Whistling Bliss


THE BIRDS call a community council meeting in the evening at Sun Point, a desolate strip of scrub land on the west side of the Long Lake that catches Devine sunsets. The reeds give the ducks and their cousins cover, the lakeshore broadleaf trees grant a stadium of perches, and the rocky shoreline offers ringside seats.

The native birds crowd around together on a fine oak. Natives stay to themselves, not wishing to be out-competed by the blow-ins, or catch any foreign disease they could carry.

Also the natives fear they will be outnumbered by the non-indigenous avians, yet they tolerate these blow-in birds because they add colour to the place, bring a bit of the exotic with them, and so enhance the natural aesthetic.

The hooded crows remain on the next tree. The native keep their distance, viewing the growing number of these hoodies as more trouble than the blow-ins.

Whatever the community council decides, no action will be taken unless the natives want it.

The natives are deep-rooted in these fertile shorelands, are very protective of their territory, and speak proudly of the heritage of their habitat, a refined area in which to roost, and a paradise hidden from the stressed-out world. They also do not relish the population increase in the lower orders since the two-legged creatures pulled back from openly shooting the crows and magpies.

All the elected bird representatives fly in. But it is hard to keep a bird’s brain attentive for more than a few fleeting moments. The crows and gulls can pay attention for the longest time. Even the cormorant has to be told to stop dancing in the sunshine, and pay attention.

“Eagles killing the old coot is the last straw,” loudly craws Smartcraw, the new leader of the hooded crows.

The hoodie’s voice captures every bird’s attention. Smartcraw perches beside his deputy-leader, Newcraw, and amid a cluster of hoodie henchmen who solemnly nod their heads, showily obeying their new boss. Magpies, non-natives with no natural predators, sit alongside the hoodies and also soberly bow their heads.

“Eh, emmm,” says Mature Curlew from his long decurved bill. He is a senior native, who takes his time to reason things out, and the birds all watch his distinctive bulky, greyish-brown body with bold dark streaks. “The duck population has exploded on the Long Lake since the two-legged creatures erected platforms in the reeds, ideal nesting sites for our quacker cousins.”

“Creatures are septic,” craws Smartcraw.

“Some creatures are sympathetic,” answers Mature Curlew in an ascending whistle while standing to his tallest on his long legs.

There are over ten thousand bird species on Earth, and across the globe hundreds of millions of sympathetic creatures feed the winged visitors in their gardens, while the septics annually consume ninety million tons of bird meat and sixty million tons of eggs.

“Some sympathetics are as beautiful as birds,” says the kingfisher, a new resident, and many females coo at the beauty of him.

“Forget beautiful,” states Smartcraw. “Back to business.”

“Why should we share our world with creatures?” asks Newcraw. “There is no common ground, so we must stay aloof, and creatures must get off the planet.”

“Some creatures love birds,” adds the Kingfisher, and many aerials fall in love with the exquisiteness of him.

“Forget love,” responds Smartcraw.

“Their love for us is vain,” sternly states Newcraw. “The creatures think our life is simply about feeding on bugs, and flying on to leave them gaping at an empty sky. They are in for a shock.”

“The creatures are wiping out birds,” says a sandpiper with a foot missing; shorebirds lose limbs from catching them on nets, wires and junk scattered along the coastline.

“I can sympathize with you,” says Mature Curlew, whose much-loved species is fast vanishing. Curlews have suffered a ninety per cent wipeout of their population over past three decades due to industrialization of agriculture and forestry.

“Forget sympathy,” demands Smartcraw. “Back to business.”

“I fear,” sighs Mature Curlew, and all listen to his pained voice. “I truly fear that this alarming decline in the number of birds is but a herald of a coming cull of creatures. Nine out of ten curlews are gone; nine out of ten creatures could also soon be dead.”

“I had a friend, a spider …” begins a little goldchrest.

“A spider!” many birds cough.

“Forget spiders,” says Smartcraw. “Back to business!”

The hoodies and magpies nod their heads in agreement.

“What is the world coming to?” asks Mature Curlew. “First the weather is changing, and now birds choose to play with spiders instead of eating them.”

“I didn’t eat my friend. A creature cleaning with a sucking-stick swallowed her up.”

“Forget sucking-sticks,” demands Smartcraw. “Back to business.”

The hoodies and magpies again nod their heads in agreement.

“Since creatures made machines,” says Mature Curlew, “they’ve become far less skilled at socialising with the natural world.”

“Forget the natural world,” loudly craws Smartcraw. “Back to business. Eagles kill every bird, every mammal, every fish, every spider, every creature-cub …”

“Eh emmmmm,” interrupts Mature Curlew. “Surely, you cannot believe the rumours you are spreading … creature-cubs?”

“Curlew, it could be you next!” snarls Smartcraw, who hops up, and lands back so his claws thump the branch loudly. “Shut it, Curlew. I am speaking to the assembly.”

Hoodies and magpies make a point of nodding their heads so every bird can see them.

“We are all doomed,” pleads a corncrake. “The bees are disappearing.”

“The creatures are murdering bees by spreading new pesticides,” says a shy woodcock. “This year they have killed three quarters of the hives.”

“Forget bees!” shouts Smartcraw, who knows that the harsh winter has wiped-out the vast majority of the honeybee population, and years of constant wet weather, plus varroa mites, have also contributed to the bee crisis, which could cause a global food crisis with too few pollinators left alive, but Smartcraw is bursting to seed his grand plan. “We are here to debate killing eagles!”

Smartcraw hates the white-tailed sea eagles who have returned to the Long Lake after their species was hunted into extinction one hundred years ago. The hoodies and magpies now make a real performance of nodding their heads in unison to show agreement with their new chief.

