Sunday morning was filled with an intense conversation going on all around the
meetinghouse outside Sydney on a couple acre site adjacent to a major park, all with native forest. This morning, as the light begins to appear out my window, it starts again. The shape is familiar as sounds seem to echo around, a whistle is answered in kind. Raucous noises spread out en masse among many voices. A deep almost “woof” sounds. More whistles, some sharp, some haunting. A few tunes, but mostly harsher. The entirety a new genre, full of unfamiliar rhythms and sounds.
Before worship on Sunday, I had helped brush branches and leaves up to one side of the drive, making it accessible for a brush turkey who was building a huge mound in the front yard of the Meetinghouse for the female to lay her eggs. He tends this mound and keeps it at an even temperature, piling on more leaves when it is cold, brushing them away in hotter spells. His beak is apparently quite heat sensitive.
More than anything, the sounds of the bush tell me I am someplace I have never been. Makes vivid the reality of being on another quadrant of this globe. While in broad paint strokes It may feel like home, it is not. It is another land, another country in a way I rarely feel. As I look out the window and don’t try to focus my eyes, I could be looking at the hills around the Willamette Valley and the forests of home. Yet the green is not the green I know, it is very soft and almost grey, sometimes a bit brown. The shapes of the trees are unfamiliar. Almost none are deciduous so they are adorned even in mid-winter, but instead of the firs and pines are gum trees and eucalyptus – the shapes more like giant oaks. The leaves in myriad forms, many unlike anything in Oregon and pointing to an ancient heritage. Someone told me that the oldest landmass in the world is in northern Australia.
Then there was the day that my hosts walked me around their property, down steep muddy steps into a gully that is host to dozens of tree ferns and gum trees and other plants that predate European settlement. Taking care to interact with the local First Nations people on many levels, they had asked them if they might write “welcome” over the door in the language of the local Aboriginal peoples. They also start off events at the meeting house by formally recognizing that Europeans are only borrowing the land, that they do not own it, often speaking in the local language. The First Nations people are also generous with their teachings about how to restore the land and nurture the four-footed and winged inhabitants which have survived.
Around that muddy gully, there are lots of wombat holes, but many not occupied, also places where they duck under the fences. Some local volunteers come and find such signs of activity. They then place medications to cure them of the mange which they get from the foxes who tend to use the wombat dens when they can. (Foxes are not native) The pasture grass, which they are slowly getting rid of, prevents native plants such as eucalyptus from sprouting, but they have also found other plants that can spread into grassland gradually and make it hospitable to pre-European species. Much weeding is needed nonetheless – ragwort is a pain and spreads fast. In some areas they are testing planting four stories of species at the same time so they have a range of high trees to low shrubs and this seems to be working in helping them get established.
Walking in a national forest in the hills above Melbourne, we were greeted by masses of raucous cockatoos, which I believe are an introduced species here. We were told by other walkers that lots of kangaroos were just over another ridge, but then we were told of sightings of a lyre bird and focused on finding that. Several times we got glimpses of one rushing off into the bush, then I turned and noticed one in the middle of the path behind us. As I walked back very slowly, it stayed where it was as it was preoccupied with an elaborate dance featuring its elaborate tail feathers (I actually have a bunch of pictures on my phone, but haven’t been able to access them yet – this is from Wikipedia). Protecting this bird and its habitat is a concern of many who live in these hills.
From Wikiedia: “A lyrebird’s song is one of the more distinctive aspects of its behavioural biology. Lyrebirds sing throughout the year, but the peak of the breeding season, from June to August, is when they sing with the most intensity. During this peak they may sing for four hours of the day, almost half the hours of daylight. The song of the superb lyrebird is a mixture of seven elements of its own song and any number of other mimicked songs and noises. The lyrebird’s syrinx is the most complexly-muscled of the Passerines (songbirds), giving the lyrebird extraordinary ability, unmatched in vocal repertoire and mimicry. Lyrebirds render with great fidelity the individual songs of other birds and the chatter of flocks of birds, and also mimic other animals such as koalas and dingoes. The lyrebird is capable of imitating almost any sound and they have been recorded mimicking human sounds such as a mill whistle, a cross-cut saw, chainsaws, car engines and car alarms, fire alarms, rifle-shots, camera shutters, dogs barking, crying babies, music, mobile phone ring tones, and even the human voice. However, while the mimicry of human noises is widely reported, the extent to which it happens is exaggerated and the phenomenon is quite unusual.”
Kookaburras are the largest of the kingfisher family—I saw several as we drove along the dirt road into Silver Wattle. Mostly I saw their fat whitish bellies