Sunday, 23 October 2011

Fully Sic - gone, just like that.

A friend posted this pic on Facebook. I'm not sure where it came from, but I'm hoping it's in the public domain.

I can’t stop crying. A couple of hours ago it was announced that Marco Simoncelli – he of the crazy hair and the wild, give-it-everything-you’ve-got riding style, had ‘succumbed to his injuries’ after a dreadful, dreadful crash at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia. The image of his helmet bouncing across the track will stay with me for a long, long time.

I feel as if I’ve lost a friend, even though I’ve never met him. Marco, aka Hair Bear, Fully Sic, Super Sic and probably a host of other names, was a regular visitor to my lounge room throughout the motoGP season, via the magic of television. Last weekend my friend Tali was his grid girl at Phillip Island. I felt a vicarious connection with him because of that. Tali’s feeling pretty gutted right now – as are all my motorcycling friends - as am I.

We all know that motorcycling is dangerous, but we love it anyway. And even knowing how dangerous it is, we are still shattered – and, I think, kind of surprised - when we lose someone. Especially someone like Marco, who was one of the young gods of motorcycling. When they are on the track, they seem protected somehow. High speed 'offs' that would kill lesser mortals seem to have little effect on them. These young blokes achieve the impossible, race after race. They crash at horrendous speeds. They slide, they get up and more often than not, they walk away.

But not today.

Marco Simoncelli, you crazy charismatic gutsy young man - you will be fondly remembered by more people than you could imagine, and you will be sadly missed.

My heartfelt thoughts go out to Marco’s family – and to Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi, who were drawn into this awful, awful accident of Fate through no fault of their own, and who will be burdened with the memory of it forever. Hugs all round.

If you haven't yet, but would like to leave a condolence message, or read the tributes of other fans, here's a link (thanks Andrew).

Friday, 7 October 2011

Spring - and a young bird's thoughts turn to love.

Pretty in pink - the inlet just before sunrise
 Seems to me I have to revise my statements about birds every day that I am here. Yesterday I said something about birds of a feather sticking together – lorikeet with lorikeet, rosella with rosella and so on. Well… I’ve just watched what I can only assume is a very confused brush wattlebird courting a kookaburra! This is the same kookaburra, I believe, that has been hanging around the flat for the past week. The one who took the sausage. 

So - I'm making a big assumption here, given how wrong the birds keep proving me, but it appears this curmudgeonly kookaburra is a girl bird, and she's been receiving lots of attention from a randy brush wattlebird
This morning the magpies tried to exact revenge for Wednesday’s indignity, and the kookaburra flew away momentarily. When it returned, it sat on the feeder box and fixed me with a beady stare – I was sitting inside the flat at the time – and then flew into the window with a clunk that sent it plopping to the ground. It picked itself up and laughed a self-deprecating kookaburra laugh (“Aw crap, can’t believe I just did that, heh heh”) before hopping back into the tree.

And that’s when the wattlebird started doing its courting dance, fanning its tail feathers, prancing and bowing and bobbing its head, and trying to move itself into a position to, er, consummate the relationship. Imagine a Jack Russell terrier trying to lurve a Labrador, or Charlie Chaplin and Xena, Warrior Princess – that’s what it was like. When the kookaburra spurned his advances and flew away, he followed close behind, trying to mount her during flight (positively scandalous!) The pair of them have been back to my tree since then and repeated the performance, so I know it wasn’t a one off. Is this inter-species lurve commonplace in the bird world, I wonder?

A more conventional couple yesterday – a pair of rainbow lorikeets – had me blushing while I was outside feeding the king parrot. Kingy & I have become good mates now – he cosied up to me as he nibbled sunflower seeds from my hand, and the rainbow lorikeets, not game to get close enough to steal the seeds, decided to bonk each other instead, right in front of me. I felt I should avert my eyes, but it was all over in about 5 seconds anyway. Ain’t spring grand?

I put the SOLD sign there myself!
 While the birds have been courting and bonking, I’ve been sorting out my entry into capitalist pigdom, and can make the following report: so far, so good! My modest 2 bedroom cottage with massive shed and lovely gardens, overlooking farmland and bushland, now sports a SOLD sign out the front - I helped put it there myself yesterday. As it’s an investment property, I can’t actually 'live the dream' in it for 12 months, so I’ll be looking to rent it to holidaymakers over the next year. Set well back from the road 3kms out of Mallacoota, it’ll be a quiet place to stay, even at peak times of the year, and with heaps of parking space, Mr Fisherman will even have room to park the boat. I’m in the process of getting a managing agent to take care of that side of things for me. Settlement is on 9 December, so I’m going to have to work fast to get it set up to receive guests over Christmas. What an adventure!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Birds, the Birds!

