A Sandy Beach Almanac

You've landed at Sandy Beach, NSW, Australia: Lat. -30.15331, Long. 153.19960, UT +10:00 – local map & zoom Google map. I live in a cabin on this beach, 25 kilometres north of the traffic and shops of Coffs Harbour, 600 km north of Sydney. My intention is to post observations of Nature and life within 1 km (1,000 paces) of my South Pacific home.


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Thursday, January 06, 2005

Beautiful noise

Web duties have kept me indoors much of the time today, but any possibility of Dame Nature being completely ignored was broken by a flock of Rainbow lorikeets screeching outside, obviously happy with something -- perhaps the few drops of rain that had fallen. They flew past with their customary Boeing speed and planeload-of-whingeing-pommy-immigrants cacophony.

(Now, before English readers jump on me, I am not anti-pom! You guys are great, and the fact that you drink warm, sudsy beer is scarcely an issue with me and I never mention it. In fact, today I proudly twinned Sandy Beach Almanac with Rosemary Lane on the Isle of Wight. This is a special service to our bi-littoral readers -- not that there's anything wrong with it.)

The Rainbow lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus, entirely unrelated to the Rainbow trout, by the way) is as squawky as it is beautiful. It's a medium-sized parrot of the genus Trichoglossus, meaning 'hairy tongue', because of its adaptation for sucking nectar from flowers, and playing the bagpipes.

My mate Baz le Tuff has asked me to point out that lorikeets get drunk on nectar and behave badly. "They should be Australia's national symbol not the dozey, evolutionarily doomed koala", writes le Tuff, failing to explain why a dozey, evolutionarily doomed creature isn't highly appropriate for that distinction. It's true that the birds have been observed flying over the limit. One explanation is that they have imbibed fermented nectar; another is that some flowers (such as those of the Coral tree, Erythrina), contain intoxicating alkaloids, or so I have heard but don't quote me. Anyway, they shouldn't drink fly, not that it's easy to get a designated flyer in summertime.

Rainbows often pair for life and flock in groups of between two and 50 by day, to several hundred when night falls and it's time to roost. They can live for twenty years or so, remarkable considering being paired for life.

There's no doubt about it, they might sound like the bastard offspring of a donkey and a rusty gate, but their beauty is unsurpassed. So beautiful are they that we Australians, in our customary embarrassing way, like to claim them as our own, and Rainbow lorikeets do in fact range widely across eastern and northern Australia, in the coastal regions where there's plenty to drink -- a well-known national characteristic. But these pretty guys are much more cosmopolitan than just being Aussies, and they don't just speak with Australian accents, however it may sound to the undiscerning ear.

As a matter of fact, Rainbow lorikeets have featured on the stamps of some of the other nations they inhabit, such as Indonesia, Solomon Islands, Papua-New Guinea, ... et Nouvelle Caledonie et Vanuatu aussi, monsieur et madame!. Some caged ones apparently got free (yay!!!!) in New Zealand, where their numbers have increased to such an extent that they're an ecological and agricultural pest (boo!!!!), like Aussie possums on that side of the ditch. Our Kiwi cousins have declared the poor little blokes an 'Unwanted Organism', making lorikeets seem more like Legionnaires' Disease than polychromatic jewels of the sky. New Zealanders, huh? And the Bible reckons that Palestinians are philistines.

Like many people of my acquaintance -- and this is a universal observation, not a slight on New Zealanders, whose charmingly quaint and endemic paranoia will now be fully engaged -- lorikeets have two basic threads of conversation. When they fly, they often screech, and when they feed, they chatter. When I lived on Palm Beach down south, it was in a similar but larger cabin beneath a hugely towering Silky oak (Grevillea robusta, known for its floral abundance) and that's when millions of the multicoloured birds first brought to mind the donkey/gate analogy. C'est vrai, mes amis, sometimes I could have strangled the whole tribe, were they not so damned hard to catch.

However, they can squawk as much as they like, as long as they look as good as they do. I know, I know, we blokes are so shallow. But we're good at moving fridges and getting things off high shelves.


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