The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
Nature Studies in Palestine
Bird observing would be a pleasant hobby for an airman; he could follow the, eagle's flight, soar with the vulture, and learn secrets of migration in Autumn and Spring. But even those of us who may get no nearer Heaven than a camel's hump will take us. can watch wild birds with profit: for many species spend more time on the ground than in the air.
Palestine birds form a pretty big flock, and in a short article one can glance at only a few familiar kinds, such as the roost casual eye could not fail to notice. Some soldiers are keenly interested in birds. At Sheik Nuran, I had a tame quail, and my next door neighbours often tried to lure it into their bivvy. Very kind, of course; but I had visions of my little brown bird being baked some morning Well, it escaped that fate, and finally regained its freedom in the wilderness.
Of big birds, Palestine has its share. The golden eagle, second in size only to the Australian eagle-hawk, which is king of the tribe, has been seen in the land The "aero plane bird" is also a fine eagle. Its popular name, a spark from some soldier's brain anvil, refers to circular markings, on the under surface of the wings. When you gaze up at an "aero plane bird", these circles on the outspread pinions resemble those on the wings of a 'plane. It is fine to watch eagles soaring over those great dunes near the coast; their shadows sweep over the white slopes as if a sea wind were shepherding little clouds across the blue.
Vultures should be viewed from afar; they do not improve on close acquaintance. On the ground, enjoying post prandial reflections they look as melancholy as a gharry driver when he gets nothing over his right fare, but high in air, vultures are glorious to behold, especially the Egyptian species, whose white plumage shines against the blue of the sky: why, it might be a baby angel, instead of a carrion-eating bird.
Owls you must seek in wild places, among the hills and in the wad is, where they hide in dark crevices while it is light, but come forth to hunt their prey in darkness. In the Holy Land lives one of the prettiest owls in the world, a comica, friendly little creature, fit for a lady's pet. There are big owls, too, with fierce eyes, and talons that could rend a dog.
Of old time, quasi were sent in millions as food for the wandering Israelites; but some must have dodged the pot, for quail are still plentiful in Palestine. Walk where bushes and grass tussocks afford cover, and you will flush scores of the plump brown birds, whose fate, too often, is to be served up to gourmands on crisp buttered roast!' Tis a misfortune for birds to have delicate flesh.
Wheatears fare no better than quail. There are several species of Saxicola; that most commonly seen in the Desert is a greyish-brown bird, with a white patch on the rump. It makes short, quick flights, pausing after each to gaze around like a sentinel.
Many small birds are attracted by camps, and can easily be timed with Kindness. The blue-throat might be called the ''bivvy bird", it is such a persistent visitor to our dwellings. It flits from bivvy to bivvy, staying only a minute in each ere seeking the sunshine again. Sometimes it makes a gilt ot song, but generally t quietly, gives a friendly look around, flirts us tail, and is gone. A dozen rounds of visits a day is nothing unusual for Luscinia; and wherever it goes it is welcome. Swallows fly over the camp, but rarefy enter a bivvy. Their bright, gliding forms bring memories of our golden days, "when thoughts were skimming swallows, and the brooks of morning ran."
Those sprightly wagtails that glean in the horse lines and trip about the sand, light-looted as a dancing girl, are not, as so many fellows believe, first cousins of the Australian fantails; they belong to a different genus. The white wagtail and the yellow-breasted species are both pretty numerous. Though happy enough in the Desert, they are really water-side birds. In a wad is you see them splashing and wading, or chasing injects above the stream. Had a low rampart around my bivvy near Khan Yunis, and a white wagtail used it as a promenade. For a while he had it all to himself, then a yellow-breast put in a claim, and feathers began to fly. The scrap ended in victory for the first comer.
Palestine is a land of larks; wherever you go almost, there are larks by the hundred, and in Spring and Summer they make the welkin ring with joyous song. The crested lark is no scorner of the ground, like the poet's bird, for it sings as blithely from the heart of a bush as it does when on the wing. When poppies are splashing the plains with scarlet, you may look for larks' nests in the barley, or among the yellow flowers, where bees with pollen-dusted thighs are droning sleepily.
Bird life in the villages is a delightful study, though it is rather sad to see hoopoes prospecung amid garbage, and palm doves hob-nobbing with sparrow son the housetops. Still, there it is. The sort, liquid cooing of doves becomes a burden, unless one is keen on ornithology; and a Billjim has even been known to threaten the line of a peaceful dove, because it disturbed his siesta in the shade of a noble old palm. Whistling kites and cawing crows were also classed as ''nuisances" by the weary soldier; but I guess he had no ear for music.
The hoopoe is entitled to everybody's respect; it is of Royal lineage, and was a favourite of the monarch whose splendour dazzled the Queen of Sheba. The hoopoes, says an Arab legend, asked Solomon for golden crowns, and got them. Wonder what yarn they rang in on the clothing board I Well, after swanking for a time, the birds became fed up with their heavy headpieces, and handed them in to Solomon's Q.M., who gladly issued feather crowns in exchange, the crests they wear to this day.