Secretive and superbly camouflaged to merge into its leaf-litter domain, the Bassian thrush goes about its business out of sight and out of mind.
Trekking through the wet forest you would never know it was there, except for its song that somehow penetrates the dense foliage of such places and fills any open space it can find with a beautiful melody.
The song is like sunlight in the forest, brightening dark places, but in my experience song and sun never go together. Other birds might sing with the joy of spring and summer, perhaps finding a sun-lit stage in which to perform, but the Bassian thrush appears to revel in the overcast and dull, as though golden rays of sun somehow represent an intrusion.
Heading to Mt Wellington I always look to its summit to determine whether it will be a golden whistler day, when the sun is high and strong facing the mountain, or a Bassian thrush one, with low cloud covering the lower slopes in mist, and threatening rain.
Whatever the weather, I go anyway. Sunny days I’ll head to the summit carried by the whistler’s optimism, on rainy ones I stay in the lower woods just above Fern Tree, seeking out the thrush and its sweet song. This summer seems to have been wetter than usual, at least on the days I go out, and so I have spent more time in the company of these beautiful thrushes.
Bassian thrushes might be secretive but they are far from elusive if the observer knows where to look. Any glade of ferns, even as far down the mountain as the Waterworks Reserve in Dynnyrne, will reveal them with a little patience and hunting.
It’s best to be active in the early morning before the sun has got up above the canopy. That is when the Bassian thrushes call and once you hear them singing you can easily find them.
A simple trick is to tread slowly and warily along tracks because, ahead of you, you can sometimes see them feeding on worms and other invertebrates that live in leaf litter at the path’s edge.
The Bassian is Tasmania’s only native thrush and belongs to the same family as the introduced blackbird, with which it shares part of its song, at least to my ears. The tune is a sweet series of falling and rising warbles, without the blackbird’s tendency to phrase its notes in a more complex song.
The Bassian thrush is about the same size as the blackbird but markedly different in appearance, even to that of the brown female blackbird.
The Bassian’s plumage is mottled brown to olive-brown, heavily scalloped with black crescent-shaped bars on the back, rump and head. The paler underparts all have brown-black scalloping. It uses the camouflage afforded by its plumage to meld with its background. If disturbed it will merely freeze, or move slowly through the undergrowth to a safer spot, without taking to the wing.
Forest clearance is the main threat to the thrush, along with intrusions into its space by the blackbird, which trends to be more dominant. From my experience, however, the blackbird tends to stay in suburbia and is not a threat to the Bassian in its bush strongholds.
I love the blackbird song but having discovered the Bassian thrush’s tune I find it superficial, a bit like some of the suburbs from which it is broadcast. The Bassian’s song, liquid and resonant, is more a lilt for Tasmania’s secret soul.