Contact from the Outer World

Watching a big male emu and his chicks walk straight toward you as you crouch on the sidewalk at the edge of suburbia is like being visited by aliens.

“What do they want?” you wonder. “Where did they come from? And where will they go when they leave here?”

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Well, it turns out that emus do actually wander off into the bush at night to sleep, though the thought is still funny to me. They find a place that they assume is more sheltered than anywhere else and slowly doze off after a period of sleepy vigil, folding their long legs under their bodies and curving their necks back. I imagine they’re fairly well camouflaged at that point. The chicks, according to Wikipedia and this fascinating article on “The Sleep of the Emu” (so many questions answered!) stretch out a little less gracefully, necks flat along the ground like sleeping ostriches. The emus wake up periodically throughout the night, grazing and defecating for a while before settling back down up to eight times.

Someone (Immelmann, the author of that article) stayed up all night ten days in a row in some zoological garden in Germany to collect this information. I think someone needs to do the same for emus in the wild, though getting them to sleep normally in the presence of humans would be a challenge. This is what I love about science- we figure one thing out, and have to resort to ever-more absurd tactics to get closer and closer to real answers about the basic workings of the world around us. We’ll never really know what emus do in the Outback at night until we can follow them around, and we’ll never really know what it’s like to walk on a planet not our own until we load up a rocket with literal tons of explosives, sit a person on top of that, and light it on fire. There’s so much left to explore, and so many crazy scientists ready to commit their sleepless nights and endless calculations, frustrations in coding and camouflage and mosquito bites and sterilized lab equipment, to the pursuit of knowledge.

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In a sort of thematic segue (I try, okay?), I’ve received some other contact from the outside world! Because internet is so expensive here, I feel like I’ve been a bit (or a lot) absent from the planet as a whole, wrapped entirely up in my two housemates, our boss and his family, and the approximate 3 other people we know in town, along with 112 humpback and 250-ish bottlenose dolphins. Keeping up with my friends and family has been difficult, so you can imagine my delight at seeing one Sheila Brady, who turned up in Exmouth a few days ago!P1080767

I can’t say how much it means that she came all that extra distance to hang out and bring some much-missed news of home and general cheerfulness!

-Agent Red Squirrel

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Best Looking Birds

As we chatted with the tour operator at Yardie Creek, a group of elderly travelers disembarked around us. Wives helped husbands with canes out of the low seats, and their cheery organizer/guide asked for a vote on whether or not to walk up the trail a bit (it seemed like nobody was that enthused). One khaki-clad man, seemingly alone, paused as he passed us three Team Sousa members.

“Best-looking birds I’ve seen all trip,” he grumbled in our general direction before stomping up the few steps to the dock.

My first (innocent) thought: I wonder where they’ve been, and if they’re all on a bird-watching trip?

My second thought: …gross.

Crusty old Australians aside, Yardie Creek (Yardi means “creek” in one of the many Aboriginal languages of Australia, so really all of us immigrants and tourists are referring to the briny tidal waters as the “creek creek”) did in fact host some lovely birds. Ospreys seem to be a theme around here:

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It feels like everywhere we go, someone points out an osprey nest to us. Doesn’t make them less awesome, though- this one has reportedly been occupied nearly continuously for 80 years at least. It may not always have contained chicks, but the past few years have been productive for local ospreys, evidenced by the juveniles and new nests we’ve seen around the area. They’re very fun to watch from the boat, as they dive for fish and flap, low and slow above the waves, with their struggling prizes.

Corellas, with their cockatoo head plumes and raucous screeches, followed us from the trees of Exmouth to the cliffs of Yardie and the Cape Range. They’re not the only things sheltering in the little caves worn into the rock faces (more on their other occupants in a later post), but they certainly make an impression. They flash white feathers over ledges and splay their wingtips to impress their companions and warn away hovering birds of prey, and peer down at the boat below with heads cocked.

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A kestrel of some kind, with a tiny bit of snake in her mouth, landed just shy of these two youngsters who were tucked away in an overhang. They shuffled out to peer at us as we peered at them, wide-eyed and wobbly.

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Among the other lovely long-legged locals, this white-faced heron gave us a good show. Best-looking birds, indeed, random old guy. Best-looking birds, indeed.

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