The Honeyeaters of Mallacoota

The Honeyeaters of Mallacoota
Mallacoota in far East Gippsland is Victoria’s most diverse region for plants, especially flowering plants. Where there are flowers, there are honeyeater birds: a group of noisy, colourful Australian birds adapted to feeding on flower nectar.

In the Mallacoota region it is possible to see 21 species of honeyeater.

Most of the common Victorian species are here: Red & Little Wattlebird, Eastern Spinebill, New Holland & Yellow-faced Honeyeater; but there are also special ones: Tawny-crowned, Crescent, Lewin’s Honeyeater; some are summer visitors: Scarlet Honeyeater; and some are real rarities from NSW and Qld: Noisy and Little Friarbird, White-cheeked Honeyeater.

The Mallacoota region has hills and mountains, coast and heathlands, estuaries and rivers, rainforests and dry woodland, each home to a different group of honeyeater birds.

Here’s a list and description of all the honeyeaters recorded in recent years around Mallacoota.

Eastern Spinebill   Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris

Eastern Spinebill Honeyeater

Description: small, colourful honeyeater with long curved beak.  

Where to see: Can be seen almost anywhere in Mallacoota region where native trees or shrubs or garden plants are flowering.

Red Wattlebird Anthochaera carunculata

Red Wattlebird front view adult

Description: Large, streaky grey honeyeater with yellow patch on belly. Very noisy.

Where to see: can be seen almost everywhere in Mallacoota including gardens, all year round

Little Wattlebird Anthochaera chrysoptera

Little Wattlebird in Coast Banksia Mallacoota

Description: Similar to Red Wattlebird but lacks yellow patch. Very noisy.

Where to see: Mostly near the coast, all around the region.

White-fronted Chat Epthianura albifrons

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Description: a small black and white bird that is most often seen on or near the ground in open areas. Chats are considered honeyeaters, but they are quite different to the rest of the group, both in shape and habits.

Where to see: Not common, best chance is near the coast in open areas – Bastion Point, Mallacoota airport.

Tawny-crowned Honeyeater Gliciphila melanops

Tawny-crowned Honeyeater
By Francesco Veronesi from Italy [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Description: an elegant brown, tan and white honeyeater with curved long beak. They are not easy to see, they often stay low and quiet in thick heath.

The Mallacoota region is one of the best places to see this bird in all of Australia.

Where to see: Mostly along the coast in heathlands south of Mallacoota – Shipwreck Ck, Mallacoota airport.

Yellow-faced Honeyeater Lichenostomus chrysops

Croajingolong Yellow-faced Honeyeater

Description: A small green-olive honeyeater with yellow patch on face.

Where to see: Almost everywhere around Mallacoota region in forests and gardens. Possibly the most common small honeyeater in region.

Fuscous Honeyeater Lichenostomus fuscus

Fuscous Honeyeaters
By Aviceda (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Description: a small, yellow-olive honeyeater a bit like the Yellow-faced but lacking the large yellow patch.

Where to see: Not often seen in region, they seem to prefer drier forests. One reported on north side of Inlet in 2013, another found north of Wangarabell in 2012, another in Mallacoota in 2010 (source: Birdata)

White-eared Honeyeater Lichenostomus leucotis

Mallacoota honeyeater

Description: Medium-sized dark green and black honeyeater with white patch on face

Where to see: in forests – Wallagaraugh, Mallacoota (Shady Gully, Casuarina Walk), Genoa Falls.

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater Lichenostomus melanops

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By Lip Kee from Singapore, Republic of Singapore (Yellow-tufted Honeyeater (Lichenostomus melanops)) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Description: a beautiful yellow and black, medium-sized honeyeater with dramatic facial markings.

Where to see: in forests, mostly in the hills – Wangarabell, Genoa Falls, Maramingo.

White-plumed Honeyeater Lichenostomus penicillatus

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Description: a small green-yellow honeyeater with a white plume on cheek.

Where to see: Not often seen this far east, more a bird of western Victoria, but some recent records at Genoa Peak and Shipwreck Ck.

Noisy Miner Manorina melanocephala

Noisy Miner
By Mike Prince from Bangalore, India (Noisy Miner) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Description: a medium-sized miner, grey with yellow and black markings around the face. Miners are a group within the honeyeaters – they are chunky-bodied, have bare skin behind their eyes and quite short beaks. They are not related to the introduced Common (Indian) Myna, though they look a bit similar.

Where to see: Occasionally recorded in Mallacoota town area.

Bell Miner (Bellbird) Manorina melanophrys

Bellbird Mallacoota

Description: a small miner, green-olive with red patch behind eye and bright gold beak. Their bell-like call is well-known and much loved.

Where to see: Common, heard in almost every rainforest or wet forest. They can be hard to see at first, simply because they are hidden in thick foliage, but with patience you can usually see one. 

