July 17, 2006

Feed the Birds

[note: make sure to click on the links in this post, most of them contain pictures!]

A couple of weeks ago, Beck decided that Liz and I had to see some of the "real" Australia. I am in agreement with Bill Bryson when he says that he's confused by the Australian tendency to equate the best parts of their own country with the places where there are the least amount of people; ask an Australian where the real Australia is, and they'll point you towards the bush, the outback, or some other mostly uninhabited plot of land (of which there are a great many here).

But I say this with a generous proportion of humor (aside my confusion), because, while I love the city, the mountain she took us to was unquestionably beautiful. Mount Dandenong, out on the northeastern corner of the city's outer reaches, is a temperate rainforest, a subtropical reserve, and a little slice of eden.

When we got there, we'd been expecting cool weather, but it surprised me how cold it actually was; five or ten degrees (F) cooler than the city - I was glad that I'd brought a second layer to go under my jacket for hiking.

On the trail, and green as far as the eye could see, which wasn't that far because the forest was so dense with ferns (I found out later that this part of the mountain is called "Fern Tree Gully," a most appropriate if slightly understated title). The goal was a small waterfall just inland from the start of the trail. It had been raining, so the trails were mostly mud. Wisdom was absolutely filthy.

We hiked around for an hour or two before heading back to Beck's Yoot (a car ruggedly designed for the outback, with a snorkel for the engine and everything. And when I say rugged, I mean rugged - no power steering, and what steering it had originally the years of use had worn down. Watching Beck muscle the car where she wanted it to go was an exhilerating if somewhat frightening time).

After the bushwalk, Beck took us to a small restaurant at the foot of the mountain where we had lunch, and then fed birds. Lots and lots of birds. Parrots, more parrots, and a few cockatoos.

I was surprised at how much fun I had with the birds. Originally, I had planned to remain inside the restaurant and watch Liz, Missy, and Mackenzie through the large windows that provided ample avian protection. Then Liz kept waving me to come out and take pictures of her with the birds, and I can't resist the opportunity to photograph my wife. So out I went. She handed me the camera, the dog, and the small bag of bird seed they'd bought for a dollar, then stretched out her arms, hands cupped with a little seed in each. Immediately the birds noticed and took the appropriate action: they sat on her. Three, all at once, landed, one on each arm, and one on her head. Then the birds noticed me, and I became the next target.

I'm not quite sure why the birds liked our heads so much. Two of them rather liked my shoulder, and despite the fact that I never had seed in my hand, they planted themselves there quite often, usually after grabbing seed from Liz or Missy, and would crunch noisily away on their newfound prize. Consequently, my shoulders were covered in seed casings. A small price to pay, to be sure.

There were only three
types of birds there, and at that, two were only different by color. And one lone duck, who I think was slightly confused (the ugly parrot?) The first was the Bourke's parrot, a brilliant red parrot with blue highlights, probably the most abundant bird there. These are gentle birds, whose claws are barely noticeable when they grip your hand or shoulder - or head. The second, quite like the first, is the grass parrot, a bright green bird whose claws hurt when the bird - an obnoxious creature, by all rights - squawks the other birds away so it can grab at the seeds in your hand. More often than not, this leads to some sort of brawl, feathers flapping as birds scatter.

The last sort was the
cockatoo, a solid-white bird, save for the yellow crest of feathers on the back of its head. They're huge, comparatively speaking, with large black beaks and massive feet. Missy once had two, one on each arm, which was apparently very heavy.

All in all, a fantastic day.


Priscilla said...

Sounds like fun!!

shawna said...

I'm glad you got to experience the birds too. Looks like you guys had a blast. Nice to see a pic of Mackenzie to -- havent seen those kids in ages!

Can't wait for you guys to come visit and see some more of Australia