Category Archives: Spring Hill and the Mia Mia

Autumn in the Mia Mia

While in some ways autumn in a quiet time of the year in the local bush, the appearance of some familiar spring migrants, in this case Golden Whistlers and White-eared Honeyeaters, joining the resident species such as Brown Treecreepers and Dusky Woodswallows, adds a nice touch. I’ve been on the look-out for Swift Parrots and while they have been observed further east towards Castlemaine I’ve yet to sight any so far in 2019.

Brown Treecreeper, Mia Mia Track, 9th April 2019

Dusky Woodswallow

Golden Whistler (female)

White-eared Honeyeater

Autumn reboot

If last evening in the Mia Mia is any indication bird numbers are rebounding after a harsh summer. Dozens of young Dusky Woodswallows were gliding low under the canopy in search of insects, while a suite of honeyeaters foraged all around. Golden Whistlers have arrived back from the highlands, their sweet melodies adding an extra dimension to the pre-dusk chatter.

White-browed Babbler, South German Track, 2nd April 2019

Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike

Immature Dusky Woodswallow

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Adult Dusky Woodswallow

Male Golden Whistler

Yellow-plumed Honeyeater

List: Black-chinned Honeyeater, Brown-headed Honeyeater, White-eared Honeyeater, Fuscous Honeyeater, Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Red Wattlebird, Golden Whistler, Eastern Rosella, Musk Lorikeet, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Crested Shrike-tit.

Robins … back on the radar

It appears that the robin ‘drought’ has at least eased, if not broken. A pair of Hooded Robins last evening along Mia Mia Track after Red-capped Robins the day before. There are still a few Black Honeyeaters about and some distant calls of Rainbow Bee-eaters … that might be it until October.

Hooded Robin (female), Mia Mia Track, 26th March 2019

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Hooded Robin (male)

Dusky Woodswallow … on dusk

List: Rainbow Bee-eater, Black Honeyeater, Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, Fuscous Honeyeater, Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Brown-headed Honeyeater, White-naped Honeyeater, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Superb Fairy-wren, Musk Lorikeet.

Flocks – large and small

Last weekend, south of Newstead at Providence Gully, I heard my first Pied Currawongs for the autumn. Over the next month they’ll arrive in local gardens to clean up on the remains of summer fruits and delight us with their melodies over winter.

Meanwhile, in the bush around Newstead, Grey Currawongs have dropped their usual solitary habits to form loose autumn flocks. Last evening in the Mia Mia I came across such a gathering, perhaps 15 birds in total. I can’t recall ever seeing this many together before although apparently flocks of 50-70 are not unusual.

Grey Currawong, Mia Mia Track, 25th March 2019

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The other highlight was a brief encounter with a couple of female Red-capped Robins. One of the birds had the typical rusty-red cap, but also sported some red across the breast, while the other bird was more typical with a paler front. I’m somewhat mystifed by the sudden observation of two Red-capped Robins, a bird that has eluded me over summer but now apparently back in dry habitats as the weather cools.

Red-capped Robin (female)

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… a different individual

Not just honeyeaters

Small bush birds, especially robins and thornbills, are noticeably absent from the local bush at present.

It is with some trepidation that I await to see what happens when it eventually rains, hoping they’ll return in good numbers. In the meantime, honeyeaters are dominating the rapidly diminishing watering holes and while their numbers are also down there is a good variety attracted to autumn flowering eucalypts. As these images show, there are few other species competing with the aggressive honeyeaters for a drink.

Grey Shrike-thrush (imm.), South German Track, 9th March 2019

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Spotted Pardalote (male)

Willie Wagtail

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Fur, feathers and skin

Eastern Grey Kangaroos, South German Track, 9th March 2019

Yellow-faced Honeyeater

Fuscous Honeyeater

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

Yellow-plumed Honeyeater

Jacky Lizard Amphibolurus muricatus

List: Brown-headed Honeyeater, White-naped Honeyeater, Red Wattlebird, Black-chinned Honeyeater, New Holland Honeyeater, Crested Bellbird, Grey Currawong, Little Lorikeet, Musk Lorikeet, Rainbow Bee-eater, Tree Martin, Welcome Swallow, Eastern Rosella, Red-rumped Parrot, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Dusky Woodswallow

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.