The heart of things

To: "'Geoffrey Dabb'" <>, <>
Subject: The heart of things
From: "Barbara Allan" <>
Date: Thu, 9 Feb 2006 12:52:03 +1100
And the good news is, for those who missed out, that at least COG will have
the benefit of a talk by Leo Joseph later in the year. b

-----Original Message-----
From: Geoffrey Dabb  
Sent: Thursday, 9 February 2006 8:35 AM
Subject: The heart of things

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
email    :   
ph/fax   :   02 6295 3449


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