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The mystery songster

Published 01 Feb 2018 by Lucy Jones

I work in the Bush Heritage Melbourne office but for three weeks of January, along with my colleague Paul Young, I took up a caretaking role at Bon Bon Station Reserve in northern South Australia. Besides continuing with the work we normally do at the Conservation Support Centre in Melbourne, we took on caretaking tasks around the reserve.

Caretaking at Bon Bon Reserve could not have been more fun for a couple of novice birdos. I speak more for myself when I say 'novice' because Paul has been keeping a list for some years now, whereas I was taking my new Christmas binoculars on their very first outing.

It was hard to get anywhere on the reserve because every journey was punctuated with, “Wait wait, what’s that? Stop the car!” We’d then peer through the binos at a speck in the sky and every night dinner would be late because we would first spend ages scrutinising blurry photographs and consulting bird guides, trying to identify birds against the list of what had previously been sighted on the property. It was certainly addictive!

For nearly three weeks one elusive little songster was driving us crazy. Every day we heard it around the homestead and all over the reserve. The call was a pretty tune of four descending notes.

We heard it so often that I would still hear it when I closed my eyes at night. On one particularly fruitful drive, in which we had added another three birds to our list, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by this song from all sides. There seemed to be several of them, all at different points in the song, it was like some beautiful bird ensemble all around us! Yet could we see a single one?

“They’re taunting us,” I said to Paul.

“Come out,” Paul called to thin air. “We’re friends, I promise. We just want to take a photo and then we’ll be on our way.”

I had almost given up on it by this point and was busy looking through the bird guide to identify a treecreeper, when Paul suddenly spotted a small grey-brown bird perched on the branch of a tree in the middle distance. He grabbed his camera and zoomed right in. “Look!” he said, showing me the photo. “They’ve got their beak open in song; I think that’s the one!” He took another couple of photos and sure enough, a sweet little bird with a tufty hairdo appeared to be singing its heart out.

With better bird knowledge than I, Paul asked me to look up 'wedgebill' in the bird guide, as he drove us back to the homestead.

The Chiming Wedgebill looked suspiciously like the bird in the photo and as I read the description it all became clear. “Voice: Falling chime of 4 notes ‘chi-da-da-doo’ repeated with a haunting quality.

Back at the homestead we checked the Bon Bon property bird list and listened to a recording of a Chiming Wedgebill on the internet, to verify our findings. It was indeed a Chiming Wedgebill. The mystery was solved.

By the end of our stay we had identified 41 species of bird, which is over a quarter of the birds that have ever been sighted at Bon Bon. And I now have a new and highly addictive hobby. Thanks for the music Chiming Wedgebill. I won’t forget that tune in a hurry!

Kerry's photo (Kazredracer on Flickr) reproduced under Creative Commons License.

Photo (CC) by Kerry (Kazredracer on Flickr). Photo (CC) by Kerry (Kazredracer on Flickr).
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