Since COVID-19 isolation began, more and more people are walking in the areas I usually visit, often with dogs in tow. One result is that the birdlife is also practising isolation from human-infested areas! I was pleased therefore when a small bird put his (size 24) foot down on a tree trunk close to me in Lane Cove National Park this week:
It was a White-throated Treecreeper (Cormobates leucophaea), a bird you can see in most stands of trees in south-eastern Australia, but often won’t notice because it’s a dark bird on a dark tree-trunk and hard to spot under the tree canopy. Here’s what the whole bird looked like:
I always find it difficult to get really good photos of these little birds. They are usually seen in deep shade, restlessly climbing up the side of a tree-trunk in a spiral pattern, so it’s easy to miss with the focus. This bird didn’t help by staying close for very long. When he had spiralled to the far side of the trunk, he emitted a sharp “pee-pee-pee-pee-pee…” for a few seconds and then flew off.
Earlier, I had seen him with his mate. This was the best photo I could get of the female at their then distance:
You can see that she was indeed a female from the distinctive orange spot behind and below her eye. Otherwise, females are very similar to the males, with the same dark brown back and head, white-and-brown patterned underside, white throat, and of course the size 24 feet shown in the first photo.
I was able to get some better ones of the male as he worked his way closer via several trees. This was one of them:
Once again he was clinging to the side of a tree trunk, a pose which gives a certain sameness to most treecreeper photos. However treecreepers do sometimes pause in their spiral climb, usually to dig out a more recalcitrant insect. Here's one doing just that at Lake Mummuga (340km south of Sydney).
Treecreepers have a good success rate with their under-bark digging. This was one trophy-winner in Lane Cove Park last year:
Although often unnoticed, the White-throated Treecreeper really is quite common within its range. I’ve seen individuals in Boorowa, the Hunter Wetlands and in the Blue Mountains, whilst this female was in the Conimbla National Park, 250 kms west of Sydney.
There are four other species of treecreeper. One of them, the Brown Treecreeper, has a range overlapping that of the White-Throated species, but I haven’t seen one.
The Varied Sittella (Daphoenositta chrysoptera) is another big-footed bird, smaller but with very similar habits, whose range also encompasses that of the White-throated Treecreeper. They are differently coloured with orange legs and a yellowish eye ring. This one was in Boorowa:
Sittellas tend to work their way down a tree whereas treecreepers work their way upwards. I’ve sometimes wondered what happens when the smaller-sized sittella (with gravity on its side!) bumps into the larger treecreeper coming the other way. Who gives way?