No one in Victoria has heard this bird for almost 40 years. Have a listen – Sydney Morning Herald


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It’s a beautiful bird call: a light and melodious tinkling, similar to the noise of crickets calling at night and easy to miss in the noise of the wind through the Mallee scrub.
Hearing a recording of this call (listen yourself below) was enough to make Dr Simon Verdon freeze. His heart skipped a beat.
A young white-bellied whipbird – a critically endangered bird that is notoriously difficult to find. For the first time in 40 years, one has been heard calling in Victoria. This picture was taken on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula.Credit:Tom Hunt
“I was trying not to get too excited and kept a lid on it but when I played it to my staff members they were convinced straight away,” said Verdon, a landscape and fire ecologist at La Trobe University.
“The excitement went from zero to 100 in the camp.”
And he was right to feel hopeful. Verdon and other bird experts soon confirmed this call, heard on October 11 in Victoria’s north-west, came from the rare white-bellied whipbird.
This was the first time this elusive bird had been heard or seen in Victoria for almost 40 years.
“Everyone back at the camp was just shocked and staring and smiling, trying to imagine what this means for the species,” Verdon said.
“A lot of our work is done on the basis of hope – walking around, playing the calls of birds you are pretty sure are extinct from the area. So having that rewarded and finding one of these species makes me really optimistic.”
The call had been recorded by a volunteer from Bendigo. Disability support worker Lachy Wild, 24, was one of 58 volunteers who had given two weeks of their time to help Verdon search the remote Big Desert Wilderness Park for 10 rare bird species.
Before this recording, the white-bellied whipbird was believed to be extinct in Victoria, with only a tiny population in South Australia.
The lesser known cousin of the eastern whip bird, whose characteristic whip-crack call is heard throughout the moist forests of eastern Australia, the white-bellied whipbird lives in desert heath land in the state’s north-west.
With dark olive-brown feathers and white marks on its throat and belly, the white-bellied whipbird forages mostly on the ground and moves low through the low foliage, calling only when it chooses to be detected.
Unlike its better-known cousin, its call does not include a “whip crack” note, but rather a “cartwheeling” cry that you can listen to through the audio player in this story.
This call has more than 70 different phrases, which can make it difficult for even seasoned birders to identify.
Dr Simon Verdon (third from left), volunteers and researchers on a wilderness trip to search for rare birds.
“It’s incredibly sneaky, as are a lot of the Mallee birds, that’s why it has had long intervals without detection,” Verdon said.
Through La Trobe University, Verdon took groups of volunteers – the youngest was 16 and the oldest 72 – on nine-day camping trips where they rose before the sun and spent each day walking solo through the scrub with a tablet in their hands, trying to capture the sound or sight of rare birds such as the Mallee emu wren or red-lored whistler.
One night, as everyone sat around the campfire, Wild told Verdon he’d heard a strange bird call and recorded it. It was the white-bellied whipbird.
They returned to the location every day after that for weeks, but didn’t hear it call again.
The Big Desert Wilderness Park near Nhill, in north west Victoria.
The surveys had other positive findings, revealing that red-lored whistler and emu wrens had much greater populations than estimated.
Verdon and the volunteers plan to return next spring and search more thoroughly, with the data being used establish what kind of fire regimes should be used to promote bird habitat.
Birds living in arid desert areas in south-eastern Australia have found the recent wet weather very beneficial, after suffering through years of drought and heat that greatly reduced their food supply.
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