I’ve just returned from an astoundingly good field trip spent at Melaleuca, in Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area. Tucked down in the far south west of the state, it’s accessible only on foot, by small aircraft or boat, and is one of the most stunning places I’ve had the pleasure to visit. My partner and I spent a portion of the summer there, volunteering on behalf of the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service as camp hosts, chatting to visitors, scrubbing loos and keeping things as neat and tidy as you can reasonably expect them to be in the wild wild west.
As well as allowing us to meet a veritable plethora of excellent and interesting people, including bushwalkers, boat people, pilots, birdos, alpenhornists, peak baggers, ground scrufflers and sundry adventurers, spending a whole month in the rangers’ hut gave me the opportunity to indulge my eco-flâneur tendencies. I spent an inordinate amount of time stalking fabulous flora and fauna, often from within the rangers’ hut, binos in one hand, tea cup in the other. Sometimes, there were even scones.
A is for Acanthiza ewingii, the Little Brown Bird with the white undies
Tasmanian thornbills (Acanthiza ewingii) are the every-bird pin-up of the LBB ranks. For those unacquainted with LBBs, they are the elite cadre of Little Brown Birds which Tasmania has in abundance. Ask any bushwalking guide what that tiny brown feathery thing you saw flitting past at speed was, and “Oh, that’s an elbeebee!” is almost inevitably their response. Most visitors are too embarrassed by their unfamiliarity with this species to inquire further.
The Tasmanian thornbill is endemic to the state (meaning it’s found nowhere else), and is apparently distinguished from the near identical brown thornbill by its white underpants.
A mob of Tasmanian thornbills inhabit the scrub surrounding the rangers’ hut at Melaleuca. You may not be able to see them at first glance, but I promise you, they’re there in abundance, relieving the shrubbery of its insect fauna like a gang of adorable, feathery pickpockets.
We’ll be publishing a miscellany of natural history in alphabetical order , featuring some of the natural attractions of Melaleuca and the Wilderness World Heritage Area – many of them feathered, as I went on a bit of a bird bender – but also generally floral and faunal, geological, possibly hydrological, maybe even astronomical, and most definitely ecological. Stay tuned for tales of wilderness derring-do, tiny stupid birds and the occasional cheeky marsupial.