If you’re near a thick patch of scrub in this part of the world, you often hear a series of buzzing calls. The calls are followed by little darting movements, and if you keep still, you may see the source - a White-browed Scrubwren (Sericornis frontalis).
The scrubwren is one of the less noticed birds. They’re quite small (not much more than 10g) and frequently have a frowning look about them. This was the first one I ever got a decent photo of:
The bird still looked severe even when almost standing on its beak. It was poking round for insects near the creek at Tunks Park.
Because of their frowning look, I nicknamed them “grumpies”, but it’s their white brows and dark face-masks that suggest grumpiness rather than their behaviour. I’ve seen them foraging in many places now. One regular spot is around the old BP Site at Waverton.
This one was in Tunks Park:
They’re often in pairs or small family groups:
They mostly forage around the thicker shrubs, and sometimes on cliff faces like this pair.
If there’s water around, they may have a quiet splash:
They can look almost cheerful when buzzing or otherwise communicating:
By contrast, this one was REALLY grumpy (it was taken just before Christmas, so maybe it had an excuse):
Despite their name, scrubwrens are not closely related to the northern hemisphere wrens. There are thought to be 10 subspecies of White-browed Scrubwren, spread across a great arc across the southern half of the Australian coastal fringes from Cairns round to Carnarvon. They all have a tendency to white brows above a dark face mask, and all have that distinctive pair of white chevrons on their wing-knuckles. Males and females look very similar.
The buzzing call you are most likely to hear is a warning call; they are very alert little birds and initially cautious although they can become more relaxed with familiarity. They often hang around with fairy wrens – I suspect the two species respond to each other’s warning calls. I’ve not seen them behave aggressively, though I did recently see a small group buzzing above a currawong with one of them making a couple of half-hearted swoops at the intruder. Their nests are reportedly well-hidden – certainly I’ve never seen one.