Category Archives: Honeyeaters

Cuckoos and spinebills

I was pleasantly surprised last weekend to encounter two Fan-tailed Cuckoos in the Muckleford Nature Conservation Reserve. I had excellent view of the first bird after it flew to a nearby branch, where it was joined  almost immediately by a second individual.

Both birds were silent and moved on after a few minutes perched in the early morning sunshine. I did hear a brief ‘fan-tail’ trill at a distance a few minutes later.

Fan-tailed Cuckoos are regarded, quite rightly, as late winter migrants to the box-ironbark country. The story is a bit more complicated as they can be seen in any month, although it is unclear if some individuals remain all-year round or if these might be birds from further south. Their silence outside the breeding season is why they largely go unnoticed, until their distinctive calls are heard again from August onwards.

The story with Eastern Spinebills has some parallels, but in reverse. Arriving in good numbers in the autumn they disappear to the high country to breed in late winter, although they are apparently resident in nearby locations such as Maldon and Yandoit. The movement patterns of Australian birds are complex and new insights are continually emerging. Seasonal conditions also play a significant role in what happens from year to year, even for species with fairly well-established movement patterns.

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Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Muckleford Nature Conservation Reserve, 29th May 2021

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Eastern Spinebill (male)

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Grey-shrike Thrush, Mia Mia Track

We live in interesting times

In recent days I’ve started hearing the distinctive calls of Eastern Spinebills in the home garden. The onset of ‘wintry’ conditions in late April/May is the stimulus for this wonderful migratory honeyeater to depart from the ranges to pay us a visit in the foothills.

The bird pictured below was visiting the birdbath and managed to stay still momentarily before descending to drink.

Later in the day I came across more spinebills, this time amongst the River Red Gums and Blackberry at the Loddon River Reserve. Eastern Yellow Robins arrived to compete in the ‘fashion stakes’ while in the canopy overhead Olive-backed Orioles were feeding and calling. … might they remain over winter I wonder?

The calls of a Noisy Friarbird on the other side of the river were a nice conclusion to my visit – this species visits in small numbers at different times of year, presumably on passage to more favoured locations.

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Eastern Spinebill in the home garden, 9th May 2021

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Eastern Spinebill @ the Loddon Reserve

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Eastern Yellow Robin

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Olive-backed Oriole

Early mover …

The exception always proves the rule.

It’s notable to see a Golden Wattle flowering in early May … they typically start in the second week of July around Newstead.

Spreading Wattle has been flowering since February but is at its best over autumn.

The yellow hues of our honeyeaters are a nice complement to the golden spray of the wattles.

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Golden Wattle in flower, South German Track, 2nd May 2021

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Spreading Wattle

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Fuscous Honeyeater

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Yellow-faced Honeyeater

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White-naped Honeyeater

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

In a good light

While it’s always a sad farewell to daylight saving, an advantage of this time of year is that my rambles tend to coincide better with the ‘golden hour’ before dusk.

Last evening at the Rise and Shine a cavalcade of honeyeaters thoughtfully shared this time with me as they visited a bushland pool. I’ve been making repeat visits to this site in search of Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters, occasional visitors from the mallee country to our north, but no luck so far this autumn.

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Brown-headed Honeyeater, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 7th April 2021

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Brown-headed Honeyeater flock drinking

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

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Yellow-faced Honeyeater

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White-plumed Honeyeater

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White-naped Honeyeater

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Fuscous Honeyeaters drinking

White-naped Honeyeater

The White-naped Honeyeater is a distinctive local species – adults have a striking orange-red ‘eye-lid’, which is actually bare skin above the eye. This feature is characteristic of Melithreptus honeyeaters – local species of the genus include the Black-chinned Honeyeater (adult has blue eye skin) and Brown-headed Honeyeater (adult has cream eye skin). 

White-naped Honeyeaters can be encountered year-round locally, but they are something of a blossom nomad and, at least in my experience, are more abundant when Grey Box and Yellow Gum are flowering, which is typically from March until the end of winter.

At the Rise and Shine earlier in the week they were the most common visitors to this small bushland pool, outnumbering the Fuscous and Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters. 

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White-naped Honeyeater, Rise and Shine, 31st March 2021

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Female Spotted Pardalote

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Fuscous Honeyeater

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Immature Crimson Rosella

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White-winged Chough

Tipping into autumn

It’s been a terrific summer … softened by La Nina, with a good dose of post Xmas rain followed by a cool February.

This was my last summer visit to the Mia Mia and I was well rewarded. There were lots of Rainbow Bee-eaters assembling before they head north, their acrobatics amongst the Yellow Gums a sight to behold as they feasted on flying insects.

The begging call of a juvenile Sacred Kingfisher led me to two youngsters, their parents keeping a watchful eye at a safe distance.

Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters are making ‘hay while the sun shines’. As I photographed one gathering nesting material a Chestnut-rumped Heathwren bobbed past in the background. It then proceeded to unleash a short burst of song, including some mimicry that included snippets of ‘tufty’ calls.

Juvenile Sacred Kingfisher, South German Track, 28th February 2021

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater gathering nesting material … wallaby-grass seeds I think!

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III … mimicking Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

Mia Mia close-ups

As the summer days slowly shorten birds and mammals gravitate towards any places of precious water in the bush.

It’s a good time for close-up portraits of some of our most familiar and charming species.

Black Wallaby, South German Track, 16th February 2021

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Fuscous Honeyeater

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

Common Bronzewing

Fuscous domination

Not much to report in recent days, apart from the preponderance of Fuscous Honeyeaters pretty much wherever I go.

This species is a ‘sucker’ for water and along with the more aggressive Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters will tend to dominate small bushland water sources. Adult Fuscous Honeyeaters in breeding fettle have black bills while younger birds and non-breeding adults have quite a deal of yellow on the bill and gape.

Also seen and heard in the Rise and Shine – Brown Treecreeper, Mistletoebird, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Eastern Rosella, Sacred Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee-eater, Eastern Yellow Robin.

Brown Treecreeper, Rise & Shine Bushland Reserve, 9th February 2021

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A summer deluge

I’ve just tipped 60mm from the rain gauge, perhaps the best summer rain we’ve experienced for a decade … and it’s still tumbling down!

The set of images below were taken in 40C heat earlier in the week. Today’s rain will be enough to kick off a burst of late summer breeding which will be terrific.

Rainbow Bee-eater, Muckleford State Forest, 24th January 2021

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Juvenile Dusky Woodswallow

Juvenile and adult Dusky Woodswallows

Stand-off … Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters and juvenile Dusky Woodswallow

Diamond Firetail

Grey Shrike-thrush

Red Wattlebird

The passing parade

On these baking days the best strategy is just to sit and wait and the birds will come to you … especially if you can find a quiet bushland pool.

Brown-headed Honeyeater, Muckleford State Forest, 17th January 2021

Common Bronzewing

Diamond Firetail

Spotted Pardalote (female)

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

Superb Fairy-wren (male)

Yellow-faced Honeyeater

Grey Teal