14 May 2019

28. MAKING WILLIES WONKY


Just before we went on holidays to the coast, my husband asked me to take our kids for a long walk. 

We have motion sickness winding through mountains full of curves and hairpin bends. While he drives, it’s better if the rest of us sleep through some of the 6-hour road trip. So, we went trekking downhill, wandering along a creek to wear ourselves out.

October school holidays, it was already hot in mid-spring. There were tadpoles of various sizes in shallow pools. Noisy male frogs croaked about their amazing prowess to make another gazillion tadpoles not far from where we stood. 

A Willie Wagtail flew overhead, admonishing us with aggressive chirping. 

The bird pirouetted, tumbling and twisting to get our attention and lead us away. That’s when we spotted the nest.

A neat, round bowl sat in exposed branches nearby. Mum or dad Willie swooped over us so close we could hear wing-beats near our ears. Responding to their chirps, 4 wrinkled nestlings popped up from a space too tiny to fit. The babes were stretching high, more than half their bodies over the top; wings quivering in anticipation of filling open beaks with food.

The temperature had been in the low 30’s all week. The nest looked like it was formed from cobwebs. Besides a few dead vine branches, it was uncovered. If warm weather continued, those chicks would fry.

I needed those 4 little darlings to live; to hop about my garden wagging their tails behind them. 

‘I’m climbing to the top of the gorge to cover the nest; those babies need shade.’

My son was saying he didn’t know why I’d bother because chicks were ugly without feathers. 

They would become stunning.

My daughter said I was going to kill myself trying to save chicks.  

I almost did. 

I tore off shrubs and large, leafy green branches; placing them a metre above the tiny nest-bowl. Careful not to step on the edge, I couldn’t reach the spot that would offer the most sun protection. Trying to form a stable umbrella covering, I stretched my arms out when a Willie flew at my face. I jumped, climbing the air to shoo her.

Crunch. 

I slid down the embankment, a 3-metre descent. Collecting twigs, roots and rocks like a bulldozer screaming downhill, I scraped my back down the rough surface. It felt like someone stripped my skin with a potato peeler.

Standing at the base, my children’s mouths were wide open in shock. 

A parent Willie circled a lopsided nest.

My thighs are cut and scratched, with a pile of undergrowth between them. And blood, sticky blood. Filthy with dust and dirt, I could sense my back bleeding where ribbons of skin had been shaved off. 

Tears pooled; everything stung. 

Those poor darling chickadees; all but their legs were bobbing out sideways. The wonky nest had fallen low; practically at ground level, where a fox or goanna could easily pick off the little mites as snacks.
 
‘I was only trying to save them.’ 

The frantic Willie mum flapped between me and her nest of discombobulated bubs.

‘I didn’t want them cooking in the sun.’ 

‘You almost killed them.’

‘I know.’
Looking over, the wild and cranky Willie Wagtail sits on top of the nest. She’s looking down at 4 skinny squawkers who had just been on the ride of their life. God only knows how they stayed wedged in that nest space, it was almost upside down. The mother bird clicked and clacked, berating me for interfering.

The nest supports were as cracked and broken as I was. 

Only a small bird, these Willie Wag parents were awesome. They wanted to gouge my eyes out. If you’ve ever been on the sidelines of a football match with a loud-mouthed mother yelling abuse, you’ll know about helicopter parents. But humans have nothing on these birds trying to protect their freshly hatched babes.
Limping back home, the car is packed and my husband is ready to go.

‘What happened to you?’ he asked.

I felt too horrid to say anything. The kids worked in tandem, telling the tale of the nest and my fall from grace. The part about me going from helpful bird-angel to evil chick-destroyer was particularly good.

Husband raises both his eyebrows, sighs and drops his shoulders: ‘What are we going to do with you?’

‘I tried.’

‘Yes, you’re very trying, but your good intentions backfired again didn’t they?’

‘Hmm.’ 

This sound is about as close as I can manage to an admission of guilt.

All the way to the sunny coast, I try sitting forward to ease the pressure. Even with the air-conditioning on full blast, my back sticks to the car seat in an uncomfortable way. My inner thighs have so many welts the whole expanse of skin has turned red and lumpy.

The windows are closed and so are my eyes as we wind into the foothills. I can hear the clear, high pitched call of Crested Bellbirds; my favourite nature sound in the world.

Eventually the pain killers work their magic. I’m nodding, bobbing my head as our car snakes around the first bends on the next 14 km of winding road. 

Last fortnight I’d been dreaming of lying on white sandy beaches in my slick new swimsuit. Of paddling out through the waves to body surf and coming back to shore to laze and lounge and sip icy drinks. Of long beach walks with sand in my toes and cooling afternoon-tea sea-breezes. 

Now, I’ll need to be covered neck to knees or people will think I’ve been bashed. 

Edging towards sleep and nowhere near our destination, I think back to those weeny Willie Wagtails and wish I’d let them be.
P.S. These fantails wind the newly hatched feet of their chicks with spider webs. It’s done to anchor and protect the babes from falling out of a nest that is smaller that any other made by birds their size. 

P.S.S. I am aware my blog is called birdlifesaving. In this case I endangered chicks even more than they were before. All this happened eleven years ago. Since, I have become a little better at the saving part. Either that, or I am much more careful when stepping out.

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