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The Secretive Eastern Whipbird – Often Heard But Rarely Seen

Bird Photography with marysejansenart

The story of a whip-cracking duet

Eastern Whipbird by Maryse Jansen
Eastern Whipbird

As I am filming the forest for my new episode of ‘Come for a walk in the Australian Bush’, the call of the Eastern Whipbird adds something extra to my shot. Fantastic! Quietly I say thank you in my head, I am so pleased that I will now be able to share this with you! It brings back memories of the first time I heard this bird call. Let me take you back to that day …

The call of the Eastern Whipbird

This is impressive! I look around me at all the amazing and giant trees with their tall canopies and massive root systems. I’m in Mapleton Falls National Park and it’s my first time in an Australian rainforest. All the sights and sounds are unusual to me. A specific bird call stands out and mesmerizes me! It sounds like a beautiful long whistle, followed by a whip-crack like sound and then some chew-chew sounding noises. The sequence repeats over and over but no matter how hard I try, I can’t find the bird that is responsible for this amazing song.

After moving to Australia the search continues. Everytime I hear this bird, usually during a walk in a dense forest, I try to get a glimpse. But no luck. One day, at an environment centre, I find a display of the various birds in the area. There are photos and buttons you can press to hear their call. That’s when I learn it’s an Eastern Whipbird and what it looks like!

Spotting an Eastern Whipbird

I had inadvertently built an image in my head of a little songbird but it turns out a bit different! In fact, the Eastern Whipbird is a medium-sized bird. It has a long tail and a prominent crest. While it’s mostly dark in colour, it has a prominent white patch on the throat. The head, crest and chest are black and the back and tail are a dark olive-green. Males and females look the same but the males can be slightly larger. They live in rainforests and the dense undergrowth of other wet forests in coastal eastern Australia. In these dark, dense environments this secretive bird is really hard to find, let alone photograph!

The first time I spot one I’m on a camping trip in the rainforest. One early morning I’m on my way to the sanitary block. I follow the path which leads through thick vegetation and hear a rustle in the leaf litter. I immediately recognize the Eastern Whipbird! How exciting to finally see one, after all those years! After briefly savouring this moment I start thinking whether I could get my camera. I back away slowly and sprint to the tent to grab it, hoping fiercely the bird will still be there when I return. It is! Woohoo!

Even though I do manage to snap a photo, it is not a masterpiece. It is very dark and the vegetation is covering most of the bird all the time. But still I’m excited, what a special encounter!

Feeding and Breeding habits

Eastern Whipbirds feed on insects and other small invertebrates that they find in the leaf litter on the forest floor. They can do so alone, or together with their mate or family.

The birds are sedentary and defend their territory all year round. They are monogamous. The females build the nest, which is a cup nest, out of bark and sticks and line it with grasses. They lay a clutch of usually two, sometimes three, pale-blue eggs with black spots. Once hatched, male and female work together in feeding the chicks. When the chicks leave the nest, the male takes a more active role in looking after them for another six weeks until they are ready to fend for themselves.

I can’t believe my luck, another couple of years later, when I get to see the Eastern Whipbird again, and this time it’s feeding its young! The chick is mostly green and will develop adult plumage at about two years of age. This is the perfect opportunity to finally get a decent photo of the Eastern Whipbird! The result is displayed above, in the featured image. And not only that, I also can share a shot here of the parent feeding the chick:

Eastern Whipbird feeding Chick by Maryse Jansen
Eastern Whipbird feeding Chick

The Eastern Whipbird Duet

The call of the Eastern Whipbird is not only interesting because of it’s distinct sound. It is also quite special in that the sequence that I described is not made by a single bird. It is actually a call and answer sequence! One bird, it is thought that that is the male, starts off with the long, drawn out whistle followed by the characteristic whip-crack. The other bird then answers with the chew-chew sounds. It seems like a good way for a couple to stay in touch in the dense forest!

In the footage I describe in the first paragraph of this post, you can hear the whistle and whip-crack very clearly. As I continue my walk, I hear some excited chatter coming from the forest floor a couple of dozen metres away. After intense peering through the dense vegetation I detect an Eastern Whipbird!

This time it is not producing the sounds from the characteristic duet, but it’s showing me that it has a lot more in its repertoire. It’s vocalizing enthusiastically, whilst rummaging around in the leaf litter. I can’t get a full view but I see enough to know what it is! The long tail and the white patch are giving it away. Of course I add some of this beautiful song in my video too!

Enjoy watching ‘Unwind in the Forest’, the new episode of ‘Come for a Walk in the Australian Bush’. It is a bit different from the previous ones as I decided not to talk during this video. It gives you the chance to really unwind, enjoy the scenery and listen to the birds. Especially listen out for the call of the Eastern Whipbird!

Unwind in the Forest – Come for a Walk in the Australian Bush Series – #9

If you are interested in purchasing ‘Eastern Whipbird’ or would like to see what the image looks like on the various products, please head to my shop.

For more stories about Australia’s amazing birds, click here!

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