Saturday, 16 July 2016

A Magpie Story


Australian Magpies are not the same as the European Magpie. We have several types in Australia, some mostly white, some mostly black.  Many people don't like Maggies. It could be their beady little eyes and hard pointed beaks, their protectiveness during nesting season and the aggressiveness that chases a boy on a bike, a goanna up a tree, or adults walking nearby. They dive at the head and shoulders and hit really hard. 

I have been attacked, and while being struck on the back with such force was frightening, I had to admire the bravery of little creature. When they think their nests are under threat the magpies are fearless.

I love their song. I love to listen to their choir practice though the demanding screeches of their young are not as melodic. They sing in harmony, all together or in groups. They sing rounds and duets and solos.

 I once lived in a house in the forest – not a forest like the three bears had, but a eucalyptus forest with an assortment of introduced trees that surrounded the house. The open veranda was a great introduction to the local wildlife. Magpies were frequent visitors and such friendly visitors, or is that pushy, that we had to keep the screen door closed to keep them out of the kitchen.

It was hard to resist throwing meat and fruit scraps out for them, especially when I saw how hardworking and patient they were with their demanding babies. The youngsters, who seem to be the same size as the group of adults who care for them, scream and squawk for food unless their beak is full. Sometimes it takes six adults - both parents, older siblings, aunties and uncles, to care for just one speckled baby.  No wonder the fast food outlet bowl of cat food, on our veranda was checked out daily.

I had a very touching experience with one magpie families. This group had been nesting near our house for several years and I’m sure I could recognise some of the individual birds. They always announced their arrival, loudly ordering food scraps and treats. Often one or two birds knocked with their beaks on the kitchen door to get my attention. This day their calling was different.

From the veranda I could see six birds standing in arc on the ground below, behind a crippled bird. It was small but all black like the adult birds. The right wing stuck out at an odd angle and the right leg was injured so the bird's body twisted to one side, trying to balance. The group ignored the toast crust I threw and one by one flew away, leaving the injured one behind, with me.

I didn't know what to do. I tried phoning the people who cared for wild birds in our area but there was no answer - this was in the early days of the local WILVOS.  I looked at the pathetic little bird. He looked back. When I went closer he moved away.  So, he was distressed - I kept my distance.

After an hour or so he decided to move. He walked away, limping. I watched and followed as he moved under the bracken and started up a steep slope, toward the nesting trees.  It was hard work for him. He pushed his way through ferns and long grass and it took him all afternoon to cover a very short distance. As it grew dark the little bird crawled into thick bladed grass and I had to leave him there. I thought about him all night.

I knew from TV documentaries that it's best not to interfere with the natural order of things. A vet once told me that touching an injured wild animal can kill it by causing extreme stress.  When I was young, and we had cracker night, people put their guinea pigs inside the house under blankets so they didn't die of fright.  I also knew the local goannas and carpet snakes saw injured birds and animals as easy prey.  It seems there is no compassion amongst animals.

The next morning I expected to find him dead or gone but the brave little fella was still there. He refused the scraps of minced meat I offered.  As the sun warmed the ground he started off again, heading up the hill to the line of trees that magpies favoured.
Again I followed at a distance.

Like a brave wounded soldier he struggled on, ignoring me unless I got too close. Finally he reached the top of the hill, and stopped, exhausted. I left water close to him and checked on him every half hour or so. He lay panting, in a bird way, occasionally lifting his head. I didn't want a goanna or the snake to find him. There was no way he get into the trees and no sign of other magpies. I got a large cardboard box and made a fence around him. I kept watch and talked to him about the trees and all the birds. At sunset he died and we buried him beside the track, under his tree.
I’ve never forgotten him.


This Magpie rhyme comes from England.  Apparently seeing two Magpies together is lucky. I must have a lot of luck.

One for sorrow, Two for joy,
Three for a girl, Four for a boy,
Five for silver, Six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told.
Eight for a wish, Nine for a kiss

Ten for a bird that you won't want to miss.

