The tiny little creature in our picture this week, could rank among the great dreads of new birders. It is an Inland Thornbill and belongs to an infuriating group of birds known to birdwatchers worldwide as LBJs, or Little Brown Jobs. These are the small birds that often inhabit thick vegetation, are hyperactive giving few opportunities for the binoculars to settle for a prolonged view, and they often mix with other closely related and similar looking birds.
The Inland Thornbill might be mistaken at first glance for a Chestnut-rumped Thornbill or a Slaty-backed Thornbill. They’re all small, grey birds with a bit of brown plumage at the base of the tail, and they are all seen in the bush around Alice Springs. The differences are in the details.
We can rule out the Chestnut-rumped Thornbill as it has a pale white eye. The Slaty-backed Thornbill is out of the question because it has a thicker bill and doesn’t have the obvious dark flecking down the breast that we can see in this bird. The call might be a useful aid to identification if you don’t manage to get a good look, but even these can be misleading. Inland Thornbills are well known for their ability to mimic other birds; the one outside my office has already exercised a repertoire of 12 local species this morning.
The bush is alive with small birds building nests at the moment. As a result there are also a few cuckoos being seen around town, awaiting their chance to slip their own egg into a poorly guarded nest. Of note this week were a Jacky Winter seen out at Kuyunba Conservation Reserve and a Baillon’s Crake reported by Mike Green beside the lake at the golf club.