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The Skulkers

by Paul Fraser Walking through places like Mary Caincross Reserve (MCR), the intensity of the birdsong can sometimes be overwhelming, and it can seem almost impossible to separate and identify individual species.

Some species, however, like the Green Catbird, can easily be identified by their crying baby/crying cat call, and can also usually be seen up in the canopy.

One of the resident species at MCR that has an iconic “whip-crack” call, and which most locals will recognise, is the Eastern Whipbird. Whilst many have heard this species, few have had more than a brief glimpse of it. They are the king-pin skulkers of our local bush birds.

However, an advantage of a place like MCR with its high volume of human visitors, is that the birds become somewhat habituated to our presence, making it one of the best locations to see this skulker. Most species in the Crake and Rail families are notorious skulkers. One of the best skulkers, and therefore a species very much sought after by bird enthusiasts, is the Lewin’s Rail. Their preferred habitat is low dense aquatic vegetation adjacent to lakes, creeks and swamps, and they occur from South East Queensland down the east coast, and into Tasmania.

They typically only come out to forage around the edges of the vegetation either very early, very late or when it’s raining, which is also when most of us are not out birdwatching.

The Maleny Precinct Wetlands hosts a resident group of Lewin’s Rail. They have a very distinctive range of calls, and despite hearing them on numerous occasions, sometimes only a few metres off the track, I have never sighted a single one of them there. Fortunately, I have managed to see and photograph one in Tasmania. Occasionally a skulker is seen purely by chance. This is often the case with one of the several Quail and Button-quail species that occur in the Blackall Range area.

Despite looking on numerous occasions, the only time I’ve seen a Painted Button-quail on the range was when I chanced upon one crossing the road while on my way to Gardner’s Falls. Luckily, it stopped long enough for me to get a photo, before quickly disappearing into the vegetation beside the road. There is no doubt that the skulkers are challenging to see and photograph, but that’s part of the fun, and it also makes it especially rewarding when it happens.



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