An Early Interest in Birds
Like many birders I can trace my interest in birds back to an early age. I lived on a wheat and sheep farm at Taplan in the Murray Mallee district of South Australia. This area is hot and dry and often dusty in the summer time and cool, frosty and sometimes wet in the winter time. Most times it just forgets to rain – and the farmers struggle to grow a crop or enough pasture for their sheep or cattle.
Common Farm Birds of the Murray Mallee
There were about ten acres of mallee scrub surrounding the house and sheds. This was a quite rich area for native Australian birds, especially when the mallee trees were in flower. There were always honeyeaters around, mainly Red Wattlebirds, Noisy Miners and Singing Honeyeaters. Australian Magpies, Australian Ravens, House Sparrows and Common Starlings were common around the house, garden and sheds. Thornbills, Weebills, Pardalotes, Willie Wagtails and Magpie Larks were common too. The Magpie Lark was locally called a Murray Magpie and I was always intrigued by their mud nests.
There were many rabbits in the district and sometimes these breed into plague proportions. Mice were also a problem and mice plagues come and go as well. This smorgasbord of food maintains a healthy population of raptors. Nankeen Kestrals, Black Shouldered Kites and Collared Sparrowhawks were common, the latter not welcome when there were chickens in the chook yard. Wedge Tailed Eagles are majestic birds as they soar on high; unfortunately my father occasionally shot them if they strayed too near the lambing ewes. Brown Falcons, Spotted Harriers and Little Eagles are also found in the district.
Pigeons and Parrots
The Crested Pigeon was the dominent member of its family, and they can been seen sitting on fence wires and on telephone wires throughout the region. There are a few Common Bronzewing Pigeons where the habitat is suitable and the feral Rock Dove is growing in numbers. Peaceful Doves are a delight wherever they occur and are found in this area too.
Galahs are the dominent parrot but I have also seen the stunning Major Mitchell Cockatoo in the district. Its bright pink breast and yellow and red crest bring a splash of colour to the sometimes drab mallee environment. Other common species include the Cockatiel, Mulga Parrot, Mallee Ringneck. Blue Bonnet and Budgerigar.
I never followed the hobby of my cousin Ron. He was an avid collector of bird’s eggs, in an era when this was not frowned upon; indeed, some praised him for his excellent collection. I was a little hesitant about heights – and still cautious nearly fifty years later – and birds eggs are usually found up in trees. Such a hobby never got off the ground for me. Instead, I played it safe and sound on the ground collecting bird’s feathers. Both activities are not only frowned upon these days but are probably illegal.
The feathers I identified from my brother’s field guide (Calley’s “What Bird is That”) and then I sticky taped the feathers in a spare exercise book, carefully annotated with species name, together with the date and place collected. Unknown to me at the time but I was preparing myself for a life-long passion about birds, keeping records and studying the natural environment.
I wonder what ever happened to my collection of feathers?