13 July 2014
The blue wrens that were such fixtures during summer and autumn have been missing from our garden for weeks. They make an occasional visit as dusk falls when we hear rather than see them, a ghostly presence fluttering among the turned soil and weedings, searching out caterpillars and exposed worms. But in the last week they have been replaced by a group of slightly larger, plumper yellow-breasted birds, which are every bit as gregarious, and attentive when we’re gardening. Generally we only see these birds down at the creek, hopping around and watching us, perching sideways on any vine or tendril, but suddenly they are on the fenceposts and wires, taking up observation duty on the perches we have set up, and sitting decoratively on a spade handle as if they’ve been reading Beatrix Potter.

We look them up in our massive edition of Cayley’s What Bird is That? to check the correct name. We decide they are Eastern Yellow Robins, but annoyingly Cayley has entered them twice – in one entry he says that there are Eastern Yellow Robins as far as Newcastle and Northern Yellow Robins north of that, but in the other entry he says that they are now considered to be conspecific, all Eastern Yellow Robins. Whatever the common name, ours are Eopsaltria australis chrysorrhoa, with a dusky yellow breast and a brighter yellow patch on their rump. I think Cayley is being overly poetic when he describes this patch as a ‘golden rump’ that ‘glows brightly against dark tree-trunks in dim light’, but he’s correct in making their defining characteristic: ‘A friendly and trustful bird.’

The kookaburras have set up their winter vigil around the house; the currawongs have been flocking, filling the morning air with warbling and the sky with manoeuvrings. A family of honeyeaters passed through on Thursday – at least five adults and a baby. We’ve had trouble identifying this bird before, so I won’t start trying. It’s a large honeyeater, at least 15 cm, and in the past it’s appeared alone. This group appeared quite suddenly, the adults foraging in the same places as the robins. We first saw the baby, tucked into the lemon verbena, as one of the adults gave it something round and red. On closer, quiet inspection, this turned out to be a chilli. From the lemon verbena they had easy access to the chillis, and soon three of them were weighing down the small chilli bush, pecking vigorously at the red fruit. Mid-winter, and it’s lean pickings in the wild.