Put A Bird In It by Julia Brougham Birds in flight make air visible. Air flows through and within them as they fly through the air, inhabiting the spaces within and between each feather on a structure exquisitely evolved to enhance flight; strong, light, hollow, honeycombed bones; lungs full of elastic air sacs for super-efficient breathing supplying oxygen to a brain capable of very complex behaviour. No redundancy, no waste. Birds are the fastest, highest, most successful of all the animals that fly. Tim Low published a book in 2017, Where Song Began: Australia's Birds and How They Changed the World. But now we are changing the world faster than they can adapt. The East Asian–Australasian Flyway runs from Siberia and Alaska down through east and south-east Asia to Australia and New Zealand, crossing twenty-two countries. Five million birds from fifty-five species fly from their northern hemisphere summer breeding places to Australia’s winter to rest and grow fat for the return, an inter-continental round trip of over 20,000kms each year. Dredging estuaries, damming rivers, building on wetlands; we are destroying the migratory bird stopover sites. Innate navigation systems and instinct drive them on. Fewer and fewer reach their destinations. These global travellers, following an endless summer, have been connecting continents for millennia but now they are becoming harried, unregarded, dispensable refugees. The Bar-tailed Godwit crosses the Pacific Ocean from eastern Australia to Alaska, then returns six months later. All the Bar-tailed Godwits leaving Alaska stop at the Yellow Sea, between mainland China and the Korean peninsula, to forage and put on fat for the final week-long non-stop flight to Australia. A supremely athletic performance, it is one of the longest non-stop migratory flights known amongst birds. But the food-rich tidal mudflats of the Yellow Sea are disappearing rapidly. Industrial, agricultural and domestic sewage is changing the colour of the sea and contaminating the waters and habitats.
This picture of the Bar-tailed Godwit on Stockton Bridge is one of a set of new murals - worth a look.
The Eastern Curlew breeds in Alaska and Siberia and most of the world’s curlews spend winter in Australia. Our moral contract to protect coastal wetlands for them and the other shorebirds should have high level oversight, but environment laws are wishy washy. Filled with aspirational words like protect, raise awareness, control dogs on beaches, practical, they are not enforced and are failing to protect the birds. “The Office of Environment and Heritage has identified no priority actions to help recover the Eastern Curlew in New South Wales”. Harried, unregarded, dispensable refugees in the estuaries of the Hunter River, Port Stephens, Clarence River, and Richmond River. What chance has a speckly brown bird, about the size of a backyard chook with a weird mournful call, against the dollar call of residential, retail, marina development, hotel, port facilities and tourism infrastructure? The graph of the world population of Eastern Curlews is curving downwards far more steeply than the curve of their remarkable 18cms long beak.
A bonus for Australia - our birds are the most musical, intelligent, aggressive and loud. For our backyard magpie we can add sociable, inquisitive and sometimes feared. Colin Thiele’s magpie “sits on a high, high gum tree and rolls the sunrise around in his throat like pink beads of light” and “tumbled the morning air around with so much happiness”. Want more of that? Whistle and sing with them. Be happy-foolish and yodel wardle-doodle-dardle to them. They’ll listen and respond for their species name is tibicen, Latin for piper or flute. The castanet clatter of a beak, whack on head or bicycle helmet, sudden sound of fast-moving air through feathers, is a springtime contest - Big Daddy Magpie protecting eggs or chicks against strangers. Make contact and make peace with a food offering. Woo your local magpies with a handful of shredded cheese and talk to them quietly. They will remember and, as they live for around 25 years, for a long time.
Magsy was a rescue we had. She wasn't a well bird but after 11 months of care flew away from home to be with the wild ones.
There are around 870 species of birds living in Australia. Thirteen species have already become extinct and fifty are listed as threatened. Bird calls fill our bushland, wake us early in our suburbs and haunt us in the dark hours. To lose any more to extinction would be absurd of us. Rude, careless, silly.
About Julia: Born in Bunbury WA, lived for six years in South Africa, moved to South Australia and with husband John lived in the Far West, the mid-North, Eyre Peninsula and Adelaide. Since 2002 we have become forever Novocastrians. In childhood my fascination with native plants and animals was heavily influenced by a Dad who had an affinity with animals of all shapes and size, and a Grandfather who took us on bush outings at weekends. Love of the natural world and volunteering as a landcarer on Ash Island are ways of connecting with people who combine ecological knowledge with scientific rigour and impassioned care of our natural environment. Books and reading began early too. My reading habits are wayward and well supplied. We have shelves and cupboards full of books, sometimes in double rows. Becoming a member of Hunter Writers Centre has added to my book stacks as I became involved in the marvellous workshops leading me to new reading places like oriental poetry forms, modern American fiction, grammar and who knows where.
The words I write daily as the current coordinator of a landcare group are, whether necessary administration or a creative writing piece, an act of advocacy for care of nature. Now more than ever the environment needs advocates who can speak for it and do it well. To help this along I am hosting a new Meetup group "Nature Writing In Company" which will begin in August on Ash Island. Who knows where that will lead and who will find their voice.