Is that fall colour I see on the hillside as the mist parts over Calabash Bay? Nope, wrong season, wrong continent. It’s the golden-brown tips of the casuarina trees, the males that is, laden with pollen and catching the morning light.
For all their evocative latin label – named after their cassowary-like foliage – the casuarinas are a mournful kind of tree, I think. The wind whistling through the wispy branchlets of the she-oaks takes me straight back to solitary times in childhood. Even Wikipedia notes, rather poetically, how quiet it is in a she-oak forest, sound muffled by the blanket of fallen “needles”, in an understory where other things refuse to grow.
Not so quiet this morning, though. Just as I was cursing my missed train, there was a “kraaaaak!” and a flash of red in the trees between the commuter car park and the RSL. New guys in town (or new to me anyway): glossy black-cockatoos.
Two young fellas and an older female, I reckon – a typical little group for these birds, it seems, unlike the yellow and red tailed black-cockatoos that stay in bigger flocks. The two lads flapped from tree to tree, red tails glowing in the sun, while mum (or cocky-cougar?) chilled out next to Berowra Car Care, having a good old preen.
Glossy black-cockatoos are fussy eaters. The penny has dropped for yellow-tails that they need to diversify their eating habits and these days they’re doing okay, thanks to pine trees like the great big decrepit ones in our yard. But these birds really only like the woody fruits of the allocasuarinas – and turn their noses up at even some of those. The black she-oak, casuarina littoralis, is a particular favourite and, now I’ve started to notice them in their winter finery, it seems there’s plenty of them around here.
But the black oaks don’t come back too well from big, hot fires. And the glossy black cockies are competing with galahs, corellas, sulphur cresteds and mynahs – birds that don’t mind land being cleared and subdivided. Humans knock down the big old trees, feral bees nick the nesting hollows and possums steal black-cockatoo eggs. Perhaps it’s not surprising I haven’t seen these lovely birds before.
Or maybe they’ve been here all along, “inconspicuous and cryptic”, leaving a trail of half-chewed casuarina orts, just a red flash in the golden silence of the she-oak trees.