White-browed Babbler

White-browed Babbler.

The White-browed Babbler is one of only two local bird species that live a sociable life, that is, they live in family groups. The other larger and more common bird is the White-winged Chough.

Watching a flock of White-browed Babblers is a most entertaining experience but only readers living on properties on, or close to the edge of town, or outside the town and in or close to a eucalypt forest containing shrubby understorey, or rough land that is less timbered but with dense low cover, will get to enjoy them at home. Pomatostomus superciliosus measures around 20cm, just slightly bigger than our most common honeyeater the New Holland Honeyeater. It has a strong down-curved beak. Colouring is mostly brown with white throat, breast and eyebrows. It has a distinctive long fanned tail, black with white tips.

My favourite viewing areas are the parkland surrounding the South German dam, and that land which abuts the Castlemaine side of the Tarrangower Creek before it becomes Sandy Creek.

From below the South German and north up over the diggings area as far as the Bendigo road, you are will often get good views of the Babblers although Gorse, still evident in some parts of the park, can be a frustrating deterrent to the keen bird watcher.

White-browed Babbler

The second area is worth a visit too, though it’s a little harder to get to. It contains unused farmland mixed with low cover and bordered by forest. I saw two families there in late June. Access is either via a track off to the left of the Maldon/Castlemaine road immediately before the Sandy Creek bridge; alternatively, follow Boundary Road to what seems to be the end, then instead of going through a private gate, walk through the rough low scrubby fifty metres of land immediately between the gate and the fence on your right-hand side. This will link you up with the track that once led to the Maldon abattoir and to the old farmland on the far side of the creek. This track is listed for upgrading.

If you go via the Sandy Creek track, be prepared to walk across or along the creek, some 200 metres in. Once you are there you will find yourself on old and not very useful pasture. One local farmer described it to me as “… as hungry land that never was much good ‘cept for whatever was there in the first place”. This is privately owned land so you might prefer to keep to the creek boundary or the edges of the forest.

It is worth mentioning here that this unused farmland has been purchased for housing development of around 40 houses, which is unfortunate for the Babbler and, in this writer’s opinion, for Maldon. Developing land outside a village is a very old fashioned idea in the modern world but for some reason Australia doesn’t seem to have caught up with the fact. With so much space it seems our only thought is to just keep expanding outwards rather than embracing ideas sympathetic to the quality of life. Throughout Britain and Europe, and more recently in parts of the US and Canada, planners now work hard to preserve human and ecological communities and require builders to work with existing house blocks and buildings within villages. In-fill might be the best term to describe it. When challenged, our developers love to label the challenger as a NIMBY, (Not In My Back Yard!) and anti progress. They seem unable to understand what the word progress really means.

But back to the Babblers. They are far more interesting.

Comical is how one can best describe the Babbler. That wonderful book, Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country (CSIRO Pubications 2005), says of these mainly ground foragers
“Moves with bouncing hops; comical and playful. Members of a group communicate with quiet chuckles.”

Babblers are usually tolerant of being followed quietly and at a reasonable distance.
Throughout the region, you can be confident of finding a family of Babblers and more rarely, their large unruly domed nest which the small community inhabits right through the year. If you live in the town, then you should try the new walking and cycling tracks that Parks Victoria have put in around the Maldon diggings – from the railway station up to the top of Anzac Hill, and which includes the South German dam. Treat yourself to a Babbler hunt while enjoying all the other birdlife. Oh, and don’t forget the binoculars.

Country Notebook articles are written by Richard Lee for his monthly newspaper column of the same name.

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