August 20, 2019

The circus leaves town

Mother Nature has packed up her tent and moved on. The passing parade of birdlife over the spring and summer is well past and approaching the end of autumn I can only wait in anticipation of the circus’s magical return in September.

At this time of year I can’t resist the metaphor of the big tent to describe all the spectacle, the antics, the comedy and the drama that has played out since early September.

The avian circus has acts of all kinds including those of the flying trapeze and, of course, the show comes complete with its clowns.

Autumn and thus the approach of winter came earlier than usual this year. After a fiery hot spell there was suddenly a chill in the still air at the end of the day. And a silence. On an evening in early April, just after the sun had set, the absence of the birdsong of summer was palpable. The far-carrying calls of the most vocal of the summer visitors, the fan-tailed and shining bronze-cuckoos were no longer ringing through the woods above my home in the Waterworks Valley in Dynnyrne. The “pick-it-up” call of striated pardalote had also dropped from the airwaves as these tiny birds prepared to head north across Bass Strait.

The circus brings a rainbow of colour, a blast of bird music, a riot of frenzied activity when it hits town. It is mainly driven by migrant birds but the locals, too, are always in on the act as they declare breeding territories of their own.

This avian carnival arrives on the wings of welcome swallows. As the swallows flit and turn in aerial manoeuvres, grey fantails perform gymnastics in the understorey of bottlebrush and native cherry below the blue gums and stringybark.

The show never ceases, at least until mid-January. In the circus ring there is always a new act to follow the last. Taking their cue as the year progresses are the brightly-coloured resident robins and native honeyeaters. Each day, especially in early spring, the parade of bird species appears never ending.

And there are sinister figures at the fringes, more like actors in a Shakespearean play than a circus. The menacing forest ravens prey on birds that have eggs and young. In contrast, come the clowns. Sulphur-crested cockatoos jostle and argue and swing upside down from their perches, pecking at each other, and plovers with yellow masks and spindly legs dash through the grasslands followed by striped-pyjama young.

The carnival under sunny skies finally reaches its climax with the arrival of the last of the visitors – the beautiful satin flycatcher which graces the upper canopy in sparkling iridescent plumage, fluttering wings and tail as it tiptoes along the tightrope of the thinnest branches.

I loved the circus as a kid and always felt a little bereft when it left town. Autumn now brings on the same sensation but there is always the promise of the circus’s return in spring.



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