3 October, 2021
Day three of Writing Nangak Tamboree.
It’s swooping season here.
In other words, it’s magpie nesting time, when eggs and young must be defended at all costs from interlopers.
Swooping season was never a thing when I was a kid, even though magpies were everywhere near our house. I first remember hearing about it from people who grew up in Canberra, where children apparently lived in terror of springtime and everyone had a theory about how to prevent your eyes being plucked from your head by a marauding maggie.
I have been swooped a few times since, and it is freaky. But you know what is deeply unnerving? Being watched solemnly by dozens of magpies as you walk along. They’re on the ground. You’re way bigger than they are. They don’t care. They don’t shuffle aside. They follow you along the creek path to make sure you keep walking. Move along, pathetic human. This is our place.
So you do.
Don’t look back.
But generally speaking, when they’re not psyching me out or swooping at my head, I love magpies. Most countries have birds called magpies, but they aren’t as gnarly as ours. And they don’t sound the same.
The carolling of magpies is one of the most familiar sounds of my childhood, along with a cricket broadcast on a distant radio and suburban lawn mowers. When I first moved back to Melbourne after a few years in NZ, I woke up and heard the magpies and wept. (In NZ you wake up to the distinctive warble of the tui, which is beautiful but not the same thing.)
If you’ve never heard it, here’s an adolescent magpie carolling by the creek. It has a few friends in the background.