A Bird’s Paddle [52]

Elizabeth Thomson Determines the Pecking Order

By Elizabeth Thomson

In the interests of increasing the number of female contributions to the Club’s magazine, I would like to report on a recent paddle by a bunch of birds.

There were ten birds in all:

  • Papa Goose – known for his honking behaviour;
  • Mama Goose – because she married him;
  • G1 & G2 – both juvenile ABC fans;
  • Common Brown Duck or CBD for short – because she lives in an urban jungle;
  • Turkey – rhymes with D……;
  • Pelican – an experienced fish killer;
  • Kingfisher – because she’s still trying to catch him;
  • Muttonbird – because she’s over forty; and
  • her Juvenile, Noddy – because it’s one vowel off his name.

The game plan was to land at Bonnie Vale at 09:30 on 14 November for a paddle up the south western arm of Port Hacking. Pelican and Kingfisher made it on time. The rest were late, in one case, because Turkey missed the turnoff. What a t……

Anyway, Turkey thought it would be nice to paddle along the northern side and then out of the bay and along the coast to South Cronulla.

They took forever to get ready! Everyone had such nice gear that they spent quite some time pecking over it. Mama Goose was trying out her Christmas present, a new red boat. They all looked very nice in their colourful ensembles. Collectively, they cut a fine pod-like figure as they paddled off.

Leading off was Pelican in a very nice rudderless white boat with an attractive wooden pattern on the deck. Following was Papa Goose in an impressive two seater, black and yellow boat with G1 and G2 in the front adding an affect of giggles and colour. Alongside was Mama Goose looking very festive in her sexy little red number. Then came Noddy. Noddy was paddling a substantial blue ensemble. Despite being heavy, Noddy’s boat cut attractively yet determinedly through the water. Not to be found at the rear, Turkey glided along quietly in a delicate green number, blending nicely with his environment. Kingfisher chose to be seen in a very tasteful baby blue outfit with a particularly feminine cut to the shape of the hull, while CBD was comfortably attired in her red, yellow and white number apparently borrowed from Mr CBD. And finally, we had Tail-end Charlotte Muttonbird, looking very proud in her summery white outfit, which included a bright lime green and white sail.

They headed across to the north side and paddled towards the mouth. They were all happy chatting away, establishing rapport and finding lots of common ground. They were deep in intense conversation when, instead of introducing themselves to each other, they found themselves being introduced to the rock platform. Kingfisher shouted, “Paddle!”

So, Mama Goose and Muttonbird paddled. Paddled hard. Up and over the crest of the wave. Yippee! They had climbed over their first wave! And felt proud. But then Papa Goose came striding up and honked at them to stop gaggling and watch out for the waves!

“Yes, Daddy,” they sarcastically replied in unison.

Safely off the rocks, they returned to their conversation.

The next significant event required them to round the bombora. Turkey, Kingfisher and Pelican went inside, while Papa Goose herded the beginners around the outside. The water was really nice. It was lumpy. The boats went up and down the lumps. And the wind was nice, too. Not too strong, not too weak, just right.

Skirting around the back of the bommie was not a drama. And once around, they could see South Cronulla beach. The plan was to land and have lunch with the native birdlife, but there were too many scantily dressed ones. It was too threatening for the female water birds in the flock. And so it was agreed that the little flock would turn around and head back the way they had come. Chickens.

It was now back around the bommie for the chicks. But for the experienced Turkey and Pelican, it was time for more gauntleting around the front. G1 and G2 were napping at this point. Papa, Mama and CBD had passed the bommie while Noddy, Kingfisher and Muttonbird were still coming round. At this point Papa started honking. Everyone looked up. Mama was in the water. In the drink. With her sexy red number sunning its bum to the sun!

CBD flew into action. Immediately her years of experience surfaced and she helped Mama secure her boat and started to set up for a T-rescue. We all crowded around like a bunch of seagulls after a chip. Papa was honking more now. And G1 and G2 were awake contributing to the chorus.

“Oh, no. Mummy’s in the water!”

“Mummy! Daddy, get Mummy out of the water!”

But CBD was on the job. The boat was quickly righted and brought around to begin Mama’s re-entry. At this point, Turkey and Pelican arrived having noticed the seagull behaviour and hoping that their superior rank might give them first go at the chip. But instead, eyeing the situation, without a moment’s fuss or hesitation, Turkey slipped in alongside Mama’s boat, stabilised it for her and methodically stepped her through the process of re-entry. After some grunting and groaning, Mama did it. She got back into the red number. With such decorum. Lots of delighted squawking was to be heard from the flock. Papa continued to honk on for a while longer, but soon too, he quietened down. G1 and G2 settled back to sleeping on the job.

It was a quieter flock that concentrated on the return to the waters of Port Hacking. Once back safely inside the Bay, their tummies started to grumble and so they landed at Gunnamatta Bay. Like a bunch of shags on rocks, they rested and dried off. It wasn’t long before they were scraping over the crumbs.

“Can I have some of yours?”

“Has anyone got extras?”

