Small brown birds aren’t always easy to identify. Here’s one I saw on 29th February.
When I first saw it, it was in long grass below a thick bush. It had seen me too:
After a couple of seconds it decided I was not an immediate danger, and it could get on with more important things. Something above its head caught its eye, and it pounced, as this triptych shows:
It looked around for its next snack:
The next pounce was deep in the grass, so I couldn’t see the bird until it resurfaced. But it was now in the open, giving me a much clearer view:
Although plainly coloured, the warm tones and neat lines made it a pleasant-looking little bird. I just wasn’t sure what sort of little bird it was, though the shape looked rather like a small honeyeater. The bird was still moving around, so I left identification for later. The next time I had a clear view, it was watching out for its next insect.
Soon it saw something and was off again:
It disappeared into a lantana thicket for a while, and then re-emerged before vanishing into the shrubbery.
I walked on, but returned about half an hour later. I peered over a drainage culvert on the other side of the pathway and saw it again—or another very similar bird. Most of its body was concealed by the culvert, but I got a good shot of its head above a floating leaf.
Pretty soon it was off again, into another lantana thicket, and I went home shortly after to consult my bird books.
Identifying the bird wasn’t easy – those warm brown shades didn’t seem to match anything in the books. The Menkhorst Guide had one that came closest; it also had a second illustration showing the orange colouring on the inside of the beak. That clinched it for me as an Australian Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus australis).
Like some other Australian birds, the reed-warblers have been the subjects of taxonomic uncertainty. My older 1980 Pizzey Guide names the same bird as the Clamorous Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus stentoreus), and it seems there are several similar species. All the book illustrations agree in showing a distinct pale patch or bar above the eye, which was barely visible in this bird.
The books also agree that these little birds are common in the eastern half of Australia. They are the loudest songbirds in reed-beds and similar habitats, especially in the breeding season. Paradoxically “my” bird didn’t utter a peep, preferring to focus on catching insects. Though not particularly shy, these warblers aren’t easily seen in the dense shrubbery they inhabit, so I was lucky.
The Acrocephalus family of warblers are found in much of the Old World – Wikipedia lists around 35 species. A couple are found in Europe, and I also had a quick peek in my little Lomond guide where I found two – the Reed Warbler and the Sedge Warbler. They both look very similar to the Australian Warbler, but are a fair bit smaller (13 cm as opposed to 17 cm).