November was….

 

November was green, warm and quiet.

We’ve kept close to home (as our photos show!) but there have been plenty of visitors, human and otherwise and a new furry family member to keep us busy. The garden is green and productive, with even more promise for the coming months, work is steady and the house is clean (and almost organised!)

Restfully busy, November was exactly what we needed.

To active tranquillity.

Gem

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Spring has Sprung (Away!)

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Things are looking very summery this morning. The cat is melting, the grass is turning crunchy and the cicadas are already tuning up for what looks like it’s going to be a long, hot day. Our extended game of musical couches has made us pretty late to the party this year; now that we’re finally feeling like fresh starts and spring cleaning, the season for it is almost over!

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But …. The jacarandas are still in bloom, our coastal evenings are still gentle and cool… the time for new beginnings is not yet completely gone. And that’s just as well, since there’s one very important new beginning happening on the median strip in the middle of a nine-way intersection near our house.

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That’s a plover (Vanellus milus) also known as a Masked Lapwing, a mad, idiotic, insomniac bird found all over northern, eastern and central Australia. Plovers walk around and feed all day, then fly around and scream all night. I have no idea if or when they sleep, but it’s clearly only when no-one is watching.

You get the idea; plovers are very active birds. However that particular plover, spotted on the median strip a little over a week ago was, on first sighting, doing something that a plover simply does not do.

It was sitting.

As soon as our eyes met, the plover leapt up and hurried away as nonchalantly as it could. And I thought “Hmmmm……”

The next day, there it was again. Same place, same bird, same nonchalant trot from its seat. And I thought “Aha!”

With a quick look for traffic, I zipped across the road, up onto the median strip and there it was:

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Now if that doesn’t say springtime, what does?

I have a certain amount of experience when it comes to spotting plover nests, but it isn’t as though they’re very good at hiding them. A plover couple will find or scrape a very slight depression into a patch of short grass or dirt, then the female lays her eggs in it. Kin and I spent much of September annoying the Clarence Town plovers by hunting down and inspecting their efforts.

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The owners of those three eggs had carefully constructed their nest in a wheel rut in a parking area… in exactly the same place where they’d recently lost their first clutch to the back wheel of a ute!  They were most indignant when my mother built a fence around it to prevent the same thing from happening again.

(Indignant or not, that fence did the trick. All three of those babies hatched safely and were last seen trekking about near the creek, with both of their parents in attendance.)

My intersection plover might not have actually built on the road, but she was still very close to it, so I didn’t stay and look at her nest for very long. She’d developed two broken wings and a terrible stagger and I was afraid she’d flap her way under a car if I upset her too much. I took one last shot, assured Mama Plover that her eggs were lovely and walked away quickly to let the poor thing calm down.

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Her husband remained in the air and followed me the length of the block, then sent a sharp gargle back to his partner to give her the all clear. By the time I was back at my gate, Mama Plover’s broken wings had miraculously healed and she was sitting again.

Kin and I checked on them every day for the next week, and that watchful husband delivered a heads-up and an all-clear every time. On Tuesday evening, we were finally rewarded by this sight:

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And then the next day….

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And there were no more broken wings for Mama and Papa Plover! Both of them, swooped us, determined to defend their babies from the paparazzi. Plovers are known for aggressively defending their nests; male plovers even have spurs on their wings, all the better to drive off photographers. Kin and I both grew up blonde in magpie country, though, so dive-bombing birds are not a new experience and we managed to get our shots without anyone (us or the plover parents) becoming too upset.

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The day after that, we decided to stay well away from the family, as the last eggs would be hatching. We knew that once they were all safely out of their shells, the family would no longer remain in the nest. Until they were clear of that busy intersection, we were not going to risk chasing anyone under a bus!

The family has decamped to a stretch of land near the railway line, so we’ve since been able to sneak up on them and check on the babies. I’m happy to report that all eggs hatched, all babies made it across the road and there are now four fluffy little pompoms running around behind their mother who, by the way, still views us with extreme suspicion. As soon as either one of us is sighted, she or Papa Plover give a sharp chiack! and all four of the babies drop to the ground, where they become invisible.

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Well, almost invisible. He’s doing his best.

Our plover family might have brought springtime back to us, but my goodness they’ve made this last week anxious! Building a nest on the ground in the middle of an incredibly busy intersection and then leading your fluffy little stilt-walkers across those roads to another stretch of bare ground where their only defence is to pretend to be invisible at extreme risk of being stepped on… it just doesn’t seem like the best survival strategy. Especially since plover couples generally nest at the same site each year, so every batch of babies will have to face the same hazards!

Still, I guess it’s worked out for them so far; plovers are extremely numerous in Australia, and they seem to adapt quite well to an urban lifestyle. And our plover family is still trekking around with all of its members, so maybe Newcastle railway lines are a better place than they seem for a new beginning.

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Happy springtime! And, if you’re walking to Broadmeadow Station, please be careful where you put your feet!

Treading lightly….

Gem

XX

Look Who Came to Visit!

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It’s spring alright! The rice fields are green and full of joy (for frogs) and the nights are dark and full of lurve… also for frogs. As well as having bats to watch, every evening we can also listen to the chorus of croaking from all directions.