Lewin’s Honeyeater Meliphaga lewinii

Lewin's Honeyeater East Gippsland

Description: a beautiful, medium-sized green-olive honeyeater with yellow crescent on the cheek. Their call is very distinctive – a bit like a machine gun.

Where to see: Common, often in slightly wetter forests but also along the coast.

Brown-headed Honeyeater Melithreptus brevirostris

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Description: a small brown, olive and white honeyeater.

Where to see: Scattered records throughout region, often in dry forests, high in canopy.

White-naped Honeyeater Melithreptus lunatus

White-naped Honeyeater Mallacoota region

Description: small, green and white honeyeater with a black head and a red eyebrow.

Where to see: Common in most forest types – usually seen high in canopy.

Scarlet Honeyeater Myzomela sanguinolenta

Scarlet Honeyeater East Gippsland bird

Description: a small red, black and white honeyeater with a curved beak.

This bird is one of the reasons birdwatchers come to Mallacoota – these tiny birds fly down from the north in Spring and East Gippsland is their first stop in Victoria. Sometimes they spread throughout the state (as they are doing this year – 2017), but Mallacoota is always a reliable site to see Scarlet Honeyeaters in Spring and Summer.

Where to see: They are usually seen along the coastal forests – Shipwreck Ck, Betka Beach, Heathland Walk – but also up Genoa and Wallagaraugh Rivers at Gipsy Point, Wallagaraugh.

Little Friarbird Philemon citreogularis

Little Friarbird, Wentworth NSW

Description: a medium-sized light grey friarbird with blue skin around face. Friarbirds are a group among the honeyeaters that are large, noisy and usually have bare, unfeathered heads – the Little Friarbird doesn’t have a totally bare head, but does have a lot of bare skin.

Where to see: one seen in 2014 at Gipsy Point (source: eBird)

Noisy Friarbird Philemon corniculatus

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Description: a large light grey friarbird with a bare black head like a tiny vulture.

Where to see: Not common, but several recent sightings from Karbeethong, Gipsy Point, Mallacoota, Wallagaraugh

White-cheeked Honeyeater Phylidonyris nigra

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Description: a medium-sized black, white and yellow honeyeater, very similar to the common New Holland Honeyeater, but does not have the white eye.

Where to see: This bird is mostly found in NSW and Qld, but there are two records from Cape Howe Wilderness north of inlet in 2014

 New Holland Honeyeater Phylidonyris novaehollandiae

East Gippsland honeyeater

Description: a medium-sized black, white and yellow honeyeater with a streaky breast and white eye.

Where to see: Common in gardens and forests all around Mallacoota region.

Crescent Honeyeater Phylidonyris pyrrhoptera

Crescent Honeyeater Birds of Mallacoota
By JKMelville (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Description: a medium-sized black, white and yellow honeyeater with two black bars forming a broken crescent on chest

Where to see: Can be seen all over Mallacoota region in forests, but do not seem to be as common this year (2017). They do have a tendency to come down to coast in winter and go up to the mountains in summer. Recent records from Genoa Peak and Shipwreck Creek. 

Come and see some of Mallacoota’s gorgeous honeyeaters on our 15 or 21 day Maximum Wildlife trips. 

Read more about the wildlife of East Gippsland here: Mammals of East Gippsland

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About Channel-billed Cuckoos and other cuckoos of the Top End

About Channel-billed Cuckoos and other cuckoos of the Top End

Cuckoos are unpopular with other birds. They have a habit of sneaking into other birds houses, chucking out the kids and depositing cuckoo children in their place. The unwilling surrogate parents find themselves feeding a voracious cuckoo child, at great personal expense.

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You would think the surrogate parents would realise that the cuckoo child wasn’t theirs, but it doesn’t work that way. Any egg that hatches in their nest is their child. It is hard-wired in birds.

They have their revenge though – bird species that are often host parents of cuckoo children bear a grudge against any and every cuckoo they see. As a result cuckoos are unpopular with other birds. Adult cuckoos are often harassed by the birds they parasitise. Read about one study on this behaviour conducted near Melbourne.

This might be why cuckoos have a tendency to sit still in a tree, well hidden. They don’t fly around making themselves noticeable. The Channel-billed Cuckoo is a perfect example.

We must have walked and driven past dozens of these enormous birds in the Top End before seeing the first one properly. Read about how excited we were to see the first one properly here. Seriously, they are 58-65cm long from beak to tail!

Every year around August they fly over from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. They hit the Northern Territory and Queensland Top End first, then over November and December end up as far south as Sydney and even East Gippsland, Victoria and the suburbs of Melbourne. Read more about them here.

They come to breed, and to do that they stop being unobtrusive. Their loud and wonderful calls ring out through the sub-tropical forests they love. Visit this page to listen.

The Top End has other lovely cuckoos too – including the huge and gorgeous Pheasant Coucal that seems to prefer running around on the ground to flying.

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Their call is magnificent – something like a troupe of monkeys crossed with water dripping into a resonant drum. Listen here on Birdlife Australia Unlike other cuckoos, the Pheasant Coucal does build its own nest and raise its own children.

We also see, when we’re lucky, the tiny Little Bronze-cuckoo. This bird has a soothing, cicada-like hum that makes you think of summer and lazy afternoons. Listen and see great pictures on Graeme Chapman’s site.

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The 6 day Wild Top End wildlife tour runs every August – which we think is the best time to be there. Its not too hot, most of the migrant birds have arrived, and its dry enough to get into the great places to see these Top End cuckoos and other wonderful birds.

Janine Duffy, Wildlife Guide. 

 

 

Built for the birds – Welcome Swallows and the Mungo Woolshed.

Built for the birds – Welcome Swallows and the Mungo Woolshed.

Mungo in late November is hot. By 11.30am walking outside is unattractive, no matter how captivating the big mob of Emus look in the heat shimmer. The historic rough-sawn bulk of the Mungo Woolshed promises relief, so I duck inside.

Emus at Mungo National Park

Just above my head, a Welcome Swallow dismisses me with a glance. Elegant and haughty, swallows are creatures of the air, not of the land. Humans, it seems, are nothing more to them than builders of convenient eaves for swallow nest sites.

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I scan the large room. No wonder the swallow seemed calm. The woolshed is full of swallows. I see thirty on the ceiling braces of one alcove. Each rafter holds a swallow, and every few minutes a soft blue blur reveals another swallow entering.

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Welcome Swallows are high speed aerial acrobats. They fly endlessly without tiring, sometimes completing figures-of-eight around your legs as you walk across a park. Mostly when you see them flying they are hunting – the small insects they prey on are invisible to our eyes, but the swallow’s acrobatic manoevres are the hunter in pursuit.

But the middle of the day in The Outback is hot. Even the insects seek shade (have you ever walked into an Outback dunny* on a hot day to find it full of flies? They get hot too!) Perhaps the swallows find it hard to hunt in very high temperatures and take a siesta in the woolshed.

The Mungo Woolshed may have been built for humans to make money from wool, but it has another purpose now. Its the Mungo Swallow-shed.

Visit the wildlife and heritage of Mungo National Park with us on our 3 day Mungo Outback Journey

 

*dunny: an outhouse toilet.

Where does the King-Parrot get his name?

 

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Bird names are a bit like the English language – a lumpy soup of broken rules, throwbacks, dialects and slang. Some birds are named for their appearance: Tawny Frogmouth, White-throated Needletail; for their behaviour: Plains Wanderer, Bee-eater; for their similarity to other birds: Quail-thrush, Cuckooshrike, Fairywren; some for their calls: Laughing Kookaburra, Clinking Currawong and some for the region and habitat they live in: Atherton Scrubwren, Australian Reed-warbler.

Others are named for a combination of features, and some for reasons so twisted and mangled that they are nearly untraceable: Pitta, Cockatoo and the hilarious Drongo.

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So when you look at a large, elegant, vermillion and emerald-green parrot, the name King-Parrot seems sensible. The plumage of the adult male is reminiscent of expensive velvet cloaks with shimmering satin linings. A flash of turquoise on the wing sparkles like a diamond bracelet.

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Obviously King-Parrots are named for their appearance?   Well, no.

Watch this elegant parrot for a while and you will see that they are special. They inhabit the cool, wet forests of eastern Australia. They are sensitive to heat and dryness. High in the mighty eucalyptus forests of East Gippsland you will hear their ringing call, but they are elusive and sometimes difficult to see. The ground level of us mere mortals is a long way beneath them.

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male (lower) & female King-Parrots

If you own a bird feeder, as Sue & Glenn Herbert of Snowy River Homestead in Orbost do, you will meet many glorious Rainbow Lorikeets, Galahs, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Crimson Rosellas, who crowd and squabble over seed treats.

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Rainbow Lorikeets (top), Galahs (pink & grey) and 4 King-Parrots (ground) at a feeder

Rarely, though, will you see a King-Parrot. They will wait until the others have gorged and then calmly appear. They will not squabble. They will not debase themselves. Somehow they know that you have saved a little seed for the most regal of visitors.

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Okay, then King-Parrots must named for their behaviour?  No, afraid not.

There is another way to name a bird. A name can honour a person. American naturalist Thomas Horsfield has a bronze-cuckoo and a bushlark named after him, artist John Lewin has a rail and a honeyeater, ornithologist John Gould has a finch and a petrel, and royalty are well represented by (Queen) Victoria’s Riflebird and Princess (Alexandra’s) Parrot.

