In a fast-paced, fast-changing world there is something wonderfully reassuring about the predictability of birds and their place in the environment.
“All’s well with the world,” I always mutter to myself when I find the superb fairy-wren, the new holland honeyeater or green rosella where I expect them to be.
With a little time on my hands at Lake Barrington in the north-west earlier this year I decided to take a stroll to an area of dry woodland on the lake’s shores where I always see dusky robins.
As far as Australian robins go, the dusky robin is not much to look. It is the only one that does not have striking red, pink or yellow on its breast but what it lacks in flamboyance it gains in rarity, at least to the mainland birdwatcher.
The dusky robin, unlike our other robins, is only found in Tasmania and is one of the prized 12 endemic species that birdwatchers from the mainland, and internationally, just love to add to their lifelist of birds spotted.
By saying the dusky robin is not much to look at, I am doing it a great disservice, of course. It might be a dusky grey-brown in colour, with faint beige wingbars, but it brings an elegance to the dry woodlands.
I always see them in the forest glades below wet scherophyll on the southern shore of Lake Barrington, in one particular spot that also serves as an extensive BBQ area just off the lake’s shores.
Although cryptic in colour, the dusky robin is not difficult to spot. It perches prominently on fallen branches and stumps, from where it drops silently to the ground to catch insects.
The dusky robin is a little larger than the other robins – the flame, scarlet and pink – and its bigger sizes helps separate it from the females of these species, particularly the female pink robin that does not display a trace of red or pink like the others.
The dusky robin is a trusting and friendly bird, and was given the name of “stump robin” by the early settlers for its habit of perching on stumps on cleared land. It used these to launch forays on insects, untroubled by the pioneers still in the act of clearing land.
The robin also brought a sweet, undulating “pre-pree” song to the newly cleared lands.
The species breeds in early spring, laying 3-4 spotted, pale green eggs. The nest is cup-shaped, lined with bark and grass.
Lake Barrington is the only place where I see them consistently, without hunting for them. At another of my favourite birding locations, the Waterworks Reserve, they appear to come and go, especially in spring and autumn, which in the Hobart area might indicate a seasonal movement, possibly to higher altitudes.
I have found them nesting in the reserve, however, along with the scarlet and pink robins.
In recent years many birdwatchers have started to regard birdwatching as a sport, in which they compete against each other to see the biggest number of species in a day. It’s not only fashionable to try and see all Tasmania’s unique birds in 24 hours, but to also see the four species of robin.
I’ve managed to see all the robins just once – on a day trip to Bruny Island.