Queensland - one of Australia's six states – covers the northeastern portion of the island continent. For almost three hundred miles along the state's northeast coast stretches a rainforest called Queensland Wet Tropics. The forest is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its rich biodiversity. For example, the Wet Tropics takes up only 0.2% of Australia's land but is home to 40% of her bird species.
The Golden Bowerbird, one of the 828 bird species of Australia, can only be found in this area. It is sought after by birders because it is a local endemic – Wet Tropics is the only place in Australia, and the world, where it can be found. The bird's name comes from the “bower” – a shelter or large nest made of twigs and branches – that it builds on the ground.
Looking for the Golden Bowerbird in the vast forest can be difficult, but – as we shall see - if one knows the location of its bower, it becomes easier.
Thus it was that early one morning our intrepid group, organized by Trekabout Photography, left our base in Yungaburra, high in the Atherton Tablelands, and headed towards Tully Gorge National Park. Near the Park, we turned off into a dirt road. We were now in Warrigal, a privately owned hundred-acre property in the rainforest.
Presently we stopped, and accompanied by Jonathan, owner of Warrigal, we walked into the forest. The wide variety of plant life here included many ancient species; the larger flora was dominated by oak, laurel, ash and pine trees. The understory was clear like other rainforests (lack of sunlight prevents growth under tall trees) but unexpectedly dry.
After walking about thirty yards, we came to a small clearing on the ground. Jonathan had guided us to the bowers. We saw two conical structures made of twigs – perhaps three or four feet high – on the ground up ahead.
We waited silently. Soon there was movement on a tree behind the bowers. On its narrow trunk, about fifteen feet from the ground, was a small jumble of twigs – an “annex” to the bowers. Sitting there was a bird the size of a shalik. Its belly, tail and crest were a bright golden yellow; its head and wings were with streaks were brown. It was the male Golden Bowerbird, shining bright in the dark, green forest.
For the next hour, we observed the bird. It flew from tree to tree, always sitting on conspicuous perches while singing to attract a mate.
At one point, the bird, which eats mostly fruit, plucked a berry from a tree. This it deposited into a cavity in the trunk of a nearby tree. Then it perched again and called out. Minutes later, a female Golden Bowerbird, olive-grey in colour, flew in and perched near the cavity. Then, in front of our astonished eyes, it retrieved the berry from the cavity and ate it. However, I could not tell if the friendship proceeded further.
One reason we had waited so long was to observe the male work on decorating its bower. It is known to do this to attract females, but this morning it did not cooperate. We moved on, but the memory of the Golden Bowerbird has stayed in my mind.
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