I learn a lot about birds every time I visit Mallacoota. My first silly misconception, long ago, was that, parrots being parrots, they’d all get on. Not so. They’re like people. They stick with their own kind. The rainbow lorikeets hang with the other rainbow lorikeets. The crimson rosellas stick with other crimson rosellas. Same with the king parrots. They’re like colour gangs. Mallacoota is a sort of feathered West Side Story. A bird eat bird world. A jungle.

I formed the opinion early on that the gorgeous rainbow lorikeets are the thugs of the parrot world. They bully each other and every other bird that tries to share the feeder box, parrot or not. They even chase other rainbow lorikeets out of the feeder box, like naughty kids who refuse to share the sandpit. Remember the Tweety cartoon where Tweety gets hold of the Jekyll and Hyde potion? Rainbow lorikeets remind me of the Hyde-Tweety. They drop their heads, raise their shoulders and hunch themselves up like monster birds, then hop threateningly at one another, peering down their hooky little beaks. It seems to work. I might try it on my Year 10s, next time they misbehave.

King parrots, on the other hand, are gentle giants. (late observation: I learned, 5 minutes ago, that the gang mentality is alive and well in this species too - they're shy when they're all alone, but surround them with a few friends, and bang, they can bully with the best of them! Bugger - now I need to edit what I said yesterday.) Stunningly beautiful and very good natured, they’re quite shy on their own, and don’t stand a chance against the when outnumbered by lorikeets. This lovely boy is quite tame. 

When he gets over his initial fear, he will sit on your head or your arm, and take food from your hand. Curiosity gets the better of the rainbow lorikeets then, who see a potential source of food in your hand, and want a piece of the action. They sneak or flutter closer, not quite brave enough to hop on the hand, bobbing their heads to get a better look at whatever the king parrot is eating, and trying to calculate how they can get some too.

Cor, wotcha got there mate? Can I have some?
No, bugger off!
Feeder box rules don’t apply here. Here on The Hand, the lone king parrot will fight back.

 So yesterday, with all this attention from my little feathered friends, I felt quite popular. While I was hangin’ with ma homies – feeding the king parrot and fending off the lorikeets - my sausage-eating magpies spied me, and decided it must be sausage-time. They’re in the habit of peering through the window to find me. They even jump up and down at the back door, beaks clacking and sometimes warbling to demand food! 

Madam Magpie: Oi! That parrot's not eating my sausages, is it?
 Madam, suspecting human treachery, and fearful for her sausages, was clearly disgruntled, and actually swooped me when I had my back turned! Beastly, feathered ingrate! Her wing slapped me on the back of the head and the ‘clack’ of her beak on my ear gave me quite a jolt. 

That’s the thing with birds – one minute it’s all sunflower seeds and sausages, 
and the next, it’s a Hitchcock movie!

The magpies don’t have it all their own way though. Earlier in the day, Madam Magpie was industriously thrashing a piece of sausage on the ground, when a brown and cream bomb hurtled out of the blue at her, bowling her clean over and nicking the sausage. A kookaburra. It took up a seat on the seedbox and cackled a bit – and made threatening noises at Madam when she approached to remonstrate. I had no idea that birds could ‘growl’ - I told you I learn a lot about birds here!

The Kookaburra - not as cuddly as you'd think! And a bit of a curmudgeon to boot!
Kookaburras may look like lovely cuddly plush toys, but that long snappy beak, with the little hook on the end, is pretty lethal.  To appease my growling kookaburra friend,  I offered him some sausage of his own, and he accepted!  I was grateful he didn’t snap a hole in my hand (the kookaburra method is to divebomb and grab, which often snaps its prey's back or neck, if it happens to be a hapless lizard or snake) – but this bloke's aim was true, and he left not a mark on me as he swooped the sausage and headed off for a safe perch on which to enjoy it. Phew.

