Saturday, September 29, 2007

Spoonbills on the Tide

On the trail we meet one of the regular river walkers with her black and white dog. 'Have you seen anything exciting today?' she asks. And I tell her of the wonderful bird we saw at the mouth of Sandy Creek.

The tide is out. Only a little water is flowing in the Creek - but right at its mouth a Royal Spoonbill is working the mud from side to side. It's the first I've seen along this stretch of the river. Wading among the mangroves, the Spoonbill is searching for small fish and crustaceans. The bird books says that these gorgeous birds are nomadic and fly in formation similar to Ibis. And while I have seen flocks of Ibis fly across the city, I have not yet seen a formation of Spoonbill.

Ibis can often be seen fossicking around the river. But today I spy them in what seems like quite an unusual place. Not far from the river we pass by a swimming pool where many of the locals are lined up to go for a swim. Several Ibis and Black Ducks are already sitting on the water, while others wait at the edge of the pool. No humans are in sight. It looks like the birds have taken over and they're having one gigantic water party.

Being on the river is so uplifting. Each day there is so much to see. The Brush Turkeys are guarding their mammoth mound, the Lorikeets and Rosellas are flying from one honey tree to the next, the Corellas and White Cockatoos are screeching through the treetops, Noisy Mynahs are annoying the Currawongs, while the beautiful song of the Coucal and Butcher Bird ring out across the water - this place is a haven for human as well as bird.

In the 1890s the remarkable William James noted that when we are attentive we can change the way we think about things and the way we feel. Restoration researcher Stephen Kaplan has used this theory of attention to show how our experiences in the natural world lead to improved attention and mental restoration including a reduction in feelings of fatigue and stress. These changes are affected by the type and quality of the environment (wild, bushy, green), the involvement we have with the environment, our familiarity with the place as well as the amount of time we spend there (Kaplan, 1995; 2001).

The lesson from his research? Spend time in beautiful places in nature. Be immersed in birdsong and the generous movement of the tides.

James W, 1890, 1983, The Principles of Psychology, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.
Kaplan S, 1995, 'The Restorative Benefits of Nature: Toward an Integrative Framework,' Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15, 169-182.
Kaplan S, 2001, 'Meditation, Restoration and the Management of Mental Fatigue,' Environment and Behavior, 33, 480-506.