|By Graham Warne
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
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!
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.
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.
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
another meditation on birds read Birds
of a Feather.