Thursday, January 3, 2008

Blue Faced and Pugnacious

The bird book says the Blue-faced Honeyeater is pugnacious, especially when it is caught stealing twigs from other birds' nests (Frith, 1976:468).

It was raining lightly as I walked towards the river. It has been raining on and off for a few days now which has brought life-giving moisture to this very dry region in SE Queensland. Out of the corner of my eye I felt a presence in the bush beside me and turned to see a splendid bird, wearing an eye patch of irridescent cobalt blue and a golden-olive feathered cloak. Yet as I read the description of this bird I discovered that not everyone has that opinion. Blue-faced Honeyeaters are also known as the 'Banana Bird' because of their predilection for fruit and as a consequence can damage crops and are regarded as pests. But in the riverine undergrowth this bird looked magnificient.

Sometimes drizzle, sometimes downpour, the rain is delicious. The damp dull atmosphere has pervaded the river valley where the sound of bird song is intense as it pierces the grey morning. Sharper somehow. The very melodic Butcher Bird, the dramatic chatter of Wille Wagtail, the delicious carolling of Magpies, the haunting calls of Currawong and Raven, the river is a sound feast.

Ecophilosopher and eco-musician David Rothenberg has explored the history and practice of birdsong in his book 'Why Birds Sing: A Journey into the Mystery of Bird Song' (2005) and says they sing: 'Because they can and because they must.... Songs are used to attract mates and defend territories, but the form is much more than function. Nature is full of beauty, and of music.' Listen to his delighful musical partnership with these beautiful sounds especially the beautifully lyrical Lyre Bird Suite, where the Lyre Bird's display of myriad forest sounds is spectacular and blends charismatically with the human musicianship.

Rothenberg's musical relationship with birds is described as 'interspecies' but could there also be a 'sonorific' relationship of the interspecies kind between river and bird, rain and river, as well as human and nature? In an essay entitled 'Interspecies Music', Rothenberg reflecting on the process of partnering with nature quotes the long-time animal communications and whale song researcher Jim Nollman:

'Treat the music as an invitation. Visualize the bond of time and place as a sanctuary filled with music. Feel what it means to get on whale time. Don't try to communicate; remain humble to the fact that music — especially "beautiful music" — is a judgment call. That rare bird known as the interspecies musician learns to meet the animal halfway, two species willing to play in the same band, if but for a moment. It frolics with our basic conception of what it means to be both human and animal.'

The interconnection between human and nature is fluid, boundaryless, an intermerging of one in the other and the other in one resplendent in the magical symphony between Lyre Bird and David Rothenberg. Have a listen.

Frith HJ, 1976, Reader's Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds, Surry Hills, NSW, Reader's Digest Services Pty Ltd.
Rothenberg D, 2005, Why Birds Sing: A Journey into the Mystery of Bird Song, New York, Basic Books.