The heart of things

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Subject: The heart of things
From: "Geoffrey Dabb" <>
Date: Thu, 9 Feb 2006 08:34:46 +1100
Apart from getting out into the fresh air and looking at birds and stuff, one of the advantages of living here is the information that can be effortlessly picked from the tree by simply pricking one's ears, to stretch a metaphor.

I was reflecting on this after getting the benefit of what was on offer in Canberra over only 6 days. To start with last night's meeting, we had a short exposition from Joe Forshaw, drawing on 40 (well just about) years of involvement with Superb Parrots on what was really going on with them (probably) and what might be behind the recent influx, the short answer being a good breeding season and the longer, more speculative, answer being a possible, partly human-generated, upswing in the population.

Caroline Blackmore's talk on Grey-crowned Babblers was one of those witty and insightful feats that we associate with Andrew Cockburn and fairy-wrens and Rob McGrath and blackbirds. Caroline sharpened the suspicions of most of us with her elucidation of the 'Infidelity lurks everywhere' text, although,we must remember that what is true of the Swinging Songbird might not be true of the rest of us - unless of course we are speaking in a (Jimmy) Carterian sense.

Last week, in the CSIRO Gungahlin Friday afternoon series, there was a riveting cameo by Leo Joseph that I thoroughly enjoyed but am unable to do justice to. The surprises from mitochondrial DNA analysis continue to pile up. In South America Leo found that, in a flycatcher group, a population of so-called Species X is more closely related to so-called Species Y than to other populations of Species X. This was all linked to migration patterns. The question is, what other eyebrow-lifters might lie in store from more comprehensive MDNA work? Already, it seems that our Masked and White-browed Woodswallows are genetically not only closely-related but the same species, so don't get the next edition of your field guide just yet. MDNA or not, I bet nobody relinquishes their 2 ticks.

And then, on Tuesday, we had the chance of a bit of a birdwatch with no other than a visiting David Bird of McGill U, the compiler of that extraordinarily useful compendium 'The Bird Almanac'. David's talk at UC on the Tuesday afternoon was, in short, an authoritative summary of where things stand at the cutting-edge of raptor conservation. One detail sticks in my mind. In view of the now-recognised promiscuity of the passerine, David and one of his students took a stern look at his private kestrel colony from that point of view. You will be delighted to hear that they (the kestrels) proved to be models of fidelity, so perhaps the unhappy truth is that the tendency to misbehaviour increases as one moves up the evolutionary ladder.

OK, maybe you can read about most of this somewhere, but not with the same point put on it. All the above was audience-friendly, offered on a drop-in-if-you-want basis, and totally free to anyone with the time.

               Geoffrey Dabb
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ph/fax   :   02 6295 3449

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