“I forgot to bring lunch. Can I steal some of yours?”

Deary me. With all that scraping, you’d think they were seagulls.

At this point CBD felt the need to return to her hubby and paddled back to Bonnie Vale. Maybe it was their flockish behaviour. Who knows? But she flew the coop.

Meanwhile, Papa Goose suggested a little jaunt in and around the next bay. An exercise in envy.

“Let’s go sticky-beak at the rich and idle,” he urged.

And they did.

But on the way, Kingfisher played chicken with a ferry! Turkey consequently got a bit vocal, gobbling loudly.

“Get out of the way!”

“No.”

“It’s got right of way…”

“No.”

“It’s bigger than you are!”

“No.”

“It’s too big to play chicken with!”

“No.”

But then she did – get out of the way, that is.

They all bobbed and bounced in and around the big boats, the beautiful boats, the loved boats and the forgotten boats. They craned their necks to inspect the houses, the wharves, the swimming pools. Indeed, it was a good geek.

The end of the bay was totally sheltered from the wind. Muttonbird decided it was time to stretch her wings and try out the newly stitched sail. Noddy was close by, ready to instruct as required. Well, as soon as the sail went up, the wind got it. The wind filled it. The wind took it. Muttonbird went into a tail spin.

“Oh, my God. How do I put it down?” she squawked. “Noddy, I can’t control it. I’m sailing into a pontoon. How do I get it down? Help!”

Being very accustomed to a squawky mother, Noddy barely reacted. But the squawking went up four octaves. Unable to ignore her any longer, he replied,

“Just release the cord with the black nob, Mum. The one with the black nob!”

Instant relief. The boat stopped flying. Muttonbird wasn’t going to plough into the pontoon after all. Meanwhile, at her expense, the rest of the flock were entertained by the sound effects. Their squawking and laughter was heard up and down the bay.

Muttonbird and Noddy then rejoined the flock, only to be enticed by Pelican to give the sailing another try. Muttonbird was reluctant, but she was presented with a dilemma. Say, no, and appear like a chicken, or say, yes, rise to the challenge and possibly impress herself… So with Pelican’s reassurance, up went the sail again. This time, with ongoing verbal instruction, the sailing sort of happened.

“Paddle, paddle, dab,” he instructed. “Paddle, paddle, dab. If you keep paddling, you stay stable. Paddle, paddle, dab.”

“Oh, my God. Wow. I’m doing it. But, I’m scared. Oh, boy. I don’t feel stable. I’ve had enough… Oh, my God. I want it to stop. How do I get it down?”

No answer.

“HOW DO I GET IT DOWN?”

Laughing.

“I SAID, HOW DO I GET IT DOWN?”

Louder laughing.

“H-E-L-P! Help me, PLEASE!”

“Just release the cord with the black nob,” laughed Pelican.

“Oh, yeah,” remembered Muttonbird. What a Drongo.

End of sailing lesson.

The flock was now on the homeward stretch. It was just a paddle across the mouth of the bay back to Bonnie Vale. They were all straggling along, taking their time, distracted by the scenery and having lovely little chats as you do. Nothing too strenuous. Just relaxed, gentle paddling. Remember, birds don’t bruise. Birds cruise! But this was too much for Turkey. I mean, you don’t just go out for a cruise. You have to exert yourself, hurt yourself, feel the pain and bruise. Right?

Turkey, having had enough of the cruising, announced in no uncertain terms to Muttonbird,

“Shut up and paddle.”

“Why?” was her bewildered response.

“Shut up and paddle!”

“What? Why?”

“Don’t ask why. Just paddle?”

“For how long?”

“Shut up!”

“Why?”

“Paddle!”

“OK! OK!”

“Good.”

“I’m paddling.”

“Shut up.”

“Stuff you, Turkey. You Bustard!” she fired back.

Muttonbird then paddled all the way home. But, by way of concession, quietly. Apparently, she was supposed to be practicing endurance paddling.

So there it is. A bunch of birds going on a very nice paddle. They all safely returned to Bonnie Vale, packed up and retired to Mama and Papa’s house for some Stolies and a few beers. All in all, a very nice day.

And, I have it on good advice that it was the first paddle in Club history where the women outnumbered the men!

So, who was who? Can you guess the identity of the birds?

Bird Glossary:

(Brush) Turkey
a black megapode (mound builder) with red and yellow wattles (side burns);
Pelican
a large waterbird with an enormous bill and pouch. Feeds by dipping head under water to trap fish in large pouch;
(Cape Barren) Goose
an aquatic fowl with a long neck, flat blunt beak and short legs, a waddling, clumsy walker on ground;
Common Brown Duck
an insect and seed eating duck commonly found in urban settings;
Kingfisher
large headed, long heavy billed bird which lives along the coast and estuaries;
Muttonbird
a migrating sea bird;
Noddy
a tropical ground nesting sea bird;
(Spangled) Drongo
a black, ground feeding bird which nests in trees;
Bustard
heaviest of all flying birds; walks majestically with bill carried superciliously at 45°.

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