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We are, as regular readers know, a family of bird freaks. We will go to any lengths to see  birds, interact with them, talk about them. Gill knew, when I went to Australia for my second time, that I was anticipating with even more than my usual glee, seeing the country’s avian wildlife. We had no idea that I would meet the Mother Lode of bird life. As pictures of my avian adventures arrived at Gill, Li’l Sis and Crazy D’s places, I swear I could hear the delighted cries all the way across the world!

During my trip to Oz last year, I saw birds — lots of them. In fact, I drove The Man In My Life crazy with my constant ogling through bus windows, shrieking, : “Oh, it’s a field full of cockatoos!” Or taking pictures of birds. I admit I did go a little overboard. And since I did, I was a bit surprised that he’d want to take me a second time. To my delight, he arranged for us to take in many adventures that would involve nature generally and birds in particular. He is a brave man — and a smart one. He knows the way to my heart is through a pile of feathers.

The first day in the condo on Hamilton Island, we gathered (the two of us plus his son, daughter-in-law and their two kids) on the deck for lunch. Views of the ocean were spectacular. It was hot, sunny and thoroughly relaxing.

Suddenly, as we ate, a white blur flew at us and landed on the deck railing. I just about lost my lunch I was so excited. It was a large white sulphur-crested cockatoo. He fanned his topknot out for us, fluffed out his feathers, and took up vigil on the railing, waiting for lunch. His large black eyes were ever so coy, his one foot raised periodically in a submissive gesture. This bird was no stranger to the finer techniques of begging. After holding me back for several minutes, the group decided we might feed him a little something. Out came the grapes.

I, of course, volunteered to feed the bird first. It was so large and its beak so menacing for those not familiar with large birds, the rest of the group decided to wait and see how the creature would react. Some might have seen this as ‘throwing me into the lion’s den’, but not me! I was practically tripping over myself in anticipation. I held the grape out to the cockatoo and he took it, very gently, in his beak and then, with his foot, manipulated it so he could peel the skin off and then eat the grape. His touch with the food was incredibly delicate. Finished, he took up his begging pose again. Shortly, another white blur flashed past us. Another cockatoo. Apparently word was out that the diner was open and doing business! In short order, we had a total of six cockatoos and two Kookaburras on the railing. For the most part, they stood in line and took turns politely.

Then came the moment when I failed to keep up with the grapes. The troops were getting restless. One bird sidled closer to the one next to him and tentatively grabbed for the other’s grape. Anticipating that a fight was about to break out, I turned towards the cup of grapes on the table to get more. As I did so, I felt a claw on my shoulder. The bird was trying to mount my back! It was unwilling to stand in line and wait patiently.The Man In My Life, alarmed that the bird was thinking about ME for the rest of his meal, warned me to get out of harm’s way. I turned to face my aggressor, handed him another grape, and quiet was restored. But just to be on the safe side, we made an executive decision to close the diner early that day.

Every day we were there, the cockatoos returned. Often, we heard their claws land on the roof above, the clattering announcing their arrival. Then, the birds would peer, ever so curiously, over the eaves troughing, letting us see only the large white heads with yellow crests and the huge beaks. This was the ‘advance party’, obviously checking the opening hours for the diner.

We soon discovered that the cockatoos had taken over begging duties down by the marina restaurants as well. In fact, they seemed to have learned their habits from the seagulls, often competing for the same food. I used to think that seagulls were noisy when foraging for food, but they have nothing on the loud screeching of a pack of cockatoos! And these huge white birds seemed to be law breakers of the first order — pausing to sit sometimes right on top of the ‘Please do not feed the birds’ signs. The locals worry that, if humans keep feeding the flocks, they will soon be unable to find food in the wild. I have to say, though, seeing them standing on the signs, that ship has sailed!

Now I admit that we were wrong to feed the wild birds…but I also know there was no way I was NOT going to feed them! This was the experience of a lifetime. So lock me up and throw away the key…I can die happy, having been surrounded by Cockatoos.