Friday, 26 February 2016

The herb one third of us hate


I love my herb garden and even have a herb salad with breakfast. I usually only grow what I know we will eat and enjoy but now and then I add something new, and I thought coriander might be interesting.

I had never tasted coriander/cilantro, but it was often referred to as Asian parsley and it looks a little like flat parsley. So, thinking it was similar to the parsley I eat daily, I bought coriander seeds.
Three months later nothing had come up so, I bought a punnet of coriander seedlings. I was persistent.
The plants thrived, to my delight, and I looked forward to having them in a salad.

I usually grow lots of parsley but recently we've had trouble with Root Knot Nematode and my parsley turned yellow, as did my few tomatoes and our ginger crop, and failed to thrive. Pulling up the affected plants revealed nasty nodes/lumps on the roots, which do not come off if you rub them. There is an invisible worm eating the root.
Nematodes, or Eel Worms, are colourless, microscopic worm like animals. Most are harmless to plants, some are even beneficial, but the Root Knot Nematode is a plant parasite. Apparently you can fumigate the soil by growing black mustard seed, and digging it in, but it's best to not grow the same crop there again.

But that's enough about miserable nematodes and back to the smelly coriander.

While browsing at our local nursery, for garden plants and lettuce, I noticed they had a special on Asian/Thai coriander, so I bought one. Thai coriander looks nothing like the parsley like common coriander. You would think it was a completely different plant, except for the smell.
The long flat leaves of Thai coriander have spikes along the sides and the nursery staff told me how to trim those off with scissors and to slice it into stews, soups,stir fries and meat dishes. They said it had a stronger flavour than the common coriander. I took my new spikey plant home and it is growing so well moved it into a bigger pot twice. I was aware that the smell from it was a little different, peppery I thought, but things don't always taste the way they smell. Today, after walking around the garden with a visitor, I decided to try some so .... and I added thin slices of half a leaf from the Thai coriander plant to our stir fry for dinner.

Well - talk about a ruined meal! 
My husband said, "This is very tasty". 
I wanted to spit it out.

Hours later the inside of my lips were still burning and I could smell it in the skin of my hands. Horrible.
So, I looked it up.....
.... and it seems that people have a love or hate reaction to coriander - similar to licorice, Brussels sprouts, vegemite, celery or gin .... you either love it or you don't. I am okay with all the above, except licorice, and now coriander. I hate it.
A scientific survey of 30,000 people identified two genetic variants linked to the taste and smell of coriander. Different people may perceive the taste of coriander leaves differently. Some say it has a refreshing, lemony or lime-like flavor, and others have a strong aversion to its taste and smell, characterizing it as soapy or rotten. I think it's just too strong, not bitter but heavy .... in the way licorice is too strong a flavour.

Apparently over 30% of people have the coriander-hating, OR6A3, gene, and it is thought to be inherited - so blame your parents.

Wikki says: 'OR6A2, lies within a cluster of olfactory-receptor genes, and encodes a receptor that is highly sensitive to aldehyde chemicals. Flavor chemists have found that the coriander aroma is created by a half-dozen or so substances, and most of these are aldehydes. Those who dislike the taste are sensitive to the offending unsaturated aldehydes, while simultaneously may also be unable to detect the aromatic chemicals that others find pleasant. Association between its taste and several other genes, including a bitter-taste receptor, have also been found'.
People can react differently to certain smells. Nice to now it's not just me. I will stick to celery, vegemite and gin.

A little where, what, why about the herb. Coriander is native to regions spanning from southern Europe and northern Africa to southwestern Asia. All parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and the dried seeds are the parts most traditionally used in cooking. Coriander is common in South Asian, Southeast Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Caucasian, Central Asian, Mediterranean, Tex-Mex, Latin American, Brazilian, Portuguese, Chinese and African cuisines.

Thai coriander

Common coriander