The magical place I call birdland creeps up on you unexpectedly, like a rare bird which appears to fly out of the blue, from nowhere. Once you’ve been there, you will never forget it.
Two years ago it was the realm of the swift parrot on what had been a routine mission to report on a conservation program involving forty-spotted pardalotes on South Bruny Island.
This year I was transported to the world of the magnificent peregrine falcon, the fastest creature on earth, which is known to swoop, or stoop, at 300 km/h.
The peregrines loomed large and awesome after I had paid a visit to wildlife biologist Nick Mooney at his home north of Hobart to deliver a book. To view the peregrines had not been on my agenda, although I knew Mooney had been monitoring a family of the falcons near his home for the past two breeding seasons.
When he asked if I was interested in seeing them, I nearly turned him down. I was in a rush to get back to the city to start work but finally I relented, realising I had time for a quick peek.
In his four-wheel-drive, Mooney drove me up the rugged terrain of the hill where the peregrines had nested. At the summit, we heard the high-pitched staccato call of a peregrine high in the sky and, leaping out of the vehicle, saw two peregrine youngsters, calling to their mother for food.
The mother soon appeared, circling us wildly, banking and stalling, cocking her head to check us out. She soon established we meant her no harm and carried on with hunting down food for the chicks.
As Mooney pointed out, the young peregrines had assumed a drooped wing aspect, more resembling the lazy, heavy flight of a cuckoo, which indicated they wanted to be fed.
A radio beacon on a lattice-work tower dominated the top of the hill and on this the male peregrine arrived, perching there to survey his family and the countryside all around him. He was a magnificent peregrine specimen. Steel-blue on the back and head, delicately barred silver chest, and groomed black streaks running down both sides of his face, through the eyes, a falcon feature which birders call a moustache.
The peregrines have bred at the site successfully over recent years, but I can’t reveal where it is because there are still people out there who persecute these birds of prey.
The peregrine is the sworn enemy of many a pigeon fancier – but not all of them, I might stress – and are immediately blamed when prized and expensive pedigree racing pigeons fail to return to home lofts.
The peregrine is a universal species found on all continents except Antarctica and is a noted pigeon hunter but Mooney had found in his research into the behaviour of the birds in southern Tasmania that they now mainly fed on the introduced starling.
Mooney and I watched the peregrine family wheeling about us, me nervously looking at my watch and thinking of work commitments.
The spectacle of birdland was not complete, however. This moving feast of birds is never confined to one species, as with the swift parrots the previous spring when I also caught a whole host of other migrant birds arriving in waves from the mainland.
As we were leaving, Mooney heard the alarm call of forest ravens in the far distance and spotted the reason for the ravens’ alarm, two wedge-tailed eagles on the wing.
Worked called, however, as urgently as the alarm call of the forest raven. I thought I was still in good time, but close to town I realised I had foolishly not taken into account the Christmas Toy Run. I ran slap bang into it, and had to wait a good half hour for the 7000 or so motorcyclists to pass.
After flying high in birdland, I had came down with a bump in the real world of a man in a hurry.