This time, I stopped the car and attempted to follow the bird, but it had soon disappeared into a small pocket of surviving fern forest and so I continued driving.
Over the space of a few hours this happened three more times, and I was thrilled to know that somehow, miraculously, these wonderful birds had cheated the flames. The sparseness of the bush after the fires made spotting them easier than usual but getting photographs was another story.I spent a long time trying, and after too long bush-bashing, with blackened clothes and scratched skin, I decided it was time to give up hope of a shot of one of the lyrebirds.
Later, I stopped at Healesville Sanctuary for chance to see some of the great rehabilitation work being done with injured animals after the fires. Walking around the sanctuary, I was homing in on the sounds of Bell Birds, but I was confused by the sound of another camera shutter firing. It is extremely difficult to get close to Bell Birds, let alone find them in the foliage, and I was excited with this opportunity. It was then I became even more confused (I know how many who know me say how easily this is done!) as a cacophony of other birds sounds and some strange cackles emitted from the bush towards which I was headed.
My confusion and excitement about the Bell Birds was blasted by an image that I will take to my grave firmly embedded in my mind! A male Superb Lyrebird with his tail feathers raised over his head was displaying on a mound used to attract a mate into his territory – they usually have several such mounds in the wild. He continued to delight me with about five minutes more of bird calls, dogs barking and a passing helicopter sound – all this while displaying, shaking and dancing with his feathers at full spread over his head.
The female(s) did not show themselves but this pheasant-sized male made my time getting here worth every second. Once he has mated, often with several females, she goes off and builds a domed nest on the ground, lays a single egg, incubates the chick and then raises it all by herself. Makes me wonder if I had been a good singer then maybe I could have lived a different parental lifestyle.
Later I learned that Superb Lyrebirds breed from Autumn to Spring, are the heaviest of all song birds and can be up to 100cm in length. As ground dwelling birds they love eating bugs and other small animals like spiders and worms which they get out of the leaf litter and rotting logs. At night they will roost high in the trees. The Australian Museum has fossils of this bird’s close relatives 15 million years old!
The male takes up to seven years to grow its eight pairs of tail feathers; the two outer pairs are lyre-shaped, with the next pair being guard feathers and then six pairs of filamentaries which are a beautiful white and lace-shaped.
Generally the birds are reddish or rufous in colour with black legs and beak and when the male is not in display its two guard feathers protect the ornate tail.
The Superb Lyrebird has a cousin that lives further north, known as Albert’s Lyrebird. It is much redder and has a far less ornate tail. The Superb can be found in the moist forests of south-east Australia and southern Tasmania.
Oh! And by the way, I still didn’t get any Bell Bird shots!