Slightly belated gloating…

I won a thing!


The Hazards – granite-a-rama!

This year, two Tasmanian National Parks are celebrating their centenaries – Mt. Field and Freycinet on the beautiful east coast.

At the end of August, I had the pleasure of spending a lovely weekend up at Coles Bay, in a house looking out to the Hazards,  and participating in the 100th birthday celebrations for Freycinet National Park.

Part of the celebrations involved the announcement of winners of the the 2016 Tasmanian Wildcare Nature Writing Prize.  I’m really pleased to have been announced as one of the runners-up for this prize, for my essay Selling the Farm.

Overall prize winner Harriet Riley came all the way over from New York to join myself, judge Sarah Day, and members of the Tasmanian Writers Centre – we had a lot of fun over the weekend, and did our very best to support Tasmanian champers and cheese producers🙂  You can read Harriet’s winning essay Endings – On Love and Extinction in the latest Island mag, which I encourage you all to go out and subscribe to.

My essay will be available for public consumption shortly – stay tuned for more details.

Put a bird on it! 10 reasons you should become a birdwatcher

Bill Oddie is renowned for it. Jonathan Franzen creates controversy around it.

Bill Bailey devotes entire comedy and TV shows to his love of it.

tawny frogmouth

Tawny frogmouths – birds worth watching, if you can find them in the first place.

Bird watching is undergoing a sort of renaissance, with paid up members of bird-loving organizations on the rise in Australia and beyond. I think these newly-minted birdos are onto something – here’s why you should consider joining them:

  1. You can do it anywhere. From the depths of the concrete jungle to the outermost offshore island, look around you for long enough, and eventually, you’ll see a bird. Urban areas might not provide the most exciting array of birds to ogle, but don’t write them off as possible bird watching locations. I’ve done some of my best birding, martini in one hand, binoculars in the other, propped on the balcony at someone else’s house. Which leads me to…
  1. The refreshments. With hobbit-like enthusiasm, seasoned birdos tend to conduct their bird watching sorties fully kitted out with vintage thermoses and a delightful array of home-baked goods. Take a break from squinting through your binoculars with a nice cuppa and a slice of Aunty Vera’s prize-winning fruitcake, or impress your new friends with your latest chia choc-chip cookie recipe.
  1. Location, location, location! Bird watching provides a great excuse to take impromptu trips to exotic locations, on the premise of spotting some rare vagrant bird rumoured to have once considered landing there. Travelled halfway across the country, yet failed to bag your bird? Who cares? You’re at a scenic sewage treatment plant in Alice Springs!
  1. The fashion is fabulous, dahling. Whether you have a penchant for pockets, or a taste for tweed, there’s a practical yet flattering bird watching look to suit you. Skinny jeans aside, there’s actually quite an overlap between hipster fashion and trad bird watching attire, and many older birdos, both male and female, sport impressive, stroke-worthy facial hair. Leather elbow pads, anyone?
  1. The romance, and all it may lead to. Bird watching offers erotically charged opportunities unrivalled by any hookup app. Romantic moments in secluded bird hides. Skin brushing against skin as binoculars are passed from hand to trembling hand, as you watch sensual dance of the Brolgas, or perhaps admire the slightly earthier courtship rituals of the Musk Duck. You won’t be getting any of that action on Tinder.
OBP v Firetail

Exceedingly rare or common as the proverbial – both orange-bellied parrots and beautiful firetails are both worth a look.

  1. Cheap thrills for the avid collector. Ever rummaged through a vintage op-shop and unearthed a fantastic collectors’ piece, only to have your heart stop when you saw its price tag? Birds are free, man.
  1. Bird watching lets you say ridiculous things with a straight face. See a great pair of Boobies the other day? Tell all your friends! Desperate for a bit of Hairy Woodpecker action, or perhaps lusting after a Fluffy-backed Tit Babbler? Don’t be ashamed to put that out there. Bonus: many of these entertaining bird monikers double as potential insults. Try calling someone a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, or an Agile Tit Tyrant, and see if they mistake your intentions.
  1. On the topic of outrageousness, birds provide an ongoing source of anecdotes, allowing you to indulge in a spot of scandalous gossip with limited social repercussions. Entertain your friends with titillating stories of the Kardashian-esque sex lives of fairy wrens, the stand-over tactics of the cuckoo mafia, or the brain-munching antics of zombie tits!
  1. Bird watching is a part of human nature. As soon as human children first stumble to their feet, they are possessed of a deep-seated need to chase seagulls, in the apparent hope of stuffing them into their mouths for further analysis. While most of us outgrow the mouth-stuffing bit, our instinctive fascination with birds remains. Who are you to deny biology?
  1. It’s actually quite fun. But don’t tell everyone – they’ll all want a piece of it.

