16 September 2020

79. Dusky Snuggles

A Bee Bird, a Woodswallow, a Skimmer, a Bluey, a Jackie Martin and even a Sordid Woodswallow are all names given to one of my fave birds - the Dusky Woodswallow.

Everything about Duskies is so good. They look as furry as cute plush toys. They live in communes of between 10 and 30 birds. At night they cram together in a tree hollow, squashed into a big ball of feathers to keep warm. 

When it’s cold they can even start a huddle-cuddle on a branch.

Often they sit squeezed up next to each other on a tree limb, preening and rotating their tails.

NSW and Victorian Duskies head to Queensland in Autumn, returning in early Spring. Most Tasmanian Woodswallows spend winter on the mainland.

Like Welcome Swallows, Woodswallows soar and glide in huge circles high above the eucalypt forests. They hawk for insects on the wing, not slowing down to pluck one from the air.

Before mating, each silently flutters their wings up and down, rotating their tail to display the pretty white feathers on the edges.

All Dusky Woodswallows nest next to each other for safety. When their young are threatened by a predator, the whole mob attack on mass. 

Other than that these furry blue beaks get along well with most other birds; even sharing the birdbath. Mottled juveniles help feed the nestlings, who leave before they can fly properly. 

The close bonds developed by huddling at night pay off in the Dusky community; the young ones staying on in the familiar parental flock.

I wasn’t a bird watcher in 2015. We had an old camera, but I never used it.

I became more interested in birds when a peahen flew into the backyard and stayed on to be our forever bird.

I was sitting outside in the sun recovering from a head cold when I saw these dusky grey-brown birds for the first time and became smitten.

Three leapt onto the birdbath. When I went to take a photo, they both flew.

Two minutes later, the same thing happened. The birds looked furry and fuzzy.

They reconvened on the lawn, far away from the table where I was sitting surrounded by tissues and cough lozenges.

Fast forward 15 minutes. Dusky 1, then 2, followed by Dusky 3, 4 and 5 made a mad dash for the birdbath. 

One drank by tilting its head skyward to let the water funnel down their throat. The others checked me out. 

Taking turns for a splash; there was always one watching me watching them.

I tried to film as Dusky 6 arrived, but had nothing in focus; their dusky grey blending in with the background too well to be distinct. 

The Woodswallows became bolder with their family around. 

Eventually, Dusky 6 flew off, spooking number 5, then Dusky 4 left too. 

All 3 Duskies tilted their heads to the sky to drink in a row along the rim. 

They reminded me of those bobbing glass birds tipping back and forwards made in the 1970s.

Dusky 3, a speckled juvenile, stuck around a few more seconds before flying off; young Dusky 2 did the same. 

The last Woodswallow offered a plaintive chirrup before flying off into the blue.

The last three Woodswallows were juveniles with mottled feathers. Their beaks weren’t true blue yet. But all 6 grey teddy bears birds wowed me.

Somewhere between then and now, I bought a better camera. I photographed so many birds that some shots are not too bad. Though I still fail now and then, chopping off a significant part of the bird, like below.

These fluffy, cuddly, bee-eating Bluey birds made me feel well again with their magic 1 2 3 4 5 6...6 5 4 3 2 1 routine. 

I took up birdwatching and that changed my world.

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