*Pic: Commenter John Tongue has pointed out a failure of picture choice … as he says it’d be better to have a sulphur-crested cockatoo (the kind we get here in Tasmania), instead of simply lifting from Wikipedia the shot of an umbrella cockatoo (found in Indonesia)! Thanks John …!x
When I returned to Tasmania from the UK 10 years ago sulphur-crested cockatoos, forest ravens and currawongs were few and far between around my neck of the woods in the Pipers River Valley. But, over the past couple of years, and particularly this autumn, bird flight paths seem to be shifting.
Some days the clatter of white cockatoos perched in the big gum tree on the hill behind my place has been so overwhelming conversations can be stopped and wits ended. Closer, still, are the forest ravens and currawongs, so brazen they ignore attempts to scare them out of the golden elm with a broomstick, a clap of the hands or, increasingly, a “Git outta here you rotten birds!”. Dozens of these jet black birds with glossy beaks like pliers can perch in fruit trees or descend on a paddock all at once.
En masse they seem just too darn big for a domesticated garden and I wonder why they’re not in the bush where they might be admired more. The power of Zen won’t cut the mustard with flocks of screeching cockies that seem to make the smaller, more delicate creatures in the landscape – like dusky robins, families of superb fairy wrens and the foghorn frogs – disappear. Meanwhile, the forest raven’s plaintive sunrise alarm is well timed but reminds more of death in the valley.
Last year, white cockatoos ravaged all the apples on an old heritage tree I’d been coaxing back to productive life. I know because a friend had driven past at the time and witnessed the scene. Gary told me he couldn’t believe the feeding frenzy and that there seemed to be more white cockies than apples. Most of the apples were left in pieces on the ground so it must have been more for their own entertainment than anything.
This year I was determined to beat the birds and got to net it in time. Even then I found a forest raven trapped underneath the netting trying to get his early dibs.
Travelling in packs these birds seem more ruthless, or stupid, even setting their sights on citrus trees just for the heck of it. I’ve found lemons knocked to the ground, stabbed, once, by greedy beaks, and even the Granny Smith apples I’d thought not quite ready to pick were left uneaten and turned into de-constructed patterns underneath the tree.
Plagues or overpopulations of anything test a gentle nature. Pruning, rodent-control and insect management are essential survival lessons when you live in sync with nature.
My neighbours up the road are most concerned with feral cats. While I was unloading to her about my birds, Millie told me how her friends came to visit her from interstate and overseas because of our unique wildlife. “They don’t come for our casinos,” she said, “they want to see our native animals in the wild!”
Why is there no longer a regular drug-sniffing dog to greet you at Launceston airport … ?
Millie, who originally hails from England and is now retired here, is proud to say she’s succeeded showing her visitors everything in the wild except a platypus. But she’s cockatoo mad about the feral cats and can’t understand why she hasn’t seen DPIPWE laying baits for them like she says she’s seen them laying carrot baits for rabbits up the road near her place. She knows her visitors will be disappointed if she can’t show them a bandicoot, a quoll, echidna or wallaby in the wild and Tasmania will lose what makes it different.
I don’t know how much quarantine and pest control are in our nature but friends are asking why there’s no longer a regular drug-sniffing dog to greet you at the revamped Launceston airport. A friend whose family owns a blueberry farm in the north of the state has become understandably sensitive to quarantine issues after the discovery of blueberry rust in the North West this summer. She says she was amazed when an airport dog managed to sniff out fish oil tablets in a plastic container that she’d packed inside her suitcase. But she knows people aren’t like dogs, that they’ll just ask you if you’re carrying anything prohibited and won’t open suitcases.
With incidences of serious diseases reaching Tasmania like myrtle and blueberry rust, you’d hope we’re onto it. That, as an island, our approach is routinely over-cautious than under and that it helps to come together, to care and take action when disease or infestation threaten what makes this place special.
The last thing I’d want is for white cockatoos or forest ravens to be culled because it’s as much their landscape as it is mine. But I’ve also read that cockies tend to stay in the same place for life and that they live as long as humans.
So how do I look after my heritage apple trees, and small farms look after their crops, without having to, say, invest in a gas gun or faff about with netting everything?
Perhaps there’s something in training chooks? The other day I saw my five-year-old hen, Marilyn, take off down the side of the house after a currawong carrying half an apple between its beak. She did a better job than me with a broom and cracked me up in the process.
Maybe I’ll just have to wait until the end of autumn when those blasted birds find something else to squawk about.
• Robert Middleton, US, in Comments: “What makes Tasmania different…” is certainly a perfect title for this piece. What makes Tasmania different from every other place where I have spent considerable time is that many Tasmanians apparently don’t seem to value the life of any creature – plant or animal, unless it is a human. …
• Andrew Ricketts, in Comments: Hilary raises the difficult but important and complex question of living in sync with nature. What does that mean? What does it entail? Can you do it? Do you want to do it? Some people cannot face taking the trouble to grow things without killing nature. Yes it is often harder. Yes, you have to think about it. And yes, for some the Currawong is smarter, which raises a whole set of issues. For some people nature simply threatens them. Hilary also asserts the solution as to who owns the landscape: “because it’s as much their landscape as it is mine”. To this philosophical issue my post is not directly addressed.