But some things were different this year. After the stupendously dry winter, the eucalypt forest was parched, the undergrowth sparse and the leptospermum flowers of last year’s visit few and far between. We found a patch of sphagnum moss perched in a bowl of sandstone boulders so dry it crunched underfoot.
We spotted plenty of lizards, and the diggers were out in force – lyrebirds wandering through the camp as they tried to scratching their way down to moisture and a wombat turning up to twerk on a picnic bench. But up in “kingfisher alley”, just before the Cudgegong River disappears into the reed beds, there were fewer blue and green flashes by the water.
Around the camp site, the bowerbirds and treecreepers panted in the heat. Apart from the ubiquitous reed warblers, there seemed fewer birds altogether. No sign of the friarbird teenagers of last year, and even the baby swamp hens seemed thin on the ground.
You have to wonder what it takes to change ecosystems irrevocably. How many dry winters before the old inhabitants decide living and breeding here is just too tricky? And who would move in to fill their place?
Back at Berowra after the trip, there are changes in the garden too… surprising ones.
We knew we’d be losing the sparrowhawks soon enough, but the family has dispersed in an unexpected order. The adults disappeared off the scene weeks ago, and by the time we made it home with our ridiculously overloaded vehicle and small and ancient fleet of boats, the siblings had parted too. There’s just one young’un now. He seems lonely.
There’s a constant plaintive calling from the trees out back, that seems to intensify when he has prey on hand. I’m not quite sure if he’s warning his imaginary sibling off or calling him to come and share a meal.
And that’s not the only shift in the soundscape around here. The sparrowhawks have cut a swathe through the bird population on the premises. Baby brushturkey numbers have fallen from previous plague proportions, noisy miners are few and far between and the “house” birds of yesteryear – red and little wattlebirds – are now just occasional visitors.
But as the numbers of resident raptors has dropped, a new set of critters have settled in. Lewin’s honeyeaters which we’ve only seen once or twice in the backyard over the last seven years, have made our backyard their new home. And we also appear to have acquired some brown thornbills, a raptor snack food if ever there was one. And the local eastern spinebills, another tasty morsel for a sparrowhawk, are spending more time around here too.
The only explanation I have for the change of personnel is that the hawks have bumped the notoriously territorial wattlebirds, leaving the field open for new arrivals.
I’m pretty happy to have a new set of birds in the garden. My dream scenario, I have to admit, would be to order up some songbirds that are a bit easier on the eye. My birdwatching brother puts Lewin’s in a honeyeater “bin taxon” of pretty similar and drab looking birds it’s hardly worth distinguishing between. Cruel, perhaps, but fairly accurate.
So, why not some new holland honeyeaters, for instance – gorgeous looking locals. Or (still, my beating heart!) what about some pardelotes? Just one or two?
On the other hand, it’s possible that all the vibrantly coloured small birds in the neighbourhood have been made into multicoloured meals over the past three months by our family of raptors. After all, there’s got to be some evolutionary reason for all those SBBs*.
*note: this is a throwaway remark absolutely unsupported by any science.
Previous posts about Ganguddy
More on our sparrowhawk summer
Stephen Garnett, Donald Franklin, Glenn Ehmke, Jeremy VanDerWal, Lauren Hodgson, Chris Pavey, April Reside, Justin Welbergen, Stuart Butchart, Genevieve Perkins and Stephen Williams (2013) Climate change adaptation strategies for Australian birds: Final Report, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility
Office of Environment and Heritage, Premier’s Department (2011) New South Wales Climate Impact Profile Technical Report: Potential impacts of climate change on biodiversity