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Birds and Being title
By Graham Warne

binoculars imageI HAVE ALWAYS been fascinated with birds. As a youngster I bred canaries in “converted” packing cases, using old wire strainers for nest. I particularly used to love the fledgling stage, when the bird had just become feathered, yet was still only a miniature model and not ready for flight. Then, of course, the moment of flight arrived. I tried to imagine what it must be like for a bird leaving the nest for the first time, leaving its place of security and launching itself out into space. Then, at sixteen, I left the security of home with all my belongings in two suitcases, bound for college hundreds of miles away. I was launching into life on my own! I’d left my nest!

Many years later, when my wife and I had young children, we bred budgies. Again, the family was fascinated by the miracle of life itself, and the emergence of the fledglings from their breeding box.

As adults our bird watching has matured, with the assistance of a pair of binoculars. Now we are able to observe the birds in their own environments, just being themselves. There are hundreds of “stories” to tell. I watch fascinated at tiny reed warblers, shy, timorous, reclusive, hiding in the deep reed beds, yet singing their little hearts out! They are heard long before they are seen!

Golden Whistler image Then there are the spectacular and flamboyant. The Golden Whistler with its brilliant yellow and black bib, frustrating and tantalizing as it sings from a hidden perch, high in the thick foliage. Yet, once located, it is an indescribably beautiful creature. The Regent Bower bird, also a stunning yellow and black, is no less beautiful. Yet all this pales into insignificance alongside the spectacular courting display of the iridescent Paradise Rifle bird! These represent nature at its most flamboyant and extravagant.

Yet even plain black and white can have its own fascination. The relatively small magpie lark struts past my office window in its quest for food. It is small but plucky. On one occasion I observed a female Koel (cuckoo) raiding one of their nests, with a lark’s egg in her beak. Later she would return and lay her own egg in its place and entrust its nurture to the poor larks. The plucky larks tried in vain to ward off the cuckoo, which was much larger, and engaged in a hopeless aerial dogfight mission to prevent it…the urge to defend its own far stronger than any sense of self-preservation.

pull-out quote imageThen there are the air shows! One day, standing on top of a remote mountain with an American friend, two big boys could not resist the urge to cast a stone deep into the gorge below. As the stone came crashing down, to our amazement, two wedge-tailed eagles rose from the forest and began soaring above us. They soared higher and farther, until eventually they disappeared over the horizon! We stood awestruck, overcome, and so humiliated by these majestic creatures, whose serenity we had disturbed. Eagles soaring! How they lift the human spirit! Yet it is not only eagles! I have watched for hours as Australian Pelicans have soared on a strong sea breeze…their huge wings outstretched and almost motionless. They were not hunting; they were doing it for the sheer pleasure, surfing the winds, just for the fun of it. They were enjoying just “being”. These are the free spirits, perfectly one with the rhythm of life, the winds and skies and seas.

For years I had a recurring dream that I was soaring above the earth like those birds. I guess I identify with the sense of freedom they enjoy, as they follow the rhythms of day and night, the changing seasons, the ebb and flow of nature’s moods. And that is where bird watching begins to touch my spirit and my spirituality. There is a deep yearning within us to be in harmony with our world, to learn how to flow with the diurnal cycle, the cycle of seasons, the cycles of our own moods and temperaments. It is not always easy, yet it is by far the most satisfying to “just be”, enjoying God’s world, and God’s creatures.

Soaring Eagle image Without doubt, my bird watching lifts me out of myself and opens an awareness of the transcendent. The beauty I see in birds transports me into an aesthetic world of colour and form and shape that lies beyond any human creation. The natural art of the bird world leaves human artists and fashions in the shade. I am caused to reflect on the Source of Beauty, and can understand something of the platonic “Perfect Good”, of which this world is but a pale shadow. Certainly one cannot “prove” the existence of a Divine Being, even ontologically. Yet there are unmistakeable pointers to that which is transcendent and indescribably beautiful in itself… if we have the eyes to see.

Oh well, one must eventually come back to earth, to the mundane life of the office desk, to papers, and forms and duties. Yet there are always the birds, God’s special ambassadors, to remind us of beauty beyond ourselves, of life which flourishes despite oppression, and the simple delight in just being, for the very sake of it!

For another meditation on birds read Birds of a Feather.

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