It was one of those sparkling mornings on the eve of the holiday season which needs the power of a poet to describe it. Hobart poet and academic Pete Hay sprang to mind with his Fragrance of the Morning.
The strolling breath of the day
to the presence of morning,
her wild, come-hither laugh
The summit of kunanyi/Mt Wellington high above me had been capped with snow just a few weeks previously, but now summer was definitely in the air. The warm rays of the early-morning sunshine took the chill out of the wind and the excited chatter of the birds all around me in the Waterworks Reserve announced the unusually cold and wet spring was now just a memory.
It turned out to be one of those birding days I will never forget. The special, magical ones come around about once a year, usually in early summer when the moon and stars align at night to encourage the frogmouths to utter their eerie calls, and wind and sun align by day to carry a symphony of birdsong on gentle breezes.
The passing parade of birds was heralded by the incessant call of male striated pardalotes echoing around the sandstone culverts which direct the Sandy Bay Rivulet through the reserve. The pardalotes nest in cracks in the sandstone.
From the open glades of the woodland close by, the melancholic song of a dusky robin drifted through the air. The species is named the “sad robin” because of its plaintive “phew-wit” song but this male appeared far from miserable. He scouted the woodland for caterpillar food, and a little later I came across a whole family of these generally elusive birds, sparring with a yellow-throated honeyeater nesting in a clump of blackwood.
The symphony of the sweeter, more melodious birdsong, was interrupted by the anguished cries of forest ravens. I looked across the still waters of the upper of the reserve’s twin lakes to see three fluttering black shapes in pursuit of a white one of about the same size. A white goshawk was on the wing, and the forest ravens were keen to see it on its way, fearing it would target their young.
It was not a day for menace, however, not an occasion to dwell on the brutal side of nature in which birds of prey scout the woods for nestlings, and cuckoos trick unsuspecting parents into rearing their own young.
The soft descending melody of a grey fantail put the study of nature into a brighter context. The male fantail – or cranky fan as they are called in Tasmania – was in fine slate-grey breeding plumage, performing aerobatics around a silver wattle as he hunted flying insects. But I struggled for the words to describe him. By coincidence, later that evening I found them when I dipped into Pete Hay’s latest work, Physick.
In a poem called Cranky Fan, he writes:
My friend the blithe tumbler
snaps up midges on the stall
of his mad jinking flight.