A sweet melody told me in early spring that I had ventured into the nesting territory of a pair of Bassian thrushes on Mount Wellington/kunanyi.
The song is a resonant one, designed to penetrate thick forest clothed in layers of fern frond and leaf, and without it you would never know the thrushes were about.
The same goes for the nest, perfectly camouflaged to merge with the forest, like the Bassian thrush itself.
The thrush is seldom seen, preferring to hide among mossy logs and leaf litter, where it feeds on invertebrates and forest fruits. Early in the morning it is only its beautiful, lilting song that gives it away.
With scalloped brown and fawn plumage the Bassian thrush is of unstated beauty and looks out of place in Australia, a land of more colourful and showy birds. It belongs on the pages of a British nature diary in Victorian times. With its frozen, stilted pose and bright eye, it looks more like something from the hand of John Gould or one of his more famous artists, Edward Lear. The individual feathers seem to have been drawn for the lithographer’s touch.
The nest, too, seems a creation of the Victorian idea of how a nest should be: a cliché of a nest comprising a large, perfectly-rounded cup finely crafted in twigs, grass and moss.
After hearing the thrush song early one morning with dew still hanging from eucalypt leaves, I found the nest hidden in the roots of a fallen and rotting black peppermint gum.
I watched the female building the nest over the course of a week or so, and then watched her settle down inside the deep cup to lay and then incubate her blue-green eggs.
All the while for a two-week incubation period, the male attended to his mate, bringing her food of worms and insects.
Soon the female’s restlessness indicated that the three young had hatched and the excursions by both male and female to find food gathered in pace.
I kept my distance during this crucial period but a soft chirping from within the cup and then yellow bills jutting above the level of the nest rim told me that the young were making steady progress. The bills were opened and pointed skyward each time the parents arrived with food. The parents each time perched on the rim of the nest and thrust food at eager youngsters.
It seemed that only in a matter of days the nestlings had transformed from scraggy bundles of skin and downy feathers, and bulging beaks and eyes, into birds that resembled dishevelled versions of their parents. The nestlings became more attentive and restless, flapping stunted wings in which the flight feathers had still to form.
One adventurous nestling suddenly leapt on to the rim of the nest, to be followed by the others, but in the commotion the bird lost its grip and tumbled from the nest into the low shrubs below it.
The parents dashed to its aid, the chick calling to them in panic. Luckily the commotion did not attract the attention of the currawongs and ravens which patrol the forests in search of an easy meal. The chick was ushered into the thick, seemingly impenetrable base of a Christmas bush and the parents continued to feed it there.
The story had a happy ending. Within days the fledgling was out and about, hopping and then flying from branch to branch, perching on unsteady legs, flying in short bursts on unsteady wings. He was soon joined by his two siblings.
There were still a few crucial weeks to go before the young birds had enough avian skill to dodge not just the currawongs, but the most fearsome of predators, the goshawk. I saw them again as summer approached, the three young still with their parents but getting ready to head off into the fern-frond world on their own.
New families in the making to bring the sweet song to the rainforest in coming years.