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This months Festival of the Trees is looking at food for wildlife.  Marrickville LGA has quite a lot of  wildlife for an inner city urban area, especially with the Cooks River, the Tempe Reserve & Wetlands & some of our major parks.   The presence of nearby Girraween Park  at Wolli Creek helps our urban wildlife enormously.  However, when we first moved into our home 15 years ago there weren’t many birds in our immediate neighbourhood.  There were some of course, but we were not as aware of them as we were in our previous home.  They were mostly Pied Currawongs in winter, Common Mynas all year round & a couple of Turtle Doves as well.  Over the years this has changed significantly.  Now birds feature strongly in our neighbourhood.  So what happened to bring the birds here?

The neighbourhood around us changed in that many new people moved in & they did 3 things.  They removed the cement from their garden, reduced the size of their lawn or did away with it altogether & they planted trees & shrubs, many of them Natives.  Some of my neighbours are spectacular gardeners converting their bare gardens into mini-botanical havens filled with a variety of bird-attracting plants.  The transformation has been dramatic & they still kept the lemon tree.

birds sunning themselves

The other thing I noticed was that many people started putting birdbaths and/or ponds in their gardens.  This combination of water & food brought the birds back in droves.

It also brought the frogs seemingly by magic.  We put in a pond & 2 days later a rare frog breed arrived.  Now we have small frogs that hibernate under our very small piece of lawn.  They wake up in summer & leave at night.  We hear them, but rarely see them.

At least 24 Turtle Doves live in our block now so their family extended. There are many White Eyes, Willy-Wag Tails, Red Wattlebirds, Magpie-larks, Australian Magpies, large groups of Noisy Miners, Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Crested Pigeons, a Common Koel or two, Grey Butcherbirds, Olive-backed Orioles, Silvereyes, Figbirds & Pallid Cuckoos.  Masked Lapwings fly over-head on their way to the river.  Even a couple of Spotted Pardalotes have moved in.  This is amazing as they live in areas with many Eucalypts, not Sydney’s Inner West.

small part of a large flock of Cockatoos who visited

Large groups of Cockatoos fly over most days & when the nuts & fruit are ripe, they descend on mass devouring them.  It’s a gorgeous sight & they are very noisy.  The powerlines can be covered with white birds all with something to say.  Both neighbours who grow the food the Cockatoos like to eat do not mind the invasion of these birds.

We still have the Pied Currawongs & Common Mynas, but they are not so destructive now they are out numbered.  The Common Mynas tried to get everyone to move, but the sheer numbers of birds had their power reduced to almost nil.  They now just get on with living.  We also have native bees & a Ring-Tailed Possum or two.

From a reasonably quiet area in terms of birds, our neighbourhood has become filled with bird song & bird activity.   I love the change.  It seems somehow more like I remember things used to be when I was a child & the presence of birds was taken for granted.

The Australian Museum has a wonderful web-site called Birds in Backyards. They list 40 birds & provide a fact-sheet & a short sound-bite of each bird call.  It is a wonderful reference for school children as well as people like me who don’t know much about birds.  Through this site I have been able to identify 20 of the 40 birds listed that I can hear & many times see from our own back garden.

Birds provide white noise that is soothing & helps block out traffic & other noises that can lead to stress.  They also help you in the garden by eating the insects that eat your plants.


If you want to attract birds into your garden & neighbourhood, all you need to do is plant a variety of bird-attracting Australian native plants & provide a source of water.  The water is best placed near other plants as this gives the birds a sense of safety.  They will use a birdbath in the middle of a lawn, but if there is another in a better location, they will use that one first.

Our birdbath needs filling often & sometimes daily during hot weather.  A wide range of birds use it to drink & bathe at many times during the day.  Sometimes there is a line up.  The larger birds go first with the smaller birds in surrounding trees watching & waiting for them to finish.  At night, much to my delight, the bats use it. I haven’t managed to see them yet, but I hear the “woop, woop, woop “as they take off vertically.

If you can, plan to plant a range of plants of different heights & thicknesses.  Some birds love to go into small shrubs & eat the nectar from flowers & insects while hidden from sight.   Others are not afraid to sip nectar from flowers high up & in open view.  A range of plants will ensure a variety of birds visit.

Cockatoo eating something from my neighbours garden

Native grasses offer a great source of food as well.  I have seen them used in very creative ways by my neighbours.  Most Australian Natives do not require much water once established & thrive in poor quality soil, though they do appreciate mulch & regular fertilizing with a Native fertilizer.

Native plants can be used successfully with a cottage garden if that is your preferred look.  Many are prolific flowerers & some have flowers all year round.  Most respond to pruning allowing them to be kept in a shape you like. Pruning encourages more flowers & bushiness.

From being a person who preferred cottage gardens I have become someone who would rather plant something that gives food to another.  I do think the long drought we had stressed the wild birds & animals, as their water sources shrunk & their food sources didn’t flower or simply died.  The Ibis who have decided to stay in Sydney are an example of this.  Even though it’s raining torrents in Sydney & parts of NSW have flooded, the drought is not over by a long shot.  16 areas or boundaries in NSW (a little over half the state) are classified Exceptional Circumstances. This is done when drought is regarded as severe.

As a number of people have indicated they want ideas for native shrubs & trees, I’ll do some research & put together a list soon.  It will be good learning for me as I am not an expert in this area either.


