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The Birds

Pose, Kids!
Pose, Kids!

I’m sure many are familiar with the music of Ottorino Respighi, a late 19th –early 20th century composer. One of my very favourite pieces of music is his The Birds and in fact I’m listening to it even now as I write, on this winter’s evening at ‘Puddleby Corner’ Wangi Wangi, in the year of grace, 2016.

I’ve always loved the music, and over the past five or so years, our little garden of Eden here at Puddleby Corner has brought special pleasure in the birds that frequent our garden. The rainbow lorikeets, Australian miners, kookaburras, magpies, topknot pigeons and galahs love Janet’s garden and the fountain where they drink, and I regularly feed them all, for they also feed on the many natives that Janet has planted. I keep birdseed for them in the shed, and every now and then the topknots organise a raiding party, looking for the birdseed, but they never find. Half the time they can’t find their way out and I have to capture them and take them out.  I love them all… the lorikeets and noisy miners are quarrelsome little creatures and squabble among themselves – and in fact so do the topknots, who chase one another around the lawn (on foot) if they think another topknot is getting more than his/her fair share. A couple of galahs, usually found en masse on the inland plains, in the wheat country, are here now, these gentle creatures, and waddle about, feeding among the rest.

Suddenly the two magpies swoop in to land – and everyone scatters! It is so funny, watching them. I am in hysterics sometimes at the antics of all these glorious creatures. The maggies rule the roost – no doubt about that. They are treated with great respect.They strut around, largely ignoring everybody else, and all give them a wide berth. Their propensity for sudden hissy fits is known to all. Every now and then, after staring at an innocently feeding topknot for a few moments, one will charge it, for reasons known only to itself. Pandemonium follows  – birds everywhere until everything settles down, and they all go back to feeding – until one of the magpies has yet another hissy fit! What is so marvellous is the fact that once it’s over, it’s over. There are no grudges held, all forgiven and forgotten… maggie is mollified and peace reigns…

This is a little Garden of Eden in which nothing is hurt or killed. Recently I had an unforgettable encounter of the third kind with a large hornet that came to drink at the fountain in our garden. I was alerted to its approach by what at first sounded like a small aircraft engine on final approach – the unmistakable, noisy hum of a large hornet. A short time later it joined me at the fountain, which I was filling at the time. The visitor was so close, we were practically cheek by jowl. It stood delicately at the water’s edge and thrust its fine head forward and down to drink, and I was reminded of the way a horse drinks.

At such close range I could observe every part of its superb, beautiful, streamlined body, all bright yellow and black, yet I felt no fear. As I watched it, it was watching me, but I sensed not even wariness on its part. It was a strangely companionable sort of feeling; as we, two strangers at the only coffee table left in the café, sat together in silence, enjoying a virtual cappuccino, each quite at home in the company of the other. My colourful companion slowly finished his virtual cappuccino (or maybe latte), gave me a friendly nod, then took to the air on beautifully crafted wings, making one brief little swoop towards me which I sensed as a farewell; certainly not a threat.

I still feel charmed by that remarkable encounter; also privileged to have had its trust. I’m reserving that story for a verse one day.

Speaking of birds, one day a few weeks ago I had occasion to visit the Wangi RSL, and on the way out, what should I behold but a gent at one of the outside tables, sipping a beer and looking for all the world like Long John Silver, with a parrot on his shoulder. I stopped to investigate and discovered the parrot was a lorikeet. We got into conversation and I learned that the visitor was the owner of one of the yachts curtseying in the bay. He pointed to a handsome craft which is his home. He told me he sails it up and down the coast with his wife and ‘Charlie’ the lorikeet. Charlie, he said, had been rescued by him when he saw her drowning in a river up north some years ago. She was very young and she has been with him ever since. He knows she’s a female because she once laid a couple of eggs.

Charlie was rescued some years after the yachty’s first wife died, and when he remarried, the bird saw the new wife as ‘the other woman’. For quite a while she gave her hell… biting her at every opportunity; doing everything she could to discourage her rival, but now all is well and they are a happy threesome.

He said that when he calls at places up and down the coast, people always want to see Charlie, who rewards their adulation by poohing on them… well, not always, but as Charlie was making her way up my nice, fairly new jacket which I’d had made in Thailand the previous year, her owner called her back. Sure enough a few minutes later she did it on his shirt.

I often think how blessed we are in this beautiful country of ours to be able to share our lives with the wild creatures. I am ‘minded of the lovely lines from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’:

He prayeth best who loveth best
all things, both great and small;
For the dear God Who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

Let’s treasure every creature, great and small, and our Creator God, Who ‘made and loveth all’.

(16 July, 2016)