Disclosure statement: The author does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any birds that would benefit from this article.Firetails Melaleuca

Keep your cats inside. For everyone’s sake. Vale Ozzie the cockatiel.

ornamental ozzie

Vale Ozzie. Fabulous little cockatiel, and occasional shelf ornament.

I just found out that Ozzie the cockatiel, beloved feather-baby of my friend Leah  and honoured guest in my house last year, was killed by a roaming pet cat, who attacked him inside his cage, tearing off one of his wings. He had to be put down.

Ozzie on my head

Ozzie loved eating Post-It notes, chewing on important pieces of paper, and whistling Jingle Bells off-key.

Caught in the act of destroying my "to do" list, Ozzie takes offence at me documenting the offence.

Caught in the act of destroying my “to do” list, Ozzie takes offence at me documenting the offence.

He was seven years old – young for a cockatiel – these Australian natives can live up to 20 years in captivity, and are intelligent, loving companions.

Ozzie on boot

This is Ozzie and his beloved Ugg boot. Some might say he loved the boot a little too much…

Feral and other marauding cats kill millions of animals every night across the country, doubtless many wild cockatiels among them. Not all of them have names, personal histories that tie them to humans like Ozzie, but all of them are vital, living parts of the complicated landscape that we call home.

Ozzie eats the competition

Native birds in battle for habitat on the kitchen shelf.

Cats do not need to roam outdoors. Sure, most like to, but it’s not strictly necessary for their happiness and well-being. I’d like to spend my whole life frolicking at the beach drinking fancy cocktails and eating green tea ice cream whilst receiving foot massages, but we can’t have it all.Ozzie likes TasCountry

My cat never goes outside, and is rarely seen listening to Morrissey records, moping around in heavy black make-up or looking longingly at razorblades. I make sure she has fun things to play with indoors, feed her a healthy diet, and occasionally sling a tennis ball her way for her to murder like the mesopredator she is.

ozzie eats pencil

Keep your cats inside. Desex them. Microchip them. Love them and keep them safe from cars, disease, dogs and other animals. Keep the local wildlife and other people’s pets safe from your cat. It’s better for everyone.  Ozzie's to do list

Mobbed, and very nearly eaten, by the Sunshine Coast’s Eco Goats.


Yesterday, I hung out with the fine caprines of Eco Goats Queensland, up in the weed-infested hills of the Sunshine Coast hinterlands.  As well as being completely adorable, these goats are working to help clear environmental weeds like the feral Mexican sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia), which, with a horde of other invasive plants, are growing into tall, dense weedy tracts throughout the region.  Although they are rightly known as pests elsewhere, when managed correctly, goats can provide a herbicide-free, cost-effective weed control service in some environments.

As well as being very hard working, the Eco Goats are also very friendly, and desperate for hugs and pats.  They mobbed me like I was a rockstar – I smelt pretty goaty by yesterday afternoon!

Goats are great – check them out!




Goats are often considered to have broad tastes.   A few of them had a bit of a nibble on my arms and legs to see if I was worth a chew, and one of them managed to get hold of my fancy diary, which I’d foolishly left poking out of one pocket.  It’s dry now, but it was a little gross there for a bit.





To the island! Schouten Island, giant sharks, Tasmanian tigers and my un-illustrious family history.


For the next week or so, hopefully*, I will be on Schouten Island, volunteering for the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service as a camp host. Part of the stunning Freycinet National Park, on Tasmania’s east coast, this large granite island is about 2800 Ha (about 6km by 7km), and generally only visited by yachties and hardy kayakers.

schouten tight

Schouten Island. So big! 

