Above: Mr M on the lookout for locusts
I last left the Magpies of Waterline Crescent with Mrs M sitting on a new nest and no sign of the chicks...
Keen to understand why she'd done this so soon after the chicks had fledged, I got in touch with Darryl Jones, Associate Professor at the Environmental Futures Centre and Griffith School of Environment at Griffith University in Queensland. Professor Jones is a behavioural ecologist and I knew he specialised in the adaptations of a variety of animals to the urban environment and has a particular interest in Australian Magpies.
He replied that, although a Magpie might build two, or even three, nests during the breeding season, she would not normally start a new one until the previous chicks had been successfully fledged or they had all been lost. He added that there was a very remote possibility that something had happened to the original female and this was a replacement one building, hence the lack of interest in the chicks.
One morning shortly afterwards, I heard the unmistakable squawking of hungry Magpie chicks. Mr M and two chicks were on the other side of the park. I grabbed my camera and stalked them for at least half an hour.
Mr M would stride off looking for, say, a locust, while the two chicks, who looked like females to me, hung around at a loose end.
The moment he reappeared, the barrage would start...
Until one of them was fed and off Mr M went again, hopefully to attend to the other chick next time. If there was any sign of favouritism, the neglected one became even more vociferous on his next return.
I heard them for the next few days, until a sighting confirmed that there was now only one surviving chick. I prefer not to speculate about the demise of the other. Mrs Magpie continued to sit on the second nest – for such long periods I began to suspect there must be eggs.
But then came the storm. At 1am on 8 October the noise of the deluge and howling wind was so great you couldn't hear the thunder. What do animals do in weather like that? The Big Rain continued the next day. The nest was still in place but there was no sign of life. I searched for broken eggshell on the grass beneath the bottle tree. There was nothing. The Big Rain continued for three more days.
I was overjoyed this afternoon when I finally heard the chick and saw her following Mr Magpie around beneath the closest bottle tree. She looked a bit grubby and ruffled but OK otherwise. And Mrs M is sitting again.
I have updated Professor Jones on the latest developments. He says nests and incubating chicks can survive such an onslaught. And he's now wondering if the female is the original one after all and is forcing the male to do his bit. I wish they were ring-tagged.
A bit later, Mrs M came into our garden and right up to the window where I was sitting writing. She peered in at me.
'Are you the original Mrs Magpie?', I asked. 'Have your eggs survived?'
She walked on.