No sooner had I flopped on the couch with a steaming lemon-scented tea in one hand, my kindle in the other and a promissory nap brewing behind my eyes, than there was a sudden interruption.
It sounded like a large bird had flown into our lounge room window. This happens from time to time when we have the blinds down presenting unlucky birds with a confounding mirror of non-existing perspective.
On investigation, it was not a large bird at all, but a tiny one. A limp crumple of brown and white feathers. Quite beautiful.
I thought it was dead. I gently scooped it up. Its head flopped lifelessly to the side. Yet I could feel it’s pounding heart, and hear tiny bird panting….so I cupped it in my hands and sat on the step to see where things would go.
Later, with the help of a little online research, I think it might have been of the family Pardalotidae (also known as the diamond bird due to the crisp bright spots on its plumage).
One of the smallest of all Australian birds.
Although these birds are spread throughout the eastern and southern areas of Australia, they are not often seen due to both their diminutive size and preference for feeding high in the eucalyptus canopy where they dine on lerp and scale.
Lerp and scales?
Scales, I discovered, are tiny (2-3 mm) insects. They are sapsuckers that cause a fungus known as ‘sooty mould’. Severe infestations can result in the death of the plant they are inhabiting.
Lerp is the sugary sweet coating secreted by some insects. You may have seen it as a small white hemispherical blob on eucalyptus leaves. These are actually built from solidified honeydew and wax and are secreted as a protective covering by psyllid nymphs.
Interestingly, Pardalotes themselves breed in small tunnels they excavate in sandbanks or shaded garden beds. Quite often close to houses. In fact they have even been found nesting in garage roll-a-doors.
The one that I held was probably a female as the males have a bright mustard yellow underbelly.
A good 10 minutes later she began to stir. Blinking and looking around in a sort of birdly bewilderment.
I opened my hand expecting her to fly. But she seemed contented enough to perch on my palm and soak in the afternoon sun. We watched each other. Perhaps she was just gathering her senses. Or perhaps her extended presence was by way of thanks. A tiny visitation of wildness.
Enough time for me to sit on the step, share the light, feel the breeze, and even take a few pictures.
Then, just as unexpectedly as the thwack…….Thhrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
She took to the trees in a blur of diamond and brown.