The tawny frogmouth may not have featured on Tasmanian’s list of favourite birds when I published it during the summer but my phone and email ran hot when I wrote later that I had spent 13 years searching for this elusive and mysterious species at my local reserve.
There were sightings aplenty in other areas of Hobart and one proved too irresistible to ignore. I was told by a reader of a family in easy view close to a viewing platform at the Knocklofty Reserve high above Hobart.
Next morning I was on my way.
I searched in vain, however, at the location given and decided to move on, eventually tramping the Fiona Allen Memorial Walk, which climbs through ideal frogmouth habitat of dry eucalypt woodland and native grasses.
I know the species is common in the area because a wildlife carer, David Joyce, has over the years received a steady supply of frogmouths coming to grief where the suburbs of West Hobart and Mt Stuart merge with bush just below the Knocklofty Reserve.
As I have learned from many other sightings in suburban Hobart, the frogmouths are attracted to street lights at night, which in turn attract their staple diet of flying insects, including moths.
Higher I climbed on the latest frogmouth hunt and I soon lost sight of the Hobart vista spread out to the south-east behind me and the purpose of my mission. I was lost in a magnificent forest of white peppermint gums and drooping sheoak, with birds and birdsong all around me.
I rarely go to the reserve but each time I visit I am impressed by the efforts of the Friends of Knocklofty to rehabilitate and preserve this stretch of forest no more than two kilometres from the city centre.
An information panel at the top of the memorial walk, where it joins the circular walk embracing the 375m Knocklofty summit, told me that the reserve was home to threatened wildlife species like a rare and endangered butterfly, the chaostola skipper, and less threatened but still vulnerable amphibians and reptiles like the spotted marsh frog and the mountain dragon.
Among mammals, eastern barred bandicoots and long-nosed potoroos find a refuge on Kocklofty from the cats and dogs of suburbia and threatened birds are represented by a regular visitor, the swift parrot, that seeks out the blooms of the reserve’s gums in spring.
I discovered Knocklofty when I first arrived in Tasmania – I lived briefly in an apartment on Mt Stuart – and I was delighted to find dusky woodswallows there one afternoon.
I was pleased to see the woodswallows still in attendance more than a decade on, and they swooped above my head as I wandered further into the woodland, checking virtually every tree for roosting frogmouths.
The woods were alive with young birds, so pleasing at the end of summer to see an insurance policy for future years. On the memorial trail I was careful not to disturb a grey shrike-thrush feeding a fledgling which had clearly fallen out of a nest. The female shrike-thrush ushered her youngster into the base of a bush where she could continue to feed it until it had grown wing feathers and was able to fly.
Further into the woods a young grey currawong called persistently to its parents for food.
Then a young yellow-throated honeyeater breezed by in plumage yet to attain the beautiful mossy green feathers that the species’ displays on its back – although it had the tell-tale yellow throat – and then the curious “squeaking” call of black-faced cuckoo shrikes – or summerbirds – led me to a tall black peppermint eucalypt. In the higher branches I could see three or four youngsters, also demanding food.
I didn’t find the frogmouths, but I left heartened by the experience. Bird-watching is like that, you might not find the target species but your spirits are lifted all the same. No day is ever wasted.
And this time I saw a crop of youngsters to guarantee my magical bird-watching days continue into the future.