50 degrees in the shade

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on 19 Feb 2013 
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Saturday

In the morning I place a hose with sprinkler in the canopy of a Callistemon in the back yard and fill a large plastic pot plant saucer full of tank water beneath the shrub. Birds come and go all day – having a shower or finding a cool space to sit. Species include Spotted Bowerbird, Pied Butcherbird, Noisy Friarbird, Grey Shrike-thrush, Plum-headed Finch, Masked Woodswallow, Red-winged Parrot, Mudlark, Mistletoebird, Willie Wagtail, Magpie, Restless Flycatcher, Brown Treecreeper,  White-winged Triller, Yellow-throated Miner, Brown Honeyeater, White-plumed Honeyeater, Singing Honeyeater, Brown-headed Honeyeater and Sacred Kingfisher.

A Gould’s Sand Goanna has been lurking about the garden all day and decides to cool off in the dish, its long tail unable to fit in. The goanna sits there for half an hour - all birds scampering, but quickly returning on the reptile’s departure.

A White-winged Triller just sits on the lawn in some shade for ages, with wings slightly out and beak open, not moving an inch. The Red-winged Parrot has a beautiful peachy-red beak. It shares a cool branch with the Sacred Kingfisher at one stage. Another time it sits at the water dish sharing a cool drink with the honeyeaters. All bird beaks are wide open for maximum cooling.  Most species are happy to share the space but not when the Butcherbird comes in. I wonder why!

In the extreme heat of the afternoon the birds tend not to move much, either perching in the cool canopy or sitting on the thin-rimmed edge of the water dish or just standing nearby sharing a cool microclimate. Woodswallows are squatting on the damp ground beneath the shrub where water droplets have cooled the earth. Later in the day a White-plumed Honeyeater is found dead on the lawn - no chance of revival.

In the front garden (early morning) I place the sprinkler in the Myoporum and soon twelve Mistletoebirds are counted taking up position, cooling off in the spray. They sit there for ages, going into a trance-like state with eyes closed and heads pointed vertically upwards. They stay there for over an hour. Unfortunately some, probably this year’s young, are unable to cope with the heat and four drop from their branches late in the afternoon. I attempt to assist them, picking them up and riding them of tiny ants that quickly cover their whole body. The young female recovers with a few drops of water fed to her. I sit her on top of the fence where she perches for awhile, then fluffs up and flies off. Three others do not respond, unfortunately. A Yellow-throated Miner also falls to the ground and is engulfed by ants. I feel helpless, unable to attend to all my patients. Millions of ants – no, billions of ants - cover every space on the ground and all through the lawn. Ant holes and highways are everywhere! It makes life difficult when one is bird-watching. Stopping for one second means ants climbing onto shoes, inside trousers and up one’s legs.

Around 5pm two microbats have appeared and seen acting in a disoriented manner. One has flown into the chicken wire of the front fence near the Tamarisk. It manages to free itself quickly and fly off before I can get my camera. Another is found attempting to cling to the rainwater tank – but not for long. It flew off to an unknown fate. A dead Ringneck Parrot is found later in the day on the track near the lagoon.

Sunday 

Early morning and the temperature has dropped to an overnight low of 27° giving some relief. As the day progresses it quickly heats up like the day before – 43° by 10am – another day of survival in extreme heat. Sprinklers are set up again in shrubs and water in the dish is replenished. These cool spaces are occupied all day, just as they were the day before.

In the front garden I fling the sprinkler over the fence and into the canopy of the Tamarisk, wetting foliage and giving cool relief to many birds soon seen visiting. Honeyeaters find a cool space under a thick wet branch. They sit there for ages with beaks open, just watching. I take some photos, my subjects allowing me to get closer than they would normally. It is too hot to move unless the threat is too great. Mistletoebirds come in, much to my relief. I am happy knowing some have survived. Two different species of wasp also find relief in the wet branches. By 4pm the temperature reaches its peak at 50°.

Overnight the sprinkler was left on to fill a large shallow puddle just beyond the front yard fence and in the shade of a Bimble Box. A  Brown Goshawk sits in the puddle. It sits there for much of the day with all its friends! It’s large yellow eye watch me intently as I move close for a photo. It allows me to get a few shots. Late in the afternoon the Goshawk flies into the Tamarisk just perching on a branch and remaining there for sometime. A few easy meals could be taken but it remains still. It is just too hot to exert itself.

I venture outside on a number of occasions to check out sprinklers and water dishes and what birds are there. Any length of time outside means the body sweats profusely in order to cool itself and maintain core body temperature. By late afternoon clouds appear in the sky, coming in from the north. A cloud has covered the sun, creating shade and dropping the ambient temperature noticeably. As evening approaches the temperature begins to cool and by 8pm it is 42°. Sunset provides relief from a searing heat that hits you in the face during the day. A cool change is forecast – great news.

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