South Coast Birding - Winter Blues
by Jill Whiter
The resident Magpies don’t like the cold south-west wind; shoulders hunched and feathers fluffed, they cling to the power line with all the appearance of down-and-outs braving a windy city street. Why don’t they come down to the shelter of the garden? I don’t know and they’re unable to vouchsafe an answer, so they continue to look miserable and I continue to wonder why they don’t do something about it. Perhaps they prefer to wallow in their little misery hour, knowing that the more temperate south coast winter weather will be back again in a day or two.
The Magpies are winter breeders and are already eyeing off suitable sticks, picking up one and then another as if testing for weight, length and diameter. In the weeks of courting and nest-building that lie ahead, the males become somewhat testy and are inclined to pick fights with perceived enemies and intruders on their territory, dive-bombing passing walkers and causing general dismay in the avian and human populations. Bear with them, they are only crotchety for a few weeks.
In the coastal woodland over the road, a Grey Butcherbird is exercising his vocal chords in preparation for the courting that is about to begin, for this is another early breeder. The moult is just about finished and his head is gleaming black, the rest of him a study in greys and pearly white. His drab, brown and creamy-white mate sits close by and lends a patient ear to his boastful calls. The Grey Butcherbird is one of the few songsters of the Australian bush and his melodious call has given pleasure to generations of town and bush dwellers.
The male Variegated Fairy-wren is already sporting full breeding plumage as he leads his group through the garden on the morning insect patrol. Two of the younger males are still in that untidy state of transition and keep well to the rear, as if knowing they are not quite presentable. The females, all bright-eyed in new, soft brown plumage, are a delight to watch as they investigate the shrubbery with purposeful energy and busy importance, as if to emphasise their place as mothers of the next generation.
Flocks of Tasmanian Silvereyes are streaming north every day now, flying low and calling urgently as their little wings eat up the miles over sea and woodland, forest and farmland. They cross the patch of sea between Broulee Island and Burrewarra Point and sink into the garden with a flurry of piping calls. First stop is the water dish to bathe and drink, then on to the shrubbery to strip blackfly from the hibiscus and aphids from the roses (thank you!). There follows a little rest as fluffed-up bodies soak in the winter sunshine before the Silvereye equivalent of a bugle calls the flock to order and they are up and away on the next stage of their annual migration. Brave little birds, knowing no borders, admitting no fears, they simply do what instinct tells them should be done at this time of the year.