Words for birds

Creative conservation

Poetry magazine The Rialto, in collaboration with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Birdlife International and the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, invites submissions for the 2017 Nature and Place poetry competition.


More about each organisation at therialto.co.uk; rspb.org.uk; birdlife.org; conservation.cam.ac.uk

More about the competition at the link here:


In transit

Do not disturb:

Birds breeding, feeding & sleeping at Wilson Inlet in Denmark, Western Australia, March 2016







For every bird a nest:

For every Bird a Nest—
Wherefore in timid quest
Some little Wren goes seeking round—

Wherefore when boughs are free—
Households in every tree—
Pilgrim be found?

Perhaps a home too high—
Ah Aristocracy!
The little Wren desires—

Perhaps of twig so fine—
Of twine e’en superfine,
Her pride aspires—

The Lark is not ashamed
To build upon the ground
Her modest house—

Yet who of all the throng
Dancing around the sun
Does so rejoice?


Emily Dickinson

bright wings

Bright Wings

an illustrated anthology of poems about birds – edited by Billy Collins, illustrated by David Allen Sibley – Columbia University Press 2009

Flying south in (Southern Hemisphere) spring

Love in springtime

In the Spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin’s breast;

In the Spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest;

In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish’d dove

In the Spring a young [bird’s] fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

 from Locksley Hall by Alfred Tennyson (with apologies to AT for the edit)

 locksley hall openlibrary.org

This edition WB Conkey & Co, 1900

 Image at http://www.openlibrary.org

Returning birds

It’s springtime on the south coast of Western Australia. Birds that headed to the warm north of the state for winter are coming home to Denmark to breed; this week spotted pardalotes, fan-tailed cuckoos and tree martins were back in the garden. Dusky swallows should be next: the grand old karri – a eucalypt where they’ve nested for years – is waiting.

Spotted-Pardalote birdlifeSpotted pardalote Pardalotus punctatus

Image at birdlife.org.au

Listen to the spotted pardalote: http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/206505

An etymology of pardalotes

Imagine that one day

̶ perhaps a fine spring day like this –

a leopard changed its spots.

Fur smoothed into feathers,

flew continents; that rumbling purr raised

into some other lighter, higher note.

Look where the leaves are moving:

there it is, something spotted,

hidden in the trees.

from Things Turned Upside Down, Picaro Press, 2011

Calling for attention

Recordings of and more information about the spotted pardalote, fan-tailed cuckoo and dusky woodswallow at




 Fan-tailed cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformis

Image at wikipedia.org

Dusky-WoodswallowsDusky woodswallows Artamus cyanopterus

Image at birdlife.org.au

At home overhead

Watch tree martins nesting:


Other winged things

Daedalus and Icarus:

Icarus describe

from The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Literature, Second Edition 1977

The Fall of Icarus:

The fall of Icarus

 The Fall of Icarus by Peter Paul Rubens, 1636. Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels. Image uncredited at wikipaintings.org

 Icarus and Amelia Earhart:

…She was swallowed by the sky / Or by the sea, like me she had a dream to fly / Like Icarus ascending / On beautiful foolish arms…

 from Amelia by Joni Mitchell. Video from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bFgxKov8Ts&feature=kp

Amelia Earhart and Electra, the aircraft in which she disappeared over the Central Pacific in 1937

Amelia Earhart and the Lockheed Model 10 Electra, the aircraft in which she disappeared over the Central Pacific in 1937

Image at http://news.uns.purdue.edu/images/earhart.newdocs/earhart.electra.jpeg  on Wikimedia Commons


Lepidoptera means ‘scaly-winged’ in Greek. It is the large order of insects that includes moths and butterflies.

atlas moth

Atlas moth: an illustration from Natural History Drawings: The Complete William Farquhar Collection, Malay Peninsula 1803-1818 (Editions Didier Millet & National Museum of Singapore, 2010)

Small Moth by Sarah Lindsay

She’s slicing ripe white peaches
into the Tony the Tiger bowl
and dropping slivers for the dog
poised vibrating by her foot to stop their fall
when she spots it, camouflaged,
a glimmer and then full on—
happiness, plashing blunt soft wings
inside her as if it wants
to escape again.


Chiroptera means ‘hand-winged’ in Greek. It is the order of mammals that includes bats.

Lesser false-vampire bat, Singapore

Lesser false-vampire bat, Singapore

Image uncredited at http://www.wildsingapore.per.sg

What is it like to be a bat?

…Our own experience provides the basic material for our imagination, whose range is therefore limited. It will not help to try to imagine that one has webbing on one’s arms, which enables one to fly around at dusk and dawn catching insects in one’s mouth; that one has very poor vision, and perceives the surrounding world by a system of reflected high-frequency sound signals…In so far as I can imagine this (which is not very far), it tells me only what it would be like for me to behave as a bat behaves. But that is not the question. I want to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat. Yet if I try to imagine this, I am restricted to the resources of my own mind, and those resources are inadequate to the task…

Thomas Nagel, in The Philosophical Review, October 1974

Poetry with a sting in the tale:

bee journal 1

‘This book is a kind of uncut home-movie of bees. I like its oddness and hurriedness, its way of catching the world exactly as it happens in the split second before it sets into poetry…’

Alice Oswald reviewing Bee Journal

The fall of Icarus

Honey from Bartholomew’s Meadery, Denmark, Western Australia http://www.honeywine.com.au


odyssey /od-i-si/ n. (pl. -eys): a series of wanderings; a long and eventful journey [from Greek Odusseia, title of an epic poem attributed to Homer describing the adventures of Odysseus]

definition: Oxford Compact English Dictionary

The beginning of the Odyssey

odyssey text Bibi Saint-Pol

 Image Bibi Saint-Pol/Wikimedia Commons

The beginning of a different odyssey

‘As you set out for Ithaka

hope your road is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery…’

from Ithaka by CP Cavafy

The journeys of birds

 travelling birds film 1 web

Travelling Birds (also known as Winged Migration): a 2001 documentary film that follows northern hemisphere birds on their spring migration to the Arctic Circle.

