Thursday, 2 September 2010

Boom then bust

Over the last few months we've all seen images of central Australian plants and animals responding to higher rainfall and water in creeks and swamps, we've seen images of lakes like Lake Eyre that have earned the title 'lake'. Scientists have been out in the desert areas trying to document huge increases in bird numbers, breeding events, plants germinating from long-dormant seeds, mammals and insects that are finding the larder full for a change.

On our recent trip to the area round Alice Springs we found numerous Budgerigars breeding in River Red Gums along watercourses - it was a delight to watch their antics - and noted Zebra Finches simply everywhere. Seed supplies must be plentiful and water too. It would be wonderful to be able to explore places like the Simpson Desert and the Channel Country now, when they're at its best.

Scientists are gradually building up knowledge of how Australian plants and animals respond to the semi-arid conditions that cover 70% of our country, how they cope with long dry periods and times of plenty after rain events. Some of the experts were asked to contribute chapters to a book called Boom and Bust: Bird Stories for a Dry Country edited by Libby Robin, Robert Heinsohnn and Leo Joseph. It is an award-winner (the Whitley Award and the NSW Premier's Award) and our Eco Book Group decided to make it our study book this month.

We all agreed that Boom and Bust was a most enjoyable read and it generated a lively discussion. Each chapter of the book concentrates on one bird species' response to good times. We learned about woodswallows, zebra finches, grey teals, emus, koels and black-tailed native hens. And pelicans, and brolgas. And the extinct genyornis that couldn't cope at all well with changing climate and vegetation. And night parrots. So many interesting stories told well. We learnt that humans will have to learn to adapt to changes too and that there are lessons to be learned from observing the behaviour of white-winged choughs - all very charming and cooperative when food is plentiful but watch their true natures appear when there isn't enough food to go around. War is declared.

This is a book about birds but non-birders would enjoy it as well.

1 comment:

Gouldiae said...

Nice review Boobook, I'm intrigued. Loved the penultimate paragraph. I wonder will 'we' end up war-ing over water as we have done over oil? Hope we start doing something about sustainability soon.