Bits and Pieces
Behind the Lines Print E-mail
Monday, 25 July 2016 23:03

Behind the Lines is an exhibition, running until 25 September, which celebrates the role of satire and political cartoonists in Australia and highlights the power of their drawings. With a selection of 80 of the best cartoons from 39 cartoonists, this year’s exhibition displays some of Australia’s most controversial cartoons that test the boundaries of free speech and the freedom of the press. In a break with tradition the exhibition does not just celebrate one ‘Cartoonist of the Year’, but celebrates the community of political cartoonists in Australia, in memory of the tragedy at Charlie Hebdo. At the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Conacher Street.

 
BIRDS – and other things! Print E-mail
Monday, 25 July 2016 22:56

Part Forty - seven: Owl Assortment

Continuing with last month’s theme, I thought I would share this earlier life - experience with you. Just prior to retirement, I had a particularly bad down - time and a friend gave me a small two - inch high carved stone owl to cheer me up. Its facial expression clearly said ‘BLAH to all of you’, and I tr easure d the little object. At the time it helped me over the hump but, unfortunately, friends and family came to the (unfounded) assumption that I liked al l inanimate owl trinkets and knick - knacks. They showered me with owl items for breakfast, lunch, birthdays, whatever and whenever until I had to say ‘Thank you, but STOP! ENOUGH! NO MORE, PLEASE!’

Thankfully they got the message and eventually the Salvos r eceived a sizeable collection of owls in all shapes and sizes and made from many different materials. I sincerely hope that they all found good homes.

However, I have always had a soft spot for real - life owls, both for their rather comical features and fo r their habits and usefulness to mankind. Although they seem to be notorious and ruthless predators of our wildlife, they do play their part in keeping introduced vermin under control. And it is this attribute which brings me to the Barn Owl which inhabits nearly every country below the equator, most of the USA and a few European countries.

The reason for its large worldwide distribution is the owls’ innate survival flexibility: their nesting requirements are adaptable; their food requirements can be alte red along with habitat; and the bird’s capacity to co - exist in the human environment leads to breeding success. Our local owl is the Eastern Barn Owl which is prevalent over most of Australia. This species breeds prolifically when there is an upsurge (plag ue) in mouse production.

These owls have a hoarse, high - pitched, scary, maniacal screech to advertise their existence. In fact its alternative name is the Screech Owl! Its heart - shaped face , dominated by fairly large eyes with excellent low - light vision, is we ll - known to all of us. But these big, one - directional eyes take up space usually reserved for muscles to actually move them. So, to make up for this, owls can rotate their whole head by 180 ̊ to each side without moving their body.

This gives them all - round vision and the disc - like face is designed to channel sound to each ear with minimal delay, thus allowing owls to to pinpoint their prey even in complete darkness. The owls’ habit of sitting quite still, eyes wide open, silently fixating on an object has without doubt led to its legendary status as a repository of knowledge and wisdom. In reality they are no smarter than most birds, and, when it comes to problem solving, they are out - classed by parrots and crows.

It is just that we find the heart - shap ed face so endearing. By day the Barn Owl rests high in the trees, in caves or in barns and, when in flight, it gives the impression of being head - heavy. Not often seen but it is still heard at night in the Territory.

And now for the n ext two night birds: the Tawny F rogmouth and the Nightjar.

Also known as the Owlet - Nightjar or Moth Owl, the Nightjar is not related to the owl family even though it looks rather like a miniature owl . With pinkish - coloured feet , cat - like whiskers, and a slight tracery of th e trademark owl spectacles , the ‘Moth Owl’ and the more common spotted Nightjar are, never the less, a different species . Like the other nocturnal fliers, it has very soft feathers enabling ultra - quiet flight when necessary, as they glide silently down to scoop up their victims. The name ‘Nightjar’ was bestowed on them because they ‘jar’ the night with their strident high - pitched calls, disturbing the nocturnal silence along with other noisy owls, curlews and bush hens. The Nightjars mainly nest on or clos e to the ground, or maybe in hollow logs, even though they have difficulty walking – it is more like the shuffle of an inebriated human!

And so we come to the Tawny Frogmouth also found throughout Australia and also not related to owls. Now I must admit t hey are not the prettiest bird on the planet, but its very grotesqueness and bizarre behaviour is fascinating.

During daylight hours, the Frogmouth delights in masquerading as just another dead - tree branch but, come night - time, it reinvents itself as o ur BFF * bec ause of its copious appetite for crickets and cockroaches.

Assisting in keeping these nasties away from our premises can only be a good deed – don’t you agree? It is usually only in the dark hours that the Frogmouths very emphatically proclaim their presence by emitting a low - pitched booming call reminiscent of throbbing African tom - toms.

Unlike owls and nightjars, Tawny Frogmouths do not ‘feed on the wing’ but instead scuffle through leaf litter for their delectables. However, along with the Nightjar, the Frogmouth has an unfortunate inclination to seek out roadkill during its nocturnal food - gathering expeditions, often playing the ‘chicken game’ with speeding traffic . Sadly they often become tasty morsels for others of their ilk.

