Eastern Bristlebird and Rufous Scrub-bird
20 - 22 July 2012

Rufous scrub-bird (P. Maher Nov 2010)


Stefan, a U.S birder, whom I’d taken out for plains-wanderer some time ago, was on a mission to see all the bird families of the world. He had four families left and was hoping I’d show him representatives of two of them: eastern bristlebird and rufous scrub-bird. (Possibly, he now only has one family left as he was heading to Sulwesi for Hylocitrea [Olive-flanked/Sulawesi whistler] after he finished with us).

Obviously late July is not a good time for either of these species and Stefan was well aware of that. Still, we were both prepared to give it a go.

Trisha and I collected Stefan early on Friday at Sydney International, off a flight from LA, and headed south for Barren Grounds. Not a brilliant start as Barren Grounds was closed for 1080 baiting. (Note to self: check park closures before leaving home). We went down the road a bit where I’d heard bristlebirds in the past and got excellent views of one in about 15 minutes. One down, one to go.

After lunch we headed north to Gloucester Tops, arriving late afternoon (about a five hour drive) and went straight into Gloucester for dinner at a pub (pretty ordinary). We were booked into Roseleigh Cottage (an original settlers’ hut) on the Gloucester Tops Road, not too far from the entrance to Gloucester Tops in Barrington Tops National Park.

Trisha and I had already been up here a couple of days before collecting Stefan. We’d gone straight up the mountain in the late afternoon, pulled up at one of the spots where I'd seen scrub-birds a couple of years ago, walked in and had one bird come in close straight away. Maybe this wasn’t going to be as hard as I thought. I went back up the mountain the next morning and heard nothing in the way of scrub-birds. The night had been frosty but the day was pleasant. We returned to Sydney in the evening, ready to collect Stefan early the next morning.

First thing Saturday, Stefan and I headed up to the spot where I'd heard the scrub-bird on my reccy a couple of days before. It had turned bitterly cold and drizzly. By the time we’d walked in to the scrub-bird spot, our boots were saturated, and my jeans soaked. We stood there for a couple of hours without so much as a glimpse or note. It was 8°C according to our hired 4WD's temperature gauge. With the heater blasting we drove higher in steady drizzle before turning around to head back to the cottage for lunch. I, fortuitously, wound my window down just as a scrub-bird called beside the road. We followed that bird for about an hour without seeing it. It was still raining so we gave round one to the scrub-bird and retreated for lunch.

After drying out in the cottage, we ventured back up the mountain mid afternoon. Returning to the spot where we’d heard the bird in the morning, we could still hear it calling. Again, it was uncooperative. We drove about listening for calls. Another bird called in the thick undergrowth where we didn’t stand a chance of seeing it; it didn't help that the light was fading rapidly. We now had three different birds to look for the next day. Trisha and I were flying home that evening so time was paramount.

On Sunday morning we returned to the spot where the last bird had called but again heard nothing. We moved on to the second bird and heard it calling from various spots in its territory. We followed it for a bit. This bird was quite bold and allowed close approach while it was calling. We inadvertently walked closer than I intended and Stefan saw it scurry away. We had no more sightings but Stefan was happy with what he saw so we left it at that.

Given the time of year and the weather conditions, I'd say we were lucky.

Other birds seen on Gloucester Tops included superb lyrebird, flocks of yellow-tailed black cockatoos, olive whistler, crescent honeyeaters and lots of eastern spinebills.

Philip N. Maher