Sunday, August 8, 2010


There's a million reasons why here is where I want to be. 'Here' is at the edge of the Morton National Park, and where we built our house. Well, we had the house built, but with the materials we wanted, driven by pretty well informed environmental concerns, in a style we wanted, driven by the adobe based look of the modern housing of Santa Fe, where the houses looked like they'd been lowered into the desert, dressed with (apparently) completely natural desert gardens, and driven by budget, fortunately. All the things an unlimited budget could have given in retrospect would have meant a loss of simplicity and meaningfulness. Too much is always too much.

We're on the edge, literally, tucked into a ridge of tall, sometimes open, eucalypt forest, looking down, into, and across the gullies dense with the closed canopies of rainforest lush with tree ferns.

All this was planned. What I didn't consciously realise was how intimate our relationship with wildlife would become. Of them all, marsupials, rodents, lizards and snakes, it's the birds that are so fantastic (except perhaps for the Goannas, but they can't sing). I go for days here with no added sound, no radio, no TV, no music, no talking, except to the dogs. Just the wind and the birds. I've been raving a bit about the birds on and off, but the most astounding, the most secret, the best secret, is the legendary Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae). It is much more widespread than commonly known, found east of the ranges from southern Queensland, along New South Wales into eastern Victoria. And they are rampant here.

There may be the brilliance of Rozellas and Parrots, the subleties of the Robins, the melodies of the Thrushes, the cadenzas of the Blue Satin Bowerbird, the screech of the cockatoos, the squarks of the Wattle Birds, or the size and majesty of the Eagle, and so on and so on. The Super Lyrbird trumps them all and he does it not only with song, but with a tail of impossibly beautiful design used to turn an otherwise dull scrubby brown body into a dazzling shimmer of silver quivers contained within an arching pair of striped feathers in the shape which gives him his name. From under this trembling guise he courts, singing loud his seductive calls, his own native songs and especially to impress her ladyship, he adds the songs of every other bird of the bush as well as anything else he thinks may give him the advantage and clinch the wooing.

We hear them a lot, especially in the cooler months, when they come up from the gullies and fossick around the house. They love to root through the rotting mulch which I'm forever shovelling around, particulary near new plantings. The strong feet and claws move rocks and there are fleeting moments when I think 'pest' before I realise again they can do what they like as long as they stay.

Coming down the hall the other morning, something caught my eye. If not the song, and they stop singing as soon as they are aware of another, it's usually their movement that draws your attention because their colours are the same as the forest floor. This time it was the tail against the bird bath base that gave him away, You can imagine that without that tail how hard it would be to notice the male, and the female, with a short brown plain tail about the same lenght of her body, is even more discrete. And, no offence meant, very ordinary.

(click to enlarge)

That eye misses nothing. I managed a few quick photos from one of the north windows looking across the grass to the birdbath under a wattle. It was when I moved to another window on the other side of the fireplace he noticed me, even though I was inside and he was about ten metres from the house. In the few seconds it took to try for another angle, he was off, a blurred scurry away over the grass to disappear into the security of the scrub.

They are incredibly alert and really vulnerable, barely able to get off the ground, having to rely on fast feet to flee through open space, or in the bush they half scramble half fly, hauling themselves up tree trunks to escape danger. Descent takes some form of gliding with reverse scramble. It's all very awkward.

But the songs. Even Messiaen came to hear them. "For Messiaen, the lyrebird represented a source of 'pure' music, undefiled by the modern world" (kurtbrereton).

Here is the superb (sic) David Attenborough film, just in case you're not one of the millions who have already seen it:

And, while this is not mine, it is of this place, and, despite the sound of cars closeby, takes you into the "undefiled by the modern world". This is exactly what we hear. There's lots of his own song as well as much mimicry of other birds. How many can you pick?