In the musical mythology of Persian culture, bird song was considered a form of zikr or remembrance of God, praising creation. I have been fascinated with bird song and its visual notation since first encountering Olivier Messiaen’s Réveil des oiseaux. He created birdsong sonograms, notations which for me, captured the mystery and joy of birdsong. When the opportunity came to apply for this residency at la filature, I envisaged recording many different varieties of birdsong and using this in my artist books. The project morphed into recording more sounds of village life, with some birdsong as a background.
Today however, with my presentation and workshop finished, we had the time on this my last day, to visit the Hôpital Faune Sauvage, a wildlife hospital established ten years ago by the indomitable veterinary surgeon and biodiversity advocate, Marie-Pierre Puech in Laroque, about 40 minutes from Lasalle. Marie-Pierre was also instrumental is setting up a raptor feeding station on the site of the former county rubbish dump. I was keen to see and record a range of birds, what I hadn’t realised was the amazing and important work this hospital was doing to nurse and repatriate injured and orphaned birds.
Many are migratory birds and during summer the hospital is filled with nestlings fallen from nests, baby birds abandoned by their parents, injured and sick birds. Last week they took delivery of 180 swifts. It takes five people, all volunteers, over one hour to feed these birds and it must be done four times a day. It now being a Sunday and the French holidays, most people take their vacation time so there are not as many volunteers. The birds only get fed three times a day on a Sunday as there are just not enough hands to do the work.
We followed Marie- Pierre as she banded owls, moved birds from smaller enclosures to larger ones so their wings could be strengthened and checked on the success of her avian operations. At the end of the afternoon we loaded up her car with a box of starlings for release back into the wild and a bag full of dead birds which hadn’t survived the trauma of their rescue which were then to be fed to the raptors.
What a privilege to be allowed to go with Marie-Pierre out to the raptor feeding station. When we got there the sky was filled with kites, just circling and swooping on the updrafts. These have greatly increased in the ten years she has been allowed to use the dump as the feeding station. To finish the day she released 10 starlings which had been nursed back to health, knowing they may not survive as they are still considered a pest and are fair game for shooters. But to her, every bird is worth saving, and it is a “benediction” for the soul to release the healed birds back into the wild. As Marie-Pierre always carries binoculars and a telescopic lens we also got to see a pair of young vultures high up on the hills.
We returned to Lasalle exhausted but also hopeful of the work being done to promote biodiversity, to advocate for humans to change their perception of nature, not as something to be exploited but integrated in this vast chain of life. If rubbish is burnt there is no food for the vultures, if organic waste is left out, insects come, dung beetles, flies, which in turn brings birds to feed on insects, and vultures to clean up the carcasses. Nothing wasted, all life a cycle of death and rebirth. "This is a big project," she said. "Maybe we could put microphones near the cameras to record the sounds. You must come back soon," she said. Peut-être, Maybe, who knows?
This project was assisted by a grant from Create NSW, an agency of the New South WalesGovernment. The NSW Artists' Grant is administered by the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA).