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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Friday, March 18, 2005

Flying flowers

(This picture added on October 4, 2005 after getting a camera in May)

Yesterday I showed a fuzzy webcam shot of John Gould, my exquisite flatmate, and promised to chat a bit more about this spectacular species of bird, known sometimes as Chloebia gouldiae and at others, Erythrura gouldiae.

Gouldian finches were once one of the most common finches throughout the savannah woodlands across the vast expanses of Northern Australia. Now they're listed as an endangered species due to the fact that Gouldians are now restricted to a few small and scattered populations. Bad land management practices have severely damaged the habitat of this beautiful little bird, and it's now locally extinct in many areas.

Grazing by cattle, feral horses and pigs, burning of nest trees, exotic disease, effects of nasal parasites, past trapping for the international caged bird trade, and inappropriate fire regimes, all seem to have some part to play in the fact that only a couple of thousand birds exist in the wild. Sometimes even government agencies in recent times have been reponsible for habitat removal. Last century, countless Gouldians were exported for the world's cages, but although legal harvesting of Gouldian finches ceased in the 1980s, still the species is in decline.

Just as the birds' Latin names are mixed up, so are the common monikers. Sometimes they are called Painted finches, or Rainbow finches. Our cousins in the USA seem sometimes to call them Lady Gouldian finches. This is because they were described by the great 19th-century British naturalist and artist, John Gould, who named them after his wife and colleague, Elizabeth Gould. However, for Mrs Gould to have been a lady, wouldn't hubby first have to have been a lord or baronet? As far as I know, he wasn't. I don't think he was even a knight. (If you know more, please let me know.) So, if we are to call them anything other than Gouldians, they should probably be Mrs Gouldians, but Lady Gouldians does sound pretty nice. There is a similar practice in Sydney, where a certain small headland on the harbour, Mrs Macquarie's Chair, is commonly called Lady Macquarie's Chair. A couple of centuries ago, Governor Macquarie's wife used to sit down there and enjoy the view, but she was never a Lady, simply a Mrs, as Lachlan Macquarie was only a Mr.

By the way, I will probably get John a mate some day, and I guess she will have to be Elizabeth. I do hope my brother and sister don't mind, because those are their names as well. Perhaps I should call the birds Lord and Lady to make up for the lack of deserved regal honours that were accorded to probably, with John James Audubon, equal first as the world's greatest bird artist.

John doesn't belong here at Sandy Beach, several thousand kilometres south-west of the Top End of Australia. He is a northern interloper, just as I am a southern one. I can't claim that I have him living in the cabin for purposes of saving his dying species. Nor can I claim that either he or I should be living in this habitat which is not and never has been ready for our presence. But we are here, and as long as venemous snakes don't ever slither inside in order to have a rainbow-coloured midnight snack, John will remain. Six Zebra finches in the outdoor aviary were lost last year to a marauding Carpet python, but as those aren't poisonous it was not a scary proposition. However, when the aviary was full I had a visit at the door -- this door, four feet from where I am typing -- from a venemous Red-belly black snake, and I don't care to have those under my bare feet.

See you tomorrow. John's flying all around the cabin and looks like he might be hungry, and I know I am.

Information sheet (PDF file)
Gouldian Finch Recovery Project
Images of Gouldians on stamps of 20 countries
Australian bird stamps
Australian endangered finches


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