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Friday, 08 June 2007

Kangaroo Island's Bird Man - Page 2

Written by Jennifer M. Eisenlau, Ph. D.
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When I travel, I usually go alone. I need a guidebook, some on-line research, and a few tips written on cocktail napkins from friends who’ve been where I’m heading. But upon arriving on Kangaroo Island (KI), I knew I needed professional help.  Kangaroo Island is only a 45-minute ferry ride crossing from the mainland of Southern Australia.

Ironically, the highlight of the tour came days later in a quiet museum. We did not know it then, but our small tour group was part of a much bigger picture involving a little yellow bird. Right before we visited the Remarkable Rocks, we were zooming along the South Coast Road at 110 kilometers per hour. Suddenly, Chris stomped the brakes and shouted something like, “A golden-backed honey-sucker!” He pulled the Range Rover over and jumped out, returning with his trophy of road kill.

You see, our guide is known locally as the “Bird Man of Kangaroo Island.” He is the author of An Annotated List of the Birds of Kangaroo Island. What I was witnessing was not the recovery of a dead animal, but a moment of scientific discovery.

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So there I was, a few days later at the South Australia Museum in Adelaide. I stood in front of a case label “Birds of Kangaroo Island.” I saw all sorts of honey-suckers, but where a golden bird should be, the spot was empty. The perch was waiting for a specimen to be sent by the Bird Man himself. So that’s how those taxidermy critters found their ways to the museum, I realized. Naturalists locate them, freeze them in a Ziplock bag, and then mail them off to museums. Knowing all this now, I stood--for the first time ever in my life – fascinated by a zoological display.

Obviously, I am very glad I spent the money to see KI’s animals in the bush. Days after my tour, I continued to see fauna in the flora on the very same roads where I had previously seen nothing at all. Well, of course, the animals had always been there – it was I who had to learn where to see them. Chris taught me how.

On KI, I patted joeys behind the ears, fed wild cockatoos, jumped back from giant pelicans, and walked among black swans. And I am proud to say that I even saw a creature that my travel writing hero – Bill Bryson – marveled at in his adventures in his Down Under memoir:

Sensing me, it stopped. It had glossy black quills pointing straight back and had curled itself roughly into a ball so I couldn’t see its pointy snout, but it was clearly an echidna…In a country filled with exotic and striking life forms my highpoint was finding a harmless, animated pincushion in a city park, I didn’t care. It was a montreme – a physiological anomaly, a wonder of the mammalian tree.

(Page 2 of 3)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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