I have mem ories (middle/late 1960s) of driving south on leave, departing D arwin in the early hours to do the twelve - hour dash to the Alice or maybe Camooweal. Having three toddlers on those trips was bad enough, but one of the worst times was when ghostly apparition s would suddenly rise up just in front of the car lights in a last - minute dash to safety. Alas, all too often it was too late and a loud SPLAT! THUMP! would be heard from under the car or caravan indicating that ‘another one bit the dust’!

Seemingly oblivious to approaching headlights or noisy car engines while consuming previously squished ‘animal soup’, the Nightjars and Frogmouths courted annihilation on the Stuart Highway. It was very distressing for the youngsters – the constant thud, thud, thud kept them awake! Just joking! But, yes, this unavoidable animal carnage really did upset all of us. Especially when our first appointment when reaching ‘civilisation’ would be to get a car - wash – not just to remove dust and/or mud but also feathers and squish!

See you all next month.

Gayle Carroll

 
BIRDS – and other things! Print E-mail
Friday, 01 July 2016 00:00

Part forty - six : Birds of the Night

I have previously written about the nightly spine - chilling calls of the bush curlew but there are also other nocturnal birds here in the Top End that sometimes create the same effect of setting our teeth on edge. The orange - footed s c rub fowl for instance has a similar screechy utterance that only a mother or devoted (tone deaf!) mate could love.

However, there are a couple of other raucous night - birds in the same league which come readily to mind. One or two of the omnipresent but seldom seen owl species seem to have no inhibitions when around humans and appear to take great pleasure in disturbing our slumber - time. While some of the owl species are relatively soft - spoken, the barking owl (the one mo st likely to visit our gardens, although as suburbia spreads it is getting to be more infrequent) has an explosive, dog - like bark that usually tapers off into a human - like sobbing shriek, apparently designed to scare the living daylights out of us mere mortals. Occasionally preceded by a softish growl, it rapidly grows to a loud, em phatic ‘wook wook’ which carries for long distances. The resemblance to our own barking mutts usually rouses us just long enough to mistakenly yell at them to ‘stop BARKING or I’ ll.....!’

The barking owl has large, piercing bright yellow eyes ringed in black and with big black centres. It has an alternative nick - name: the winking owl (possibly because it seldom does!) but does not have a defined mask like the boobook/mopoke/more pork owl.

While both the barking and boobook owls are classed as hawk - owls, the latter’s voice is far more musical and even has a certain friendly appeal. When in hunting mode, the boobook announce their presence with a very clear ‘more pork, more pork’ en unciation reiterated over and over. When coming from within a stand of trees, the heartrending call resonates rather like surround sound from stereo amplifiers. Defying pin point direction - finding, the echoes seem to indicate that hundreds of boobook owls are sheltering amidst the branches. Not so – it is just a subtle hint of mysterious bird ventriloquism designed to fool the enemy.

Many years ago, with my kindy - age (and under) brood, we camped one time on the banks of Lake Finniss by the old Woolner Stat ion Homestead . Around and behind us were savannah - like grassy plains before reaching back to the natural bush , with many ageless native trees and undergrowth; in front of us, the lotus - filled, safe, serene waters of the lake beckoned enticingly (there were very few crocs in those days!)

And so the stage was set for a typical Territory outback night of ‘happy hunting grounds’ for any feathered nocturnal diners. We were not disappointed as, just on dusk, both these owl species began making their presence obv ious by:

a) regular, insistent requests for ‘more pork’, and;

b) continual barking, presumably warning us of some busybody wanting to be fed! I remember that there was not much sleep on that camping holiday – the ‘noises in the night’ kept everyone on tenterhooks.

Usually, at twilight time, a sudden soft who o osh sound and the glimpse of browny/grey and white feathers would indicate that the owls had been reactivated to hunting mode and were flying up to higher perches from which to survey their ‘restaurant’ area. Cicadas, dragonflies, moths mice, small lizards and so on were their desired prey and, as I perceived it, they were simply waiting for their Domino’s Pizza Delivery Service, ready to pounce on any small animal silly enough to go night flying or walking.

To me, the cry of ‘more pork, more pork’ is a nostalgic sound as, having grown up close to a pinus radiata plantation where the insistent, compelling voice of the boobook owl issuing from the depths of the forest in the depths of the night, had a somewhat comforting resonance.

Anyhow, after feasting all night, both the barking and boobook owls return at first light to their chosen roost to spend the daylight hours, silent and virtually unmoving, beside their mate – no doubt contemplating their next food f oray in a few hours’ time

Next time Meetings with Nightjars and Collectibles.

Gayle Carroll

 
Have your say Print E-mail
Friday, 01 July 2016 00:00

The City of Darwin has identified Vesteys Reserve in Fannie Bay as being potentially suitable for community - based recreational facilities. However, before making any decision about its future use, an independent consultation pro cess has been launched and closes on 12 August 2016 .

