And raptors are my favourite group of birds.
Last week I had the five minute pre-dawn pleasure of watching a Hobby hawking over a small grassland one small dune back from the mouth of a large river emptying into the Gulf of Carpentaria in south-eastern Arnhem Land.
My bird was a young male Hobby, all grey-black and undisguised purpose – to catch and kill grasshoppers or any other small thing that was out and about in the long course of grass that lay before me.
I first noticed the bird as I sat in rising light with a bush breakfast of coffee, a piss, a fag and farts as he swept in to roost and consume some small prey – most likely a grasshopper – on the electric wires just yards to my left. Ever intent on feeding and watching all about.
For the next five minutes I watched him dance before me, alone as the sun rose slowly behind us.
He launched into a series of long – grass seed-head-low runs south along along the football sized grassland area that ran away to my left before me.
In front of me was a dead-stop and turning point as he came back, all eyes and talons looking to kill and eat.
I’d never seen a Hobby hunt so low and to see this bird’s raw power as he swept along before me was a thing of glorious beauty.
I could almost hear the rattle of seed heads and rustle of dry grass as he passed but inches above them, gliding, then pushing himself forward with a burst of unbridled muscle and feather.
I went inside for another coffee and as I came out the light had changed and the falcon was gone.
A hundred birds were before me in the sky and on the ground.
Here two Whistling Kites cruised downwind effortlessly away from the risen sun, doubling back with obvious efforts to row into the freshening breeze.
Single Great Egrets pulled their unlikely selves upstream against the morning breeze, Omo-white body and neck and black legs and long bill. Torresian Crows – all beak and croaking caws – wandered in from their night roosts.
Silver Gulls cruised downwind along the shoreline and Crested and other terns cruised offshore.
There at ground level irregular ranks of Magpie Larks picked their way across the open grass in a score-strong horde, all black and white flutters and jumps as they grazed.
Where one bird had dominated the morning landscape five minutes before, now everywhere was birds.
I found the Hobby – another coffee and a half-hour later, perched atop the communications tower in the centre of town with a female bird roosted nearby. They stayed there for the next hour or so, watchful to all that passed below and perhaps – apart from me – unseen or regarded by anyone else.
These are good moments in any life.