Category Archives: Vagrants

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.