Upon arrival at Potoroo Palace, visitors often remark on the tinkling sound in the trees around us and more than once someone has shared with us the anxiety they have experienced driving along in their car with windows open and wondering what the worrying noise was emitting from their vehicle, only to realize with some relief that it was actually coming from the trees! It was in fact the song of the Bell Miner.
If there was a prize for achieving one of the most distinct sound tracks to Potoroo Palace, it should go to the Bell Miner (Manorina melanophrys). Other common names for this bird include “bellbird” and “bell mynah”. They are often more frequently heard than seen but at Potoroo Palace they can be more visible (and more audible!) as they are very used to people and much less frightened.
It is a sad fact that the Bell Miner, although a native species; a honeyeater, it has acquired an unpopular reputation in recent times. Many native species of birds are displaced by the behaviour of Bell Miners defending their food suppliers, psyllids which exude a protective sugary covering known as lerps, on the leaves. They farm the psyllids and just relish the lerps which are to be found on eucalyptus leaves. The psyllids love to munch on these leaves and the Bell Miners chase away and will sometimes kill other birds which would normally be feeding on the psyllids and keeping the health of the trees in balance.
The “Pretty Garden,” leading away from the cafe was purposely developed as a sanctuary for smaller birds to be protected from the Bell Miners. Lots of thick cover was created with shrubs providing a protective layer for smaller birds such as Red-browed Finches, Scrub Wrens, Whipbirds and Superb Blue Wrens. This is a beautiful, shady and peaceful garden with a pathway meandering through from the cafe to the Potoroo Train Station and “Elvis” our free roaming Tammar Wallaby can sometimes be spied upon keeping cool in the undergrowth there.
The dieback of our forests is often blamed on these much maligned birds and as healthy forests become fewer in number and size, the Bell Miners do accordingly increase in numbers. They prefer to dwell on the fringes of forests and unfortunately our forest fringes are ever increasing as more wild spaces are lost. Disturbed environments inevitably lead to out of balance ecosystems and therefore the species which constitute them such as the Bell Miner. When the recovery of our forests becomes priority then balance can return naturally.