Sunday, May 22, 2011

Birds, happiness, falling leaves

I popped into Borders yesterday and among the fairly sorry array of books going cheap I found The Big Twitch by Sean Dooley, a Melbourne comedy writer and keen birdwatcher (or birder, as he prefers). The book details his attempt to beat the record for the most number of birds seen in Australia in a year (bear with me...).

I read an excerpt of the book in the newspaper last year and found it entertaining and moving. ("If you can write well, you really can write about anything," a line from a Sydney Morning Herald review on the front cover says). So far the book itself entertaining too.

I'm up to the bit where he's on his way back from a trip to Christmas Island with his birding mentor, Mike Carter, to see the Malayan Night Heron. In trying to sum up why Mike is "Australia's premier twitcher"*, Sean writes:
"One answer is his passion. He simply loves birds and birdwatching. For him it is not simply a numbers game.  I've seen him get almost as excited feeding a relatively common Grey Butcherbird in his he is ticking off a new bird for his Australian list...
"But this still doesn't fully explain Mike's birding success. Watching him on Christmas Island I think I finally figured it out. Mike has an innate curiosity for just about everthing...It means he can be quite a frustrating travelling companion as he is always stopping to look at or comment on something, often with much more intensity than seems warranted: 'Look at that crab!' 'Look at that butterfly!' 'Good lord! Look at that swiftlet, it's got two primaries missing from its left wing!'
"...It dawned on me that Mike is only stating the obvious because it seems fresh to him. I began to envy his capacity to see the wonder in almost anything. It is curiosity, it is engagement, it is, I am sure the reason why, though approaching seventy, Mike can easily pass for someone twenty years younger - he has a refreshingingly boundless enthusiasm for the world and all that it contains. This is why he is such a top birdwatcher; he is always on the lookout, always engaging directly with what he sees. It also explains why he is one of the most positive, refreshing and seemingly happy people I have ever met."
I'm guessing I don't need to explain why this bit jumped out at me...or why I was pleased to see he spotted 16 species of birds in the Royal Botanic Gardens.

One of my friends (who has a somewhat less consuming interest in birds) knows Sean Dooley and in his acknowledgements, Sean singles out someone else I know for special thanks. Melbourne can be such a small place sometimes...

* twitchers are um...hardcore birdwatchers.


Autumn is in full swing. I walked into the city this morning and leaves were falling all around me and blowing past me on the breeze. The banks of the Yarra are golden with fallen elm leaves.

Speaking of birds, on my walk I saw Mr and Mrs Plover hunting for food,  a White-faced Heron wading in the reeds near the river bank, and pair of wood ducks waddling about. You know that friend I mentioned above? We went out for a while and his interest in birds rubbed off on me a little. Just a little, in the sense that I pay more attention to feathered things. I still had to ask google just then what the blue-grey bird wading in the river shallows was called.

They won't let me get close enough for a decent photo

The bird formerly known as the blue-grey egrety thing


Andrew said...

Sean Dooley presented a two hour one off special about birds for ABC local radio over summer. He was fantastic.

Frisky Librarian said...

I think he does a weekly spot on the RRR breakfast show too. Or at least he used to.

Red Nomad OZ said...

'The Big Twitch' is required reading on our OZ travels (partner ALMOST as zealous a twitcher as Sean) - the book lists a lot of twitching hot spots (did I really say that????).

His 'A-Z of birdwatching' is almost as hilarious!!