Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tawny Frogmouths

Things I like about Sydney No. 51: Tawny Frogmouths

Sniff and I went for a walk around Tambourine Bay this morning. The air was exceptionally still and quiet, with not a breeze to be felt or heard. The only sounds accompanying my footsteps were the clattering of Sniff's nails on rocks as he scampered ahead, the quiet knockings together of loosely moored boats, and the occasional caw from a crow. Briefly, some twittering wrens rose up from a bush, only to disappear as quickly, leaving an almost pristine silence to reign once more.

Autumn was definitely in the air. According to the weather information on my phone it was only 24 degrees - already down five degrees from last week and surely the beginning of the end of summer. Leaves are beginning to fall in earnest and the possibility of having to wear a jumper is not so far away...

Perhaps it is always quieter in the autumn but I did begin to feel rather isolated this morning. Especially as, when we neared the folly, we passed a long series of abandoned gardening tools and sacks stuffed with cuttings - ghostly evidence of someone's recent hard work. But where were they now?

Reaching the jetty beyond St. Ignatius College, which marks the turning point on our walk (and which you can see through the arch of the folly in the photograph above), I walked to its furthermost tip in the hope of seeing some pelicans breezily sailing the waters. Only two sad-looking gulls rose lazily in the air, disturbed by my presence. I stared down into the water and saw dozens of white-translucent jellyfish oozing their way past, slowly and silently pulsing and propelling themselves towards the city, outlined in the distance. No-one sailed past, no-one passed us with their dog, no school-children rowed their boats or sculled their punts to the barking orders of their teachers. Eleven thirty in the morning and Sydney had gone to sleep. Except for that stealthy horde of stingers heading inland...

All of which has absolutely nothing to do with Tawny Frogmouths...

I love the name Tawny Frogmouth. Just saying it gives one's lips a work-out, creating shapes akin to the odd nature of the creature itself.

Daniel and I moved to Newtown because of two Tawny Frogmouths. In our first few weeks in Sydney we rushed around town looking at various suburbs, trying to decide which we would like to or could bear to or could afford to live in. Daniel took me to Newtown because that was where he had lived when he was last here, back in the 80s. He didn't think I would like it and I should have listened to him. Instead, however, after having looked at some possible houses to rent, we went to Camperdown Cemetery (as described in Blog No. 49) to wander about and look at the gravestones. Whilst there we also looked up at the magnificent trees and in one of them, in perfect view, were perched two Tawny Frogmouths.

At this point I decided we had to live in Newtown. Tawny Frogmouths! In broad daylight! (They are nocturnal creatures). How could we live anywhere else?

So the lease was signed and purgatory begun.

For at No. 46 Roberts Street in Newtown we lived next to a Great Dane whose owner was out every day from 9.00 in the morning until 6.00 at night. During which time the poor dog would endlessly bark. Sometimes for three hours on end. Great Danes have very big lungs. I went completely bananas. Whatismore, it would also shit all over its back-yard, a mere four paces from our kitchen. And dog shit in the Australian summer has a perfume like no other. One of the attractive things about our house was that you could roll back the entire kitchen wall onto the garden. This was no longer attractive. The  photograph below must have been taken at the weekend when our neighbour managed to shift her fat arse and hose down her backyard. The following photograph was obviously taken on a weekday...the doors are mostly closed.

In addition to the trauma with the Great Dane (which eventually involved the Council and a long series of letters) our perfectly lovely landlords, who intially became our friends, dining with us, coming to events with us, turned into pyscho landlords from hell because we complained when our lights stopped working in the bathroom. Pyscho Landlord No. 1 turned up on our doorstop, eyes bulging, screaming, and accusing me of lying to our estate agent. After which, I never quite felt safe in Newtown again...

And we never saw another Tawny Frogmouth either. Not even a glimpse. Not even the possibility of a glimpse. I reckon those two original specimens were stuffed and perched in the cemetery at Daniel's command on that fateful December day in 2008 just so as I would make up my mind about living somewhere in this city...

Here in Greenwich we haven't seen a Tawny Frogmouth either (Podargus strigoides) although we know they are out there every night. If you want to see what one looks like when alive you'll have to google it. Otherwise you could make do with the following:

Sniff and I discovered a new walk - rather substandard - which starts at a sports oval on the other side of Greenwich Road. Once you have traversed the sportsground a path snakes upwards alongside another creek where the vegetation is rather denuded and the houses crowding in somewhat. The trail leads on up, past some falls, to River Road which is one of the busiest roads hereabouts. Consequently, the sound of traffic is never far away. How degraded the area is can be seen by contrasting the sign for the Lillypilly Falls displaying a photograph taken in 1900 and one I took of the Lillypilly Falls as they were today...

After bearing with this bitter disappointment, Sniff and I continued up the path and just as it debouched onto River Road we were rewarded with the discovery of a fresh corpse.....that of a Tawny Frogmouth.

Presumably the poor thing had been knocked flying by a passing, speeding truck.

Frogmouths are rather large - imagine a big but slender owl - and have quite extraordinary-looking faces. Even in death this bird had a certain charming grumpiness about it. Being a keen collector of feathers I went about plucking its wings and tail, gingerly gripping the corpse and hoping that a) it wouldn't give way in a burst of gases b) it didn't contain a writhing mass of maggots and c) I wouldn't catch some terrible bird disease in doing so. (I seem alright so far).

A week later and the Frogmouth was still there, but this time something had been along and ripped its wings off (or at least what was left of them after my corpse-raiding actions).

I now regret not having scooped up the entire bird. I should have brought it home, got out the Yellow Pages (or whatever the Australian equivalent is - the White Pages I think) and called up a local taxidermist. A stuffed Tawny Frogmouth would be marvellous. Please all keep your eyes peeled...Preferably vintage...

In the meantime, I have this ever-increasing pile of feathers with which I am going to.....no idea. My first collection winged its way to Bella in Shoreham. This one might have to stay with me as a reminder of that poor Great Dane in Newtown and of its whopping great big lungs.

P.S. (One day later)

My friend Andrew read this blog and, as a fellow Frogmouth fan, sent me the following photograph of a Tawny Frogmouth he spotted in broad daylight in Sydney's Botanical Gardens. I debated whether I should put it on the blog or not because frankly it makes all of my photographs look (as they are) distinctly amateur...sigh...but it is so marvellous. So here we go:

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