Thursday, 24 September 2015

To the Barracking of Birds

How did I come to have a pardalote for a PT? As a gym virgin – I haven’t set foot in a gym since high school – the idea of a personal trainer is quite foreign to me, let alone one the size of a glue stick.


[A striated pardalote nesting. Photo courtesy of Alex Dudley] 
Yet here I am, working on a post-retirement fitness regime that sees me walking up, down and around our nearby bush each morning. And suddenly I’m the motivational target of a striated pardalote. As I strain up a straggly slope, a bird clearly calls out pick-it-up, pick-it-up! Rapidly, repeatedly, as insistent as a miniature drill sergeant: it’s a striated pardalote tutoring from the treetops.

They say a coach should lead by example. And you’d have to say these tiny birds have literally done the hard yards. Some of our striated pardalotes (Pardalotus striatus) fly as far away as south-east Queensland each winter. And each spring they fly back to mate and nest in our bushland.

Pardalotes are not the only birds out there barracking, ‘though I should use that word loosely for some. A couple of big black ravens fly over. They tilt their heads, lifting their wingtips in what looks to be a rude gesture. Then, like drivers yelling their displeasure from the window, they sledge me at the top of their lungs: Aaaahh-gawaaarn-ga-waaaarrrrrrd! One even alights on a treetop to continue the tirade. And when kookaburras start joining in, it’s clear my fitness efforts are laughable.


[A forest raven calls from a treetop] 
But it’s not all discouragement. Olive whistlers do what they do best, whistling in a cheerful, encouraging manner. Tasmanian scrubwrens sound even more excited, urging me on with a thin, high-pitched cheer. Tasmanian thornbills too express a wild, shrill excitement, and high above a couple of kelp gulls join in, cheering shrilly caaarn c’maarrrn c’maar-aar-aaarn.  

It’s not only the calls. Sometimes my tramping disturbs small amorous groups of brush bronzewings. These heavily built pigeons take off in fright, their wings making loud applause. This sometimes frightens more than it encourages, but the result is still an acceleration in effort. Later my path takes me close to the Hobart Rivulet, and even it seems capable of a demure roar. I feel encouraged, although it occurs to me that I’m probably having aural hallucinations brought on by oxygen deprivation.


[clockwise from top left: bird orchid, yellow dogwood, wattle & pultenaea]  
But it’s when I start wondering if the plants will join in (“Surely the dogwood would!”; What’ll the wattle be saying?”; “Is the eggs and bacon bush egging me on?”; “Is that orchid giving me the bird?”) that I realise I’ve gone deep into fantasy land.

Thankfully the mute bulk of kunanyi/Mt Wellington straightens me out. Just near my turnaround point I see it afresh, the angle of view new, subtly different. Its massive presence is silent, reassuring, a balm to soothe my barmy internal chatter.


[kunanyi/Mt Wellington, early morning] 
I’m working hard now, breathing heavily. But it is so good to be out in this bush, clearing the silliness from my head, just taking it in. Really that’s all the encouragement I need. I walk on calmly, happily, and let the birds and bushes get on with their own lives.



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