Marrickville Council has posted their intention to remove 8 trees from around the Dibble Avenue Waterhole Marrickville because they are non-native & regarded as environmental weed tree species.  They are:

  • Camphor Laurel (Cinnamomum camphora) x 2
  • Willow (Salix babylonica) x 2
  • Chinese Tallow Tree (Sapium sebiferum)  x 1
  • African Olive (Olea europea)  x 1
  • Mulberry (Morus nigra) x 2

Council’s tree removal notification says: The Dibble Avenue Waterhole  Vegetation Management Plan recommends the removal of these environmental weed tree species to facilitate the establishment of native vegetation & the control of weeds within the waterhole. All existing native trees are to be retained. A planting program including appropriate native tree species will proceed in June 2010 following the tree removal.  Tree works will be undertaken after 1 June 2010.

I presume the deadline for submissions is 1st June 2010, though there is no mention of submissions from the community.

The following is brief information about these tree species.

CHINESE TALLOW TREE – Native to southern China, deciduous tree. height of 8m. Orange, red, purple & yellow autumn foliage. Clusters of greenish yellow & white flower spikes November/December.  It is used as a major honey plant for bee-keepers. The fruit ripens in autumn. Birds love the fruit & disperse the seeds. Regarded as good street tree or small tree for the home garden. Costs up to $700 for an advanced 200 litre tree 2.5m tall.

WILLOW – originally native to northern China. Medium to large deciduous tree up to 20-25 mt. It has a short lifespan & flowers in spring.  In my research, I could not find mention of birds dispersing seeds.

Camphor laurel on the boundary

CAMPHOR LAUREL – large evergreen tree up to 20–30 mts. Produces masses of small white flowers which develop into black berry-like fruit around 1 cm diameter. The seeds are attractive food to birds who disperse them. Introduced to Australia in 1822 as an ornamental tree & now regarded as a weed in QLD & northern NSW. Noted for growing hollows early in its life whereas natives can take hundreds of years to develop hollows.  It has a large root system that can disrupt foundations, drains & sewerage systems.

MULBERRY – small deciduous tree to 10-13 mtrs, native to southwestern Asia. It produces edible dark purple, almost black, fruit 2–3 cms long often made into jams & deserts. Good food for birds who disperse the seeds. Both trees are near units so presumably would have been planted as a food source.

The gate at Dibble Street Waterhole. The old sign speaks volumes.

AFRICAN OLIVE – Small evergreen tree 2-15m. Produces edible black fruit pickled as olives.  Grown as a crop in Australia.  The birds eat & disperse the seeds. Planted near the units so presumably would have been planted as a food source.

Despite living in the area for nearly 15 years, we have never been to the Dibble Avenue Waterhole.  I had been told it was a gorgeous place & should go for a picnic.  This has always been the plan so with some excitement I went to visit yesterday armed with my map courtesy of Marrickville Council.  photo-dibble-water-hole The map showed a lot of trees & I hoped I would be able to spot the ones to be removed as I walked around.  The map, past conversations about the place & my own imagination made what I actually saw when I arrived quite a shock.

Dibble Avenue Waterhole

Far from being a place of beauty, The Dibble Avenue Waterhole is a sad, forlorn place.  Much of the vegetation is dead including the Willow tree.  I walked through a small boggy park with a few old style play equipment to be faced with a tall fence topped with barbed wire.  No entry for the public here.  Just inside the fence is a pier that appears to be rotten. Stacked on that was a mass of dead vegetation.  Beyond was the waterhole itself.

It was a still pool covered with what appeared to be blue-green algae. I would think that storm water travels to the waterhole & if I am correct, it demonstrates how animal poo, fertilizer & other pollutants can affect water as the algae is at epidemic proportions. I doubt the water has much oxygen in it.  A few ducks paddled their way through the algae.

Looking through the fence, past the pier to the actual pond.

The banks are steep & it looks as though the area has been sprayed with weed killer as almost everything is dead.  Houses & 3 storey unit blocks surround the waterhole.

It has the potential to be a slice of heaven in the Inner West as it is also next to the golf course & the Cooks River. If it were fixed, surrounding property values would soar.  Never mind the mosquitos here. A bird sanctuary & water on your doorstep!

I had to find the trees from my vantage place in the park.  I could see 1 dead Willow, but the other was out of view. The Olive & the 2 Mulberry trees were very close to the unit block & appeared small. The Chinese Tallow was in amongst a group of trees & I couldn’t isolate it. I could see only 1 of the Camphor laurel trees & that one was located right next to the back fence of a house next to the park.  That tree’s canopy cascades over their house, so they may be pleased to get sunlight once it is removed. Then again, judging by the massive tree they have in another section of their back garden, they may not be happy to see the tree removed at all.

Plaque from NSW State Government saying the waterhole is on the Historic Trail

My opinion is that Marrickville Council is doing a good thing to replant  this waterhole as it is in dire need of help.  It has the potential to be fantastic & it offers sanctuary for wild birds, frogs & other insects & animals. Planting natives will ensure they have abundant food, homes & places to roost. It is also on the NSW Historical Trail so we have responsibility to keep it in the best condition possible.  I will watch the progress of the Dibble Avenue Waterhole with interest.

View of dead Willow & the 2 Mulberry trees & 1 Olive



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