Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bell Miner at Yarraman State Forest

Hoop Pine Forest
image at:
In my previous blog, about our jaunt over to the East Nanango State Forest, I mentioned the large expanse of Yarraman State Forest, renowned for the presence of Black-breasted Button-quail Turnix melanogaster. Back in the mid-90s Fay and I made several birding trips out here in search of this elusive bird and will never forget the moment the little creatures first presented themselves, a few feet away, busily scratching around in search of fodder. Thereafter we took several other birders, including a number of overseas aspirants, to the same area. That was long before it ever occurred to either of us that one day we would actually become domicile just a few kilometres further along the D’Aguilar Highway.

Things have changed somewhat. Then the favoured spot for Black-breasted Button-quail was a small rest area referred to as “The Stables.” It provided minimal facilities. While still there, it is no longer in use, having been replaced by the "Rogers Day Rest Area", a lawned area with concrete barbeques, tables and toilet amenities. A track leads out through some scrub vine and while we have seen a number of the telltale platelets –although one has to be aware that it is not the only button-quail which creates these circular depressions as a function of its foraging practices- we have never seen a Black-breasted here.

Nevertheless we return here on occasions. Hope burns eternally.

On our last visit we had crippling views of Eastern Spinebill Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris. It was there, flitting low around a tree on the very edge of the carpark. We didn’t even have to leave our vehicle to see it. Then its mate appeared and we found ten minutes of our allotted birding time had been spent on watching these two gorgeous creatures.

There was no spinebill this time though the picnic area resounded to the calls of Eastern Whipbird Psophodes olivaceus. We could distinguish the whip crack of at least two males with the complementary response of two females.

The usual cacophony of early morning choristers accompanied us as we strolled along, including Golden Whistler Pachycephala pectoralis, White-throated treecreeper Cormobates leucophaea, Eastern Yellow Robin Eopsaltria australis and Grey Shrike-thrush Collricincla harmonica. Further out, but still within the confines of Yarraman State Forest, we heard the Pied Currawong Strepera graculina and the alluring call of the Brown Cuckoo-Dove Macropygia amboinensis.

Bell Miner image at: It was while we were attempting to track down the White-browed Scrubwren Sericornis frontalis, which had been busily scolding us for our elephant-footed approach to its particular patch of Hoop Pine Araucaria cunninghamii, that we first heard the familiar tinkle of the Bell Miner Manorina melanophrys. It wasn’t new to us. Indeed, on those occasions when we mis-time our descent [or accent coming the other way] of the Ranges [courtesy of the January floods washout] we console ourselves during the ensuing 15-20 minute wait for the light changes with listening to this captivating bird.

Aside: Back in 1974, our first year in Australia, while birding and exploring this new homeland of ours, we found ourselves travelling along the Cunningham Highway, slowly, listening out for birds, when I stopped to investigate a new wheel squeal the vehicle seemed to have developed. I meticulously inspected each tyre, listened while Fay revved up the engine. It took several minutes to appreciate that the unusual squeak was in fact the call of the Bell Miner. Thankfully several specimens showed themselves, no doubt chuckling at our unnecessary concern.

No, it wasn’t an anomaly; they abound just kilometres further along the highway. Yet, in all our visits here over more recent years, we had never heard the bird here – at the "Rogers Day Rest Area". However, search as we may, we failed to actually sight it.

We ended the day’s birding with flashing glimpses of the Australian Raven Corvus coronoides which had been giving its distinctive cry of utter misery for several minutes; once heard, and memorized, it is difficult to ever again confuse it with the similar but humbler call of the Torresian Crow Corvus orru.

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