Christmas Island Bird’n’Nature Week

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I am on Christmas Island where Cyclone Gillian, which struck in February, showed her anger, as cyclones do. A stretch of rainforest in which Abbott’s boobies were breeding lost its canopy, and nests were destroyed and chicks killed. Many chicks rescued from the forest floor by national park rangers were reared and released. The cyclone probably helped one bird, the Christmas Island goshawk, judging by all the sightings over the past week. I am here as a guide on the Christmas Island Bird’n’Nature Week, now in its ninth year, and fellow guides Mark Holdsworth and Sue Robinson, who band goshawks as a bird week activity, had more success catching goshawks than usual. To attract one for banding they drag a fake rat on a length of fishing line 40 metres behind a slowly moving vehicle. The ‘rat’ is the leg of a teddy bear with a cable tie attached as…

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Don’t submit to cultural cringe

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The enthusiastic response to my latest book, Where Song Began, has been gratifying, but I have noted that a couple of reviewers, while praising the book, hesitated over a core conclusion – that the world’s songbirds had their origins in Australia. One reviewer described this as a ‘suggestion’ as if it were just a bold theory waiting to be proved or disproved by proper evidence. That is not really the situation. An Australian origin for the songbirds (oscines) has become the consensus position in science because the evidence is so strong, coming as it does from three sources: genetics, fossils and anatomy. A vast number of genetic studies, using many different genetic sequences, have shown that lyrebirds are the most divergent of all songbirds, and Australian treecreepers and bowerbirds are the next most divergent. The immense genetic differences between these birds (and Australian scrubbirds, which are seldom included in the…

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