Thursday, 11 September 2008

European Goldfinch

I added another name to my not-at-all-impressive bird list the other day — a European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis). I was at Point Henry, scanning the water for something other than chestnut teal and silver gulls, when something sparrow-y zipped across the field of view. Then it landed in all its gold and black and white and scarletness and reminded me that not all small birds are sparrows. (Although if spotting them involves long treks across snake-infested grassland and through spiky scrub, then they usually are.)

Like song thrushes, goldfinches were introduced to Australia in the 1800s by immigrants who were having trouble adjusting to the different sounds of the Antipodes.

I tried to introduce the goldfinch and sky lark; and Dr. F., who, in each of his voyages has exerted himself greatly to introduce both birds and plants, took on board, when he last went out, two dozen linnets, and three dozen goldfinches; he landed three of the latter, and I saved two larks, but both males.

...

Singing birds, provided they are not of the kind which destroy grain or young fruit, (and even if they did, the loss would be trifling) would be a great acquisition to the Colonies, as they would tend to break, during a portion of the year, the horrid silence which so often reigns in the vast forests of New Holland and Van Dieman's Land.

Excursions in New South Wales, Western Australia, and Van Dieman's Land, during the Years 1830, 1831, 1882, and 1833.
Lieutenant Breton, 1835


Horrid silence?

Anyway ...

The goldfinch transported me back to London. Not literally, of course, although that could explain how humans managed to colonise the globe so rapidly. With a bit of effort I could construct a dispersal hypothesis involving migratory birds and the Flores hobbits. I'd be famous. Famous, I tells ya!

Okay. I'm now in CAPS LOCK territory. Where was I?

London.

I was born in Melbourne but grew up in the East End. We lived on the top floor of a crumbling Victoria terraced house near Bow Road tube station. By near, I mean the train line ran under the house. This accelerated the crumbling, which had been started by a bomb that demolished the last house in the row during WWII. What was left of it acted as a buttress to the others.

Am I digressing again?

The house overlooked a rather grim street. Not exactly Dickensian, but certainly grey and dull. Apart from the station, we also had a view of the panel beaters workshop. The sounds of my childhood were the rumble of tube trains and the whine of angle grinders.

But one day, I looked out of the window to see a goldfinch perched on the powerline. A little yellow and red bird that looked as though it were made of gold and rubies against the backdrop of concrete and old brick. And its happy, twittering song joined the sound of the city for a while.

Funny how some things stick in your mind.

2 comments:

Dave Coulter said...

What a nice post. We city dwellers need these glimpses of nature don't we?

Snail said...

They're very precious. I'm living in a rather grey bit of Melbourne but my garden is currently popular with white-plumed honeyeaters and red wattlebirds. Even the briefest glimpse of them makes me smile!