Red Browed Finches in the Garden

It took two years of planting, growing, flowering, seeding and not tidying the garden up to get the New Holland honey eaters to come to the garden. They came tentatively at first, one at a time, cautious about where they sat and with an eye on the nearest bit of sky. In those early days they never stayed long and they never visited while there was a human around. I only saw them from the kitchen window.
Then they came in twos and then in crowds. Like teenagers at the mall, they showed interest in nearly nothing but still had to be there. They squabbled a lot, mostly over imagined slights to rank and roost.

Today, afternoon visits to the garden can be cut short by plucky honey eaters with families on their minds, checking branches for stability and nest bearing capacity. No bigger than a hand span in length, they make up for lack of size with fierce stares from white rimmed eyes, sharp beaks and quick darting flights. They seem to love sitting side saddle on bamboo canes put in to support beans and peas. Needless to say, the canes are left in these days to provide seating, long after the beans have been pulled out. They leave the chubby sparrows to sit on the more sedate seating provided by the fences, showing off as they fly away leaving the bamboo vibrating in response.

Last year I noticed finches in the garden for the first time. They were there one minute and gone the next, chipping away at thistle heads left by a lazy gardener who knows all about one year’s seed being seven years of weeds and still does not get to them all in time. She figures a weed is just a plant in the wrong place. Obviously, what is wrong for her is perfect as a finch snack. But the finches came only once that year. A little mob of four which looked so like our own Gouldian finches that I thought for a little while that ours had escaped. They weren’t Gouldians of course, but the much plainer red browed or even the zebra finches who are the poor Cinderellas of the finch world. They did not stay long enough for any kind of proper identification.

But suddenly today I see a little crowd of them, red about the face and plain beige in the body with little black bars across the tops of their wings, swinging among the bamboo canes like a group of retired clowns in too tight tuxedos, breathless with too much drink and too little practice whooping it up one last time under the big top. Even the sun came out briefly to shine a light on them. But this did not last for long. A solitary honey eater came out of nowhere and darted this way and that, causing a great deal of squeaking and chirping. Before the camera could be activated, it was all over. The honey eater even flew back and took a little swing on the cane itself, self important and smug. I put the camera away, quite annoyed with all the honey eaters in all the wide world. But more than a little pleased secretly that the bamboo appeals to more than one kind of bird. There will always be another chance to take a photo. Let’s hope they will not be put off by the reception and make the garden a regular stop.

Here is to more untidy bits and thistle heads!

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