A male superb fairy-wren – when displaying, the male puffs up his black and blue feathers, and hides the brown ones, thus becoming even more glamorous.
Feathers in a dazzling shade of blue – in stark contrast with the black ones behind them, a song echoing from the undergrowth of tall eucalypts, a quick chase through the very same tussocks of grass where a nest might soon be built, and the occasional aerial acrobatics and nuptial gifts (a yellow petal) – such is the mating display of a male superb fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus). Observing this ritual every day, sometimes patiently waiting for it to begin, other times wishing it would slow down by at least a fraction to allow for data collection – such is the life of a field biologist.
A female superb fairy-wren – note the rings on its legs – each fairy-wren, male and female, in the fieldsite is banded with colour rings in a certain combination, which allows the researchers to know the identity of every female, and all the males that come competing for her attention.
I was fortunate enough to be immersed in the world of fairy-wrens and most importantly, of exciting behavioural and evolutionary research, at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia. In particular, I was a field assistant at Prof Loeske Kruuk’s Evolutionary Ecology and Quantitative Genetics Lab. As a recent graduate in Ecological and Environmental Science and hopefully a future researcher, I am particularly keen to develop my field ecology skills and learn more about life in academia. I spent the third year of my undergraduate degree on an exchange at the University of Queensland and have been longing to return to Australia ever since. Having fostered a fascination for birds for many years, I knew that I wanted to be involved in research on Australian birds. Assisting in the data collection for PhD student Gabriela Hajduk was the perfect opportunity. I was thrilled that Gabriela was keen to work with me, and through the assistance offered by the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund, I returned to the land that had previously enchanted me with its rich wildlife and diverse ecosystems.
One of many platypuses I was lucky to see in Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve – such interesting animals!
My happiness and gratitude for being able to contribute to ecological research in Australia overshadowed any worries I could have had before my departure – I knew Australia already and I am an enthusiastic list-maker, so I had a plan and if anything ever troubled my mind it was the faintest thought that Australia might not be as glorious as I remember it – what if my expectations were too high? Fear not, Australia is as beautiful as I left it, and in my time here I have stumbled across marvelous new landscapes, echidnas and platypuses, and what I find particularly inspiring – people who conduct first-class research and are driven by a passion and curiosity for their field. Following fairy-wrens and noting down their behaviour has honed my observational skills, and attending seminars on biological and evolutionary topics, participating in discussions and roaming around the corridors of academic buildings has made me even more certain that this is the path I want to take – a researcher and a lecturer. And I hope that one day I will also be able to share and cultivate knowledge as masterfully as my supervisors from the University of Edinburgh (Albert Phillimore Group and the Tundra Ecology Lab) and now from the Australian National University.
The fieldsite where I observed the fairy-wrens is actually the Australian National Botanic Gardens, which represent a rich collection of native plants from all corners of Australia.