Australia is for the Birds

Australia is for the Birds was originally published in 2004 by ‘The Coastal Passage’.

Cockatoo lands on Peregrine.
click photos to enlarge
I think I was in third grade when I learned how to sing “Kookaburra” and “Waltzing Matilda”. We also learned a little about Koalas, kangaroos, platypuses, wombats and Bandicoots. Even at that age, I was an animal and nature nut, so I was hooked. I wanted to see all those weird creatures. I wanted to go to the strange island continent called Australia.

When my husband and I made landfall at Port Bundaberg last year I could hardly believe it. A childhood dream, shelved for many years, had become a reality. Those early dreams never included a vision of sailing to Australia, but life is full of surprises. I was twenty-eight before I ever set foot on a sailboat, and the first encounter wasn't all that successful. I got seasick in the dinghy on the way out to the mooring. Twenty-two years after my first boarding, Gene & I left California on our forty-three foot IOR dinosaur, Peregrine. We were off to sail the world. In truth, Gene was off to sail the world, I was just on the boat to see the world. I'm still not much of a sailor, but it's not like I don't do anything. I help a little. I feed the Sea Gods when they need appeasing, and I help to navigate by telling Gene where to go.

We had the same expectations most tourists have when they come to Oz. We expected to weave our way through kangaroos and koalas to reach the shrimp covered barbie. The guys standing around the barbie would be wearing Drizabones, and hats with one side of the brim folded up. They would touch the brim of the hat with their free hand and say, “G'day”. The other hand would be wrapped around a cold Fosters. Needless to say, none of these things occurred when we cleared customs and stepped ashore.
Actually, we did get a shrimp off the barbie. The Bundaberg Port Marina puts on a free barbie every Friday for marina guests, and a few times, Donna of “Donna's Seafood's” donated some prawns. I think I should explain the shrimp and barbie bit. I know a lot of Aussie's are unaware of Oz's tourist campaign in the USA a few years back. “Crocodile Dundee” came into our living rooms via TV and invited us to come and say, “G'day”. He said something like, “We'll throw another shrimp on the barbie.” We didn't realize that the ad had been “Americanized” until we got here and found out no one ever throws a shrimp on the barbie. A prawn maybe, but never a shrimp. No matter, Paul Hogan was so appealing that you could almost hear suitcases being packed at the end of the commercial!

I know that “The Coastal Passage” is a boating publication, but I'd like to veer off course just a bit. Sorry, but I told you I'm not a sailor. I have to tell you what it is in Australia that had captivated me from day two.

On our second day in Oz, we took the shuttle into town, and I found myself at the Bundaberg Zoo. The little zoo was very nice, but I was saddened by the way the birds were kept. The keepers there should visit the aviary at Townsville's Queen's Park to learn how to keep Cockatoos. Anyway, in the park next to the zoo, I had an hour of sensory overload. I was seeing and hearing all kinds of strange birds. A couple of Ibises were walking around. I knew they were Ibises because I had seen pictures and recognised what they were. They were so exotic, I couldn't believe they were just walking around free! I mean, surely something like that should be in a zoo! As I stood staring in fascination, a squadron of squawking fluorescent emerald things flew by me. They passed on both sides at about shoulder level, flashing in the sunlight like living jewels.

I knew they were parrots of some kind, but I didn't know they were Rainbow Lorikeets until later. My eyes were drawn to a Magpie calling from a nearby tree, and little black and white birds landed near the Ibises. There were so many strange and wonderful birds; I almost got whiplash as I looked from sound to sound.

I left the park and went to a bookstore where I made my first tourist purchase in Australia; Simpson and Day's “Field Guide to the Birds of Australia”. Since then, I have put in about a gazillion bird watching hours, acquired additional birding literature, marked off 167 species in my field guide and learned that I am a “twitcher”. Occasionally, I find myself being as blasé about these little miracles as many Aussies are. I've tracked sound with my binoculars only to find a previously sighted species and have said, "Oh, it's only a so-and-so.” I immediately feel guilty for being so ungrateful, and remind myself how thrilled I was when I saw my first so-and-so.

I know I'm not the only visitor to be enthralled by the birds. I see people with cameras trying to get a shot of the Lorikeets, or the Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, and I can't help but smile, everybody loves the parrots.

There are plenty of reasons why Australia draws sailors from around the world. It was worth sailing about 10,000 miles just to anchor in Pearl Bay for a few days. I would sail twice that distance to once more have the Sulphur Crested Cockatoos of Nara Inlet land on Peregrine.
The islands and beaches are stunning, but in my opinion, Australia's Crown Jewels are her birds.

Australian Pelican , Kangaroo with joey
Macleay's Honeyeater

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