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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Yesterday I Heard Spring Start!

It was a remarkable privilege to be present when, for one bird at least, spring formally started! As I mentioned last time, we spent the weekend visiting family in Nowra, north of here and near to the coast. On Saturday morning the yard Grey Shrike-thrush was still emitting his autumn-winter call, which is a sharply ringing single note call. I was thinking he was being a bit dilatory in switching seasons. Suddenly in the late afternoon he gave a very tentative and obviously rusty rendition of his spring-summer territorial song. Clearly unsatisfied he abandoned it and reverted to the simpler, unseasonal, version. Next morning I was on the verandah again when he launched into a magnificent rendition of his full glorious song - goodness knows where he'd been rehearsing it overnight. It really felt like listening to winter tick over into spring.
Grey Shrike-thrush male
The shrike-thrushes, with the whistlers, form an Australasian family (Pachycephalidae) of mostly superb singers, extending into the South Pacific and south-east Asia. 'Shrike-thrush' is one of those cringe-making combination names that so many Australian birds are burdened with; 'shrike' for the predatory bill (there are no true shrikes in Australia, but quite a few 'shrikes') and 'thrush' for the song. For some samples of this song, see here, though I'm not sure that any of the samples really catch the richness of the melody - perhaps start with track 97729, see numbers in the right column. One of the features of the song is that each phrase differs slightly from the previous one, with new notes and tremelos being introduced.

As the bill suggests, they are active predators, mostly of invertebrates but also of lizards, small frogs and even small birds and nestlings. As this photo suggests, they are willing to be more adventurous too, and can easily become accustomed to sharing their world with humans.
Grey Shrike-thrush immature (streaks right down belly, pale bill), Fraser Island
The attractively rusty Little Shrike-thrush is a common inhabitant of rainforests from the Kimberleys in northern Western Australia to northern NSW. The two other Australian species have much more restricted ranges in the tropics, and I'll leave them for today.
Little Shrike-thrush, Fraser Island
For me, as I've mentioned before, spring begins here with the first Blue Finger Orchids, but I'll not forget the weekend I heard the moment that another species believed it had arrived.

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