10. Songbirds as Colleagues and Contemporaries
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257 C H A P T E R 1 0 Songbirds as Colleagues and Contemporaries Kings Creek Station, Central Australia, 30 September 2013: Wind, heat, and flies. It’s like being at the beach: the end of every thought is punctuated with a grain of sand where my teeth meet. The flies are fast here, they work in marauding teams, and they bite. I couldn’t do without my fly veil for even a moment. I watch four tourists wave their hands and scarves nonstop. They face a dilemma: Should three of them stand still and smile while the fourth takes their photo, knowing that the flies will briefly have their way with all of them? The tourists rise to the challenge: all movement except smile-and-click ceases for ten seconds. Inthecourseofmywalks,I’vefoundmypiedscoundrel,muchdetested bytheyellow-throatedminers(Manorina flavigula).Let’shopetheyfitthe species profiling and will sing with the voice of an angel. For the moment, the bird is up to much to-ing and fro-ing, generally causing a lot of yellowthroated miner consternation and even delivering a bit of mimicry in the afternoon heat and wind. Ephemeral creekbeds and salt lakes are all that remain here of the large rivers and lakes of twenty-five thousand years ago. Verging on the art of bonsai, the stunted, contorted ghost gums (Corymbia aparrerinja) and native figs are relics from past times that have had to adapt to tough conditions . The biggest trees are river red gums, high-rise accommodation I am willing to contend that this capacity to hear the soundscape as music is simultaneously one of the most archaic ways of listening and the most modern. —David Dunn, “Acoustic Ecology and the Experimental Music Tradition” 258 is birdsong music? for a range of birds, insects, and reptiles. Although sand holds water long aftertherainstops,duringdroughtthesegumsdropbothleavesandlimbs with no apparent warning in order to survive—and thus their nickname, “widow maker.” They are not ill; they are clever. Therearen’tmanycampershere,butmyneighborsareacolorfulbunch. Ignoring the official Hill’s Hoist, they have strung up their own rope with halfadozenfluorescentbeachtowelspeggedandflappinginthewind,but nowhere near their camp—instead, on the edge of mine.1 Heat and a long drive can magnify little irritations into full-blown issues. If one takes into account the flap factor, two of their towels are seriously encroaching into my camp. Any moisture in these towels was sucked out in fifteen minutes. My “view” is a towel television waving at me for attention, and as we do with any screen, I can’t resist looking at it. Instead, my view could be what some forty films and documentaries have capitalized on at this very property—the rugged red sandstone domes of the George Gill Range, the majestic desert oaks, and the scraped red soil. For this and the birds I traveled six hours from Alice Springs. Desperate for better scenery and three minutes of air conditioning, I drive to the far end of the campground with the fan on high, park at the sign Only Station Vehicles Past This Point, and go through the gate. Everyone else has sensibly opted for the café or the postage-stamp-size pool. My walk takes me up to Tank Hill Lookout. In desert country, one has no right to expect a spectacular view, although one is occasionally rewarded. I am not. The lookout delivers in a direct way all that its name promises: three water tanks on a hill with a 360-degree panorama. I have uncharacteristically left my water bottle behind, but—with a sensibility that surprises even me—when I get confused, I follow my boot prints in the soft, sandy earth back to the van. Still, I wince as I begin the drive back to my campsite: the place has no signs or markers, just a constant meandering of red tracks that are difficult for my brain to maneuver. I can’t quite figure it out (I clench my teeth, locking onto a grain of sand). No sense looking for my camper van, since I am in it. (I admit it occurred to me, and for five seconds I had certain hope.) Suddenly, I spot the “Six Towels over Kings Creek” amusement park. I’m home. At 3:00 am I get up to the smell of my neighbor’s drowned campfire, having retired before enjoying their lit one. A pied butcherbird is singing Songbirds as Colleagues and Contemporaries 259 in the distance on the other side of a serious stock fence. I locate...



Subject Headings

  • Birdsongs -- Australia.
  • Butcherbirds -- Behavior -- Australia.
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