The small migratory bushbird known as the white-winged triller (pictured) has returned this year in greater numbers than usual.
Numbers of many migratory birds vary from year to year - the pallid cuckoo, brown and rufous songlarks, white-browed woodswallow and white-throated needletail, for example - with numbers being scarce for a year or more, and then unusually high at rather irregular intervals.
This year it is the white-winged triller that has exceeded expectations, with numbers being higher than they have been for several years.
Not only is the bird more common, but it also arrived earlier, with the first district sighting at the end of August, six or seven weeks earlier than the usual mid-October arrival.
The triller is more of a rural bird than a town one, but it is being seen on the edge of Lake Wendouree. Although found mostly in trees, this year there have been many sightings on the ground, often in open rural country.
Small, slender birds, trillers are similar in size to an average honeyeater - slightly larger than a sparrow, but much smaller than a blackbird. More males than females are being seen. The male is black above and clean white below, with black-and-white wings, including a prominent white shoulder patch. A grey rump is visible when it flies. Females are quite different, being light brown with cream edges to their wing-feathers.
The white-winged triller gets its name from the male's plumage, and its lively trilling song. In winter it goes as far north as New Guinea, but many remain in northern Australia. In southern Australia it is classified as a migrant with nomadic tendency.
Its main foods appear to be insects and spiders, found in trees and on the ground. Drought conditions in inland Australia have probably resulted in more trillers - as well as rufous songlarks - in our district this year.
Now flowering with masses of creamy flowers is the local eucalypt known as the broad-leaved peppermint. The buds have opened to dense globular honey-scented clusters. This is one of our earliest-flowering eucalypts, recognised also by its even and finely-rough greyish trunk, and its leaves being 30mm or more wide.
The leaves are very aromatic because of their high oil content, Broad-leaved peppermint is a small tree of drier ridges on poor soils. Another feature of many of them at this time of the year is the attractive red "gum-tips" or new growth.
It is a common tree in all forests of the Ballarat district south of the Divide, such as Creswick, Canadian, Enfield, Linton and Buninyong.
NATURE QUERIES ANSWERED
I would like an ID on this bird please. It looks like a juvenile whistler. The photo was taken at the southern end of Lake Wendouree.I.N., Ballarat.
The fine streaks on the breast identify this as a female rufous whistler. This species is a migrant, and has not yet bred here this year, so your bird is most likely an adult female, rather than a juvenile.
A male rufous whistler has a white throat and a rufous breast, but the female is browner and plainer, with these distinctive breast streaks. This species is never common at Lake Wendouree, but there are a few reports of small numbers in most years in spring.
Although the male is the more vocal of the pair, females sometimes sing equally nicely too. They are migrants with us, arriving in late August or September and departing in autumn.
- Questions and photos are welcome. Send to Roger Thomas at The Courier, PO Box 21, Ballarat, 3353, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org