Australian flags flapping in the warm, summer breeze. Australia Day at the Waterworks Reserve but I was not taking part in the celebrations and festivities.
In my diary, the priority on the day marking the arrival in 1788 of the First Fleet is not to break out the BBQ snags and steaks. It is the time in late summer when I take stock of the breeding success or otherwise of the birds on my home turf.
Although one of the Knowler flock, John Knowler, earned his passage by stealing a pair of boots In Kent sometime before the fleet set sail from Portsmouth in 1787, I immersed myself in the shimmering cobalt hue of the male satin flycatcher’s plumage instead of the red, white and blue of the Australian flag. The timing of our national day carries a significance for me beyond the human world.
I write specifically of the satin flycatcher because this summer has been dominated by this species, when in some years I struggle to find them in my home area of the Waterworks Valley.
In the late afternoon of January 26, the sun dropping behind kunanyi/Mt Wellington above me, the flycatchers appeared to be calling from all corners of the reserve. Males were still defending breeding territories, the females – which are brown in colour with russet breasts – looking on.
It seemed only yesterday that I received a message from BirdLife Tasmania asking me to take part in a survey recording flycatcher arrivals, to determine population trends.
My first sighting was on October 21, ironically as a late snowfall coated the slopes of the mountain, as I reported in this column at the time.
The flycatchers are the last migrants to arrive and the first to leave, their short stay determined by the abundance of insect food during the summer months.
Not only were flycatchers calling their rhythmic, whistling song but the young of this breeding season were also flying high in the canopy, feeding amid gum and wattle leaves.
By the time Australia Day arrives, the breeding season is virtually over and instead of hunting for nests as I do in spring, I now count the numbers of young I see.
It looks like it has been a good breeding season with early rains boosting plant growth and the production of pollen and nectar and, ultimately, seeds and fruit.
And it’s reflected in a large number of juvenile birds being taught by their parents to find food and later, for the migrants, to navigate tortuous journeys over Bass Strait up into Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland
My notebook records pink, scarlet and dusky robin breeding success, and that of black-headed and yellow-throated honeyeaters. Among ground-feeding birds, native-hens and masked lapwings have also had a good year.
Trips to the reserve become more frequent towards the end of summer. And I live in dread of that day when the flycatchers will be heard no more, and other birds will gradually fall silent as autumn arrives and we start our own tortuous journey towards the Tasmanian winter.