So – that was my eventful day. Oh, and I bought a house.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Dance of the Lyrebird

The lyrebirds of Karbeethong are a lovely bunch. This morning I came across a youngster strutting his stuff in the undergrowth. I'm pretty sure he was a youngster because his tail feathers weren't very big. I shot a video of him on my mobile phone, but the quality was too abysmal to upload here.

Anyway - I did a couple of voice recordings (again. on my phone - aren't telephones amazing things these days?) and identified a heap of different bird calls (all produced by the lyrebird) - a kookaburra, a currawong or magpie, a golden whistler, a south-eastern whipbird, a satin bowerbird, and several other calls I couldn't identify. The clearly identifiable lyrebird sound, though, is the sound that's reminiscent of a camera shutter - a sort of metallic chyoo chyoo chyoo followed by a squawky chirrup. Upon the squawk, the bird does a funny sort of sideways hop, and bobs the 'lyre' shape of his tail feathers forward over his back and head. I wish my video had worked out! The little fellow let me watch him for about 10 minutes, and then my knees gave out, ha ha, and I had to move. Startled, the bird skedaddled.

I'm not sure yet how to upload sound files so you can hear the variety of his calls, and the genius of his mimcry. Watch this space.

Lyrebird-chasing is one of my fav pursuits whenever I come to Mallacoota - that, and feeding the dozens of birds that come to the door of my flat. I have a new magpie who must have young to feed, as she keeps coming back for more, and leaving with a beakful of food, presumably for the babies. She was so eager to see me this afternoon that she came running, and I thought she was going to come inside!

Of my latest pursuit - house-hunting - on this perfect Mallacoota day of blue sky, bluer water, sparkling views and balmy weather - I can't give you any updates - but I have been back for a second look at a house I rather like. Stay tuned!

Monday, 3 October 2011

A New Mallacoota Adventure

White-out in Mallacoota - the inlet has disappeared into the rain!
To everyone who was wondering whether I was dead or alive - I'm alive, although another killer term has taken its toll. I couldn't even contemplate blogging last term (and I'm sure everyone's sick of my moaning anyway!) So - the term is O-V-E-R. I'm older, crankier, more stressed... The wrinkles are deepening with every new parent-teacher night and every after-school meeting - but it's holiday time now and I've brought my battle-fatigue (and my Year 12 references) to beautiful Mallacoota to destress - and to embark on what might be a massively Huge adventure with a capital HUGE!
New aftermarket screen
 This was Piglet’s first ride to Mallacoota, and we came via Bombala and Cann River, dodging echidnas and foxes on the road. It was cold and wet, but Piglet was a real trouper. I loaded him up with a couple of Andy Strapz AA bags that Pisshead Pete let me borrow. They didn't hold as much as I'd hoped, so I had to leave some stuff behind (note to self: buy an Andy Strapz A Bag.)

The aftermarket screen I fitted has made a world of difference - no buffeting! - although I found my shoulders and thighs sore by the time I got here. I really need to build up some ride-fitness. Well, fitness of any sort, really - I did my walk into town, wandered around some of the residential areas having a stickybeak, and back to Adobe yesterday. My first proper walk since my accident in March, and 12kms may have been a little excessive - pelvis and knees were fine, but Oh My Aching Feet! They just wanted to drop off and limp away, except they didn't have the energy...

At the moment, outside the flat, there’s total white-out. The lake has disappeared into the rain. It’s been like that, on and off, since Saturday, so I haven't been bushwalking or bird-watching. I have, however, been looking at other things. Houses.

I’ve been coming here once or twice a year for the last five years now. Every time I arrive it takes my breath away, and every time I leave it breaks my heart. So this time I’m on a mission - I'm looking for a house to buy.

Yep, ol’ Betty’s looking for a sea-change, or a tree-change (you can have both in Mallacoota) – and you know what? I’m really kind of scared! Scared of the mega financial commitment; scared of change; scared of leaping into what could be an abyss. I’m a single woman of 52 with a mortgage, a motorcycle and a job that’s killing me. I want Something Else, and that something is, I think, here in Mallacoota – a daggy little fishing town that has barely changed in 40 years, teeming with birdlife and wildlife, with stunning beach and inlet views, fertile, grow-anything soil, and  not a traffic light for about 70kms. (No McDonalds, no movies, no shopping malls… wow).  I’m a little nervous about the whole thing. 

But I’m going to do it. What’s the worst that can happen?