Spring fever had taken hold. After hearing the first of the summer migrants in mid-August, I was out and about on kunanyi/Mt Wellington and its foothills seeing what other early arrivals I could add to the fan-tailed cuckoo I had seen on a sunny day previously.
My target was another bird which experience has taught me also arrives on warm northern winds in August – the striated pardalote. With its sharp, staccato “pick-it-up” song, the pardalote competes with the far-carrying fan-tailed cuckoo’s trill for the airwaves before other migrants, and resident species, have found their spring voice.
I first set out to find the pardalotes at one of their favourite nesting sites, the sandstone walls of the Waterworks Reserve. Like all family members, the striated pardalotes are cavity-nesting species and year after year they choose as nesting sites the cracks in the sandstone culverts which divert the Sandy Bay Rivulet around the reserve’s reservoirs.
On any spring and summer day the pardalotes can be seen flying from the surrounding wattles and gums to suddenly vanish between the cracks. Shortly after their arrival in August they carry straw to line the cavities and a little later the brightly coloured males can be seen taking insect food to females incubating eggs deep inside the cracks. Then these sorties – by both male and female – become more frequent when the eggs hatch.
I had set out with great optimism of hearing and seeing the first of the visiting pardalotes because an exceptionally warm day had been forecast, with a high of 19 degrees and a gentle north-westerly wind. This was just the right weather conditions to spur the migration across Bass Strait and through northern Tasmania.
At the Waterworks, though, I was to be disappointed in not just finding the pardalotes but not hearing the fan-tailed cuckoos again after the initial sight of an individual the previous day.
I pressed on, however, this time scouting known nesting sites closer to the mountain, these in more traditional locations, the cavities of blue and swamp gums, stringybarks and myrtles.
Tasmania has three species of pardalote, the only one to migrate being the striated. Some regard the resident, more common spotted pardalote – whose brightly coloured, spotted appearance gives the species its other name of “diamond bird” – but I prefer the slightly bigger and stouter striated pardalote, which has a black, white and yellow stripe adorning its head, grey back and pastel yellow breast. The Tasmanian version in fact represents a sub-species markedly different in colour, and song, to its mainland counterparts.
The third pardalote species is the endangered forty-spotted, which is confined to white gums in just a handful of locations in the south-east of the state.
Without success, I finally gave up on the pardalote spring hunt and headed for home. A surprise awaited me there, however. As I got out of my car I could hear a striated pardalote calling. It had returned to a favourite breeding site, in a hole dug under the drive of a neighbour’s home.