As England plunges headlong into winter, it feels like a good time to reflect upon my six months spent in Australia, experiencing winter in the Southern Hemisphere. We’ll begin in Rockhampton, “the Beef Capital of Australia”, which is nestled safely in the tropics of Queensland. The spire marking the Tropic of Capricorn can, in fact, be seen in the town, although the true divide is a little further south.
Along with its celebrated ten-gallon hats (of which I saw none) and cow statues (of which I saw many), Rockhampton is famous for its free zoo which exhibits various specimens of Australian wildlife. One of the many enchanting aspects of Australia is the vast amount of stunning fauna that can be seen without the need for iron bars, however. Though the zoo is impressive, a stroll around the exterior parks provides animals aplenty.
Amongst the rainbow lorikeets, Australian magpies and sulphur-crested cockatoos that scavenged the picnic area of the Garden Tearooms, one bird immediately stood out, both for its striking markings and behaviour. This turned out to be the blue-faced honeyeater, or banana-bird. Having earned these two names for a reason, the species’ eclectic diet includes various plant materials alongside its staple of insects. This particular individual, however, was feeling curious, and having momentarily given up on its quest for visitors’ chips, opened a plastic box of salt packets with its beak, carrying one off to a branch among the garden’s great banyan fig trees.
The locals think little about waving away these creatures, whose attempts at food requisition are incessant and often effective. Such beautiful birds as the blue-faced honeyeater, whose azure-ringed eyes blink intelligence and contrast with their olive green velvet plumage, are hard to turn away, but the less they are encouraged to join in the better. Fatty chips and high amounts of salt are neither natural nor safe foods for birds, and this sort of interaction should not be encouraged. The honeyeater’s penchant for bananas is not viewed kindly by farmers, and a close relationship with humans can be dangerous to many animals, as in the case of the dingo.
Fortunately, the vibrant colours and personality of the blue-faced honeyeater can be enjoyed from a distance, and there are plenty of opportunities to observe this wonderful bird in the wild. Found throughout Queensland and its neighbouring states, the banana-bird is adept at making nests out of living plants, including the magnificent staghorn, which itself makes use of other trees for survival: a good example of a symbiotic relationship. While less obvious than the huge flocks of sulphur-crested cockatoos, the blue-faced honeyeater is easy to see, and well worth it. Listen out for its powerful squeaking call a little before dawn when the other birds begin to sing.
For more snapshots of our earth and its wonderful plants and animals, follow Earth to Us. I hope you will enjoy exploring the world with me as we listen to some of the fascinating stories that nature has to tell us.