Friday, 8 August 2014

Chirruping Wedgebills north of Broken Hill

Driving south on the Silver City Highway we stopped for morning tea about 30km north of Broken Hill at Yanco Glen, a ruin beside the highway and just up stream of a creek crossing. Stepping from the vehicle I was struck by a distinctive bird call I recognised immediately, Chirruping Wedgebills, even though I have only seen these birds twice before. The birds at this stage were calling from within the abundant saltbushes surrounding the ruins of an old building now reduced to not much more than foundations with remnants of the building and occupation scattered here and there.     
Postponing morning tea I grabbed the camera and went to investigate.
Curiosity soon got the better of one bird, which appeared at the top of a nearby saltbush.
There are two species of Wedgebills, Chirruping and Chiming, both are birds of the arid inland and are closely related to Whipbirds with which they share a number characteristics including crests, long tails, strong feet and a preference for dense vegetation. Both forage on or near the ground, both are shy and somewhat reclusive and both have distinctive calls which often give away their presence.
The rakish crest definitely adds character to these otherwise plain brown birds.
The Chirruping and Chiming occupy an eastern and western range respectively, which stretches right across central Australia to the WA coast with an overlap in the Simpson Desert. Chirruping Wedgebills were once found in Victoria where they are now extinct. A check of my copy of the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas database shows one pre 1900 record near Swan Hill and a 1900-1949 record west of Mildura.
While these birds may have a large range and be locally common, from my experience they are not encountered very often and when they are found it is often due to hearing their distinctive calls.
Both species are very similar, however their calls are very different and Chiming is much more shy. Both species will call incessantly for long periods from a high vantage point however the Chiming ceases calling and retreats to cover readily when disturbed while the Chirruping is more approachable and is more likely to keep on calling when approached. Also the Chirruping songs often involve male and female duets whereas the Chiming does not do this.
Both species respond readily to call playback but only to their own calls, which was one of the ways researchers were able to work out there were two species and not one as originally thought.
At Yanco Glen, based on their calls and the appearance of birds here and there among the saltbush, it soon became apparent there were at least four or five birds in this area. And true to their nature one soon flew up to the top of a dead tree and commenced calling.
The brisk wind did not deter this bird singing from a high and exposed perch.

Males and females look identical - I suspect this is a male on basis that it is most likely the males that call from high perches.
Note the long tail and short wings, these birds are not strong fliers and mostly run between clumps of saltbush and make short flights occasionally. 
I was pleased to find this species again, albeit by shear chance, and pleased to get some photos.