When we first moved to Lefthand Branch, I set up a small sandstone bird bath near the backyard fence where it could be seen from the lounge room windows. A few days later, a local magpie attempted to have a wash in it, but was struggling to move in the small bowl. Realising that something larger was required for the bigger birds, I went for a scrounge and found a deep terracotta bowl, a shallow saucer, and two blocks that would work as stands. The final set up became a three pool swimming complex catering to all bird sizes. Five years on, over ninety bird species have been recorded on the property, and almost half of them have been seen at the baths.
As soon as the morning sun rises above the hills, the bird activity begins. Often the Lewin’s Honeyeater (Meliphaga lewinii) or in autumn/winter the Grey Fantail (Rhipidura albiscapa) are first to arrive, then gradually the numbers crescendo reaching full ‘beak hour’ by around 7.30am. That’s the time to stand at the window and watch the entertainment. It’s not unusual for me to tick off at least twenty species from my daily bird roll during that period, and what is so fascinating, and often amusing, is how the birds behave. Some, like the Rose Robin (Petroica rosea), will actually sit in the water and have a soak, while others, such as the Grey Shrike Thrush (Colluricincla harmonica), will go on a mad splashing frenzy. Many jostle for a particular spot, even though there is plenty of room for all, and this often results in endless games of tag. Some birds, like the Spangled Drongos (Dicrurus bracteatus) make an almighty racket as they bathe, whereas others are completely silent. The baths are not just a place to bathe and drink, but a playground for one and all
Over the years, the baths have blessed me with several ‘wow’ moments. Seeing the male Regent Bowerbird (Sericulus chrysocephalus) so closely, well, that bird is like no other – just glorious. One time, about seven beautiful female Satin Bowerbirds (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) congregated there and were making strange hissing sounds. On only a single occasion I saw the uncommon Yellow-tufted Honeyeater (Lichenostomus melanops). A few months ago, I witnessed a standoff between a Brown Goshawk (Accipiter fasciatus) and a Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides), and to my surprise, the Frogmouth won! During April, I was delighted to see two juvenile Brown Goshawks perched on the baths together with their wings outstretched.
Other animals utilise the water source as well. Generations of Red-necked wallabies (Macropus rufogriseus) have made the backyard part of their home and guzzle from the baths day and night. Throughout summer, Native Bees (Trigona carbonaria) and several wasp species, including the Potter Wasps (Abispa ephippium), take water all day long, some species using it for mud nest building. They buzz around me, seemingly impatiently, when I top up the water levels. Our resident Carpet Pythons (Morelia spilota variegata) will occasionally have a drink, and then there are the Monitor Lizards (Varanus varius): there was one lizard that had its head and front legs slumped over the top of the bath, the back legs were dangling in mid air, and the whole body weight was balanced by the tail – both impressive and hilarious!
Keeping our local fauna hydrated does involve some daily maintenance. The baths need to be topped up, daily during hot and/or dry periods, and sometimes I have to use a dish brush (no chemicals) to scrub off any algae, then refill them with fresh water. What a small price to pay, however, for the pleasure of being able to secretly spy on the daily animal antics! On a serious note, in 2017 we experienced several days of temperatures in the mid forties. The birds were in and out of the baths all day, and with no other water source nearby, they may have actually saved a life or two.