Just another day in the garden. Not quite. It’s New Year’s Day and I am engaging in a routine I always do on January 1: compile a checklist of birds spotted, to set me on course for a new year of bird-watching.
Usually I choose a place rich in birds for my January 1 foray, sometimes in an exotic location, but this year I’m confined to my garden because of a knee injury.
Not that I am complaining. In my garden I can still touch base with nature and a casual stroll will always bring a surprise.
This year, the surprise comes not from my usual quarry, birds like the golden whistler and grey fantail, but from an animal. A young bennett’s wallaby is chewing on the fresh green shoots of my lawn.
When I say my garden is my contact point with nature, I mean that in its broadest sense. The birdsong might give a clue to what species are visiting on a given day but it is the trees and shrubs which also give shape to the seasons. The excited chatter of new holland honeyeaters tells me that the yellow bottlebrushes are in flower in spring, the mournful song of the yellow-tailed black cockatoo announces the beautiful blooms of the golden banksia have burst into flower in late summer. In autumn, the brush bronzewing pigeon’s booming call tells me that seeds are dropping from the acacias, to be picked up amid the leaf littler.
And when the introduced, deciduous trees from the northern hemisphere drop their leaves I do not have to go into the garden to confirm it is winter. Spotted pardalotes, singing merrily, arrive to probe the fissures in crack willow bark in their hunt for hibernating insects.
The garden is also a guide to weather, as the wallaby proves on the first day of 2016. The Waterworks Valley where I live in Hobart’s south has been racked by drought, and the wallabies have been coming increasingly off higher ground in search of lush riverine vegetation still fed by the waters of the Sandy Bay Rivulet, which borders my patch.
Well into summer on January 1, with the garden foliage and the once sleek breeding plumage of the male birds beginning to show some wear and tear, I am already thinking of the next season, when I will lament the departure of all our summer visitors, and order a tonne of logs for the woodstove. I have this thought as tree martins are still hawking insects high above my head, even if a group of other summer visitors, the cuckoos, have already stopped singing, their anti-social work in using surrogate parents to rear their young done.
For the time being, though, New Year’s Day presents a timeless summer scene, even if the sun is not shining today and humidity hangs in the sultry air. But I never tire of these moments, and feel excited about the dawn of a new year and I wonder what it will bring.