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.