”It seemed fitting,” Alma de Rebeira from Glen Forrest explained as she entered a room scattered with bird watching paraphernalia.
Alma and her husband Perry were rewarded for a lifetime’s work in keen ornithology yesterday, with the Order of the Medal of Australia.
The pair are still not sure who recommended their commitment to nature for a Queen’s Birthday honour but are delighted to accept it.
Perry de Rebeira worked as a scientist at the CSIRO until his retirement in 1991, when he dedicated the ensuing years to full-time bird watching and conservation.
This work was interrupted when he suffered a stroke in 2008 in the Great Sandy Desert while gathering data as part of the couple’s 10-year longitudinal bird study, which was then 80 per cent completed.
It was a five-hour bumpy and traumatic ride in a four-wheel drive for Alma to get medical attention for Perry in Broome.
Two years on he is slowly recovering his speech and movement and is still as keen as ever on his birds.
His studies into emus have uncovered important information never before known other than by Aboriginal people.
‘The fathers sit on the eggs and wait two months for the chicks to hatch. Once the eggs are laid the mother leaves and doesn’t come back,’ Perry said.
But he pointed out that emus are not his favourite birds.
‘They are a big bird with a small head which might explain why they never quite got smart enough to fly,” he said.
He regards the Australian crow, or raven, the kookaburra and the small red wing fairy robin as some of the most intelligent birds.
‘Cockatoos are pretty smart, too,” he said.
For Alma, a love of the outback and birdwatching in the desert have motivated her separate work on the Eyre Peninsula, where she has presided over the Eyre Bird Observatory in the old telegraph station building for 30 years.
She has been chairwoman of the management committee since its inception.