Birds on the itinerary

Destination Flyways is an initiative of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.

‘In 2012, a record one billion tourists crossed international borders…By providing an adequate framework for sustainable tourism management and diversifying the tourism offer along the flyways, Destination Flyways will generate revenue for improved management of biodiversity and spread the benefits of tourism to local communities, while creating attractive experiences for tourists.’


birdwatchers broome 1 kimberley birdwatching

Birdwatching at Roebuck Bay near Broome, Western Australia

Morley Beach birdwatchers 1

Birdwatching at Morley Beach, Denmark, Western Australia

Images: top, kimberleybirdwatching.com.au; bottom, Basil Schur

Stopping along the way

‘shhh I can make myself invisible

with binoculars in moist places…

…whisper I wear soft colours/

whisper, this is the naturalist

she’s been out since dawn

dripping in her waterproof notebook’

 from Dart by Alice Oswald

Stopovers on the e-Highway

Bird Brain Dance

From Ducks and geese, 2004. Image Anja Hitzenberger.

From Ducks and Geese, Spring 2004

Image Anja Hitzenberger

‘Bird Brain Dance is a multi-year navigational dance project by Jennifer Monson that investigates the migratory patterns and habits of birds and other animals and their biophysical and metaphorical relationships to humans as fellow travellers…’

www.birdbraindance.org had some access issues in January 2014; link through www.greenmuseum.org/c/enterchange/artists/birdbrain/

The Flyway Exchange

‘The Flyway Print Exchange is an exchange between…twenty artists, from nine of the twenty-two Flyway countries, [who] will create prints inspired by the idea of the Flyway…’


 The Border Consortium (TBC)

Camp locations on the Thai-Burma border

Camp locations on the Thai-Burma border

Map courtesy TBC website

‘TBC’s Executive Director was among the first people to witness, and respond to, the urgent needs of thousands of refugees from Burma who fled into Thailand in 1984…’


Foreign retirees flock to Asia

‘…many retirees are initially looking for an escape from the dreary, cold winters in the northern hemisphere. Many come for the winter months then go back home, but after a few years they come back for good…’



The Ornitarium in Denmark, Western Australia

The Ornitarium in Denmark, Western Australia

‘…the Ornitarium is an architectural sculpture that is sited at the Wetlands Education Centre just outside of the Shire of Denmark, WA. This project has been inspired by “local knowledge” found in Southwestern Australia – specifically knowledge related to birds that populate the region’s wetlands areas…’

Inside the Ornitarium in Denmark, Western Australia

Inside the Ornitarium

Images m12studio/Richard Sexton


East Asian-Australasian Flyway

‘The East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP) aims to protect migratory waterbirds, their habitat and the livelihoods of people dependent upon them.’


Flyways Music

‘Flyways celebrates the great bird migration between Africa and Eurasia along the Great Rift Valley, using music of the cultures over which the birds fly…’


Birds, feathers

Red caps Morley 26 Dec

Morley Beach is all glinting shallows today. It’s a long way from Pak Thale, where Flightpath: Thailand will make landfall in a few weeks.

Morley Beach is part of wide and wild Wilson Inlet near Denmark, on Western Australia’s south coast; here are muddy sandflats fringed with samphire groundcover and paperbark forest. Pak Thale is on the busy waters of the Gulf of Bangkok;  there, there are saltpans, mudflats, mangroves. For migratory shorebirds, both places offers a rest and refuelling stop on their annual long-haul flight.

feet and boots

A solitary greenshank calls alarm and takes off. Small flocks of resident red-capped plovers run and stop, run and stop along the receding waterline. Summer visitors are arriving –  at the moment there are sharp-tailed sandpipers, greater sand plovers, tiny red-necked stints. For the next few weeks they will rest, feed and bulk-up here, before developing breeding plumage and beginning the long journey, via the countries of the East Asian-Australasian flyway, back to their Arctic nesting grounds together.

My Great Aunt by Roland Leach

My great aunt was always looking for a husband.

She had a few and left them all. Attracted to water,

the distance it offered. She was good at loving

from a distance. My great aunt was always looking.

She was a good looker. Took a steamer out of

Liverpool for the islands of the East, imagining

them still as spice islands. Took men of all creed and colour.

Didn’t mind a risk my great aunt, could always find

a racetrack. Fell in love with a young naturalist on board,

grey-coated and too occupied with the flight of birds

to notice her. She liked that. Didn’t like fawning men.

Just attracted to water and distance.

She had her way though. Lured the poor man

in dresses soft as butterfly wings, the colour of macaws,

pretending she was in flight, which she was.

back stump web