Clean-up Australia Day loomed large on my calendar this year. I should say it was high on the agenda because I was joining volunteers from the Hobart City Council’s bushcare program on a mission to gather rubbish at the summit of kunanyi/Mt Wellington in the first week of March.
I had an ulterior motive, though, for being on the mountain which I didn’t reveal to my crew of rubbish-gatherers as we collected our rubber gloves and tongs from the council staff on hand.
Together with rubbish, flame robins were in my sights because I had failed to find these summer visitors to the higher slopes of the mountain on previous trips. I knew the stunning males, and equally dramatic females, were there because earlier in the year I had received pictures of the robins at the summit. They had been sent to me by two sets of American birders I had sent in that direction when they told me they were keen to photograph all four Tasmanian robin species.
A couple of weeks before the clean-up campaign I had gone to the mountain with a German student friend of my son’s, treating him to a guided backpacker tour of Hobart and its surrounds. We didn’t see any robins but the student was so bowled over by our mountain, and the marvellous panorama it offers across Hobart, that the next day he embarked on his own adventure, a full-day hike from my home in the Waterworks Valley, to the Wellington Falls.
As autumn approaches I always tot up the birds I have seen in summer, and more importantly those I have missed. It’s all part of a birdwatching citizen science project – all birders do it – to monitor bird populations to see if some might be in decline.
I was not worried about the flame robins, however, and put down my lack of sightings to the time I had devoted to the other robin species, especially the family of pink robins whose nest I had found in the Waterworks Reserve in late spring.
The flame robin is the only member of the family in Tasmania to migrate across Bass Strait, and those who do not make the perilous crossing to the mainland undertake a more limited migration, from lowland to highland areas, where they breed.
If not crossing Bass Strait, the flame robins on the mountain probably travel to the Eastern Shore or Bruny Island for the winter, because I usually find them there in the colder months. They certainly move through the Waterworks Reserve towards the mountain in spring, and this season my only sighting of a male was on the embankment of one of the reservoirs there in early September. He was singing the familiar flame robin song, a musical trill with three sets of three notes.
I listened for the song at the mountain summit when I took a breather from my rubbish-gathering duties. All I could hear, though, was the murmur of the wind. It tossed rubbish into the air and, instead of scanning the mountain’s plateau for robins, I was off again in pursuit of a plastic bag caught in an upstream.