Recently, while sitting under a tree in the Domain, trying to eat an egg sandwich, I was attacked by a Noisy Miner. Claws in the head. Several times. With one arm helicoptering desperately above me to ward it off, I used the other arm, having dumped the egg sandwhich in my lap, to gather nearby twigs and stick them into my hairclip. This made a crown of thorns, of sorts, but didn’t stop the attacks. It did keep the claws out of my head though. Unfortunately the thorns didn’t come with silicone comfort tips. My only consolation was that I wasn’t this native Australian honeyeater’s only victim. As I walked away, I watched several of its other victims clutching their skulls in agony.
Luckily, not all my encounters with birds are of the schlock horror variety. The other night, I watched four Bull Bulls scampering around on the branches of the dragon palm outside my window. I think they were settling in for the evening. It involved a lot of loud chhhheeeeping!!!!!! chhhheeeeping!!!!!! chhhheeeeping!!!!!! and screeeeeching!!!!! and pushing!!!!! each other off branches. Not too different, I guess, to what goes on in most suburban homes at bedtime. They eventually quietened down and by then it was dark and I could no longer see anything through the window except my own reflection. Hopefully that didn’t keep the birds awake for too long. When I fell asleep, I dreamt about them. My disembodied self, zoomed in on their tiny claws which were clasping the branch just in case a gale sprang up. (N.B. Birds don’t actually hang onto a branch like we would. Their talons automatically lock into position as the ankle and knee joints bend. This isn’t released until they straighten their legs again.) In my dream, I watched them sleep: their feathers fluffed up for warmth, their heads tucked right down into their shoulders, and their eyes ready to flick open at the slightest sound, just in case a cat sprang up.
And only a little while ago, while standing at the rail on the top deck of the Manly ferry, I was joined by a flock of seagulls (not the band, the birds). I wasn’t on the Freshwater but one of the smaller Emerald class catamarans. I love the big old ferries. They make the seven-mile journey across the harbour to Manly feel like an early twentieth century voyage across an ocean. However, I’ve come to appreciate the unique excitement of travelling past the Heads on a smaller boat, waiting to be catapulted into the swell. On this night the moon was full, lighting a bright path across the harbour. So, if I had suddenly been thrown off, I would’ve been clearly visible in the water, arms wildly helicoptering above my head, thanks to the earlier opportunity to practice warding off danger.
But that didn’t happen. Instead I watched the seagulls, just a silver tipped wingspan away from me, as they glided exuberantly in the slipstream of the ferry. They were so close, I could clearly see their white feathered underbellies, and their webbed orange feet, tucked in for flight. Occasionally a seagull would accidently swerve onto deck space as the boat navigated the waves. One by one, they flipped back on the wind, spiraling downwards like miniature kamikaze planes. Each time, just before touching the water, they pulled themselves miraculously out of the dive and back into formation. It was an amazing performance. Were they hunting? Or just using the vessel’s momentum to save energy? Why not just sit on the roof and relax? But then why miss the joy ride? They travelled with us all the way to the Quay where we parted ways as they flew under the Harbour Bridge and onwards to some night roost in the inner harbour.
If you’re thinking that these sleek silver-feathered things I’m describing don’t sound like any seagull you’ve ever met, then I totally agree with you. I put this anomaly down to the enchantment of the high seas, where wind and water often return us to wildness. Closer to home, I’ve had plenty of not so magical encounters with this orange footed scavenger. It’s availed itself of my beach-side breakfast many a time. And who hasn’t witnessed the swarm of seagulls over a chip? But one of my favourite memories is from a few years ago when their squawking aggressive nature was on full display. On that day, I was walking along the waterfront at Rose Bay when I found myself rescuing a seagull from a nasty tangle of fishing line; and in return it rescued me.
I wrote about that adventure here.
Attributions: *‘Hope is the thing with feathers’ by Emily Dickinson https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/42889/hope-is-the-thing-with-feathers-314
Images in order of use: Bilby, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons; Aditya Pal, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons; Authors own; Glen Fergus, CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons; OSX, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons