Saturday, March 15, 2008
A Walk on the Wildside
Mid week, I had this sudden urge to spend some time birding a buttongrass plain. Having spent many hours walking them, in all weathers, and generally finding them close to a birding desert, I'm not quite sure why I had this urge! (I took part in a fortnight's scientific survey in a similar area, in the SW of Tasmania, in which we only recorded 24 species of birds in a fortnight). I chose to drive out to the Scott's Peak Road, some 30 kilometres West of Maydena, and an area that has numerous, extensive areas of buttongrass. Buttongrass is a sedge that grows on some of the most nutrient poor soils found anywhere. The 'buttons" are the seed heads produced at the top of stems. They are widespread in many poorly drained areas of Tasmania. Turning off the Gordon Road at Frodsham's Pass and on to the Scott's Peak Road, I eventually stopped at a spot between and below, Mt. Bowes and Mt. Anne. It had potential, I thought, with a line of stunted and flowering Banksia marginata along one side of the road, and a buttongrass plain that had been burnt, probably around 12 months ago, the sedge having recovered, on the other. The temperature was still fairly cool, below 10C, and there was a heavy mist hanging over the whole valley, but it appeared to be burning off rapidly. As soon as I got out of my car, I could hear and see that I appeared to have chosen the spot well. In quick succession, I spotted Crescent and New Holland Honeyeaters in abundance, many off them obviously this season's crop, most of them noisily chasing one another. I noted a young Pink Robin (way out of its usual habitat), several Dusky Robins, and a couple of Striated Fieldwrens. Buttongrass plains are to my mind, the habitat for Striated Fieldwrens . In the Spring, you can often find them in abundance, calling from the tops of the sedges, especially early in the morning, and again in the evening. Well I always take any opportunity that presents itself to photograph these elusive birds, so I set off in pursuit, so to speak. They took the opportunity to cross the road and take refuge in the burnt stunted banksias, so I followed. Well actually I would like to have followed, but I was confronted with a 3 metre deep ditch, which I thought I could jump, but decided to look for an easier access point. After much searching, I found a spot and soon found a 'heap' of fieldwrens, many of them running between the tussocks, giving no real chance of photography. As you can see (top left) a single bird took pity on me long enough to get a shot or two. There followed a procession of birds that used the skeletal remains of banksia, teatree and hakea shrubs, as a vantage point to catch flying insects. The female Crescent Honeyeater (pictured top right), alighted close enough for this 'full frame' shot, finally catching a small moth almost off my shoelaces! It was only a few minutes after that encounter that I noticed an orange 'blob', standing out against the burnt teatree some 50 metres away. It was one of those moments that stay in your mind, a quick look through the binoculars, yes! it was a Southern Emu-wren, a bird that you often hope to see in these situations, but seldom do. One of the iconic birds of Tassie's more remote areas. I've seen a good number over the years, and I don't think they're that uncommon in the South West, but they are very elusive, as I was about to find out. I stalked 'them', it transpired that there were 4 or 5 individuals, for sometime, trying to get close enough for a meaningful photograph, and took several record shots as I did. The two images shown here (lower right and left) are all I managed, and that they're even recognisable owes more to the benifits of digital photography, than any skill on my part! Eventually they just disappeared, and although I was quite confident which small piece of scrub they were hiding in, no amount of 'coaxing' drew them out. I guess I'll be revisiting this spot. After all the excitement and concentration, I retraced my steps to the car, realising as I did, that I was heavily covered in charcoal streak marks from the burnt scrub, but thinking that it was a small price to pay for an engaging morning.