Works in the Herald 1933

The honorable company of bird-lovers, we are told, is rapidly increasing in numbers in all parts of the State; and while one delights to observe this growing interest in our native songsters - many of them of rare and exquisite beauty that reveals itself sometimes only after long and intimate observation - it must be recognised that there are bird-loves and bird-lovers. Quite possibly, there are also more than a few bird-lovers; but, so far, I have succeeded in isolating only two of these groups.

So long as one manages to keep one's enthusiasm within reasonable bounds, and remain from being an absolute bore, much virtue may lie in bird-loving.

But when your bird-lover, ignoring restraint, develops into a bird-bore and a pestiferous crank, he or she is something to avoid.

Perhaps you know the sort of thing I mean. Imagine yourself a week-end guest at the country shack of a family, all of whom have gone perfectly potty about native bird life; so much so that you expect them to break out in feathers at any moment themselves.

With an appetite made keen by the country air, you are seated, let us say, at breakfast, and, having taken the raw edge off your hunger, have launched off confidently on your favorite conversational topic.

Just as you are about to make the first and most important point, demanding close and intelligent attention, the host suddenly sits bold upright in his chair, as if he had been shot, and, forefinger erect, and head cocked knowingly aslant, burbles rudely and irrelevantly: "Pst! Hush! Listen! Surely that was the call of the Red-rumped Athanthisa! How unusual at this time of year. Let's go out and investigate."

The whole family rises forthwith and rushes out of doors, and you must either sit tight and breakfast boarishly alone, or go out with the rest and develop crick-in-the-neck gazing foolishly up innumerable trees, while the bacon lies in rapidly congealing fat, the kidneys grow cold, and the ants gleefully discover the marmalade. Finally, at the end of some twenty minutes, when one has bruised both shins and tripped over every protruding root in the paddock, the amazing discovery is made that the songster is not a Red-rumped Athanthisa at all. It is a Short-tailed Stint, or even, perhaps, a Yellow-bellied Shrike-tit.

Then everyone troops back to a ruined breakfast, exclaiming brightly:

"Fancy making a mistake like that! So absurd, you know."

Brother, have you, too, suffered?

But this brings me to the rather humiliating confession that even I and my household at one time came dangerously near to developing this terrible malady.

In this country cottage, we had cajoled and fed and fraternised with certain robins and grey thrushes and magpies until they fearlessly took food from our hands. Already the virus was working insidiously within us, when an artist friend came to stay and observe, and remained to heap scorn on our Arcadian employ.

"Blandishing the birds," he called it, and, waxing ethical and psychological and ornithological, he proceeded to read us a severe and chastening lecture.

It would delight me to tell you of it here, but, as Mr Kipling has said, and as 491 of his disciples have religiously repeated. "That is another story."

Meanwhile, in case you, too, may be near to infection, blandish no bird until you hear from me.

Herald, 18 November 1933, p6

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002