December 16, 2018

Striated pardalote leaves it late

The birds were scurrying for cover as a cold blast roared in from the south-west, rain falling in diagonal grey stripes from behind kunanyi/Mount Wellington.

Among them I was surprised to see a straited pardalote, a summer migrant who should have been well on the way to Bass Strait and crossing to the mainland by mid-autumn.

If the tiny pardalote had been in any doubt about the time to leave, the threat of snow on the high country would have finally spurred he or she on their way.

A pardalote so late in the season was not the only surprise. Scanning the shrubs and trees on one of my favourite walks, the first part of the Lenah Valley Track out of the Springs to Sphinx Rock, I caught sight of two juvenile scarlet robins.

The robins are common on the higher slopes of the mountain in spring and summer where pairs establish breeding territories, but when the weather turns colder in autumn they return to warmer wintering habit nearer the coast.

In autumn, beyond recording the departures of the summer visitors, I also take stock of what young have been produced during the year.

It’s always reassuring to see young birds on the wing, with the promise they will become parents themselves and keep the avian showcase alive and kicking for the next season, and beyond.

And here were two young scarlet robins and, more importantly, young of different ages. They were from two broods, probably from the same pair of successful breeders.

The flame robins are familiar to me from this section of track because I have monitored them there for many years. They even feature in my book, The Shy Mountain, in which I described their efforts one season to avoid the attentions of fan-tailed cuckoos, which use the robins as surrogate parents along with other species.

The juvenile scarlet robins, dropping from branch and rock perches to feed on insects, were clearly independent parents but some young were still relying on their parents for food.

A travelling party of silvereyes, like the pardalotes making a late departure for the mainland, made their way north around the escarpment forming Sphinx Rock, finding insects in clumps of blanket-bush as they went. The adults had juveniles with them, the young birds in scruffy brown plumage and still to gain the distinctive russet flanks that separates Tassie silvereyes from those of the south-west mainland in their winter grounds of southern Queensland.

And the young of non-migrants were out and about. A male and female yellow-tailed black cockatoo, with a youngster in tow, flew over my head before alighting in the upper branches of a gum-topped stringybark.

The youngster, with an incessant whining, demanded the grubs the adult cockies were plucking from a dead upper branch of the tree, and the parents obliged.

Another young bird on the wing, to join the flock of myriad species that grace our woods and forests, and paddocks, in all seasons. I watch in wonder, feeling a part of it all.

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