scraps I put out. The dog happily finished those bits off later!
It snowed last night, not deep or crisp or even, but definitely snow, sprinkled across the garden like icing sugar. Although it was bright and sunny this morning it snowed some more, soft fat flakes drifting and dropping aimlessly. This afternoon it grew colder, and the snow fell like tiny hard crystals whirling madly in a biting, easterly wind. Some of the longer spikes of grass are still standing tall, but most of the lawn and flowerbeds are covered with a thin lacy blanket of snow. A few small, half-open daffodil buds, have been stopped in their tracks, as winter has returned with a vengeance. Tiny pendulous snowdrops stand straight, while pink and white hellebore flower-heads are heavily laden, bowing down to almost touch the icy cold earth. I’ve defrosted the bird bath three times today, and have been rewarded with the sight of blackbirds and pigeons grabbing a quick drink, and I spotted a wren on the trellis, and a squirrel high up in the oak tree. Despite the bitter cold, there is still life in my garden. We may not have had the snow we were expecting, but there are a few days yet of snow and below zero temperatures forecast, so who knows…..
This morning the sky is an unrelenting grey, sombre and lifeless, sapping my very being. The trees are mere skeletons, each tiny twig hard and stark against the cold sky. Yesterday I felt full of energy and life, but it seems to have evaporated over night, leaving me low and dispirited.
Then up high there is a movement, and I see a single solitary seagull wheeling across the bleak expanse of cloud. Suddenly a squirrel catches my eye as it scampers along the top of the fence, and a small flock of starlings fly overhead. A couple of pigeons alight on the pergola, rather early in the year for their amorous courtship. I can hear a bird singing, a blackbird or robin, the sound reaches me even though my window is closed against the chill air. I see green ivy twisting and turning around the lower branches of the old oak tree. The world outside is not dead at all. I begin to come to life myself, and despite the grey skies my spirit lifts a little. To my mind’s eye, the steely grey sky becomes slightly softer, the twigs become more feathery and less harsh, and somehow full of future potential. When I look closely, even in the cold of winter there is life.