Category Archives: Vagrants

‘Wetland’ birds in the bush

Not surprisingly the local bush is also home to a suite of birds that are typically associated with wetland environments.

Masked Lapwings can often be found in open country adjacent to the bush over summer, while in most years White-faced Herons and Australasian Grebes are a regular feature of small bushland dams. Interestingly Australasian Grebes have been absent until now from a series of my oft-visited waterholes, despite an abundance of water. I suspect the wet winter and spring meant there were better options elsewhere in the landscape.

Masked Lapwing amongst the New Holland Daisies, 13th February 2021

White-faced Heron

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Australasian Grebe

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Trust me …

… this pale smudge is a Grey Goshawk (white morph), an exciting observation for Newstead.

Earlier this morning I glanced up from the garden and spotted a white shape, soaring in tight circles, pursued by two ravens. It took a moment to register that this wasn’t a corella or cockatoo … then I raced back inside for the camera. By this time the bird was rapidly becoming a speck as it drifted north towards Welshmans Reef.

The images below are no better than record shots, but the identification is 100% certain.

Grey Goshawks are rarely observed away from their stronghold, the wetter coastal forests in areas such as the Otways. There have been a number of local records over the years, with three observations in the Mia Mia (1/12/1999, 1/1/2000 and 1/4/2002). For me though this is a local first.

The Grey Goshawk comes in two distinct colour morphs, grey or white, with the white morph more common in southern Australia. In Tasmania, where the species is relatively common, all birds are white morphs.

Grey Goshawk, Newstead, 14th February 2021

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Species #225

Whilst not completely unexpected I was thrilled to finally observe a small flock of Banded Stilts yesterday afternoon at Cairn Curran Reservoir.

This is a new species for my local list – number 225 in fact!

There were fourteen stilts accompanied by three Red-necked Avocets, a bird that I’ve seen a few times previously on the storage as well as on a number of the Moolort Plains wetlands.

Banded Stilts can be found across much of central and southern Australia where they typically favour saline wetlands and estuaries – habitat for brine shrimps which are key part of their diet. It’s not uncommon to see them in freshwater environments, however I expect these birds are in transit … shuttling between coastal wetlands and inland salt lakes. They were something of a mystery bird until recent decades when flocks of many thousands were found breeding on islands in salt lakes of inland Australia. A fascinating account of their breeding habits can be found here.

Banded Stilts and Red-necked Avocets, Cairn Curran Reservoir, 22nd November 2020

Banded Stilts and Red-necked Avocets are often found in mixed flocks

Banded Stilts have pink legs while Red-necked Avocets legs are a pale blue

Adult Banded Stilts have a distinctive chestnut breast band – note the sub-adult bird at top right

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Banded Stilts in flight … not to be confused with the White-head Stilt (which lacks the chest band) – common at Cairn Curran 

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The trio of Red-necked Avocets

The tight knit flock

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A pair of freckles

Further evidence over the weekend of dry conditions further north.

A pair of Freckled Ducks along with a single Pink-eared Duck and a raft of approximately 50 Hardheads at Joyce’s Creek. The latter two species are regular visitors to the district, but are more often seen on the Moolort wetlands rather than the open waters of Cairn Curran.

The Freckled Duck is Australia’s rarest duck and listed as endangered in Victoria. They move towards coastal and sub-coastal waters only when the inland swamps dry out, as is the case at present with a crippling drought through much of NSW and southern Queensland. I’ve seen them locally a number of times over the past decade, in flocks of up to about 30-40 birds.

Be on the lookout for more unusual sightings.

Freckled Ducks, Joyce’s Creek, 23rd November 2019

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Part of a raft of ~ 50 Hardheads

White-necked Heron with a fish … look closely!

A couple of wanderers

Today’s post features two unrelated species, the Black-tailed Native-hen and the Glossy Ibis.

Both species are seen on an irregular basis in the district, however the drivers of their appearance can be quite different. In wet years locally, both can be drawn to the wetlands of the Moolort Plains. Black-tailed Native-hens arrive, as if from nowhere, in flocks of varying size – sometimes only a handful of birds but I have seen up to sixty or so. They especially like lignum (where they will breed if conditions  remain suitable) and red-gum wetlands. A handsome and quirky species, with a lime-green upper bill and coral-red legs, their cocked tail is very distinct and makes a comical sight when you come across a flock unexpectedly. I was surprised last weekend to observe a solitary bird on a bush dam in the forest – not their prime habitat.

Black-tailed Native-hen, Muckleford State Forest, 15th November 2019

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Glossy Ibis also arrive on the wetlands of the plains when they fill. Smaller than both the Australian White Ibis and Straw-necked Ibis, their metallic crimson-green plumage can be spectacular if the light is favourable. Otherwise they can appear almost black. This spring I think the dry conditions further north has prompted the appearance of both birds, each with the propensity for wandering if conditions in their regular haunts are less than ideal.

Glossy Ibis @ Joyce’s Creek, 16th November 2019

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Glossy Ibis silhouetted with Yellow-billed Spoonbill

Always time for a little chat

Earlier in the week I received a thoughtful email from a local birder, Damien Hendrickson. It included an image of a bird on a camera LCD screen … a male Crimson Chat.

I didn’t waste too much time in visiting the site where the bird was observed and sure enough came across a number of individuals, of both sexes, in the company of some White-fronted Chats. Both species were having a ‘field day’ catching insects (mainly caterpillars) in the adjacent canola crop.

