Monday, January 05, 2009

This place's / saving graces

As I mentioned before, the frog calendar has come down, replaced by one called "spectacular birds".

The January bird is the fairy penguin, most definitely not an inhabitant of these parts, though I remember them from my days in Wellington, New Zealand, where they would often live beneath seaside houses, & from a visit I made to Phillip Island, about an hour south of Melbourne, where their evening exodus from the sea is a tourist attraction.

The December bird, the tawny frogmouth, I haven't seen around here, but I have come across them on our regular trips up north, one instance in particular, driving through sugar cane country at night & being confronted by one in the middle of the road, guarding a mouse it had just caught, stubbornly refusing to budge from its prey so that we had to drive off the edge of the road to get around it.

But the ten remaining birds do live hereabouts, half of them—pink galahs, sulphur-crested cockatoos, blue-faced honeyeaters, blue-winged kookaburras & lorikeets—regular visitors to our garden; & two more—black swans & royal spoonbills—share the lagoon at the bottom of the street with the pelicans. There are peacocks in the local Botanical Gardens about a kilometre away & it's not unusual to come across them wandering about the nearby streets & common to hear their cries at night. & I have seen a bush turkey meandering down a street in the middle of town on its way to the grassed precincts of the old railway station.

The final bird is the brolga, a large crane which lives in swamps & wetlands. On one of my drives around the backroads of the area, probably about thirty kilometres away from home in a straight line, I came across a flock of about a hundred gathered around a farm dam. They are incredibly elegant, &, when they socialize or engage in courtship rituals, they dance. Fantastic to behold! "[They] bow, advance & retreat, trumpet, & fling objects in the air" to quote my bird book.

There are other birds around that I would class as more spectacular than some of the ones in the calendar. I'd include the black cockatoo rather than the white; would include some smaller birds such as the double-barred (owl-faced) finch, or the sacred kingfisher; would pick the jabiru before the spoonbill; would definitely include the coucal pheasant.

& they're just a few of the birds you get around here on a regular basis. There are about another twenty varieties of honeyeaters of various sizes, ten or so different birds of prey, there are more parrots, swallows, waterbirds, fantails, cuckoos. Such an abundance, keeping me sane during the day.

The night sky is the other benefit in living here. This year has apparently been designated the year of astronomy, & it was pointed out in an article announcing this that "a fifth of the world's population can no longer see the Milky Way with the naked eye due to artificial lights blocking out the view of the stars."

It was something that was very apparent when we lived in Sydney, & I suppose it's the same in any big city where there's light pollution. Half the time you could barely see the stars, &, even then, only a small proportion of them. Up here it's a different story. There is minor pollution from the city lights, but over the hill, away from us. If I go outside, it's a black night sky I'm confronted with, & the stars are so clear. Perfect viewing for such occurences as the recent one where Venus & Jupiter were close together, & both within the arc of the new moon. A natural smiley face—though in the northern hemisphere, with the moon arcing downwards, I believe it was a frowny face that was created.

This year the astronomers of the world are trying to persuade cities to turn off or dim many of the lights that stay on overnight. In a recent article in the journal Nature, Malcolm Smith, an astronomer at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, wrote of the project:
"Without a direct view of the stars, mankind is cut off from most of the universe, deprived of any direct sense of its huge scale and our tiny place within it."

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