My armchair birdwatching has reached new heights during the screening of The Kettering Incident on television.
The Knowler family has long been used to my announcing what birds are singing in the background of TV shows, usually “cosy school” British crime programs like the “Midsomer Murders” series.
“European magpie”, I’ll shout out with glee during a murder scene, or “song thrush” during the funeral of the victim in a village cemetery.
The Kettering Incident, however, has brought a wealth of new songs and calls to the television screen.
The armchair birdwatcher in Tasmania is not used to the unique songs of this state’s endemic species booming from their TV sets, simply because so few programs are filmed on the Apple Isle.
A previous soft-seat birding experience took place at the State Cinema some time back during the showing of The Hunter, with a plot which centred on a hunt for the last surviving Tasmanian tiger.
Much to the embarrassment of my wife, there were demands for me to keep quiet, uttered in “shushes”, from other members of the audience when I announced rather too enthusiastically that a yellow wattlebird was calling from somewhere within the Florentine Valley.
Although not in a public setting, my TV birdwatching is equally annoying for my family, who have no desire to be informed it is an endemic dusky robin, a Tasmanian thornbill or black currawong providing part of the soundtrack in the latest production to use the magnificent scenery of Tasmania as a backdrop.
Twelve bird species are as unique to these islands as its forests of Huon, celery- top and king billy pines, its mountains hewn from dolerite, its buttongrass plains. We are not alone, though, in having our own birds, and their songs. It’s the same with any region on the planet. Every city in Australia, for instance, has its distinctive bird sounds, and the keen birdwatcher can tell you whether they are in Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide or Melbourne simply by the songs they hear on immediately leaving the airport.
In Hobart, it happens to be green rosellas or yellow wattlebirds, or native-hens, if they can be heard from the paddocks a little further along the highway into town.
Birds inform us of time and place and this not only relates to our endemic species found nowhere on earth. Birdsong can vary within species countrywide. Although the ability to sing might be implanted in a bird’s DNA, the actual songs have to be learned from parents. This opens the way for accents and dialects which can differ markedly from place to place.
When birdsong recordist David Stewart was producing a CD of Tasmanian birdsong, he found his stock recordings of mainland species found in Tasmania, like the grey butcherbird, could not be used because the songs were markedly different. He had to do different recordings of such species here.
The Kettering Incident proved to be an interesting lesson on local birdsong, but my family finally complained about my observations. And I soon realised my own soundtrack had fallen on deaf ears.