Call of the Wild: Perth

While I was in Perth I was very conscious of my sound environment. While walking to the university every day I would often take out my cell phone and sample the ambient noise. The most interesting sounds to me were the bird sounds. This area of Australia has a large variety of interesting bird life. Among the most common that I saw were:

The black swans that live along the eponymous Swan River. Perth lies along the Swan Valley and the river drains into the Indian Ocean at Freemantle. They are often associated with the university and are pictured on the uni’s logo, but they are not often seen on campus as they stick pretty close to the river’s edge. But I did experience an iconic Australian moment as I walked from my office to the riverfront on the evening of Australia Day to watch the distant fireworks from Perth. Early in the fireworks show a squadron (less than a fleet, not quite a bevy, perhaps an escadrille — or, more precisely, five) of black swans swam along the shoreline directly in front of the cheering crowd. I captured the event on my camera, but it was, of course, dark, so the picture was not great, but it was awesome nonetheless.

Black swans on the Swan River, Australia Day 2015

Black swans on the Swan River, Australia Day 2015

I’ve heard the famous trumpeting of northern white swans, but I never heard a sound from these blacks. But they do apparently like to surf.

Among the most ubiquitous birds in the soundscape are the Australian ravens — large black crows that commonly have a distinctive tuft of feathers (hackles) on their throats. When I first heard a raven I thought the place must be infested with feral cats in heat. One often hears them in cacophonous choirs or in solo arias.  They are so loud and distinctive, there is no way to avoid hearing them many times a day. They are also a bit aggressive about pilfering the french fries of picnickers This one made off with an entire box and landed near me to relish his find.


And here is a recording of a particularly tragic raven song:

Raven complaint     

Also common are the Australian magpies and their smaller cousins the magpie larks. They are often seen together, so it’s not obvious that they are actually different species.

Australian magpie

Australian magpie

A magpie lark on the beach at Cottesloe

A magpie lark on the beach at Cottesloe

Often competing for domination of the soundscape are the rainbow lorakeets. These are beautiful little parrots that congregate in the tops of trees and can make a hell of a racket. Curiously, while there are unmistakably dozens, if not hundreds, of these birds in a tree, and while they are known for their brightly colored heads and breasts, they are almost perfectly camouflaged in the foliage and are only visible when they take flight, which they do one or two at a time, darting off too quickly to catch a picture. I tried numerous times to get a shot and this is the best I ever did.

IMG_2400aAnd here is what a tree full of lorakeets sounds like.

Rainbow lorakeets     

There were a few things I was determined to see in Australia if possible. One was a kookaburra. The uni has a few in residence that can be depended upon to laugh at your expense at certain times of day.



The university has amazing gardens and open lawn areas where students like to gather. The lawn between the Reid Library and the Tropical Grove is called the Great Court and is especially popular for picnic lunches under the trees. There are a couple of peacocks in residence who normally hang out in a dank concrete courtyard in the Art building, but they come out to socialize at lunchtime, not wanting to miss any opportunities to be seen (not to mention to find a scrap of bread here and there).


I rarely heard the peacocks calling, but I understand the art faculty are not always pleased to have them living in their courtyard.

Among the less common birds I saw, but didn’t hear were both white and and the rarer black cockatoos. I saw flights of blacks a couple of times, which I understand is unusual. I didn’t get any photos of them, but this pair of whites outside a restaurant on Cottesloe Beach were accommodating.


The other thing I wanted to see, of course, was kangaroos. JayJay took me up to see the Gravity Discovery Center up at Gingin, about an hour from Perth out in the bush. It is the site of the gravity wave interferometer array and I was interested to see it. As we were driving I mentioned I was hoping to see kangaroos. Well, there were none to be seen from the road, but on the way back, JayJay took an odd turn into a cemetery. It seemed an unusually busy place for a cemetery and it turned out to be a very large open parkland. And it is inhabited by what I have to believe must be literally hundreds of kangaroos. They are not domesticated, but apparently they know it’s safe to be there. While timid, you can actually get up quite close to them. They can be defensive, especially the large males, so it’s best not to provoke them.

IMG_2559aIn addition to the diverse wildlife, the area has some pretty spectacular trees. The university is chock full of giant eucalyptus, oaks, and a truly phenomenal Moreton Bay fig whose canopy I suspect spans nearly 100 feet (30m).

Moreton Bay fig (picture by UWA)

Moreton Bay fig (picture by UWA)

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