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Politicians and heads of state also get their share of bird-names-in-honour. Barack Obama, Indira Gandhi and Nelson Mandela all have birds named for them.  But this is not just a recent phenomenon.

Philip Gidley King, Governor of New South Wales from 1800-1806 is the King-Parrot’s name source.

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adult male (left) and female Australian King-Parrots

According to “Australian Bird Names: A Complete Guide” by Jeannie Gray & Ian Fraser, the name King’s Parrot was proposed by George Caley to honour Governor King. Whether King ever saw or appreciated his namesake is not known. The poor fellow died in 1808, only 2 years after resigning his post as governor and returning to England.

Watch out next week, its #AustralianFurSeal week!

What do jabirus do for fun?

What do children do if they don’t have toys? They make them!  Baby animals are just the same as human children in some respects. They play with what they have.

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Three Jabiru chicks were walking with their parent across a Top End, Northern Territory floodplain on a hot September day. We were lucky enough to be driving past, and did a quick U turn to watch.

Their cautious parent took them into the bushes upon seeing us, but after a few minutes the kids lost interest in hiding and started looking for some fun. A small tree on the open floodplain was calling them: “Come and pull me apart, why don’t you?” The temptation was too much.

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Adult male Jabiru flying

Out they marched, one chick the ringleader. She ambled up to the small tree and grabbed hold of a dangly bit of branch and pulled. Her brother and sister looked on, uncertainly. The ringleader pulled and twisted until finally, the branch broke free. What fun! Brother and sister decided to try some for themselves.

All three chicks gave the tree hell for several minutes. It was so funny to watch.  They pulled, they prodded, they grabbed high and low.  Of course, when siblings play it often ends up in a squabble. “You stole my branch, bro! Give it back, or I’ll peck you!  Ooooh, you’re asking for it…Give it back NOW”

Watch the video here:  Baby animals play youtube video

 

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Adult male Jabiru (Black-necked Stork)

But there’s a serious side to play. Baby animals play in ways that teach them how to use their bodies for serious adult life. Jabirus use their beaks for catching, killing and eating fish and carrion. So of course they must learn to use their beaks as babies. That sounds easy, doesn’t it? But think of how long it takes human infants to learn to use their hands to eat, or write! Motor skills take time to develop.

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Adult male Jabiru – note the large, strong beak

Watch this kind of animal play on our Wild Top End trip – every August!

The Anthem of The Bush: the Laughing Kookaburra call

The call of the Laughing Kookaburra is one of the true songs of Australia. It sums up so much about our country: raucous, full of joy, spontaneous and fun. It is multi-layered and gregarious – only a family singing together can do it properly. Its not sweet or melodic, but it brings a mischievous smile to your face every time you hear it.  Watch: https://youtu.be/t8mCEXWSO44

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Kookaburras are only found in the Australasian region, so you won’t hear that marvellous call anywhere but downunder.

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Australia and New Guinea are their strongholds: Australia has the famous Laughing Kookaburra, and shares the pretty Blue-winged Kookaburra with New Guinea. New Guinea has an additional three: the stunning Spangled and Rufous-bellied Kookaburras and the special, little Shovel-billed Kookaburra (which is different to the other four – its in a genus all by itself). The tiny Aru Islands of Indonesia, just between New Guinea and Australia, also have Spangled Kookaburras.

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It is the Laughing Kookaburra of eastern and southern Australia that gives the group its fame. To look at he is nothing special – a brown and white kingfisher with a splash of blue in his wing. But seeing a kookaburra is not that important, its hearing them that counts. Their crazy wonderful call bursts out from a majestic gum-tree like the forest itself can’t surpress its happiness any longer and has to shout it to the world. Listen: https://soundcloud.com/nature-sounds/laughing-kookaburra-dacelo-novaeguineae  It is a call of sunshine, and nature and life. The Anthem of The Bush.

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Mimicing the song is not easy, partly because the call is not made by one bird – it is made by a whole family. One bird sings “koo koo koo”, her mate sings “Ka ka ka” overlapping, like singing a round. The children chime in and the song becomes complex, layered, thrilling. In fact singing together keeps the family bond alive.

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The song is so complex that it is one of the few birdcalls the greatest songster of the world, the Superb Lyrebird, cannot mimic perfectly. Listen: https://soundcloud.com/janine-duffy/lyrebirddoingkookaburra

If you live here, take a trip to the bush sometime soon (you can even join us on our Koala Conservation Day for Locals) and let the Kookaburra make you feel alive. If you live overseas, plan a trip to Australia and include a day outside of the city (the Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD day trip from Melbourne is a great way to hear kookaburras). You’ll never forget hearing this song!

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Watch out next week: its #WombatWeek!