A hippo amongst the birds on Lady Elliot Island

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I am not a person whose movements could easily be described as graceful.

Rather than walk, I tend to shamble, my progress marked by the sound of breaking glassware, shattering crockery and cries of dismay and despair.

Never has my gait been compared to that of a leopard or a gazelle. A hippopotamus, perhaps, but never a gazelle.

Thus it was that within moments of stepping on to Lady Elliot Island, I found myself in a rather delicate situation for the ground was covered with birds.

Not birds of the kind that take flight at your approach but birds which sit and stare unblinkingly at you as you walk, or in my case, shamble towards them.

And they had babies, fluffy chicks sitting obediently at their mothers’ sides and noisily demanding to be fed.

I knew that Lady Elliot was one of the country’s great bird sanctuaries but unwise in the way of the avian world, I expected them to be in trees where to my city-bred mind, birds belonged.

I managed to walk from the edge of the airstrip to the reception area without standing on one, stepping as a man might through a minefield, and headed for the beach.

I was about to cut across a grassy stretch when the earth began to move and then squawk.

Birds. Hundreds of them, wing to wing, all nesting on the ground and outraged at my approach.

I surrendered and detoured, past trees with branches that bent beneath the weight of the birds and their nests.

Some come from Siberia by way of Japan and the Philippines to this speck in the ocean, 85 kilometres north east of Bundaberg, perched on the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef.

Perhaps that’s why so many of them nest on the ground – there’s no room left in the trees.

It’s the early bird that gets the branch, I thought.

I walked along the beach, more crushed coral than sand, slipping and sliding as chunks of coral gave way beneath my feet, each step observed by several thousand pairs of eyes peering from trees and from among the vegetation which crept over the coral.

What would happen, I wonder, if in my clumsy, hippopotamus ramblings, I accidentally stood on a bird?

Would they rise as one, flapping wings darkening the sky and attack me, diving and pecking as I fled along the beach?

I was attacked by a lone plover once (and three Alsatians but that’s another story) that came diving out of the sun like The Red Baron.

There were tens of thousands of birds on Lady Elliot Island. I’d be reduced to a skeleton in seconds.

I retreated to the dining area, past the accommodation units sought after by nature lovers and scuba divers who flock to this eco-island and sought refuge in the bar.

I bought a very cold beer and looked out across the lagoon where the pale blue water lapped at the reef.

What a lovely spot, I thought, but no place for a hippopotamus.

Feature photo: CinemaBeach