Birdland is a magical place where it’s possible to escape all the pressures and stresses of the environment of the city created and inhabited by one species – humans – and immerse yourself in a less one-dimensional world.
Birdland is nowhere in particular, and does not have to be special or noteworthy. It could be in the wildest of wild forest, or in suburbia. It could be a pristine beach, a few hectares of eucalypt woodland, or a neatly manicured city park. It could be a backyard.
I first came across the term in Mateship with Birds, a collection of essays written by A.H.Chisholm in the early part of the 20th century and republished this year, and he used the word to describe his escape from the city, into the embrace of his birding passion.
I had my own birdland experience just the other week, on North Bruny island, and without adornment, exaggeration or resorting to poetry, I report it exactly as it panned out.
At the junction where the dirt road to Dennes Point leaves the main route across the twin islands, I pulled my Jeep alongside the battered, white Hilux belonging to bird researcher Amanda Edworthy, who had been waiting for me to arrive off the 7.45am ferry from Kettering.
Strapped to the top of Amanda’s car was an extendable step ladder, indicating that she was going to climb to a series of nestboxes erected on North Bruny to check on the breeding success of forty-spotted pardalotes. I was to be her keen, little helper for the day.
The day was supposed to be about Amanda’s ongoing study of forty-spots but, as with nature as a whole, just one species could not be separated from the wild world at large. So I will not mention 40-sports from this point. And not mention the excitement of catching them in mist nets and watching Amanda taking blood samples from them, measuring and weighing them in the interests of her research, and I will not mention the thrill of tossing them into the air, so they could fly free, after Amanda had given them to me to release.
No, this is about more than mere forty-spots, even if they are one of the rarest birds in the world.
No sooner had we set up shop high on Waterview Hill than a party of swift parrots arrived, chatting to each other with a musical call note. The swift parrots – the first I had seen this spring – were scouting the hills for flowering blue gums and they soon found them, dashing off towards the white blooms, the bird’s iridescent bright green plumage shimmering in the sunshine. Soon other birds of spring arrived, black-faced cuckoo shrikes – or summerbirds as they are known in Tasmania – and pallid cuckoos.
It was still early and a cacophony of spring birdsong rang out across the scattered woods of white, blue and peppermint gums.
All three species of pardalote found in Tasmania – the striated, spotted and forty-spot – for a brief moment created the dominant sound, as they competed with each other to proclaim territory.
The cavalcade of birds, the passing parade of birdsong and beauty, was too great to describe in detail so I will just list other birds seen and heard during the morning: black-headed, new holland, crescent and yellow-throated honeyeater, yellow wattlebird, silvereye, superb fairy-wren, scarlet and dusky robin, shining bronze-cuckoo, fan-tailed cuckoo, welcome swallow, tree martin, common bronze-wing pigeon, grey currawong, brown thornbill and forest raven. The list was topped by first a brown falcon and then two wedge-tailed eagles gliding in the thermals of warm air rising from the sun-drenched forest canopy.
I had seen about thirty species for the day, if I included gulls and black-faced and little pied cormorants seen from the BrunyIsland ferry, and a gannet passing the Jetty Café at Dennes Point where I had lunch.
Putting my notebook away at last, I decided I didn’t need a cold, statistical tally of birds spotted to tell me I had been to birdland.