A Further Word About the Australian Magpie
What better way to conclude the Australasian Road Safety Conference, thought me, then to head out for a spot of cycling in Canberra, where spring is just on the wing. My guide was Ashley Carruthers, an anthropologist and member of local advocacy group Pedal Power (and my ride was a surprisingly nimble fold-up Dahon). Canberra is one of those intensely planned capital cities, its geography dictated by fiat and compromise, its layout and design (via the American Walter Burley Griffin) evoking, to my mind, D.C. — though, as Carruthers noted, reputedly infused with esoteric and hieroglyphic meanings. While the city, cycling wise, hasn’t gotten the attention of, say, Melbourne, with its new sharing scheme, Pedal Power boasts a large and active membership, and there’s a fairly wide trail network (though not much evidence of on-street cycling, in the area I was staying, at least).
Now, about that magpie, which I had tweeted about briefly in reference to its intoxicating song. It turns out they can be rather fierce enemies of those on bikes, swooping down from trees to land on their helmets and peck at their ears. As a countermeasure, riders will strap plastic twist-tie-like things to their helmets, virtually sprouting of their heads like gangly antennae. It was a bit unnerving to find a couple of these fellows coming toward me, the shock troops of some alien two-wheeled race. I’m not sure if this sort of thing happens elsewhere, but it was the first I had seen in such active preparation for avian attack. Yesterday, at least, the magpies were quiet.
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