The seasons of nature’s rebirth – spring and summer – are always celebrated with both joy and a little pain.
Although each year when spring dawns I grow excited at its prospect, at the thought of which breeding birds and nests I will discover, my enthusiasm is tempered by the thought it will not always have a happy ending.
The story of the pink robin family I wrote about last month is a case in point.
As I mentioned in the earlier column, this spring I was ecstatic to come across a nest without really hunting for it. I had seen a female robin carrying nesting material in early September and, inspecting the location to where she had travelled, suddenly saw the nest anchored on a thin branch overhanging a watercourse.
It would be a nest to monitor during the spring and summer, to check daily on the progress of my robins to rear their offspring.
Breeding is always a tortuous affair. The nest builders must be careful to go about their business out of the graze of potential predators – who might well return to take eggs or young – and in public spaces there is always the danger of humans, curious or otherwise, disturbing the birds.
I felt a little guilty keeping this pink robin nest a secret when I led a bird walk in the reserve early in November but I knew the participants would not be able to resist taking friends and family to see it later, possibly causing the birds to abandon the nest.
After first spotting the female building the nest, I was delighted to see her a little later incubating eggs. Then double delight in seeing four beaks thrusting skyward when the male and female turned up with grubs liberated from the nearby vegetation.
During my daily visits I was careful not to attract the attention of kookaburras, currawongs and ravens, the predators anticipating I might be one of the visitors to the reserve who feeds the birds. In turn, following me, they might spot the robin nest.
All seemed to be going well until, horror upon horrors, I noticed that only one bill was now thrusting from the nest. The nestling, with a wide, yellow gape, also appeared to be of an extremely large size. Fan-tailed and shining bronze-cuckoos had been calling across the reserve all spring and I feared that one of these species had deposited an egg in the nest.
I returned hurriedly next day to observe the nest closely to see if there was weight to my suspicions. There was no need, however. There was no chick, or chicks, in the nest. It appeared predators had come to call.
A silence hung in the woods but after a while I could hear the male pink robin uttering his thin, tinny melody. A new territory designated, and perhaps a new mate to find if the first one had also been killed. The show goes on, and the pain is eased … just a little.