Believe it or not, loyal ladles and jelly spoons, on my travels I have stumbled upon a monstrous spectre more terrifying even than the humble rock dove (the common or garden pigeon columba livia, native to that peculiar crevice of fear in my soul).
“More terrifying?!” you wonder? Something bigger than an emu perhaps? Or more murderous than a raptor? Uglier than a bush turkey?
You may or may not be surprised to learn that it’s none of the above. The conjurer of my newest depths of dread is known as the noisy miner and is about as common in Australia as starlings are in UK street markets. It’s name is relatively well chosen, it does make quite a racket. But whoever named it clearly didn’t observe for long enough.
When the noisy miner feels threatened – a state of mind which appears to be induced by the mere existence of anything it might find objectionable – it utters a piercing screech and harries the poor object of its hatred until, presumably, it gets bored. If feeling particularly brave it will do so alone but frequently brings some friends along when it feels like company.
I personally haven’t yet been unlucky enough to fall foul of this fiend but I have witnessed ferocious attacks on dogs, barker owls, pigeons and seagulls. Unless this good fortune is a manifestation of my burgeoning powers, it is only a matter of time before I find myself on the wrong end of what I have named the Hell Harrier.
Such a name might lead one to imagine a taloned, hook beaked, red eyed giant, slashed with battle scars and inhabiting great rookeries in the tree tops. But no. It is about the size of a blackbird, grey to brown with yellow markings around its eyes, some white feather tips on its wings and tail, and sporting a starling-like beak. I don’t know exactly what its diet is but I have seen it pluck insects delicately from the air. If I were to speculate further I would conclude that it supplements these insects by feasting on the eyes of small mammals and children. It is a tree dweller and thus I have found it commonly in urban, suburban and semi-rural areas.
In my five minutes of research I have only been able to find two aboriginal names for these terrors: cobaygin and que que gang. Given the spread of the bird species along the entire east coast and the number of aboriginal language groups which once inhabited the same areas, I would imagine there are many more names for this unholy creature. And given the talent the indigenous population have for observing their environment I don’t think I would be wrong to imagine that all those names translate as Hell Harrier or something similar.
If these birds ever make it to the UK, I’ll be going underground. You will never see me again. In the event that they remain confined to the east coast of Australia, I would like to be pursuing what I actually want to do with my life. I had been hoping that as I approached the end of my second decade I’d be struck by an epiphany and here it is, just in time. Ironically, the desire has been there, brewing away beneath the surface for years. What I’m meant to do is something I’ve wanted to do for such a long time I no longer remember when this seed was sown.
The greatest irony is that of all the things I could want to do, this is something I’m bad at. Really, so bad. Rather than being deterred by this I have decided to try. I will learn as much as I can, in the limited time I have – make no mistake loyal readers this is a long-term project. Most importantly, I will fail. I have no doubt that I will fail and fail again. But Tim Harford says this is ok. He says failure is important. So here I am, setting myself up to fail in the hope that my litany of failures will teach me to nurture and to gently and lovingly cultivate.
Lock up your plants ladles and jelly spoons, I’m going to start growing stuff. Eventually.