PAGE 3 BIRDS
This month I’ll be banging on about… taking things for granted. Flushing toilets, light switches, gas stovetops, fresh high-quality food at supermarkets, comfortable mattresses to sleep on (millions of people worldwide sleep on the ground or perhaps a thin mat) and the greatest of all, drinking water of the highest quality at the turn of a tap. Poor people living in countries like Africa must wonder at that, it being their greatest problem, having no access to clean water.
And the list doesn’t stop there. It includes the people around us who love and look after us, our families, our friends. Beach holidays, rainfall to sustain us, sunshine to enjoy, I don’t know where to stop really. And I’m as big an offender as the next person, grumbling and complaining at small inconveniences. But I’m supposed to be talking about birds, so thought I would pay homage to the birds we take for granted, the ones we see everyday and don’t even bat an eyelid at.
Our next -door neighbours are Linda and Ian. Linda is an English lady and Ian, I only recently found out, is of Scottish heritage but grew up in the Falkland Islands. Pack your winter woollies for that one. But in their back-yard is a massive English Oak tree, and in that Oak tree an English Blackbird sang for the last half of October and all of November last year. From first light until dark it sang its heart out, when it fed or had a drink is beyond me. I honestly never heard it stop to draw breath. Now, I’m a purist, introduced species of anything didn’t really do it for me until one day my wife Adrienne commented on what an incredible sound it was. I stopped and listened to it and finally had to admit, yep, wow, what a beautiful song he has, the common much maligned English Blackbird.
In August this year a pair of Peewee’s moved into our neighbourhood. Peewee, Peewit, Magpie- Lark, Mud- Lark, call him what you want, you know the bird I’m talking about. Looks like a smaller version of a Magpie, got him? Yep, common as clay. And yet if you look at them, they are quite comical. When they walk they have a sort of swagger, head rocking backwards and forwards with each step and the call is hilarious, well at least I find it funny. Great sound!
Common Starlings are an invasive, destructive pest species which quite frankly, shouldn’t be here in Australia, get rid of the bludgers. But next winter, try and take notice of one. The winter plumage of this bird is quite spectacular, with a glossy bronze-green and purplish hue over black plumage and striking white streaks. So there, even European Starlings have their up-side.
Birdwatchers who visit wetlands tire of seeing White-faced Herons. Come on, give me a Spoonbill or Egret to look at, a Wood Sandpiper or a Red-kneed Dotterel, anything but a White-faced Heron. Next time you see one, stop to admire its graceful elegant movements as it patiently stalks its prey. It will lean forward and freeze, its whole body defying gravity, like a tortuous pilates move which you could only hold for a few moments. And the striking contrast of the yellow legs against the grey plumage. That’s a great bird.
I remember a few years ago meeting a man down on the Rankin Road bike track. He noticed I had binoculars (A Collared Sparrowhawk was nesting in the big Pine trees) and started to talk about birds. Of all things. I helped him identify a little bird who had been visiting his garden and I worked out it was an Eastern Spinebill. He told me he was from Liverpool, I seem to remember, and said he came to Australia in the late 60s. He confided in me that he was contemplating returning to England to live out his dotage in the motherland. He finished the conversation by saying the thing he would miss most about Australia was the chortling carolling call of the Magpie. Yep, I know where he’s coming from.
My electrician mate Mal, who tags all my gear, told me recently that his son and his son’s girlfriend were visiting from Canada, she being a Canadian lass who had not been to Australia before. He told me that the thing she most wanted to hear was a Kookaburra in full voice. Her joy on hearing one was unbridled happiness. Can you imagine being an overseas visitor hearing that for the first time? I reckon you’d have to join in the laughter with them. I read Mathew Flinders’ journal of his first voyage to Australia, and the first night they were anchored off Botany Bay heard peals of laughter coming from the shore. The men on board the ship were convinced they were Aboriginal people laughing at them and could not believe it when they discovered the sound came from a bird. Well, you wouldn’t would you?
Well, there’s my take on things for the first BBCN edition for 2021. I’ve made a vow to myself to try to not take things for granted, to appreciate what I’ve got and even admire things around me that at first blush don’t seem all that exciting. Our field trips are up and running again if you want to join us, email me for more info at email@example.com and I’ll fill you in on the latest activity.
I would like to fully endorse the Save Lake Knox protest. Scientific studies prove the benefits that would be lost would not be offset by the new proposal. The Blue-billed Duck needs all the help he can get, so in my humble opinion, get on board and sign the petition everyone.