When I first heard them … bell-like tink calls coming from all around me in the dense understory of the eucalyptus forest at dusk, I thought I was hearing frogs, “Bell Frogs” was my guess. But when I described my experience to Carl later in the evening, he told me with considerable authority that the calls weren’t from frogs, but rather were from birds … Bell Miners (also called “Bellbirds”), to be exact:
The tink-notes of Bell Miners at dusk. Recorded by Lang Elliott 17 October 2012 on the western edge of the Watagan Mountains near Cessnock, New South Wales, Australia.
I had just driven up a long dirt road through farm country on the western slopes of the Watagan Mountains. Light was fading fast. I came to a gate, abandoned my car, and walked up a well-rutted road to the edge of the mountain forest. And that is where I found them, or rather “heard” them, tinkling away in froggy fashion.
This pristine soundscape is magical to my ears. I find the recording both relaxing and mesmerizing, with nearly continuous tink calls at varying distances set against the more subtle chatters and whistles of a variety of other birds (including a lyrebird singing in the distance toward the end).
What amazed me is that I didn’t see any of the callers. “Tinks” came at me from all around, both far and near, but I never once saw a sound-maker. How could these not be tiny frogs, well-camouflaged on understory stems and leaves? Really … how is this possible? I just can’t believe these sounds are made by birds.
The Bell Miner (Manorina-melanophrys) is a fairly common species in mountain eucalyptus forests from southeastern Queensland to Victoria. A small olive-green bird in the honeyeater family, it got its common name not from its bell-like call, but because (as I found on Wikipedia), it feeds “almost exclusively on the dome-like coverings of certain psyllid bugs, referred to as ‘bell lerps’, that feed on eucalyptus sap from the leaves.”
Bell Miners are highly gregarious and flocks of dozens are not uncommon. Their social life is complex, with pairs accompanied by non-breeders that help provide food for the young. I can’t help but wonder: “Do the tink notes constitute male territorial song, or are these primarily contact calls?” Given the Bell Miner’s social life, I think the latter. So all the calling at dusk might help members of the group stick together and roost at night in close proximity to one another.