By Jnana Hodson

Emeritus professor of chemistry Woody Gillies, a Pembroke resident the past 13 years, is one of DowneastMaine’s avid birders. His lifelong passion for both ornithology and wildlife photography has led him around the globe, including six trips to Australia, where his sister and brother-in-law dwell, giving rise to his Sunday afternoon presentation on roos, emus, and kookaburras as well as many other creatures unfamiliar to most Americans.

For those of a Crocodile Dundee mindset, Gillies did have photographs and commentary on a vicious looking crocodile, a vividly colored and extremely deadly poisonous snake, and (ooh again) kangaroos, but his focus was on birds—most of them much more colorful than some of their North American cousins. Among them were some cockatoos (to continue that ooh theme). There were also varied parrots and even amusing penguins, who bodysurf ashore to feed their young.
Oh, yes, he did wear a broad-rimmed Australian Akubra hat, one made of rabbit skin, perhaps as a nod to Mick Dundee acted by Paul Hogan but more as a recognition of the environmental damage created by imports to the continent. On the other hand, his delivery was mercifully free of the “crikey!” excesses of TV celebrity the late Steve Irwin.
Blessedly, we still have Gillies, who humbly aimed his delivery to a full audience of all ages, some serious birdwatchers and others far less technically inclined. The robust turnout on a very cold afternoon soon engaged everyone. Remember, it was still summer Down Under, as his explorations reminded us.

This was also a travelogue, beginning with the 17-hour flight from Dallas (accompanied by some groans of recognition from the audience). While his birding explorations were mostly along the mountainous eastern side of the continent, Gillies didn’t mention that this was a distance spanning roughly from Eastport to Key West, Florida, maybe a 32-hour drive. Whatever in kilometers. Within it he has seen more than 300 species over the years.
Some of it is rainforest, where the dark river edges are a photographer’s challenge. Gillies delivered some impressive images, especially of heron species we don’t have here. Some of it is along dramatic oceanside bluffs, a terror for right-hand drivers on the highway above, though the pebble beaches below have small deep tunnels where young penguins are raised. The adults do a funny walk and sharp pause to look about before dashing to their young to feed them, as Gillies described.
He also ranged inland, where unprecedented drought has left some outback ghost towns. There we met the emu, the second-tallest bird of the world who can also look like a pile of hay, as well as the Australian Bustard, also noted for its height. We were also introduced to the Comb-crested Jacana, which uses its colossal feet to walk on lily pads, and to a host of robins, none of them related to or resembling our red-breasted spring harbingers, and to some of the 60-plus species of honeyeaters who extract nectar from tubular blossoms with their long paintbrush-tipped tongues.
Gillies did admit that he could have shown us dun varieties more akin to those we attract to our bird feeders, but he didn’t. He also mentioned that cemeteries, here and there, are great places to see a wide range of fine feathers. Who’d a thunk?
Retired journalist Jnana Hodson is the author of Quaking Dover: How a counterculture took root in Colonial New Hampshire and flourished, as well as eight novels and a ton of poetry.

Sunday Afternoons at the Arts Center programs are held in Eastport Arts Center’s cozy downstairs Washington Street Gallery, amidst rotating exhibitions. Admission is by voluntary donation; proceeds are shared equally between the presenters and EAC ongoing program The Concert Series, which offers year-round programming run by volunteers. No one is turned away for lack of funds. Find the full 2024 schedule and more posts about upcoming and past programs may be found at eastportartscenter.org/the-concert-series.