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Knob-fronts a sure sign of spring

Date

Ian Warden

The knobby-nosed leatherheads are back!

Hearing sudden bursts of hysterical laughter in my Garran street in the early mornings these days your columnist first took it to be highly-amused neighbours reading the extravagant ACT party political promises reported in their morning papers. But no. After just a moment's reflection it dawned that this sound, not heard since last summer, was that one, true, irrefutable, annual declaration that Canberra's spring really is underway. It was the first cackle of the season of the noisy friarbird (Philemon corniculatus). It's also called, the infallible multi-volumed Handbook Of Australian New Zealand And Antarctic Birds (Volume Five) reports, the knobby-nosed leatherhead, knob-fronted bee-eater, knobbynose and four-o'clock. It gets the last of those names from the old idea that its cackles sometimes seem to include the announcement that it is ''four-o'clock.''

Where does this endearingly ugly and mysterious species go between its last cackles of late summer and its first Canberra arias of the following September? The aforementioned Handbook says its movements are ''complex, and not well understood''.

Welcome now in suburbia (its call is one of the quintessential sounds of a Canberra summer, like the ''owzat?'' from a distant oval), Samuel Shumack in his Tales and Legends of Canberra Pioneers, remembered them as ''leatherheads'' and had them on his list of blunderbuss-attracting pests despised and hunted by local ''bush orchardists''.

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