I’m quite excited about heading to Schouten, as apart from never having been there before, my family has island form. Apparently, we used to run cattle out there in the early 1900’s and possibly before. My great-great-great grandfather used to tie the head steer (that’s a young bull without balls) to the back of a boat and row him out there – all the other cattle would swim behind him, across an often rough stretch of water patrolled by rather large sharks (more on them later).

According to my father, my family also shot what was probably the last Tasmanian tiger on the east coast on Schouten (now you see why I work in conservation). I don’t have a great deal of information on this as yet, but will continue sifting through the family dirt over the next few weeks. As well as various internet trawling spoils, I have these for research purposes, which should make for interesting reading.


I’ve also downloaded the Hamish Saunders Expedition report for the island – I didn’t go on this particular expedition, but many skilled ecologists did, and the report gives a great overview of what natural delights may await us.

Stay tuned for more stories of giant sharks, pocket pygmy possums, hidden waterfalls and island adventures!

(* I say hopefully, as we were supposed to head out there yesterday, but weather and waves prevented our departure. The next couple of days are also out, but Thursday looks possible, apparently.  Digits crossed!)

Z is for Bassian thrush (Zoothera lunulata) – guilty-looking ground scruffler of the understorey #MelaleucaMiscellany

One with worms, one with veg - on their way to a potluck, perhaps - excellent shot from Mick Brown.

One with worms, one with veg – on their way to a potluck, perhaps – excellent shot from Mick Brown.

And so we arrive at the last letter of the alphabet, the enigmatic Z.  Our alphabetical natural miscellany comes to a end, not with a bang, but with a scruffle, for Z is for Zoothera lunulata, a.k.a. the rather adorable Bassian thrush. I’d never seen a Bassian thrush prior to visiting Melaleuca, but since meeting them there, they have become firm favourites in the world of cryptic, little (mostly) brown birds.  Birdlife Australia describe them as “secretive”, so maybe it’s not surprising we only just met. Bassian thrushes seem to wear a permanent look of anxious guilt, as if you’ve caught them smoking behind the school tennis sheds. They are members of the unfortunately named Turdidae family, which also includes the similarly remorseful-looking blackbirds, who doubtless were smoking behind the tennis sheds, and probably ripping the moss of my bonsai plants, the little bastards.

So delicious!  This fabulous shot from JJ Harrison, via the Wikimedia Commons -  (

So delicious! This fabulous shot from JJ Harrison, via the Wikimedia Commons – ( hope of startling unwary visitors.  

Larger than many of the other LBBs, Bassian thrushes have the most beautifully patterned feathers, in colours from cream through to caramels, in toffee and coffee tones, their edges scalloped in a rich dark-chocolate.  Although they look quite delicious, do not be tempted to eat them! Bassian thrushes enjoy such pastimes as ground scruffling, turning over litter to find tasty bits of bug, fruit or worm, and also lurking around the bushwalkers’ huts in the hope of startling unwary visitors.

The bird that lived outside the backdoor of the Charles King Memorial Hut was convinced of its mad camo-skills.  Should you walk too close, it would take a couple of quick steps, then freeze in “invisible” mode, which unfortunately, was only effective in the dark. Another Bassian thrush regularly tempted fate by stealing blueberries from the Fenton-King residence.  It probably thought itself lucky to survive a close encounter with a flying hearth brush, when the wanton theft became too much for one of the bipedal residents to bear*.

Mick Brown captured this BT in Deny King's garden - could this be our blueberry thief?

Mick Brown captured this BT in Deny King’s garden – could this be our blueberry thief?

This is the final instalment of the Melaleuca Miscellany.  Many many thanks to all of the lovely people who’ve contributed photos and ideas to the series – I hope you all get to visit the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area one day, to experience the magic of Melaleuca for yourselves.

The Bassian thrush is so cryptic, I bet you can't even see it in this photo.

The Bassian thrush is so cryptic, I bet you can’t even see it in this photo.  Hint: it’s by the back door of the hut on the left, pretending it’s a feathery rock.

*N.B. – No birds were harmed in the making of this anecdote.