20.04.2008 - 10.05.2008 20 °C
A California condor soars over Pinnacles National Monument
First off, most will have heard about the terrible wildfires currently raging in Central California. A mostly uncontained fire is burning through the Ventana condor sanctuary, endangering the flock we’ve worked so hard to reintroduce along with this year’s three wild nestlings. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone being affected by the fires and with those helping to fight them.
I’m pushing the six-month mark in Oz these days, which I can hardly believe. I’ve beaten my records for time spent out of Oregon, out of the country, and off the continent, and I’m not even a quarter of the way through my time here yet. Thus far I still haven’t picked up an aussie accent, on the contrary, the slowness of speech and drawn out vowels of the aussies have comically brought out my inclination towards my dad’s southern drawl. Well, that and picking up the (excessive) use of “I reckon” which the aussies and my paternal relatives happen to share.
Not too long ago my best friend and former roommate in the US discovered a company in Melbourne that imports and delivers US foods. I received a fantastic care package in the mail containing long-missed things like canned sloppy joe sauce, Rice-a-Roni, Sobe, and country gravy mix, among other things. I know, I know, these may not be things of spectacular taste or quality that you personally might miss if you were away from home, but there’s something about not being able to get something that makes you crave the idea of it. For example, I searched Galapagos desperately for onion rings for three months, only to remember once I found them that, well, I don’t even like onion rings. That said, I do love biscuits and gravy, which Australia is sorely lacking, and so I set about making biscuits from scratch to go with that gravy mix.
Now I’ve gotten pretty good about my aussie slang. It did occur to me that our “biscuits” are their “scones” and their “biscuits” are our “cookies” or “crackers”. If I had gone to the store, I would have bought some “scones”. However, being that instead I hurriedly pulled up a recipe on the internet, I didn’t really think to check what country the web site belonged to. Who thinks of these things? It wasn’t until I had pulled my peculiarly flat “biscuits” out of the oven, scratched my head, and tasted them with a bit of gravy that I discovered I had made myself a meal of sugar cookies and gravy. Not exactly my idea of a tasty treat – but the cookies turned out excellent, if I do say so myself.
Flock of yellow-tailed black cockatoos
Aside from experimenting with my cooking, I spend a lot of time trying to get as much research experience as possible. Another grad student invited me to go bird-banding recently with the local wading-bird study group which bands and tracks many species annually. Most of the members are retired researchers or experienced bird-lovers that we fondly refer to as “twitchers”.
The day started out well with a rare day-time sighting of a common nocturnal marsupial, a brushtail possum, baby in tow. We were also lucky enough to see huge flocks of yellow-tailed black cockatoos in the wild.
To catch shore birds, we set up a cannon-net just above the high tide mark. The net is rolled up beneath seaweed and beach debris and attached at regular lengths to small projectiles. These are inserted into small cannons buried beneath the sand which can be detonated from a small blind some distance away, shooting the net out just as a flock of unwary target birds settles down in range.
Beautiful red-capped plover
The captured birds are disentangled from the net, weighed, measured, and aged, and bands are put on their legs identifying individual, species, and the location where they were banded. That day we caught a number of small plovers and tiny stints, another day my housemate Angus came along and we caught sooty oystercatchers.
Red-capped plover with band and flag
Nicole bands a sooty oystercatcher
A sooty's bright orange eye
I think I had the best job by far that first day. After the birds had been measured and banded I got to attach one final coloured flag and then toss them back into the air. They’re considerably easier to handle than a twenty-pound California condor keen on taking your hand off, but small or large, I don’t know that there’s a better feeling in the world than releasing a wild bird and watching it fly off into the sunset.
Aussie slang of the week: fangin’ it (driving at high speed), she’ll be right (it’s all good), Sparky (electrician)