Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Australia 1

Why no Australia posts, HAZ?

In the first days, there was the tremendous heat (>40 degrees - I need to say that in C just to keep up the habit), the weirdness of the sun being in the wrong half of the sky (makes it hard to find your way), and of the cars (mostly Japanese, lots of Mitsubishis and Toyotas) and roads all being backwards. Aside from that it's all pretty familiar. Public transport and beer are really expensive. The peanut butter comes in tiny jars and the legendary Vegemite is almost inedible. Not sure what to do about this situation, but I will cope.

This post isn't about peanut butter and cars, though, it's about animals. I've been living in Boston for almost 5 years, where the only animals are rats, pigeons, and seagull (i.e. rats and flying rats). I keep expecting to run into a giant spider somewhere - I was excited to see the big huntsmen that supposedly live around here - but it hasn't happened yet. I did witness - and fail to react quickly enough to stop it - a bunch of fellow party-goers going to the trouble of vacuuming up a poor white-tailed spider, which apparently is something of a weaksauce Australian brown recluse. There's a flowering bush in my backyard that bees love, I sat out this past Sunday afternoon and watched them up close for half an hour. I watched a possum run down power lines for a block. I saw the biggest ant I've ever seen, an inch long, she was carrying a leaf that must have been very important to her. Saved a big snail from the sidewalk.

Like I said, I've been in Boston five years, so I've come to appreciate these little things more than I used to.

I'd say the best part of the experience so far, as far as visiting a new land goes, is the birds. All the birds are different! There are lots and lots and lots of birds in the neighborhood, all songbirds (counting crows). The crows - or are they ravens? - sound different from American crows, but a lot like the crow noise that Jingping makes - so maybe Eastern crows all sound like this? It much less like CAW, and much more like MEH. I prefer the CAW, but I guess neither is a very musical sound. There are lots of magpies, and they make very interesting sounds, musical, complex noises, like a cowbird but much more elaborate. They may be imitating other birds too, but I'm not sure.

In the mornings I hear lots of different sounds that I haven't tied to anyone in particular - there are mourning doves - or something very similar, except with a spotted collar - that sit in pairs on rooftops, and they make a mourning-dove-like call but a different tune than the American ones. And there are mynas, I think - mid-sized songbirds with yellow streaks extending behind their eyes. These are basically starlings, colored differently, making similar croaking-chattering noises, stalking around on the ground looking for food.

There are lots of fruit trees in the neighborhood, and they're often full of these colorful birds - completely colorful, colors of the rainbow - which I think are ringneck parrots. I've seen them in pairs or in flocks. Most colorful birds I've ever seen, very beautiful. I think they chatter a bit, but I haven't noticed distinctive sounds. I've seen swallows catching bugs, and walked around a corner the other day to surprise a pair of brown ducks - odd since there's no water anywhere nearby, I suppose they were resting on their way somewhere.

Then there are the white cockatoos on campus, huge flocks of them. These are mid-sized birds, and they make a variety of noises, ranging from chicken clucks to cat yowls to baby cries. I walked through a host of them occupying some trees last night, and kept laughing out loud, they were the most ridiculous noises I'd ever heard coming from wildlife.

When I'm walking home at night, after dark, the birds are quiet, but every minute I see a crow fly overhead, on his way somewhere. The crickets at night are very loud, loud and disorienting. I've gotten down and picked through grass trying to find one, and failed, despite it sounding like it was right there in front of me.

Okay, that's it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

change of venue

Almost a month since my last entry. In that time, I've moved to Australia and become a neuroscientist.

Just in the last few days, I've gone surfing (or tried) and, for the first (and maybe only) time, made what might be an important scientific advance. I'm working on something really, really interesting. I won't tell you about it right now, but aside from missing my wife and sort of general decrement in living conditions, I am honestly really glad I came down here.

Melbourne weather is hard to deal with. I need a bike and a raincoat. The people here are generally nice. Beer is super expensive.

Just can't think of much to write, strangely. I'm in an investigative mode, very little writing lately. Much writing to do, but for once I feel like it can wait. Great things going on!