Before we came to Australia, Robin warned me about the “Australian wave”. It’s meant to shoo away flies, the pesky little beasts that are one of the reasons the country has so many birds.
I’m happy to report not having been plagued by the flying nuisances that have an unerring knack for landing in ears, eyes, and noses. I’m also happy to report that Robin was right about the birds. They are plentiful and colourful.
Here are a few of my favourites.
Robin grew up with the laughter of the kookaburra. I’d never heard nor seen one before coming to Australia. Still, the first time I heard the staccato buildup and then the long laugh, I knew instantly what I was hearing, even though there was not a kookaburra in sight.
I haven’t seen many examples of this member of the kingfisher family, but they are integral to the Australian landscape. The few I’ve seen have been one of the highlights of this journey. Here’s a You Tube video where you can hear them: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0ZbykXlg6Q&feature=related
Australians get misty eyed when they’re in a foreign land and think of magpies. North Americans might find that surprising. Ours are slim-bodied, black-and-white ground hoppers who fly from one food source to the next. They are cheeky birds with tails as long as their bodies. Their song sounds like a slightly musical crow.
Australian magpies fit the same description in many ways, but their songs are more varied and complex. My favourite is a melodic warble that moves up and down the scale like a musical waterfall. There are a lot of recordings on You Tube. I think this one on the “Common Birds of the Australian National Botanic Garden” site captures the sound well.
Magpies wake us in Australia. Robin’s cousin Judy and her husband Art say the maggies sing on full-moon nights. We’ll miss their song when we’re back in Canada.
When I was young, we drove adults wild by singing: “Three wood pigeons sitting on a fence. Look, one flew away. Two wood pigeons. Look, one flew away. One wood pigeon. Look, one flew back. Two…”
Of course, there were more lines than that, all of them repetitive. We’d sing it endlessly, ignoring pleas to stop or at least sing something else.
Wood pigeons are British and extend into parts of Asia. Here the common pigeon is the feisty crested pigeon. They still remind me of the old song, singing a cheeky Australian version. Some consider their call repetitive and boring. Others love it. It’s part of the dawn chorus, a distinctive whoop and a familiar (to North Americans) coo.
Crows here sing a different melody. To me, they sound like Siamese cats in heat. It’s a lighter, quieter tone than our raucous North American birds, but the sound is about as pleasing.
Before we came to Australia, Robin told me to expect a lot of flies and other small, annoying creatures. That’s why there are so many colourful birds, he said, because they have so much to eat.
I’m happy to report that city dwellers are not unduly plagued by flying beasties, but they are surrounded by flashes of brilliant colour, thanks to the ubiquitous lorikeets. Flowering gums, bottle brush trees, and other flowering plants attract these members of the parrot family. The two I’ve photographed are the rainbow and musk lorikeets.
I’ve never liked the idea of birds being confined to cages. These bright birds have successfully adapted to the urban landscape. I hope never to see another of them trapped in a small, wired home.
I’ve finally some of the antics behind the expression, “silly galah”. I was walking Charles, the toy poodle we are looking after, and didn’t have my camera, but when I heard screeching and looked up, three galahs were clinging to the overhead wires.
One of them suddenly flopped over and hung upside down, swinging back and forth before it righted itself. A second lifted its claws to scratch and tumbled off the wire. While all this was going on, the third, whose perch was destabilized by his unsteady neighbours, bobbed calmly back and forth as the wire swung.
Galahs are often considered nuisances. They travel in large flocks and have good appetites, which can be at odds with farmers and gardeners since they feed on seeds of grasses and cultivated crops. Since I’m neither farming nor gardening, I just enjoy watching these sociable birds.
Redbrow firetail finch
Our first and only view of this little finch was in the Adelaide Hills, where we’d driven for lunch with Robin’s cousin. We were sitting on the terrace, surrounded by lush greenery. Before long, the finches were ignoring us, and we got a good look at the bright red stripes on their brows and the splash of red on their tails.
We’ve seen dozens of other breeds of birds, all of them common to coastal Australia. For me they were all new. I’d only seen photographs of them and was thrilled to watch them in their natural habitats. I can’t include them all, but here are a few who’ve graced my days in this warm land.