The female pink robin flitted about me, uttering her distinctive “tik” contact call. There was something about her flighty, nervous behaviour that told me she had a nest somewhere close by and my presence was causing her concern.
I had seen the female in the same spot in the Waterworks Reserve a month previously carrying nesting material in her slim, sharp beak. And I had returned to see if I could locate the nest. The robin’s behaviour told me that I was getting warm in my quest.
Like many a birdwatcher, I set myself a challenge in spring to find as many nests as I can during the breeding season. The biggest test is to discover those that are noted for their suburb camouflage.
Among these are those of the pink robin and the grey fantail, another species whose nest as a marvel of engineering takes some beating.
Both nests are equally difficult to spot. The flycatcher’s is a bundle of dry grass suspended in a low bush, so it resembles dead foliage. The pink robin’s nest, in contrast, is anchored in the fork of a low tree in a mossy, wet area of the woods and is designed to represent the fabric of such locations.
The nest can only be described as donut-shaped and its structure of moss, grass and twigs is adorned with lichen and the petals of flowers to add to its disguise.
Although I couldn’t see the stunningly beautiful male pink robin at first, I knew he was about. He was singing his territorial song – a soft warble interspersed with short breaks – from inside the tangled foliage of a dogwood near the nest site.
The nest reminds me of one that was a challenge in nest-hunting forays in my native Britain in the 1950s and early ‘60s, that of the chaffinch. It was another mossy structure, usually hidden in a hedgerow.
These days I just look and admire when it comes to nests, but in the days of my youth I indulged in a popular pastime of my generation, collecting birds’ eggs.
Such a pastime is frowned upon these days but the hobby of egg collecting helped to create, along with the wider study of birds, generations of nature lovers who went on to spread the message of conservation, and still do.
The bird books tell me the eggs of pink robins are greenish white, speckled with brown spots.
Nowadays I wouldn’t even dream of disturbing nests and breeding birds just to view their eggs, deep in the hole created in the high-sided mossy donut. Besides, on the morning I eventually found the nest, the sitting female was presented by a far greater threat than that of a curious nature lover interrupting her incubating duties. Equally curious kookaburras were about, always looking to be fed by visitors to the reserve, and I knew they would raid the nest if they spotted it.