You will know, if you've read my Fast Forward post, that there is an Australian Magpie nesting in the bottle tree just beyond our bedroom window. Nest construction now seems to be complete. We have seen no new material going in recently, and she appears to be just sitting in it and surveying the park...
I must just go off at a tangent for a moment. I was speaking to Brisbane City Council and I discovered the name of the park - Waterline Crescent Park. All street names in the immediate vicinity are watery. We're very close to the river, see? We live in Tide Lane, which is just off Shore Crescent. But the park has an address. How cute is that? So, should you want to send the park a postcard, or Mrs Magpie, it's Waterline Crescent Park, 81 Waterline Crescent Park, Bulimba. OK, so it's a bit repetitive, but I like it.
It seemed very early to me to be building a nest. It is winter here still, not spring, but in northern parts of Australia breeding can start as early as June. Now Mrs M is sitting, I'm wondering if there are any eggs. If there are, I may miss the really exciting bit – I'll be in the UK for a good part of August. Eggs hatch about three weeks after being laid, and the young leave the nest about four weeks after that.
We'll have to watch out if we're watching them. Australian Magpies are famous for swooping at walkers and cyclists who they deem to be a threat, and they are especially territorial during the breeding season. The binoculars from the hide in the bedroom might be a better idea than a walk in the park.
These birds are also noted for their singing, which is usually described as carolling. According to a most useful website I've just found, climatewatch.org.au (which has really useful tips for distinguishing all the black and white birds I mention below), they have one of the world's most complex bird songs. Their voice is powerful and they have a truly extraordinary range, from high and quite piercing to low and mellow. Since they tend to live in groups, they sing together, too, and that really is a sound to behold. This was part of my diary on Monday, May 10th: 'As I sat writing this morning, I was privileged to witness the most amazing Magpie duet. Powerful, soaring, flowing notes from a pair on the TV aerial of a house opposite. I watched their little heads bobbing and their throats vibrating, in turn. What a spectacle. What a marvel. Very Gary Newman, Are "Friends" Electric.' I had to go outside and listen properly. I was very moved.
Their tunes sometimes resemble one of the English football chants, but I haven't been able to identify it yet. I must sing it to my elder daughter's boyfriend. The birds' other favourite is one-hit wonder Joan Osborne's '(What if God was) One of Us'. Don't worry, I'm still sane... and more than ever convinced, having witnessed the Magpies' awesome performances, that we don't need fairies at the bottom of our garden.
Australian Magpies were obviously named after their European lookalikes, but in fact are a different family of Passeriformes. There are a bewildering number of black and white birds in Australia and I still haven't got a handle on it. I know there are Magpie Larks and Currawongs and Butcherbirds, and Australian Magpies are closely related to the latter two. So closely, in fact, that when we had a breakfast visitor in May, I assumed it was a Magpie. But no. This splendid chap is... I think... a Pied Butcherbird, who wasn't partial to grapefruit.