Friday, May 1, 2009

Tern tern tern

The paradoxical cat has entered birdland. I am now living on a tidal lagoon and I am surrounded by native and introduced trees, and the air is thick with the calls of birds and the whirring of their wings.

Being a word person big time and newly a bird person, I ransacked my ample shelves for the tomes on birds, and found half a dozen books on "NZ Birds". They were useful but wanting. Who would know that facts about birds change?

Every day the bird soap opera changes, depending on the tide, the weather, the time of year. But also over the years new species turn up, or old species disappear. My reference books hadn't kept up with a few of the new developments in my area.

So out I went and bought three delectable ornithological texts - two NZ field guides (one with photos and one with drawings) and the Steve Braunias essay How To Watch a Bird.

As I have said before, I am a fan of the writing of Steve Braunias, and I had been looking forward to reading his bird book (which is another title in the excellent 'Ginger' series of how-to books published by Awa Press).

I'm also a fan of the Ginger series, and I'm gobbling up the Braunias bird book with as much gusto as a spoonbill gobbles up some tasty estuarine delicacy. There's a good review of How to watch a Bird here making the obvious point that the view through the Braunias 'bins' (bird fraternity jargon for binoculars) is at turns tender and quirky, and altogether reads as a touchingly genuine love story.

I'm learning stuff too (eg that it's 'bins' I have been glued to for days) - and not just the eccentric things.

And here are just some of the birds I have been watching:

Royal spoonbill, fat black tui with starched white bib, flirty fantails at the shady dining room window at the back of the house, the ever so elegant oystercatchers, mollymawk, hawks, finches, rosellas, a kingfisher on the power line above my deck, black swans and all manner of ducks, bellbirds, magpies, geese, finches, sparrows and blackbirds, gulls, pied stilts, ooh and the caspian tern with their swept back glossy Elvis hairdo. And the magnificent black shags sunning their wings.

And one of the most welcome swallows was the first sip of a glass of chilled fine wine on the balcony at evening.

Alas, being late autumn, this year I have missed the godwits and various other migratory species that have already taken off "towards another summer". I am on tenterhooks until spring. And I'm so glad that for some reason a pair of newbie spoonbills have elected to stay behind. I hope they'll be OK.


Vanda Symon said...

I loved How to Watch a Bird. I read it while on a stormy and windswept holiday at Porpoise Bay in The Catlins. It was perfect.

Mary McCallum said...

Lovely post PC. I am a bird fan but not all that good at identifying all the species - especially all the sea birds - and like you we look out over a beach, so I feel the lack quite keenly. I have been meaning to read Braunias' book for a while now and after your review, I'll make sure I go out and get it tomorrow. Your new possie sounds like paradise.

The Paradoxical Cat said...

Hope you got the Braunias book, Mary. It really is a treasure. I was sad to have to finish it.

I'm also very unsure about identifying species, and it's still hard even though I now have two Field Guides! I look through the binoculars and leaf through all the books, and can't find anything that looks EXACTLY like the bird I'm looking at.

Is it a sandpiper? Hmm...

That's why I love the spoonbills - there is no doubt about them!