I grew up in the country, in England. I played outside all the time, in the fields and the woods and the shore, and the best times were spent in, as Australians call it, the bush. I was interested in all the things around me – trees and rocks and frogs and hares and foxes – but my main interest was in birds.
I collected birds eggs. These days in Britain the RSPB has got bird-nesting into a place in the public imagination somewhere between fox hunting and live veal exports but there was a time when bird-nesting was seen as a normal way for a lad to learn about nature. Where do owls nest? Curlews? Corncrakes? I loved the nesting season and didn’t see any conflict between my collecting birds eggs and being a member of the Young Ornithologists Club, the kids’ version of the RSPB proper. My dad made a tray with sides about two inches high and filled it with sawdust and I set each egg so that it nestled into the sawdust as comfortably as it had in the nest, before I got my hands on it, pricked a hole in either end and blew the yolk out.
I knew all my birds and all their eggs: small, big, round, mottled, plain. My two most thumbed-through books were The Observer’s Book of Birds and The Observer’s Book of Birds’ Eggs. A long time was to pass before I started to question my egg collecting, about the same age that kids begin to wonder why we kill animals to eat them.
I’ve written elsewhere about having to come to terms with Australia’s birds. They’re on a continental scale and everything’s so much BIGGER over here. In Britain you learn to identify a wren; Australian bird books have pages and pages of wrens. Ditto robins, and any number of other LBBs (little brown birds). So when I found this egg at the end of the driveway I was stumped.
I think it might be a magpie’s egg. (If you look around the Net most are shown as blue with mottling, though the Museum of Victoria has a collection of 4,200 eggs donated to it in 1927, including an entire tray of magpie eggs in a cabinet) They nest over in the fig trees in Richardson Park; at the moment it’s cuckoo season and the channel-billed cuckoos predate on the magpies and crows. My guess is it’s been taken by a cuckoo, punctured and dropped away from the scene of the crime.