Day 5: Soaring the Australian Skies

Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.” So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” So the evening and the morning were the fifth day. (Genesis 1:20-23)

I love the excitement that day five of God’s creation brought to my life. It is a joy to spend countless hours watching the antics of birds and sea creatures frolic in the habitats appointed to them.

Let’s take the common sea gull or silver gull, for starters. Who has not travelled to the coast with their children to have fish and chips on the beach? It’s almost guaranteed that you will be met by a flock of seagulls – especially if a child decides to throw a chip or two in their direction. Suddenly they become noisy, bold and aggressive creatures, squawking and squabbling over scraps. These actions, if duplicated by our children, would rightly fetch a swift rebuke.

Take food out of the equation, however, and silver gulls take on a very different personality. They are content to perch quietly on a pole for lengthy periods of time. They are stunningly beautiful birds with the white and silvery coloured feathers contrasting elegantly with the red feet, beak and eye ring. They appear quite tolerant when their space is invaded for the benefit of a photo or two. And, when pushed too far they gracefully rise into the air currents with only the slightest flap of their wings. Their opportunistic behaviour for an easy meal has unfortunately tainted their reputation.

Food and water are always a dominant issue for our native birds, especially in the Australian inland regions. Here, away from human habitation, all birds need to fend for themselves and are heavily impacted by our Creator’s cycle of drought and rain. Yet God does provide for them, as we are reminded in Matthew 6:26.

Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

After good rainfall, the normally arid regions burst into life. Grasses and plants flower and set seed, providing a critical link in the food chain, not just for birds but also for mammals, insects and reptiles.

This past season has been one of plenty in most arid regions and the impact is amazing. Overflowing water holes and abundant grasses amount to a proliferation of bird life, especially zebra finches and budgies. Both breed quickly under these optimal conditions.

As you travel the inland routes this year, keep an eye open for them because budgies will reward you with dazzling displays of yellow and green as they swarm and dance through the sky by the thousands. Zebra finches prefer the safety of shrubbery near water holes, but if you sit quietly near these holes or dams, they seem to forget your presence and become bolder. At times like this the photographer in you can enjoy the challenge and hopefully rise to the occasion with some good snaps.

With the current abundance of food and water in the outback, our attention is drawn to the another highly prized bird family: raptors. Australia’s arid skies can see an amazing range of kites, falcons and eagles taking advantage of the growing food chain. These desert hunters soar aloft for lengthy periods making use of the warm air currents in search of a tasty morsel.

Birds of prey are particularly abundant in the Kimberley region compared to elsewhere in Australia, not only in numbers but also in variety. I’ve read that at least 22 of the 24 different birds of prey (not including owls) call the Kimberley home. The whistling kite is probably the most common, while the wedge tailed eagle is definitely the largest and most majestic.

It is of interest to note how Scripture speaks about many of the bird species found so abundantly in Australia. In Old Testament time all birds of prey were considered an abomination to the Israelite people. Other bird species that fall into this same category include our pelicans, silver gulls, cormorants and herons. Even the stork, which is commonly known up north as the Jabiru, is part of the list. While these examples are not exhaustive, we do appear to have a wide representation of the list found in Leviticus 11:

And these you shall regard as an abomination among the birds; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, the buzzard, the kite, and the falcon after its kind; every raven after its kind, the ostrich, the short-eared owl, the sea gull, and the hawk after its kind; the little owl, the fisher owl, and the screech owl; the white owl, the jackdaw, and the carrion vulture; the stork, the heron after its kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.

Today we don’t view these birds as an abomination and tend to observe them with considerably more intrigue and enjoyment.

There are many places where one could observe a variety of birdlife without travelling far. Most water holes during the summer and autumn become bird magnets. Let me just share one waterhole not far from Perth which is home to at least a dozen species of birds during a recent two day stay.

Situated about 17 kms southwest of Mullewa lies a little dam called Tenindewa Pioneer Well that was dug many years ago. It is no longer used for any obvious reason, and the powers that be decided to leave it as it is. Over time a few trees grew on the mounds surrounding this little dam, and it has remained relatively undisturbed since. If you have the patience to sit quietly under the shade of your awning, camera in hand of course, you will possibly see swallows dive bombing over the dam, sipping water and playing dodgem with each other in the process. Their amazing agility in the air is a beautiful reminder of how God created birds so differently. Pink galahs pop around for a visit as does a pair of wieros. Drifting high overhead, a hawk or two appear to survey the scene below looking for a snack. Many brightly coloured parrots also appear to have adopted this little dam as their drinking hole.

So, if you are heading north to appreciate the abundant wildflowers this spring, why not stop by this little dam for a day or two to relax and appreciate the diversity of our Father’s creative work.

I might see you there.

Jack Swarts
FRC Rockingham

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