25 March 2020

64. Nest in a Toolbox

“Life is always a rich and steady time while you are waiting for something to happen or to hatch.” Charlotte’s Web E.B White

This is not a steady time but one of rapid and radical change. 
Even so, I can’t wait for hatch-day.  

It won’t be long, nearly time now.

I’ve been watching a pair of Grey Shrike-thrushes for four years. 
Both male and female nest build, incubate and raise the chicks together.
There is only one alpha couple in each 2 to 10-hectare radius. 

Male Shrike-thrush with dark eye ring singing all day.
  This male and female are the Harry and Meghan of birds.

Female Shrike-thrush with pale eye-ring.

Their 2019 fledglings were thrown out of their territory, as are any other thrushes that come near the mountain they call home.

Their breeding season is between July and February. They have one brood a year, and they had that early last September. 

Our first month of autumn was special though, so the pair had another go:

Three years of extreme drought
December the hottest month ever
Six weeks of unprecedented bushfire crisis
Local flooding at the end of January
Much more rain and heat in February
Abundant green growth: a new spring  
Perfect breeding conditions

Given the warmest of days and mildest of nights, you would have thought the thrushes would pick a tree hollow. 

But. No.

In the garage, at the top of a shelf with poisons, animal repellent, plant fertiliser and paint thinner, they went to work. 

The grey pair made a rectangular nest within a box of blind rivets. It’s the same spot they successfully reared two out of three fledgling Grey Shrike-thrushes before.

My husband needed his rivets in January and brought me the old nest. 
Scruffy outside, the inside was a complex, layered construction. 

Long strips of bark were shredded, wound around inside the toolbox and woven in place with more bark. Within that was a layer of grasses, then plant fibres. Centrally, beneath those layers is a fourth of fine plant roots where the eggs sit.

In wind and rain and storms and heatwaves, that nest didn’t unravel outside. 

I thought if the birds nicknamed Harmonicas were going to have another stab at making chicks, they would go somewhere else.

But. No.

 Same spot.

The nest is next to our second fridge in the garage. When we run out of milk, or drinks or whatever, we get more kept cold in the back fridge.


We search there before dinner, after dark. It is tricky when the thrushes have their nest  and eggs a foot away.

I would tiptoe out and whoosh! Mum or Dad Thrush were off, out in the dark in a gum tree again. 

Big Daddy standing guard as I get some cheese from the fridge.
My husband tiptoed out so as not to disturb and whoosh! off the babes again. 
Big Mumma nervous while I take her pic from 5 metres away.
We try to be stealthy as a ninja; when they flew we left the light on so Mum or Dad Thrush could see to get back. We went over and above to ensure tiny grey chicks could be fledged, and they were. 

A nestling begging constantly for food last year.
Grey Shrike-thrushes proved themselves to be thick headed birds for building a second nest in the same box of blind rivets.

Getting anything out of the fridge, making a noise, chatting in the garage or backing out the car all sends the Grey Shrikes into a tizzy. They chirp, they jump, they flap off.

We move away quickly and they always return. Working in tandem, one sits the nest while the other watches, then they swap for 18 days until the eggs hatch.

Despite the pair attacking shiny things 
Despite tweeting the same song non-stop 
Despite them waking me at sparrow’s fart
and despite a very inconvenient nest spot: 
I love this pair of thick-heads. 

And, when they hatch, 
I’ll love the baby thick-heads too. 

Around the world, in sickness or in health, in self-isolation or in hospital, we will remember the COVID-19 pandemic for the rest of our lives. 

While it continues we feel closed in, as if confined by a small nest with the bored, hungry kids home from school who never give us any peace nagging to get out.

We’ll remember staying home, the fear, the anguish; the old folks who can’t remember to keep their distance and the toilet paper hoarders we despise. 

We’re losing our sense of community; this isn’t an easy thing to live through.

We’re in for hard times, for sorrow and sad times. 

Even so, if just one out of three speckled eggs hatches to grow another flapping, chirping, Grey Shrike-thrush that survives to fly away to live free, Ill be happy.

As for the Coronavirus, E.B White wrote something to help with that as well:

“Never hurry, never worry!”

And I will try not to.


  1. "Sparrow's fart" … there's a new expression for me, thank you, I look forward to my first opportunity to use it.

    The local snipe surveys are likely to be postponed for a year. I don't really understand why there seems to be some popular feeling that we shouldn't venture onto the heath, into the woods. As far as I can see, we just need to use our common sense and while I accept that common sense is subjective, I don't think that anyone's version of it can ever be as bad as public hysteria. Oh well, I'll just have to get myself arrested for walking alone on the heath, miles from anyone else … then see what happens. Monsieur Camus had a lot to say about that. XX

    1. Good on you Deep Dene. If you do venture out into the deep dark woods, or do a Cathy and Heathcliff? striding all over the heath, make sure you get up at sparrow's fart to venture out. Obviously, as you guessed, it means very early in that pale light of dawn when all is still a bit grey and the birds are saying their first good mornings. If you do go at sparrow's fart, you won't get caught. And, if you do, you can pretend to have lost your mind with early onset Alzheimers and say: 'Caronavirus, what's caronavirus when it's at home then?' I'm sure anyone in their right mind would leave you alone then. Cheers Steve, be well. T

  2. More likely to be the reddleman in "Return of the Native", walking across the rain-swept heath. Much less likely Heathcliff. Then again, the reddleman was apparently handsome underneath his read stains so maybe I am neither of them, just me, wandering aimlessly as usual. 😊

  3. You are your own man walking across the heath Steve, and last time I thought about it, walking aimlessly anywhere so beautiful as an English forest, would probably be one of the best things you can do with your time. Long may you wander, hope you see some gorgeous spring growth come up soon on your wanderings. And nesting birds and the ponies too. Stay safe.