The tiny bird, so small it could dance in the palm of your hand, had found its place in the sun.
In the dim and dank world of the fern glade, the scrubtit had emerged from the shadows and found a warm rock on which to perform a merry dance. This was the male’s territory of fern frond and tumbling stream and he wanted the world to know it.
The little scrubtit, barely 10 centimentres long, is one of the forgotten birds of wood and forest, easily overlooked as nature lovers go in search of more spectacular species of bird and mammal.
In Tasmania’s rainforest they search for the symbolic, the iconic; the dramatic creatures like the devil and wedge-tailed eagle that speak of Tasmania and speak of the wild. The scrubtit speaks of pristine places, too, but less loudly in colour and song. It is one of the 12 species of bird endemic to Tasmania but because of its shyness, and love of out-of-the-way places, it is rarely seen and its beautiful, melodic warble is often ascribed to the other birds of the forest.
I ticked the scrubtit off my bird list long ago, and from that moment had barely gone in search of it. It had always proved too hard, requiring hours of a patient and too often frustrating hunt in forest glades, sometimes made miserable by mosquito bite and, on occasion, the attention of leeches.
I didn’t have the species in mind when I ventured into scrubtit territory recently, climbing the Fern Glade Track to the Springs on Mt Wellington, from Fern Tree. The birds of the forest were in full voice, however; green roseallas, Tasmanian thornbills and scrubrens, and Tasmanian currawongs.
A female pallid cuckoo, insistent with loud penetrating call, provided the forest symphony with a constant rhythm, like a drummer or a bassist, and amid the cacophony I caught the sound of a soloist in the orchestra, the pink robin.
I moved slowly to the area where the robin’s song appeared to be coming from and as I scanned the lower branches of wattle and gum, I caught sight of a scrubtit, standing on a sun-lit rock in a rock pool.
And suddenly something else caught my eye. In the faint sunlight that had now cut through the forest in yellow diagonal rays, I could see that the scrubtit was not the dull, mainly brown bird depicted in the bird books at all.
Warm brown on the back, it has a white throat and chest, and white and black spots of feathers on an area of the upper wing called the shoulder.
What surprised me was the length of its bill, thick and curved; an ideal tool to prise insects from moss and bark. It looked more like an old world wren than a bird of the Australian eucalypt wet forest.
The “little brown birds”, as they are derisively called by birders, are so often ignored by ornithologists in a hurry but deserve our attention.
I now look for the scrubtit with a renewed interest, having seen it in a new light.