There’s a Little Bit of Heaven in My Backyard
by John Morris
There's a Little Bit of Heaven in My Backyard --- This world is only a shadow of the world to come
I first met Quintus, a Sumatran tiger, at Garden Island Naval base. HMAS Sydney had just returned from service in Vietnam with members of the 5th RAR on board. My brother-in-law had been a member of the Battalion and like many of the regiment was enthusiastically welcomed home by friends and anxious relatives. Quintus was a baby in arms so to speak. He was a big lump of a pussy cat and his communications skills were limited. He was the battalion mascot.
I came across Quintus some years later when he was residing at the pussycat motel at Taronga Zoo Park on the northern shores of Sydney Harbour. No longer a big pussy cat but a muscle bound example of the tiger species. No longer out and about with the regiment he was limited to the confines of the large cage, and had some 10 metres to pace before having to turn around. At the rear of the cage there was a window in the concrete wall approximately 1 metre square. Steel bars were fitted, Quintus was stuck in and visitors were prevented from entering the private space of the tiger.
What impressed me was the animal's obvious boredom. Pace followed pace, cage length followed cage length along the wall in which the window was located. I felt for Quintus and wondered if he missed the human touch and the limited fellowship, I missed the ability to interact directly with Quintus and decided to pat him as he paced by the window. Now don't try this anywhere. It was a mite foolish and I do not know if there was any appreciation of the contact. Sufficient to say I still have a right arm and operating fingers. Now I'd love to have a tiger as a pet but know full well that it is not viable even if I did have 100 ha where an animal could live. There is a big risk in owning a big cat that I do not need. One day it will be different.
At home there is a different situation. Being on a "dead end street" (it is too long to be called a cul de sac) and surrounded on 3 sides by the Berowra Valley Regional Park, we have birds a'plenty. Interaction with the bird life is open, free, and delightful. You will come across the occasional scrub turkey walking down the street. Drop down to the Great North Walk and you might come across a lyre bird. We have 3 major visitor groups that we encourage and one that we don't.
Sulphur-crested Cockatoos get short shrift. Our relationship began when a beautiful specimen landed one day on the side verandah. After noting the absence of food on the verandah and the grass he calmly walked up to the sliding glass door and knocked. This is no fairy tale. He knocked again and paced up and down in front of the door. A few bread crusts later and off he went. It happened again a day or two later, and again. Soon he brought a friend and then another. One weekend we went away and failed our so called friends. On returning home we found the rascals had torn into the siding over the verandah. Since then any Sulphur-crested Cockatoo gets a clear message that he/she is not wanted with a tennis ball, sandshoe, or a rolled up newspaper tossed in the bird's general direction. I only have to move off the chair in the family room and any cockatoo sitting on the pool fence gets going very smartly.
Kookaburras frequent the whole area. Often their laughing chorus can be heard in the morning and being quite loud we are glad that they range around the bushland rather than having a nominated address. Most days we are visited morning and evening with numbers varying from 1 to 12. They are anxious for a handout enjoying Sanitarium Nutmeat as well as searching the grass for the occasional worm - they do alright. There are interesting personalities in the group (Not enough to call them a flock.) Initially it's all in for the handout except for one more mature bird. It will fly into the verandah and sit down behind me or stand in front of my feet if I am standing and wait patiently for its turn. Others will dive bomb off the clothesline and it is not unusual for 3 or 4 birds to be aiming for the one nutmeat cube and collide violently at ground level. The youngest birds now have to fight for themselves. The serving mum and dad of a few months ago is now a competitor. Sometimes I will place a cube on my knee or shoe. It does not stay there for long with 3 or 4 birds sufficiently comfortable with me to fly over and grab the morsel.
The Rainbow Lorrikeets are a noisy bunch and fast on the wing moving around the district in their search for food and shelter. They have a fast wing movement and I fail to understand why they do not run out of energy with fast flying and continuing calls during the flight. Meal time is interesting. Often there will be a dominant male who thinks that only he and his mate are entitled to food. He will run around and chase off others who would like a meal. While he is chasing, someone will slip around the back and grab a few seeds. A couple of birds are comfortable with us as dispensing devices rather that a threat, and will eat out of the jar in which the seed is kept. The birds are aggressive to other birds as well as amongst themselves. The Cockatoos and tufted pigeons, the Currawong and the magpie aren't allowed a look in.
The King Parrot was the biggest surprise. One day a male arrived and without any testing or delay took seed out of my hand. The "King" and his mate (easy to tell with significant color differences between the two) are irregular visitors, but have come a sufficient number of times to readily fly onto my arm and eat out of my hand. If we are not around when Mr and Mrs King arrive, the male will give a gentle repetitive whistle until we open the door.
The birds make our backyard like a little bit of heaven but we do look forward to the day when in a new heaven and a new earth I can have my pet tiger. Birds will not be nervous about people, the "wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock..They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain saith the Lord." Isaiah 65:25 KJV
This article and the pictures it contains are Copyright © 2012 by John L Morris. Used by permission.
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