To have your say about the future of this parcel of public coastal land go to darwin.nt.gov.au/vesteys.

 
This month’s PC tip Print E-mail
Friday, 01 July 2016 00:00

If you’r e looking for something precise in a long text brought up on a site from a search engine such as Google, just hold down the Ctrl button on your keyboard and press ‘f’ . A search box will pop up on your screen and you can type any word into it. The internet browser will find and highlight e ach instance of that word as it appears on that page. You can also click the ‘next’ button to bring up the next instance of the word further in the text.

 
Car Boot Sales Print E-mail
Friday, 01 July 2016 00:00

The dry s eason car boot sales at The Trailer Boat Club have resumed and take place from 8.30am on the last Saturday of the month. There’s also a newcomer this year: the Sanderson Neighbourhood Activity Centre is hosting a community village and car boot sale from 8am on the first Saturday of the month at 60 Matthews Road in Wulagi. As well as second - hand articles for sale, there will also be handicrafts, food, coffee and music.

For further information go to sanderson-nac.wordpress.com.

 
Johnston MLA office has relocated Print E-mail
Wednesday, 08 June 2016 00:00

The office in Rapid Creek Shopping Village has closed and has relocated to Jape Homemaker Village, Bagot Road. You’ll find it next to Leading Edge, between Forty Winks and Jape. The telephone number, 8999 6620, is unchanged.

 
Orchid Spectacular Print E-mail
Wednesday, 08 June 2016 00:00

The NT Orchid Spectacular, now in its 26 th year, is the largest annual orchid show in Australia. Featuring tropical blooms at their finest, it also offers the chance to see and learn more about other beautiful plants such as bromeliads, gingers and heliconias.

Visitors will be able to purchase orchids and other plants from exhibiting nurseries and clubs, and ask questions of experts, and watch potting demonstrations by orchid, bonsai and bromeliad grow ers. The Spectacular runs from 9am to 4pm on 18 and 19 June in the Foskey Pavillion, Darwin Showgrounds, Winnellie.

 
At the Botanic Garden Print E-mail
Tuesday, 07 June 2016 00:00

At 10am on 29 M ay , as part of the events to mark the first Australia and New Zealand Botanic Gardens Open Day, the new African - Madagascan Garden will be officially opened at the George Brown Botanic G arden. The Malagasy community of Darwin will be providing refreshments and entertainment, and there will also be displays and guided tours.

 
National Trust and NT Historical Society Talk Print E-mail
Tuesday, 07 June 2016 00:00

Dr Clayton Fredericksen is an archaeologist who, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, conducted a series of excavations at the Fort Dun das Settlement site. Dr Frederickson will be presenting his findings in a talk entitled Fort Douglas, Melville Island: The First British Settlement in Northern Australia at 5.30 for 6pm on 27 May at Burnett House, Larrakeyah. For further information, call 8946 6835 (BH) or 8927 9459 (AH).

 
On our doorstep Print E-mail
Monday, 06 June 2016 00:00

Fannie B ay History and Heritage Society has just published a fascinating guide to some of the historical industrial sites in and around the Fannie Bay area. The booklet is well illustrated with contemporary photographs; the locations described are located on a handy map and are generally accessible to the public. The booklet will be available at the FBHHS stand at the Seniors’ Expo on 3 June at the introductory price of $5 .

 
Men’s Health Week Print E-mail
Monday, 06 June 2016 00:00

The life expectancy of a boy born in Australia in the 2010s is 78.0 years while a girl born at the same time could expect to live to the age of 82.3 years. From the time of birth, boys suffer more illness, more accidents and die earlier than their female counterparts. Men take their own lives at five times the rate of women: five men a day on average. Accidents, cancer and heart disease account for the majority of male deaths. And yet men are, generally speaking, reluctant to talk about their well - being or consult a health professional.

This year’s Men’s Health Week, which runs from 13 to 19 June , aims to encourage boys and men to reflect and act on issues of concern to them. As part of this initiative, a men’s health expo and check will be available - from 11am to 1pm on 15 June at the corner of Toupein Road and Georgina Crescent, Palmerston (contact: Clifford Taylor – 8999 3372) - from 10am to 2pm on 16 June in S mith Street Mall, Darwin CBD (contact : Jason Bonson – 8999 6139) .

 
Old Age Happiness Print E-mail
Sunday, 05 June 2016 00:00

A stud y of 341,000 people published by the American National Academy of Sciences (www.nasonline.org) has found that enjo yment of life dwindled in early adulthood, but took an upward turn in the late 40s, finally peaking at the age of 85. Elderly people today not only benefit from better health and a secure income, but also from heightened language and decision - making abilities – which continue to improve throughout life as the brain matures.

The findings are explained in You ’re Looking Very Well by Professor Lewis Wolpert who beli e ves that this late - onset bliss may be because in old age we become more selective about how we use our time, focusing more on things we enjoy, rather than the things that make us unhappy.

 
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