A Bali Starling in New York

Bali Starlings, white and blue and gorgeous, are truly rare in the wild. Caught and sold for the captive bird trade, they ended up in cages round the world, but almost extinct on their native island. A captive breeding and release programme has had only limited success and wild birds are still subject to poaching. I’ve been to Bali, twice, but I just saw my first Bali Starling last week – in New York.

I love New York. Great, wild, untidy, luxuriant…the scenery of another planet!
In the face of the exuberance of Manhattan life, you forget to see the dirt, the ugliness, the seamier side; only the splendour of the whole is obvious. Superlatives abound: buildings lour over Central Park, impossibly tall, like comic stereotypes; some streets truly are canyons; Fifth Avenue really is packed with the trappings of the obscenely rich. Stores are bigger, wealth is greater; life is larger; poverty – when seen in the world’s most famous city in the world’s richest nation – is sadder. Manhattan pulses, a living breathing dragon lying there beneath your feet…

Yeah, quite. See what the place does to my writing even?

Would I want to live there? My daughter wants to, even though she already has, for two years when she was a post-grad student. She had a tiny shared apartment with a single window that looked out onto a brick wall. You couldn’t see the sky. I would have hated it.

But ah, the other things. To walk everywhere, as New Yorkers do, and be so close to everything. To have the theatre and museums and music and the restaurants…

But not this trip. This trip we went to the children’s playgrounds where the maids bring the kids to play, except at weekends when it’s mum and dad’s turn. We went to the children’s museum (ditto). We went to F.A.O. Schwarz, which is a toy store that has to be seen to be believed. We went to the Central Park Zoo, where I saw my first Bali Starling living in the rainforest exhibit. We breakfasted in diners, where no one is going to say much if an almost-two ups his scrambled egg all over the floor; we dined in the evening on pizza brought back to the room…

And I went to the Darwin exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Natural History, while my daughter was dragged off by the almost-two to see lots of skeletons and stuffed animals. Especially large ones.

Much of my Isles of Glory is framed by the letters of an ethnographer who has visited the Isles. His character was his own, but his world was partly that of Joseph Banks, the botanist who sailed with Captain Cook (as did an ancestor of mine), and partly that of Charles Darwin and the voyage of the HMS Beagle in the following century. Thus this splendid exhibition – also a statement recognising the reality and wonder of the evolution of life on earth – was something very close to my heart. Ah, yes, there are times when I would indeed love to live in New York, to have access to exhibitions like this.

“The land is one great, wild, untidy, luxuriant hothouse, made by Nature for herself. How great would be the desire in every admirer of Nature to behold, if such were possible, the scenery of another planet! Yet to every person it may truly be said, that the glories of another world are opened to him.”
(Charles Darwin, on seeing a tropical rainforest for the first time: condensed from the “Voyage of the Beagle”)


A Bali Starling in New York — 6 Comments

  1. I am so jealous! I have been to Bali about 10 times and never managed to see one of them – not without trying though – sigh. I also had to cut New York out of ‘my big trip’ with my daughter. (Though as a big Sex in the City fan’ she was probably more upset than me) I’m sure I would feel swallowed up by its impersonal vastness.
    Kylie Seluka

  2. Oh yes, I remember FAO Schwartz. And one of my favourite pieces of stuff is my Bugs Bunny as the Statue of Liberty piece from the WB store. Still makes me laugh every time I look at it …

    Glad you had a great time. I’m so looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with NY.


  3. Kylie, it was strange how I kept rainforest parallels – impersonal vastness? So is the rainforest!

    And FAO Schwartz was staggering. I reckon it takes a brave parent to take a kid in there…

  4. I went to the Met on a Monday and it was closed so I said Yipee and ducked into Central Park next door and got myself a bunch of good spring warblers instead!
    Had a chance to go to the Met again another day but thought the Met will be there, the warblers may not. Another superb birding day in Central Park. The intractable birder in me.

  5. Alas, Smathi – this time I didn’t even take my bins/scope which were both in for cleaning and repair – in Austria! (Altho on a past visit I did indeed have a lovely time with migratory birds in the Park). This time I felt lost without the optics (castrated maybe?)but quelled the constant twitch that sent my hands to grasp the binoculars that weren’t for once hanging around my neck…

    Today I got them back. Wow, they look like new. Long live Swavaroski and their wonderful after sales service!

  6. Hi, there are more than 100 Bali Starlings flying in the wild on Nusa Penida, a small island off mainland Bali. Raised over the past 10 years by Begawan Foundation, the first 12 birds were released in 2006. A total of 65 birds were released, of which 58 survived. A total of 62 birds have hatched and flown on the island. The inhabitants take great pride in this flock. Next time you go to Bali, contact http://www.begawanfoundation.org

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