A group of good-humoured yellow wagtails mimic the head bowing hoodies, and also nod their heads up and down, but turn it into fun. A chaffinch bends its coppery-coloured chest and bobs to the rhythm of the wagtails, and a blackbird cannot resist the head-nodding tempo of the smaller birds, so he begins to sing.

“Stop! Silence!” craws Smartcraw. “Stop nodding your heads. An eagle would eat you all in one gulp!”

Smartcraw frowns at the yellow wagtails. The little ones coyly lower their heads, and turn away from the angry face on the hooded crow.

“This concerns everyone, even you blow-ins,” Smartcraw glares at the willow warblers, the commonest migrants who summer on the Long Lake.

Smartcraw turns his hooded head to the swallows, before staring at two common sandpipers, also immigrants from sunnier southern lands.

“Eagles attack everyone, blow-ins and natives!” Smartcraw stares at the native birds.

They turn around to each other, but none of the natives will chirp another twitter into the debate since Smartcraw’s slight on their highly-respected Mature Curlew.

The world is changing rapidly enough that even the natives are worried, they see bird populations dropping, and the numbers of migratory waterbirds falling. Some species, because of the two-legged creatures, have seen their populations plummet by eighty per cent in only the past twenty-five years.

“Eagles would kill everything, if they could,” states Smartcraw.

“Chirr,” goes a cocky robin, and repeats, “chirr, chirr,” as if he is having a laugh, and his warbling giggles carry through the air.

“Stop! You think this is funny?” interrupts Smartcraw.

The robin terminates his chirping. It is evening and he really wants to sing. He’s a vociferous songbird all year round, but he stops puffing out his red breast, and looks away from the fuming face of the hoodie.

“Every bird; eagles eat you all,” continues Smartcraw.

He glares over at the natives, who look around at each other, and find that some of them are nodding their heads in agreement, but most are insulted by Smartcraw’s ignorance and bigotry. They can see through his political playacting to grab a hot issue.

The natives know that the issue does not matter whether it is eagles or insecticides, because Smartcraw is only out to grab power, and who knows, he might even be arrogant enough to try for king of the birds.

“Together!” stomps Smartcraw. “Yes together, we can rid our airs of these evil eagles. Are you with me?”

The gulls, hoodies and magpies yelp and craw out their agreement, but the natives say nothing. They do not wish to risk irking the eagles. Naturally, they are fearful after hearing the dark rumours of Hardcraw’s endcraw – the former crow leader had a terrible death in the claws of an eagle he had attacked.

The natives know that not even with all of them working together could they take on the two newly-arrived eagles, and win.

No, the eagles are too strong, and will become stronger, but they are out on the islands with plenty of fish around them, and they have not really bothered the natives. Without saying a word, the natives decide, as usual, that the best action is no action.

“We must all attack together, and kill these eagles now!” demands Smartcraw, whose dark, greyish-brown eyes scan from his right, and as each bird comes into the direct line of his sight, they lower their heads from his intimidations; a dove tucks its head under a wing rather than look at the forbidding hoodie.

“All out war!” Smartcraw declares his grand plan: a military campaign against the raptors.

Smartcraw knows that this is but a ploy to win him a personal victory over the eagles so he can go on to become the boss of birds, and the name Smartcraw will live forever in birdlore, and personal wealth will fledge from his rulership.

“We must declare all-out war. By all birds on the eagles!” Smartcraw stomps his claw three times on the words: war, birds, and eagles.

A blackbird cannot stop itself from turning Smartcraw’s three thumps into a beat, and starts singing to it. A cocky robin goes, “tuk, tuk,” to another, and other robins join the chorus with a repeating, “chirr,” laughing to each other.

A curlew adds an ascending two-note call, and the sparrows join in. The female sparrows are not only chattering, but also gauging the weaknesses and the mental strengths of their guys from their shrills.

“Silence!” shouts Smartcraw. “My plan …”

But now the song thrushes trill, wagtails whistle, and the swifts contribute from ten metres up in the sky, singing on the wing.

“Silence!” Smartcraw hollers up to the heavens, but the swifts keep singing.

Birds cannot resist the temptation to make music in the evening, no matter how serious the subject being discussed. The community council, without voting, decides nothing, except that the birds can sing.

Immediately the redshanks hysterically render their piercing, “tew ho, tew ho.”The willow warblers peel out their simple but descending whistle, and now there are birds going ‘hoo-eet’ and ‘hweet’.

Ducks are quacking, and a pheasant is hooting his ‘korr kok’. The little wrens whistle loudly. All the master songsters release with gusto their vast repertoire of buzzes, chimps, chirrups, rattles and trills.

Some songs sound simple, others are complex and prolonged. A skylark, pouring forth his rippling song, rises steeply several hundred metres and stays up for minutes singing continuously. Now the larks add their melodious tunes, and it’s full-on all-out birdsong, completely and entirely in full swing as the choir-of-feathers sing in distinctive ranges, the crows and magpies mellowing in a baritone register, while the smaller birds’ voices climb to the highest registers outside creature hearing.

The tone of some birds is a clear whistle; others have the flavour of a flute, or are as scratchy as a harsh hoodie. The songsters change pitch, some are buzzing and rising while the wrens and warblers warble in sweet descending tunes, and the songbirds trill along in steady voices.

When the thrush repeats its penetrating call twice over, the wood pigeons have to coo, and so do the doves, but when the greatest singers of them all, when the nightingales join in, the singing expands into a majestic masterpiece, a symphonic peak of pleasing sounds as birdsong hits a cooperative harmony, filling the airwaves with a whistling bliss that almost touches on celestial joy.

(More in Dazzle Eagles).


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