Of course, all of this activity means that other creatures are becoming active too, including this fellow:

Snake I, swimming

This is a Japanese rat snake (Elaphe climacophora) that I spotted while watering the beans. It seemed pretty determined to work its way up the canal, so we figured it was heading out to the big rice fields to find frogs like the one above. Being Australian, I immediately yelled for Kin to grab his camera and he raced up the canal in pursuit.

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Unfortunately, his model did NOT feel cooperative. Rat snakes are quite timid (and, apparently, very bitey) so it decided to try and pretend that it wasn’t there and wait for the camera to go away.

Kin was a little disappointed but, as it turns out, he didn’t need to be! When I went for a run along the same canal, I found another friend for him to photograph!

Snake II; full length

Another rat snake! They must be everywhere at the moment! This one seemed a little less timid than the first and allowed Kin and his camera to get quite close. It was proceeding in the same direction as the other fellow, so there must be something attractive (to snakes) in that part of town.

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Hello, snake II!

It seems that Japanese people respond to rat snakes much the same way as Australians do to carpet pythons, so our friends should have a safe journey, wherever they’re going. It was lovely to see these beauties and we wish them well on their travels. It’s also fun giving our U.S. friends the screaming heebie-jeebies with these photos!

Is anyone interesting out and about in your area? Have they come to say hello?

We’ve just made a Flickr account, so I’m gradually uploading our photos there (including our Facebook albums). If you want to see more snake pictures or others (soon), please come and visit us!

Gem,

XX

Golden Week

By Gem

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It’s Sunday night of a lovely long weekend here in Nagahama, and we’ve been spending it doing things we like best!

Yesterday, we finished everything that needed finishing (housework, shopping and the final co-op missions of Halo 4) and we’re off to have adventures in the south on Monday and Tuesday, so we’ve spent this Sunday having a lovely, gentle time.

A sleep-in for Kin, while I made a morning visit to friends in Kinomoto, then home to a simple lunch, scavenged from the contents of the fridge (I told you it’s good to keep soup and salad dressing in there!)

Kin then headed out to do some pottery in Kurokabe, while I baked bread, puttered around in my pots and studied for an hour or two. When he got home, we enjoyed afternoon tea together; you may notice we’re eating some of the same banana bread at both lunch and afternoon tea. That banana bread is actually a bit of an accident…

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A few weeks ago, my sister inspired me to make a nice, big batch of dulce de leche and, when I noticed our bananas were beginning to look a little sad in their bowl, I thought that I was being provided with a wonderful opportunity to transform my ingredients into a delicious banoffee pie for us to enjoy over the weekend. A little chocolate, a little cream, a drizzle of toffee sauce…. Subarashii!

What actually happened was that I got home on Friday evening, opened the last container of dulce de leche, tasted it to be sure it was still okay and then grew canines, howled at the moon and devoured the lot with a soup spoon.

(I wasn’t really in a fit state to observe myself, you understand, but I’m pretty certain this version of events is pretty close to being true.)

At any rate, I was left with the situation of having a bunch of sick-looking bananas and no caramel, so banana bread was a fairly obvious choice; cold slices for snacks and hot chunks with custard for desserts. Combined with the bread Oinky and I baked, this treat has made our apartment smell absolutely lovely. Outside, the air still carries a fairly heavy chill, but inside, everything is warm and clean and wonderfully fragrant. Life is good.

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The indoor refugees don’t seem to be phased by the cold; they’re so happy to be outdoors, they’re shooting up like rockets. The cold, gusty wind is giving my poor snow peas some trouble though. Every time they try to get a grip on the balcony railing, they’re blown off! After this photo was taken, I tethered them with a bit of hundred yen crochet cotton (Kin says the balcony looks like a spider web now!) and that seems to be helping them hang on a bit better.

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And now, I’m preparing dinner and listening to Kin sigh while he sketches. I’m so proud of him at the moment, I could explode!

Kin has just completed the Betty Edwards drawing program for the second time, and the results have been phenomenal. You can see his previous “Before” and “After” self portraits here (seriously, go look at them, I want you to see how awesome this is).

Now have a look at this:

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That was his latest “After” portrait. Isn’t he amazing?

It’s lovely when we can combine peacefulness and productivity this way. We’re looking forward to exciting times over the next few days of Golden Week, but we’re both very glad we had a little stretch to work and recuperate first.

However you’re spending your week, we hope you enjoy it! Don’t forget to take some downtime.

(For a calorie count of my caramel orgy, or a look at more of Kin’s photos, please check out our Facebook page!)

Best wishes,

Gem

XX

April was…

Sweets

April sweets.

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And an April Fool (we won’t see Shallow again until August).

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Very important preparations being made.

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By Kin as well! He’ll be studying again in August and is making sure that he’s ready.

 

Hikiyama matsuri

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Hikiyama Matsuri (one of Nagahama’s most famous festivals).


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Time to resume our Lake Biwa adventures!

 

April was short days, long bike rides and genuine joy at being outdoors. It was time for both of us to shake off our winter blues and get back to work on our drawing, studying and just straight making; food, ceramics and music.

We’re looking forward to a period of rest and focus in May, before we really start to get ready for Australia!

Kin and Gem

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