Breakfast, when I’m living alone, is the only meal of the day I consistently enjoy. For months now it’s been taking place in the park here in Sandgate after a few miles of seaside wandering in the good light just before and after dawn. That hour or so before the summer heat (forget what your calendar says — it’s Summer) and glaring light reach intolerable levels is often my last taste of the outdoors until the sun’s low in the sky again in late afternoon. I’m a poor excuse for a Queenslander, I know.
Even that early, I’m rarely alone in there. There’s a group of ladies with a small herd of mop-like mutts, and then there are the three or four locals who gather daily under the rotunda or on a neighbouring bench and routinely start drinking beer by 6:30am. Sometimes they even bring an esky (“cooler” in American); it’s a big esky. They’re a pretty quiet bunch, at least until the second can or so, and the only conversation I’ve ever followed was an entertaining discourse on the correct preparation of frozen chicken nuggets and “square meat pies”, whatever they are. There are several boarding houses in Sandgate and Shorncliffe, and I’ll admit that I alternate between disgust at the beer-and-cigarettes-for-breakfast regimen and unfettered admiration for their carefree lifestyle. They’re like Bayside Bukowskis without the poetry, although that chicken nugget story came close.
But it’s the non-humanoid park-lovers that really mess with the tranquility. A variety of native bird species, all of them gregarious with their own kind but downright hostile with others, call the park home — and they don’t like to share. Scavenging purple swamp hens and dusky moorhens leave the lagoon to squabble over junk-food wrappers, periodically unleashing what must be among the bird world’s most unsettling shrieks. The calistemon (bottle brush) trees shading my bench are in constant motion and commotion as rainbow lorikeets divest their blooms of nectar and pollen, chattering between gulps. Noisy miners furiously attempt to drive them from their backyards.
A few ibis are always patrolling the lawn, the more enterprising individuals probing the garbage cans with their formidable beaks. Like the magpie which regularly visits my picnic table for a few crumbs (this is one magpie that won’t come diving at my eyeball next Spring), they’re quiet, at least, but the noisy miners will harass them anyway till they split the scene in frustration. The only bird that every other species can agree on hating is the crow. It’s always fun to watch the smaller birds dog-fighting (excuse the mixed metaphor) with a hapless crow till the park is safe again.
But the little corellas own that park, and they know it. Says Wikipedia:
The call consists of high pitched notes and screeches somewhat similar to the sulphur-crested cockatoo. Large flocks will call simultaneously and can create a deafening screeching sound audible from several kilometres away.
Those “large flocks” number several hundred at least. A clump of melaleucas (paper-barks) and a few taller eucalypts are favoured hangouts. A flock (or more than one — who can tell?) move in most mornings, smother the canopies in white feathers and shriek and screech for ages:
Like all cockatoos they seem highly intelligent as well as gregarious. I’ve had many a Skype session interrupted by their squabbles, and periodically a kind of collective unease seems to build in the group…
..till it reaches critical mass and the entire flock takes to the air in a collective, shrieking madness, circling the park a few times in a fluid, feathered swarm, usually returning to rest — or whatever passes for rest — before the next episode:
It’s fascinating to ponder what kind of organisation, if any, is at work during these episodes — what triggers them, who leads them and what their function is. Crowd psychology and all that, the madness of the group, the following of orders, moral panics, contagious hysteria. Then again, maybe it’s all perfectly organised and logical. Just this morning a group of apparently sane humans gathered at the waterfront to race penny-farthings along the waterfront as far as Woody Point. Put any large group of animals together and sooner or later they’ll start doing some weird shit.
A while back I was in the park, on a weekend morning, alone but for the birds and a couple helping their little girl get a kite into the air despite a pretty uncooperative breeze. This was an especially cool kite…
..albeit the kind that seemed designed to give a kid nightmares.
As soon as that shark was airborne, something fascinating happened. The corellas perched nearby became extremely agitated; presumably the large black shape hovering not far from their social club resembled a hawk, eagle or particularly diabolical crow. You could feel the ripples of unease in the flock mutate into outright panic.
Suddenly the flock took off in a cacophonous scramble and began swooping and circling the shark…
..in a dazzling display of the safety-in-numbers principle.
It was better than any air show, although, disappointingly, there was no crash. The shark continued its patrol quite nonchalantly, and after a few minutes the corellas retreated, or at least retired, to their perches, their show of force complete.
It wasn’t quite over, though. Perhaps the avian version of drawing straws had occurred, or maybe a bold individual was making a bid for leadership. It might have been simple reconnaissance. He or she took off solo from the trees and returned to joust with the enemy one last time, hovering close, shrieking a few times…
..before returning in glory to its appreciative tribe.
The shark, unperturbed, dipped and fluttered a few more times, before the family hauled the line in, landed their catch, and wandered off. They hadn’t shown any obvious interest in the drama in the skies, but that was just one of dozens of cool things I’ve seen from my front-row bench.
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote