The northern population of the Eastern Bristlebird is fast disappearing so it was with great pleasure that I followed a pair of these wonderful, enigmatic birds for more than an hour in the Border Ranges National Park this week.
There had been virtually no rain in the region since July so I was fortunate that on this day, it had rained heavily. The birds were quite vocal and easy to watch as they foraged in leaf litter, low bushes, and even right out in the open on a walking track.
The northern population of the Eastern Bristlebird may be as few as 20-25 birds, with perhaps just a handful surviving in Queensland, with the rest in a narrow band of suitable habitat across the border in north-east NSW. I have commented previously that the bird may be extinct in the Conondale Range in the Sunshine Coast hinterland - the most northerly site known for the species. The extent of the decline is reflected in surveys conducted by Queensland and NSW authorities across the range of the species: in 1987-89, 154 birds were found in 103 territories; in 1997-98, 26 birds were found in 16 territories.
This is the classic habitat of the northern race of Eastern Bristlebird - open forest with plenty of native grasses, especially kangaroo grass and tussock grass.
At the site in NSW, I saw no wild sorghum, which is often associated with the northern population of this species. There was plenty of blady grass and weeds of various kinds - seemingly not ideal habitat. It was apparent that the NSW authorities had been slow-burning bushland in sections in the region. This is almost certainly good management practice as the birds' habitat may otherwise be choked by weeds or invaded by other forest types.
For obvious reasons, I've been asked not to divulge the location of this sighting. Some people are of the view that all reports of this bird should be suppressed, but I think it is important for people to know they are still about, while maintaining discretion about where to find them.