Another new bird for the local list – the Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater Acanthagenys rufogularis.
A medium-size honeyeater (smaller than the wattlebirds), this species has a rather unusual distribution. Essentially a dry-country bird in Victoria it is a common inhabitant of woodland and mallee areas, especially in the north-west. It is also reasonably common around Melbourne and the peninsulas of Port Phillip Bay, where it has adapted to home gardens and areas of scrubland on sandy soils.
Until yesterday it was a species that I hadn’t recorded locally, however, its arrival was not entirely unexpected. It is one of a number of nomadic, dry country honeyeaters* that can often be found well ‘out of range’. I suspect small numbers occur in the district in some years. The late Joan Butler, a dedicated and knowledgeable local bird observer, recorded it a number of times back in 2001 (from May to July at Joyce’s Park) and since then there have been a small number of observations in the vicinity of Maldon and Muckleford.
Like most honeyeaters it is active and somewhat aggressive bird. This recent sighting involved three individuals – spending most of their time chasing each other, or being pursued by Red Wattlebirds and White-plumed Honeyeaters, into whose territory they had ventured.
Apart from their distinctive appearance (brilliant blue iris, pink bill with a dark tip, white cheek-stripe, apricot-buff throat and tear-drop underparts), Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters have a most beautiful voice. Often described as a series of liquid, gurgling notes it is easily recognised as something different when heard for the first time.
A big shout out to Will Donkin who first spotted this flock last Friday (8th July). Will initially identified the call as unusual and then tracked down the owner!
I don’t expect these birds will stay around … but let’s see.
* Other dry-country nomads that are well being alert for include: Striped Honeyeater, Black Honeyeater, Pied Honeyeater, Purple-gaped Honeyeater and Yellow-plumed Honeyeater.