While I’ve never previously seen Crimson Chats locally, they have been turning up at a number of sites in southern Victoria over recent weeks, so I wasn’t at all surprised to learn of their arrival on the plains. Their stronghold is inland Australia, where they favour dry shrubby habitats. It is not unusual for them to irrupt towards the coast across their range, usually after bumper breeding seasons inland. As we would all be aware inland NSW and Queensland has been incredibly dry for more than a year now* and I suspect that Crimson Chats are moving in search of better conditions. The Moolort Plains is a very good choice and I’d be confident that they’ll breed successfully there over summer.

They are a spectacularly vibrant species, especially the male.

Crimson Chat (male), Moolort Plains, 21st October 2019

Crimson Chat (female)

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Male Crimson Chat

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* Watch out for some unusual species over summer – already we have had reports of Cockatiel and Budgerigar around Newstead this spring. With the extreme dry to our north there are a host of vagrants that may possibly turn up over summer.

From Certhionyx to Sugomel

I caught this Black Honeyeater, an adult male with some pale moult feathers about the head, wending its way down to the water for a drink last evening. It flitted in during a break between bursts of larger honeyeater activity. A most striking bird.

The Black Honeyeater, known until recently as Certhionyx niger is now Sugomel nigrum. As the extract from Wikipedia below shows, it has provided a field day for taxonomists!

Black Honeyeater (adult male), South German Track, 8th March 2019

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The Black Honeyeater was first described by English naturalist John Gould in 1838 as Myzomela nigra, using as the species name the Latin adjective niger “black”. The genus name was derived from the Ancient Greek words myzo “to suckle” and meli “honey”, and referred to the bird’s nectivorous habits. Italian ornithologist Tommaso Salvadori described it as Glyciphila nisoria in 1878, though he incorrectly wrote that it originated in New Guinea. In the 1913 Official Checklist of the Birds of Australia, Australian amateur ornithologist Gregory Mathews placed the Black Honeyeater in the genus Cissomela with the Banded Honeyeater. He then placed it in its own genus Sugomel in 1922, the name being derived from the Latin sugo “I suck”, and mel “honey”. In 1967 ornithologist Finn Salomonsen transferred the species from Myzomela to the genus Certhionyx, which also contained the Banded Honeyeater (Certhionyx pectoralis) and Pied Honeyeater (Certhionyx variegatus), and later authorities accepted this classification. Australian ornithologists Richard Schodde and Ian J. Mason kept the three in the same genus, but conceded the basis for this was weak and classified each species in its own subgenus—Sugomel for the Black Honeyeater.

In a 2004 genetic study of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA of honeyeaters, the three species classified in the genus Certhionyx were found not to be closely related to one another. Instead, the Black Honeyeater was closely related to species within Myzomela after all. However, it was an early offshoot and quite divergent genetically, leading study authors Amy Driskell and Les Christidis to recommend it be placed in its own genus rather than returned to Myzomela. It was subsequently moved to the resurrected genus Sugomel. A 2017 genetic study using both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA indicates that the ancestor of the Black Honeyeater diverged from that of the Scaly-crowned Honeyeater (Lichmera lombokia) just under a million years ago, and the two have some affinities with the genus Myzomela. It is identified as Sugomel nigrum by the International Ornithological Committee’s (IOC) Birdlist. Mathews described two subspecies—Myzomela nigra westralensis from Western Australia on the basis of smaller size and darker plumage, and Myzomela nigra ashbyi from Mount Barker, South Australia, on the basis of larger size and paler plumage —neither of which is regarded as distinct today.

DNA analysis has shown the honeyeater family Meliphagidae to be related to the Pardalotidae (pardalotes), Acanthizidae (Australian warblers, scrubwrens, thornbills, etc.), and the Maluridae (Australian fairy-wrens) in a large Meliphagoidea superfamily. The Papuan Black Myzomela, (Myzomela nigrita), found in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea is also known as the Black Honeyeater. It is a different but related species.

Close and distant views #2

A few days ago, while observing along South German Track a small honeyeater alighted immediately in front of me and then departed just as I was about to fire. It was a juvenile Black Honeyeater Sugamel nigrum.

Last night I was rewarded, as another juvenile lingered just long enough for me to capture some decent images. It appears the flowering Grey Box has attracted these wandering blossom nomads and I observed a number foraging high in the canopy around the dam, including a number of adult males. The last time I observed this species locally was nearly a decade ago – 15th February 2010.

Black Honeyeaters are dry country birds, even more so than the Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters that are also about at present. They prefer arid and semi-arid woodlands, especially where there are Eremophila species flowering. A distinctive features of this species is the long and slender down-curved bill. I suspect we’ll see them more often in coming years.

Black Honeyeater (juvenile), South German Track, 27th February 2019

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Black Honeyeater (adult male)

Yellow-plumed Honeyeater

List: Little Lorikeet, Black Honeyeater, Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Black-chinned Honeyeater, Fuscous Honeyeater, White-naped Honeyeater, Brown-headed Honeyeater, Peaceful Dove, Red Wattlebird, Rainbow Bee-eater, Red-rumped Parrot, Eastern Rosella, Grey Currawong, Grey Shrike-thrush, Welcome Swallow, Dusky Woodswallow, Australian Magpie.