The rolling birdsong of the forest had suddenly fallen silent and it was clear there was drama in the air.
As a female brown goshawk made her way with slow flaps of the wings high above the treetops of the Peter Murrell Reserve in Kingston, from far away a magpie took to the wing, the goshawk in her sights.
Although the brown goshawk, possibly the most feared bird of the woods, is used to pushing its weight around, this extra-large female had gotten more than she bargained for.
A pair of masked lapwings had moved rapidly from her flightpath, with protesting squawks, and the goshawk had given them hardly a second glance, more intent on spotting smaller birds in shrub and tree which she could surprise in ambush. That was before the angry magpie entered the fray.
Out of nowhere the magpie arrived, flying directly at the goshawk. Two aggressive birds seemingly on a collision course, and at the last moment the goshawk’s nerve failed her, and she banked to avoid her attacker. The magpie in turn swerved wildly to draw alongside the raptor, pecking at her with its long, sharp bill.
Instead of retreating, the goshawk now lunged at the magpie, rolling on her back to try to spear her aggressor with sharp talons. The goshawk then appeared to back off, flying to a clump of trees above a patch of open grassland above which the dogfight had taken place. As if suffering wounded pride, the goshawk made a swift return and the aerial warfare continued, both birds vanishing out of sight towards Howden to the south, still fighting on the wing.
Despite the drama, it came on a day of disappointment for a large group of birdwatchers attending a BirdLife Tasmania excursion to the reserve, myself included.
The main focus of the outing had been the endangered forty-spotted pardalote which traditionally has nested at the reserve but on this occasion no pardalotes were spotted.
The reserve is in fact the centre of controversy over TasWater plans to build a sewage pipeline across it, and the plight of the pardalote has been cited as a reason to keep disturbance there to a minimum. Recently, it has also emerged that a pregnant Tasmanian devil is also in residence.
Although the forty-spots appeared to be absent, seeing 40 bird species confirmed the Peter Murrell Reserve is a wildlife refuge of note. Among their number were several species only found in Tasmania and a mainland bird uncommon in the state, the striated fieldwren.
The aerial duel between the goshawk and the magpie stole the show, however, although another bird of prey, a swamp harrier, put on a display of its own. The harrier quartered the open grasslands in search of rabbits, mice and possibly the young of masked lapwings disturbed by the birders’ footsteps in the grass.
The magpies were happy to concede airspace on this occasion, knowing their young were not a harrier target.