For the first time, I've got an inkling of how one could become a birdwatcher - a species I have hitherto thought of as the sad and obsessive, ornithological equivalent of the trainspotter: slightly eccentric loners who prefer birds to people, infamous for their anoraks, notebooks and binoculars.
Neale Park, where I begin my wanderings with the dog each day, is only a couple of hundred metres from the sea but this fact is obscured because State Highway 6 stands between the park and the water’s edge. Or at least it obscures it from the pedestrian and earthbound users of the park like me. For the winged and the airborne however, the highway is no kind of barrier at all.
Sea birds and fresh water fowl strut the park, graze on it, fly over it or wade in its puddles and generally treat the park as an extension of the estuary. In the mornings when the goal posts on the park’s football fields still cast long shadows I’ve counted 70 gulls plucking at the dew-wet grass. Mid-afternoon on another day, I saw a squad of black birds with red bills attacking the fields with exactly the same industry. When a golfer practising his stroke on the park inadvertently lobbed a ball into their midst they whirled up into the sky in a many-winged black shadow.
Mallards and paradise ducks often potter about in pairs on the churned mud of the playing fields. Five small heron I saw one drizzly afternoon, stalking about on long frail legs were almost the same colour as the rain and looked like grey ghosts.