EARLY RISERS

Our residence in Allen Road has a history dating back to April 2001 when we initially inspected the vacant block [the tin shed was empty at the time].  The house, from a Toowoomba “house yard,” was moved in situ the following year; weekends were fully occupied in renovating, first the exterior, later the interior.  In March 2005 Fay left her position with QML [after more than 20 years with the company] to take up employment with a small research company attached to PCA in Kingaroy.  I sough, and was granted, a teaching transfer into the region at the end of 2005.  The renovations to the house and improvements to the property in general continued, still continue to this day.

The Backyard List starts from that first cursory inspection back on 13 April 2001.  In those early days, when we still lived in Redcliffe and merely visited on every second or third weekend –and that, after all, was the original purpose of the property, a place to which we could escape when the inclination came- we recorded the birds for the sheer pleasure of learning which species we had as permanent residents, as seasonal migrants or as accidental occurrences.  Those early data entries are basic presence/absence records.

They evolved to include numbers present, behaviours noted, etc.  No doubt one day Fay and I will collate the growing mass of data, design a few pertinent graphs to highlight the major trends and perhaps even offer the resulting mass for publication.  Bird Journal makes the earlier processes much simpler these days.

In more recent times, while the steady accumulation of data for its own sake continues, Fay and I have come to recording the early morning avian risers.  Not the songs themselves [we don’t have the equipment to venture along that path] but the actual species involved in our local Dawn Chorus.

If you asked the average Australian, birder or non-birder, to venture a guess as to which species would be “Top of the Dawn Chorus Pops,” I’d be more than mildly surprised if the over-whelming response was anything other than Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae.   Many of the Indigenous peoples of Australia share the same Dreamtime tale of how the Spirits, having discovered the wonder of sunrise, asked Kookaburra if he would herald its arrival each morning so that all the creatures could enjoy this phenomenon.

And, of course, within certain caveats, they are all right.  On average, over the space of a year, the Laughing Kookaburra is almost invariable the earliest precursor of dawn.  Almost always… but not quite always.

It is, on occasions, bettered by other species.  The Masked lapwing Vanellus miles springs immediately to mind.  The Maned Duck [still referred to by many as the Australian Wood Duck] Chenonetta jubata is another serious contender for the title of Early Bird Champion.  The humble Australian Magpie Cracticus tibicen and Torresian Crow Corvus orru have been known to call before old kookaburra stirred from his slumbers.  Even the diminutive Willie Wagtail Rhipidura leucophrys was once heard well before the official setting for sunrise, albeit from across the other side of Allen Road where neighbours were holding an all-night party.  The Pied Currawong Strepera graculina was among the first early risers recorded to have ousted the Laughing Kookaburra from it near unassailable throne.

On at least two occasions in January this year alone the Common Bronzewing Phaps chalcoptera has pipped them all to the post.  The Pacific Koel Eudynamys orientalis, a summer migrant, has been recorded as the earliest caller on at least one occasion in the past couple of years.

Yet, in spite of all these excepti0ns to the case, as already stated, in general, at least along Allen Road, the Laughing Kookaburra can often call several times prior to any other bird acknowledging the advent of dawn.

Julian Bielewicz

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