Eastern Yellow Robin
The title ‘Sydney Weekly Wildlife’ does imply new site content at weekly intervals. I’ve fallen well short of that mark over the last couple of months as life has thrown up a few challenges. It wasn’t that I was doing less bushwalking, just that I lacked the focus and attention to see what was passing by.
My stroll through the fog came to an abrupt end while walking on a rainforest path in southern Sydney. An Eastern Yellow Robin was perched a couple of metres ahead on a diagonal branch. I took a step forward and away it flew. I pursed my lips to give a soft ‘squeak’, a strange but successful technique for attracting small birds. Instead of one bird returning, I immediately found myself surrounded by five Eastern Yellow Robins.
One landed on the track at my feet, one on a branch to my left and another three in the tree overhead. They proceeded to flitter between perches to get a good look at the intruder. I suspect the group was a pair accompanied by the season’s offspring. After a minute they all departed as abruptly as they’d arrived. Perhaps they decided I wasn’t planning to contest their rights to the local insect population.
It was a wildlife encounter of barely a minute, but standing in a twister of robins does wonderful things for your spirits!
Brown Thornbill are one of the smallest birds in Australia. They spend the day endlessly foraging in the mid to lower canopy. Their feeding technique involves searching both sides of leaves for clinging insects, spiders and other arthropods. They have long thin bills and use these to grasp their prey, which they subdue with a quick whack against the nearest branch.
Brown Thornbills are a species you usually hear before you see them. They can be tricky to identify from call alone, as they are inclined to a bit of mimicry.
Brown Thornbills prefer to build their domed nests close to the ground. I found a Brown Thornbill nest while spotlighting in the valley below our house. The nest was attached to a young eucalypt and hung barely 30 centimetres above the leaf litter. The egg-shaped structure built of twigs, strands of moss and feathers could easily have fitted into my hand. I’m sure I would have walked straight past the nest in daylight, but one of the advantages of spotlighting is that it concentrates all of your attention on that narrow spot of light.
Completely filling the entrance to the nest was the head of the incubating adult. The nest was so tiny and seemed so completely filled by the adult that I wondered how a clutch of youngsters could possibly fit inside. I resolved to come back a few days later to see how the pair were faring.
It wasn’t until a week later that I returned to the nest. I was disappointed to find it strewn across the ground. I suspect a cat, an all too common predator in Sydney bushland. Hopefully the adults escaped to try again.
Brown Thornbills and White Browed Scrubwrens are the most common small insectivorous birds of local forest and woodland. This changes when you move into rainforest, where a different trio takes over as the thin-billed insect eaters.
Yellow Throated Scrubwren
Yellow Throated Scrubwrens are the largest of the rainforest’s thin-billed insect gleaners. Yellow Billed Scrubwrens will often follow a Superb Lyrebird, darting under its feet to grab morsels too small for the larger bird’s notice. They are also quite capable of shovelling leaf litter around themselves, especially while breeding when they prefer to stay close to the nest.
The nest is a surprisingly big structure that is hung from a branch over a creek or river. It is made of leaves, wood fibres, moss and a lyrebird tail feather or two.
The adults scold anything that approaches close to the nest, making a clattering call as they bounce around the intruder. This year I’ve spotted several Yellow Billed Scrubwren nests, a pleasing sign that the species is doing well in suitable habitat.
Large Billed Scrubwren
Large Billed Scrubwrens have a slightly longer bill than the other scrubwrens and thornbills, but I can’t help thinking that the only reason they have this name is their lack of any other distinguishing feature. They truly are a little brown bird. Behaviourally, their foraging behaviour is quite distinct from any of their relatives. They spend most of their time in the rainforest searching low branches and aerial roots for arthropods. They will also probe the clumps of dead leaves that get caught in foliage after a flood, methodically climbing the clumps in search for food. A few times I’ve thought bird’s I’ve spotted doing this were nesting, but each time the ‘nest’ proved to be another ball of flood debris.
The smallest of the rainforest specialists is the Brown Warbler. They are smaller than the Brown Thornbills and are just as active searching through foliage for insects and spiders. They have the delightful habitat of hovering to snatch food from the underside of leaves, although I’ve found it impossible to capture this behaviour in an image. Thankfully when they do catch something, before giving it a whack and swallowing, they take a short breather, long enough for a quick shot.
Small, fascinating lives of the forest. Just the thing to revitalise my interest in the local wildlife!
Odds and sods