We have just returned from a three day trip to Lamington National Park in QLD on the escarpment that forms the border with north eastern NSW and while we were there we were very privileged to see Albert's Lyrebirds
Finding these birds took no great effort on our part since they were scratching for food at the edge of the rainforest at the bottom of the main car park at O'Reilly's Mountain Retreat. They caught our attention because another couple already had their cameras out and were taking photos, and the male bird was cycling through his repertoire of mimicry.
One man told us that what usually happens is that you hear the loud laughing cry of a kookaburra calling, low to the ground, and on following the sound you find a lyrebird. Sure enough this male had a kookaburra's call in his repertoire.
I never expected to see this species on this trip. These endangered birds have a very limited distribution, being restricted to small patches of rainforest and wet sclerophyll forest in south eastern QLD and the far north coast of NSW. There is much information on the internet about how "lucky" people were to catch a glimpse of a bird somewhere in the murky depths of the forest. Surely, in the regular way of things, we would have to expend some effort to find them?
We had seen Superb Lyrebirds (Menura novaehollandiae) at Washpool National Park, when we camped there last year. They have a much broader distribution, occurring from Victoria to Queensland, and are more familiar to most people than their rarer cousins. The male birds are splendid mimics, and perform a very elaborate display in which they spread their exotic tails over their heads in a wonderful shimmering mass, while standing on mounds built of soil and litter. These are the birds that were made famous by David Attenborough in his "Life of Birds" series.
Although their body colours are richer, the male Abert's Lyrebird has a shorter and less elaborate tail than its superb cousin and its repertoire of mimicked sounds is reputed to be less impressive. It does perform a similar display, but this occurs on cleared patches of the forest floor rather than on mounds.
The males are promiscuous, and only the female builds the nest and cares for the young. Only one egg is produced at a
time, during winter.
The male that we saw was not at all shy about performing in public, and was following the female around as she scratched the forest floor, displaying to her front end. At least he tried to stay in front of her, although it was a bit difficult at times when she was intent on foraging close to the base of a large tree. She in her turn, was apparently completely oblivious to him.
Despite his apparent lack of official real estate in terms of a proper cleared area, the male was undeterred, flapping his wings up and down and performing a medley of mimicked bird and metallic sounds interspersed with periods of loud rhythmic turkey grunts in a pre-mating season frenzy. We could hear him still, hours later near the edge of the carpark as we were preparing to leave.
He was wasting his time. In a few weeks their roles will be reversed and it will be the females that come seeking the males, displaying their wares in shimmering glory.
Perhaps, one day, we will have birds like these in our yard. We are within the distribution zone for the Albert's Lyrebird, and they are known to occur in the forest nearby. And on one occasion, many years ago, according to our neighbour (who is something of an expert on the subject) one was heard down near our creek.
At the moment, the only kookaburras that call in our garden are the real thing (unless they happen to be a butcher bird - but that is another story).