CSIRO Publishing

Ecologist Steve Morton’s new book opens with a telling anecdote: as a young scientist in Alice Springs, he often advised visiting film crews about promising locations for their nature documentaries. When one group returned after a week in the desert, they reported back on a single hitch in an otherwise successful trip – a lack of wind-blown sand dunes. To fix this problem they cleared spinifex off a dune, creating a large expanse of bare sand, the illusion enhanced by accommodating morning winds.

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Night Parrot by Penny Olsen is more than a biography of a bird that spent most of the twentieth century successfully hiding from people. It is a historical biography of human determination and obsession, and of the ways in which this bird has acted as a catalyst for transitions between those two psychological states ...

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In July 2009 I toured the Murray-Darling Basin and northern Queensland with a group of American college professors to see firsthand how the waterways of these regions were faring. By this time, south-eastern Australia had been in drought for nearly a decade, reducing its rivers and creeks to mere trickles. Aboard the MV Kingfisher, we explored the wetlands of the Barmah Choke, the narrowest section of the River Murray, where thirsty River Red Gums stood starkly exposed along its banks. Years without flood, as Chris Hammer observed in The River: A Journey through the Murray–Darling Basin (2011), was changing the Barmah ‘from a wetland to a woodland’. But the drought did break, eventually: twelve months after my visit the river flooded and the inundation of the region’s floodplains brought relief to the many species, human and non-human, for whom the Murray is their lifeblood.

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Boom & Bust: Bird stories for a dry country edited by Libby Robin, Robert Heinsohn and Leo Joseph

by
June 2009, no. 312

The concept behind this book is unusual and ambitious. In twelve essays centred on charismatic birds of Australia’s inland, the authors attempt to provide a deeper understanding of the ecology of arid Australia. They also hope that their writings will provide insights and inspiration about how humans might live there in a more sustainable way. Birds were selected as the linking theme of these essays because their ecology is comparatively well known, because their mobility increases the options available for surviving in the harsh and unpredictable desert environment, and because birds, to many readers, are the most familiar group of animals.

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Gilbert White, in 1789, declared that ‘the language of birds is very ancient and, like other ancient modes of speech, very elliptical: little is said, but much is meant and understood’. How then to portray the speakers of such language? How to give them meaning and understanding as well as plumage?

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