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Page 202



Continuing where we left off in Alice Springs.

Of course, readers of earlier pages will be aware that the journey we embarked upon with Angie and Dave was not new to us, we'd done it all before. However, we'd promised them something very different but were constrained to starting from Emu Park, (our 'home' in Queensland) and finishing near an airport from which they could fly to New Zealand. And we had to do it all in six weeks. In retrospect, we attempted too much but I'm not sure what else we could have done - this country is just so BIG.

No use crying over spilt milk - let's go to the wonderful Desert Park in Alice Springs where the free-flying bird display is about to begin. First we receive a briefing from the birds' trainer on what to do and what to avoid while the birds are flying. We were seated in a covered stand through which the birds flew fast and low over our heads on occasion.The first and most important commandment was, When the birds are flying, thou shalt not stand up ...

To start the show the handler gave a sharp whistle and out of a dead tree stump behind him appeared an owl.

Owl

Out of a hollow tree stump appeared this Barn Owl. If it's not a Barn Owl, blame Google.

To me the highlight of any visit to the Desert Park is watching the raptors flying free and the owl was totally unrestrained. A kite followed the owl with a display of zooming and diving on a lure which its handler was swinging around his head. The bird was so fast but the handler was fast too and made the kite work for its treat! However, fabulous though it was, a wild kite joining in the show almost upstaged it.

tame kite

The trained kite swooping for the lure. Although, I'm not at all sure it is a kite, it looks much more like a hawk. Anybody help?

wild kite

. . . a totally wild kite swooped low overhead and circled to watch the show.

The trainer called out a Bush Stone-Curlew which stood by his side. The outstanding feature of these curlews is their cry. At night I defy anyone not to shiver when they hear a curlew's piercing wail. The first time I heard it I thought a small child was being murdered. The trainer tried to persuade the bird to call but it would not.

curlew


This Stone Curlew turned his or her back on the audience. His or her? It is not possible for humans to differentiate with certainty. Just as long as the birds can! The curlew seemed to be quite placid, perhaps only interested in a reward, not quite understanding the system.

We were surprised when an Australian Magpie flew over and joined the trainer. It was completely tame and would sing its beautiful carolling call whenever the trainer asked it to.

Towards the end of the show the trainer talked about bird camouflage and how one bird can avoid detection even when you look right at it. The bird in question was a Tawny Frogmouth.
Has everybody seen one? he asked. Several had not.
Well look up above you.

In the roof supports above our heads was a Tawny Frogmouth, totally still. Though we'd all looked up several times as birds flew above us, not one of us had spotted it, despite the fact that it was not in a suitable place to blend in with the background. I have seen these birds sit in a fork in a tree and they blend so well it's hard to believe. Take a look at the two pictures below and you'll appreciate what I mean.

The bird's method of defence is to trust its camouflage and remain completely motionless. Unfortunately it doesn't realise that if its immediate surroundings don't match its plumage, keeping still as danger approaches is the worst thing it can do.

Frogmouth in rafters

In the photo above it wasn't hard to spot the bird. But what about the photo below?

Frogmoth in tree

This bird is in the centre of the photo, but imagine the scene if you were below this, and many other trees, would you spot it? Well, neither did I. Someone else had to point it out. Smart arse.

The only disappointment was that a Wedgetail Eagle wasn't included in this show. They are such magnificent creatures but, used to being king of the skies, think they have no need to fear anything. However, they are no match for a motor vehicle moving at speed. We once saw a 'wedgie' meet its end when a coach in which we were travelling hit one on Kangaroo Island. The driver was devastated but the eagle left him with no option. The truth is that Wedgetail Eagles are not the smartest of birds. This becomes apparent when you approach roadkill in your car. When there's a variety of birds on the carcase, the wily crows are the first to leave and the eagle is always last, sometimes at its peril.

Now for something different. I managed to fall so far behind with my entries that I've jumped ahead and will fill in this, and the next page, as the opportunity arises. So please click twice on Next Page below to resume on Page 204.





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