The arrival of the last of the migrants – the satin flycatcher – is supposed to signal the official start of the summer season but this year the travellers got their timing horribly wrong.
As a male flycatcher sang out from a stringybark on the lower slopes of kunanyi/Mt Wellington, the summit was coated with snow.
I didn’t even try to find the bird. The cold drove me home and when I returned next morning more blizzards overnight had brought the snow line down below the Springs, midway along the summit road.
The flycatcher, clearly establishing a breeding territory, didn’t seem to mind. In sheltered corners of the forest near Fern Tree the bird was finding enough insect food in the canopy to sustain it over the next few days before the weather improved.
I had heard the bird singing on Friday, October 21, and speculated it had arrived on northerly winds on the previous Monday. I had been on Bruny Island that day, watching on a sunny day another harbinger of summer, black-faced cuckoo shrike. Nearer home, dusky woodswallows and tree martins had arrived at my usual stamping ground, the Waterworks Reserve, completing my spring checklist of visitors.
It seemed a long time ago that I had recorded my first arrivals, striated pardalotes and fan-tailed cuckoos towards the end of August.
The satin flycatcher is a bird worth waiting for, though. I think it is the most beautiful of the migrants and it had been two long years since I had sighted one.
Last breeding season I had to curtail my bird-watching on the mountain and in the Waterworks Reserve because of a serious knee condition which confined me to my home for a lengthy period. This was put right by a total knee-replacement operation earlier this year.
Now with a spring in my step, I had been able to go in the search of the birds I had missed last spring and the satin flycatcher had been the most eagerly awaited.
The satin flycatcher can be difficult to locate because it inhabits the tree canopy. It is only its rasping contact call, followed by a rhythmic chiming, that leads the observer to the bird.
The satin flycatcher is about the size of a new holland honeyeater, and has a less flashy, showy beauty. It carries a dark-blue plumage stretching from its tufted and hooded head down its back, and this is usually seen as black in the shadows. Its underbelly is silver in colour.
The flycatcher’s sheer elegance is only seen when sunlight catches it in flight or when it is perched. Then its iridescent, shimmering midnight-blue plumage is revealed.
The flycatcher darts from branch to branch, catching insects on the wing or nailing them on the bark of boughs. A distinctive feature of the bird is its habit of flicking its tail when perched.
The females are totally different I colour. Grey replaces the blue of the head and back and the silver underside is infused with a russet chin.
Satin flycatchers are relatively common in summer, mainly in scattered woodland. They are a bird worthy of seeking out.