The small bird flitting through the thickets of our Murraya hedge was not one I had seen before, at least in our garden. I got my camera, hoping for an opportunity to photograph it. I stayed inside the house so I wouldn’t spook the bird, and waited. And waited. The bird flitted rapidly from spot to spot, usually in the dark thickets of the hedge, never keeping still long enough to let me aim the camera, let alone focus properly. After several minutes, I was losing hope. This was the best shot I had managed to get so far (the bird is the orange blur in the middle of the frame):
And then it broke cover to pause on our antique water pump, allowing me to get a couple of shots. The second of these caught a classic fan pose. It was a young Rufous Fantail (Ripidura rufifrons), the first one I had seen. Shortly afterwards the bird flitted off, leaving me free to check on fantail facts.
This was in mid-April 2015, quite late in the season. Rufous fantails are migratory and usually well on their way to Queensland by then.
There are 3 species of fantail found around Sydney, all of them delightful birds to watch. The largest is the Willie Wagtail, well known all over Australia and often seen in city parks and gardens. The Grey Fantail is also widely distributed, but prefers bush to urban environments. And then there’s our Rufous Fantail, only found in eastern Australia. It too is not usually a city bird, preferring the understory in eucalyptus forests or mangroves, where it flits almost non-stop from branch to branch looking for insects.
I’ve not seen another rufous fantail in North Sydney since then, but recently I saw one in the Blue Mountains. It was scooting around tree trunks near Blackheath, and I thought at first it was trying to tell me something because every time I pointed the camera at it, this was the only view I got!
At least the view did tell me something – its maturity – because unlike the young bird I saw earlier, this adult fantail had white tips to its tail-feathers, and much more contrast between the light and dark areas on its head and neck.
Eventually the bird relented and stayed in one spot for a couple of seconds, in this typical fantail pose with wings half spread. It’s thought that the constant movement of spreading tail and wing feathers is to flush out insects in the bark and leaves.
Then (as a final favour!) the fantail paused again, allowing me a view of its black bib which merged blotchily into its grey belly feathers. After a few seconds, the bird was off again, looking for the next insect.
An entertaining little bird. I’m quite a fan of fantails.
North Sydney – my home suburb – holds Sydney’s second largest CBD. However its parks and bushland areas, and those of neighbouring councils such as Willoughby, host a surprising variety of native flora and fauna. These bush areas are maintained by dedicated council staff, often working with local resident volunteers.