November 19, 2017

Striated pardalotes arrive early

The frost sparkled on the lawn, winter refusing to loosen its grip. Still, the song of spring rang out from the hedgerows in my valley and later from the woodland of the Waterworks Reserve.

The first of the summer migrants, the striated pardalote, had arrived.

In recent years I have been hearing the pardalote’s “pick it up, pick it up” song earlier and earlier. In the 17 years I have lived in the Waterworks Valley I have always timed it for the final week of August, just about a week before the welcome swallows arrive.

Last year, however, the pardalotes could be heard calling in mid-August and this month they beat this arrival date by about two weeks – August 1 to be precise.

Following a mild autumn, which also saw a lack of rain, I was surprised to hear the pardalotes still calling at the official start of winter and when I first heard a bird on August 1 I thought it might have been one of these stragglers, an individual perhaps somehow missing the migration north and deciding to tough out the Tasmanian winter.

The sheer number of birds calling, though, especially at the Waterworks Reserve, indicated that a wave of birds had arrived overnight, under clear star-lit skies, carried by favourable winds from the north.

Birds of many migratory species can take advantage of such conditions and a calling fan-tailed cuckoo, another early bird of summer, confirmed there had been an overnight flight of note.

The striated pardalote, one of three members of the family found in Tasmania but the only one to undertake migration to the mainland, is a cavity nester and uses the cracks between the sandstone walls of the Waterworks Reserve to house its nests.

Later I checked nesting hollows used year after year but they appeared to be devoid of birds. These early arrivals were merely possibly passing through my neighbourhood and heading further south.

Although it might have been the first day of August, with a month still to go before the official end of winter, spring was definitely in the air.

The reserve was alive with birds and birdsong, and a pair of masked lapwings were in a merry courtship dance.

Males of two species of robin, the scarlet and the dusky, were already staking out nesting territories. A particularly resplendent scarlet robin wooed a female with his descending tinkle of a song, a thin sound that seems to drip from the branches of the eucalypts like the morning dew before it is burned off by the sun. On a neighbouring branch, the female cocked an ear.

As birds arrive from the mainland on a north-south trajectory they cross paths with domestic migrants travelling east to west, leaving coastal areas that remain relatively warm in winter and heading to higher ground.

The reserve was alive with two such domestic travellers, eastern spinebills and crescent honeyeaters, dipping into the blooms of winter flowing grevilleas, marking time, refuelling before tackling the slopes of kunanyi/Mt Wellington towering above them.

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