springtime and natural beauty in Canberra 2011

Spring has been underway in the Southern Hemisphere for some time now, and it’s a welcome change from the uniformly cold, Britannic blustery days we’d been having. We went over to Daylight Savings time about a week ago, and the change in my mood and energy levels is really astonishing. It always seems to be somehow. Worth losing an hour to “spring forward”.

Another amusing coincidence which I forget if I noted in the past is that the Northern and Southern Hemispheres “spring forward” and “fall back” more or less 180 degrees out of phase. As a result, the time zone difference between my current home and my childhood home fluctuates, being 8 hours in the Northern fall and 10 hours in the Northern spring. This of course has some nontrivial effect on the times I choose to call home, email colleagues, etc.

I probably neglected to mention that I’ve been dating a lovely Aussie woman, named Emily (“Em”), for about a year now — more or less ever since I got here. This is well-known to my friends, though I’ve been pretty shy about mentioning her on AP. But the relevance here is that Em is an enthusiastic bird watcher, and has been schooling me for some months on all the local birds, their appearances, calls and temperaments. While I thought I’d posted about this before, looking through my archives I see that I haven’t.

Several distinctive common calls struck me when I first arrived here as being unlike anything I’d heard in the States; these I now know to belong to ravens (deep and throaty, like a goat, or even eerily human), magpies (a varied warbling that sounds like it’s been run through a square wave filter, like bad video game music), and sulphur-crested cockatoos (a repetitive infernal squawking that fills the skies). I can now recognize all of these birds by sound or sight, as well as currawongs (the fierce local predator birds), galahs, rosellas, and king parrots (varied species of brightly colored parrots), wattlebirds (a smallish mottled bird with a short, scratchy call). I can also recognize thornbills, fantails, Willy Wagtails, magpie larks and magpie geese (yep, they look vaguely like magpies), starlings, swallows, choughs, teal ducks, purple moorhens, and the local variety of little blue wrens on sight, though I’m not quite equal to distinguishing their calls yet. Getting there. Not gonna bother linking all those, you can check Wikipedia if you really don’t know and want to.

Several species of local birds, but especially magpies, become aggressive and territorial during nesting season; it’s common for them to “swoop” you, attacking from the skies and trying to get you to go away. This can be especially dangerous if you’re on a bike and are easily startled (see question 14 here). Walking around town, you’ll often see cyclists with cable ties affixed to their helmets, in a spiky pattern like a plastic hedgehog on one’s head; this is an (ultimately futile) attempt to get the birds to back off. The proper response, I’m told, is to just keep on riding. One of those shouty magpies whacked me right on the head the other day at fairly high speed, but I didn’t see it coming and therefore reacted less sharply than I might’ve if I weren’t wearing a helmet and/or saw it from the front…

Kangaroos are becoming less shy and more numerous, and present an ongoing road hazard (once again, see question 14). Like deer in headlights, except not — I’m convinced that they’re worse than deer. I could sort of understand if they were too dumb or scared to get out of the road once they were in the middle of it, but these jokers actually wait until your car is coming, then bolt across the road from the periphery of your field of view as fast as they can, so that you barely miss them. They like to do this mostly around dusk, though they are also a liability after it gets dark. The only explanation I can think of for this behavior is that they’re messing with us, actually daring each other to see how narrowly they can avoid getting hit. I’ve managed to avoid them so far, but if one of them ends up on the barbie (see question 11) because I couldn’t stop quickly enough, my sympathy for it will be limited.

Other than that — the flora have been pretty incredible too, thanks in part to the El Nina event Australia’s undergoing. I first wanted to post about this when the wattle trees on the slopes of Mt. Stromlo burst into a sunny yellow bloom back in August, but they’ve faded by now and become greener. It was a wet and rainy spring in 2010, and rumor has it that 2011 will be just as bad, bringing even more unnatural greenery for the traditionally arid Canberra region, as well as yet another population spike for local rodents (last year’s plague left way more mouse corpses up the mountain than anyone at the RSAA wanted to deal with). I’m convinced I’ve seen more rainbows in one year of living in Canberra than in my entire previous life in the US — in one recent work week I saw rainbows every single morning on my way to work.

Since the slide-show gallery seems to have worked so well last time, I’ll include a visual revue of Canberra Spring. Some of the photos above were taken at the nearby nature preserve at Tidbinbilla, which provides a home for emus, koalas, platypi and other quintessentially Australian fauna, but also all manner of cool-looking trees which are better shown in photos.

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About Richard

I'm an American scientist who is building a new life in Australia. This space will contain words about science and math, but also philosophy, policy, literature, my travels, occasional rants, all sorts of things I find strange and awesome. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employer at the time (currently University of Sydney), though personally, I think they should.
This entry was posted in Australia, Lifestyle, Nature, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to springtime and natural beauty in Canberra 2011

  1. karoppi says:

    I’ve been smacked in the back of the head by a bird while WALKING. We live in dangerous times.

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