Thursday, 9 November 2017

Granite Belt brings winter charm

Jacky winter, Wallangarra.

A drive out to the Stanthorpe region with a friend on Wednesday provided me with my first ever sighting of an Australian bird icon, the jacky winter (Microeca fascinans).

A member of the Australian robin family, the jacky winter is a bush emblem that goes by a variety of names around the country, some of which pay tribute to its lovely song (‘peter peter’) and others which reflect its habits (‘stump-sitter’, ‘post-boy’).

Jacky winters, Wallangarra.

This charming bird is also known for the absurdly scanty nest it builds, which amounts to just a tiny saucer of twigs, bark and cobwebs in the bare branches of a tree.

I was privileged to see this spectacle for myself, as the pair of birds foraging in the grassy woodland surrounding me were doing so to fill the belly of their offspring in a eucalypt about forty metres away.

The young bird—most likely the sole survivor of a clutch of two—seemed to be mere days away from leaving the nest.

It was adept at keeping perfectly still and unnoticeable until offered food by either parent, upon which it suddenly became more animated, stretching its mouth wide open to be fed captured insects.

I watched at a distance for a few minutes, admiring the hard-working parents and the ‘hiding in plain sight, nothing to see here’ ethos of the nest, before leaving the area; I’d like to consider myself an ethical birdwatcher (pdf file), and that means respecting the space of nesting birds and not lingering in their territory for too long.

Eucalypt woodland, Wallangarra.

Brisbane bird books from a few decades ago describe the jacky winter as a common local resident, but that is not the case anymore, and I’ve always been curious as to why.

More than a few examples exist of woodland birds adapting fairly well to urbanisation, with common garden birds like noisy miners (Manorina melanocephala) and pied butcherbirds (Cracticus nigrogularis) springing to mind.

While studying the habitat of this jacky winter pair in Wallangarra, however, I noticed that the ground was strewn with fallen branches, boulders and grass tussocks in a way that most suburban green spaces are not; it seems that jacky winters, spotted quail-thrushes (Cinclosoma punctatum), grey-crowned babblers (Pomatostomus temporalis) and other declining woodland birds have more specific habitat requirements than the adaptable ‘generalist’ species, requiring certain conditions on the ground as well as amongst the trees.

Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), Wallangarra.
This also makes them vulnerable to having their habitats taken over my invasive weeds, a serious problem on the fertile coastal plains, foothills and mountains of South-east Queensland.

Thanks to altered fire regimes, increased nutrients and climate change, weeds like lantana (Lantana camara), ochna (Ochna serrulata), exotic grasses and others can dominate and severely affect local woodland ecologies over just a few short years, rendering them inhospitable to some bird and animal species.

Not that the Granite Belt and other inland regions are immune to weeds either: many rural highways are edged in bright yellow at the moment, thanks to the North American coreopsis flowers. 

Walking back to my car aglow in the golden twilight, with the jacky winter’s sweet song piercing the cool air and the eucalypts swaying peacefully, I thought about how once upon a time, this moment could’ve been one taking place in Bracken Ridge or Mount Gravatt.

Time marches on, but where to?

Jacky winter, Wallangarra.


  1. Greatcoat of the bird feeding baby.It must have been exciting to see this rare bird.