Lyrebirds on the mountain

It was during our first morning meditation that I heard the lyrebird calling to me from the hill. I had only glimpsed and heard them on my previous visits to this place; a retreat centre perched on a hillside, shaded under canopies of tall mountain ash and tree ferns in the Don Valley. I took the first opportunity that presented itself to walk up the forested hill from where the mimicry emanated. A new, wide track had been cleared up the hill. Mud stuck to my boots, thickening the soles as I walked up the steep track. Eventually the track swung around to the south to meet an old track, which was thick with leaf litter, both fresh and decomposed. The track switched back on itself a few times and then I heard them again. Not one but several lyrebirds calling in song from the hill above. The sharp and succinct calls of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, Bell Minors, Currawongs, Rainbow Lorikeets and Kites all in quick succession. In front of me I saw two large forms fly over the track, down the hill and perch in the branches of a tree, high above the ground. I found a rock to sit on and then before me unfolded an epic bush theatre. Two male lyrebirds proceeded to engage in a chase down the hillside and back up again, circuiting through flight and running, up and down, up and down. Again they landed in the branches of a tree, this time just meters above me. Elegant tails fanned out, the definition of each feather visible from my vantage point. The male closest to me peered down and for a few moments we engaged in a stare. Then the chase resumed and the two birds launched into flight, veering past tree trunks and branches as they glided down the hill. It seemed like only moments later when the lyrebirds came careering onto the track from below, running with their powerful legs up the steep slope. All the while, another lyrebird was engaged in song, providing the soundtrack for the theatre that was unfolding before my eyes. The two males kept up their chase, flying down the hill, running back up with speed and then repeating the cycle again and again. I’m not sure whether the pursuit ended up or downhill from where I sat on the track. A faint scratching sound was the next thing to tug at my attention. A small female lyrebird scratched at the soil at the side of the track, moved back and looked at her scratchings to peck at any unearthed insects. She reminded me of a chicken.  She noticed me, seemed unconcerned and continued her foraging across the track and up the hill. I had always thought of lyrebirds as mysterious animals, elusive, shy. How then had I been let into this candid world?

The next day…
I had taken a walk down to the spring that emanates from the hillside, below the retreat centre. Under a canopy of tree ferns lies a rock pool where the spring water collects before trickling down to the forest floor. Sitting a little away from the pool my attention was pulled at by a faint splashing sound. A female lyrebird was standing at the edge of the pool washing herself. Neck bending down to the water, wings dipping in, splashing water onto her small, brown body. I’m not sure if she noticed me, I was wearing muted colours and was peaceful where I sat. After she left the pool I went to take a drink from the water pouring in from the tapped spring and then I saw her on a wet log nearby, preening her feathers, one at a time; wings, tail, each getting her attention. This time we meet each other in gaze. We each held our space and watched. Unperturbed, she kept on preening and hopped off the log when she was done.


After hiking back up the hill and into the warmth of the retreat centre I contemplated what the presence of these lyrebirds might mean for me. Other than an affinity with Rainbow Lorikeets, I have never felt drawn to having a relationship with animals in a totemic sense. So what sense did I get from these birds, what essence did they represent for me? At first I thought that they might hold up a mirror to the individual through their mimicry, but that didn’t feel quite right. Their mimicry of other birds is important, perhaps not to speak to some individual entity, but to draw together everything into one. A fractal. Each call is a fractal of something bigger. Maybe the lyrebird could represent unity. Everything together.

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Filed under Birds, Dogs & Trees

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