22 September 2015
We were driving down Bucketts Way on Sunday, and we’d just passed the turn-off to The Glen Nature Reserve. I started telling Martin about the bushwalk I’d been on in the reserve on the previous day. We had walked into the reserve along one of its many tracks, crossing and recrossing a shallow creek, yellow rocks on its bed, sudden dark pools by the side of the path. There were tall bluegums with ferns at their feet, smooth blue-white bark contrasting with the deeply textured brown bark of (and here my enjoyment in recalling the day is somewhat tempered by my ignorance) other trees. Possibly turpentines. Tiny blue and purple violets were springing up in the path. Purple, again, in the sprawling hardenbergia and the shrubby pea thingy that was everywhere. Paper daisies, their flowers about to burst out of their buds. Another vine, with starry yellow flowers, and one with a red pea flower. Black fungus frilling on just one particular tree trunk. On the other side of the track, a native clematis, its white flowers frothing. Higher up the path, where the steep slope below us held pockets of rainforest, I recognised the big green droopy leaves of a native tamarind from the rainforest at our place.
But we weren’t there for the trees so much as the birds. It was a walk led by a local man whose passion has been birds for the last 20 years. To me it was a cacophony of tweets and trills with an occasional rustling in the bush. To him it was the grey shrike thrush (the GST), the brown gerygone (tiny nondescript brown bird, hopping agitatedly through the undergrowth), the yellow thornbill (one walker said, ‘I have yellow thornbills at my place’ to which our leader replied, ‘Do you also have brown thornbills and buff-rumped thornbills?’). We saw a Wonga pigeon up ahead on the track, viewed its remarkable size through the binoculars as it wandered amiably away. We heard spotted pardalotes, and looked at their beautiful markings in the bird book. I longed to see one, high up in the canopies, to see its Indian embroidery of dots and dashes covering its head and neck and wings. We looked for its nest in the crumbling bank beside us, seeing every niche as a possible home for this tiny lerp-eating bird. We heard the Lewin’s honeyeater (the bird I’d failed to identify in our garden some time ago, with a greenish body and a white crescent behind its ear), saw the grey fantail (popularly called ‘the crazy bird’ at our place for its darting, twisting, random-looking movements in the air). During the first, lower, part of the walk the whipbirds kept us company, the male making the first call, the female replying with the whip. They disappeared some time during the slog up the hill, but as we walked down from the trig point (520 metres above sea-level) they reappeared. At that point our leader stopped us and said, ‘What’s that one?’ and it was so familiar it took us a while to realise that we were hearing bellbirds for the first time in the walk.
I didn’t get as far as telling Martin about the satisfaction of identifying the Lewin’s honeyeater. As we drove around a shallow corner, where reeds grow by the side of the road, a pair of ducks flew out. Their heavy bodies struggled to gain height. I braked. Not soon enough. Before I closed my eyes (yes!) (momentarily) I saw the panicked eye of a duck up close – very close. I saw a plump duck body full of life and pumping, terrified energy. Then I heard a loud thud. I opened my eyes to crazy cracks all over the windscreen. Unable to pull over into the deep ditches by the side of the road I kept driving. In the rear view mirror, a small inert body lay forlorn on the road.
I have a friend who writes a food blog. Last week she wrote about pigeon soup. If anyone wants to adapt her recipe and use a duck instead, I can tell you where there’s a fairly fresh one ready for cooking.