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

Yellow-tufted_Honeyeater_(Lichenostomus_melanops)_-_Flickr_-_Lip_Kee
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

noisy-Friarbird-220515p02lowres

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

white-Cheeked-Honeyeater-090716p09lowres

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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Koalas are connected to everything!

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In nature, everything is connected. But some of the affinities between koalas and other animals might surprise you!

Honeyeaters, like this Eastern Spinebill, pollinate trees. Without honeyeaters, new trees will struggle to grow. No trees = no koalas.

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If Flame Robins didn’t eat insects, plants would suffer from insect overpopulation. Insects eat the leaves of many plants, eucalyptus included. Too many insects = no leaves on trees for koalas to eat.
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Even butterflies are important to koalas. Butterflies, like this Common Brown, pollinate native plants when they search for nectar to drink. Unlike bees, who pollinate a small area very effectively, butterflies can carry pollen large distances, which means they can bring new plants to an area and ensure an even spread of a diversity of plants. Plant diversity at the ground level helps other animals like wallabies thrive.
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Caterpillars, the babies of butterflies, eat plants. The caterpillar of the Common Brown eats grasses like Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra), which has a tendency to become too dominant in an area if not managed. Aboriginal People managed kangaroo grass with regular small fires, but now that is not happening, we are lucky to have Common Brown caterpillars!

Macropods (kangaroos, wallabies) make tracks through thick undergrowth as they search for food and water. When the undergrowth is thick, koalas use the tracks of kangaroos and wallabies to move around from tree to tree every day. If there are no tracks through thick undergrowth, a koala is in danger of predation by dogs, and they find it much harder to push through. Too much energy expended means a koala has less energy to breed.
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Grass-seed eaters, like Long-billed Corellas, spread the seeds of grasses and help control weeds like Onion Grass. Grassy woodlands are perfect habitat for koalas, providing easy movement from tree to tree.
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Koalas also benefit other species. Black-chinned Honeyeaters are a threatened small bird. They take fur from koalas to line their nests. Without koalas, who will the Black-chinned Honeyeaters get fur from? Wallabies don’t stay still long enough, possums are only out at night. Will baby Black-chinned Honeyeaters get too cold in their nests and die?

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Some creatures, like this Painted Honeyeater, have almost disappeared from koala habitat. Could this be why koalas are declining? We just don’t know.

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People often ask us why koalas are declining, even in National Parks. Truth is, no-one is really sure. Every region has different challenges, but overall, koalas are declining too rapidly for their long-term survival.

We don’t know the answer to koala decline, but we do know this: everything is connected. When Grey-crowned Babblers disappeared from the You Yangs, did that affect koalas? Maybe only slightly. When Tasmanian Pademelons, Eastern Barred Bandicoots, Brush-tailed Rock-wallabies and Dingoes disappeared did that affect koalas?   Slightly+slightly+slightly+slightly = a lot.

Fact is, we have lost insect, bird, reptile and plant species that koalas rely on from koala forests, yet we still expect koalas to breed well (but not too much) and live long healthy lives.  It is amazing that they are surviving at all.

Which do you need more: food for the soul, or food for the stomach? On our last trip to the Top End we had to choose.

One of the strange joys of a Darwin trip is the sparrow’s fart arrival. Planes come into Darwin at odd times. So we always find ourselves at Darwin International Airport as the sun is rising, or well after it has set. It’s a fine welcome – night is possibly the best part of a day in the tropics. The warmth is pleasant, the smells are enhanced, there is softness in the air that contrasts strongly with the eye-blinding, walk-into-a-pizza-oven heat of a Darwin dry-season day.

Brown Honeyeaters and Red-collared Lorikeets called as we picked up our hire car. We drove away from the dawn. Hours to kill before hotel check in, but East Point always provides entertainment before late breakfast at Fannie Bay.

Darwin is a west-facing city. It is a city of sunsets, not sunrises. West of the Darwin peninsula is the sea: beaches, parks, markets, places to eat. East of Darwin is a vast swathe of flatness, all the way to the Arnhem Land escarpment 300km away.

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Darwin’s most fascinating large park is East Point Reserve. In true Top End fashion, you drive north, then west to get to it. It’s a peninsula poking out into Beagle Gulf. The name takes you back to another time, when cities and land transport were not the focus – the sea was. East Point marks the eastern beacon of one of the few safe harbours of the wild Top End, from a sailors point of view. Imagine the relief they would have felt seeing that promontory during a tropical storm, or after a long sea journey where supplies ran low.

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That morning, as the eastern headland woke up we listened to Bar-shouldered and Peaceful Doves, Olive-backed & Yellow Orioles & Figbirds, Trillers, Brown, Rufous-banded and White-gaped Honeyeaters, Forest & Sacred Kingfishers. Orange-footed Scrubfowls scratched in the undergrowth, dolphins played in the shallows and a group of Grey-tailed Tattlers rested on a rock. But it was someone else that gave us the soul-food we will remember always.

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Some silhouettes are unmistakeable. The Beach Stone-curlew is one of those. Elegant – no. Delicate – certainly not. Comic – yes, that’s getting closer. A bird embarrassed by its huge, unwieldly beak, further complicated by unfortunate splotches of yellow. Even never having seen one before, we knew it immediately. And it was BEAUTIFUL!

As if ashamed by his appearance, the male* appeared to be hiding, standing in plain sight on the beach. In fact, his camouflage was so excellent that we could easily have missed him on the featureless sand. He watched us, we watched him, thrilled with our discovery.

Unsatisfied with our view, we tried another angle back down the track. Relocating him was tricky – he was even harder to see with the light in our eyes. There he was, higher up on the sand amongst the rocks and driftwood. He’d moved. Or had he? Moments later another Beach Stone-curlew flew in from the sea and landed where the male had been earlier! Whatever, now we had two. It’s incredibly special to have your first sighting of a species, a lifer, and have two of them in view for extended moments.

Some lifers are unforgettable. You just want to stare at them forever, drinking in every tiny detail. Its like you need to imprint them on your brain so that the creature is a part of you. Our eyes grew strained from peering through the binoculars. For relief, I took bad photo after bad photo knowing I had a big delete session coming on but doing it anyway.

The staring marathon paid off – a chick emerged from the detritus! Playfully he walked towards his parent, who was carrying something. The chick’s beak was smaller, almost like a normal bird’s, and he lacked the bold yellow, black & white patterning around the head. After feeding, the chick sat down amongst a pile of sticks and then it was an effort to locate him after each blink.

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One parent (let’s say the mother, though there’s no way we could tell) walked up the beach a little out of our view. The ‘father’ flew back out to sea. Left alone, the chick got up and started to play with the debris around his hiding spot. He pulled out a whippy stick – the stick fought back! An hilarious tussle ensued. Each time the stick caught on the sand the chick would subdue it and wrestle it back into submission, when of course the stick would rise again! Birds can be very funny. Finally he walked up the beach to his mum and disappeared from our view.

Lucky for us. Our souls were well fed, but our stomachs were rumbling! Breakfast at Fannie Bay was hours overdue, and if that baby Beach Stone-curlew had kept playing we might have starved happily watching him!

Postscript: Beach Stone-curlews have a small population – only around 6,000 worldwide. Most of these are along Australia’s north coast. They are threatened by beach disturbance – people walking along beaches especially with dogs, residential development along the coast, increased feral predators that come with humans, entanglement in fishing line and nets left by human activities. They only have one chick per year, so each baby is precious. For more go to BirdLife Australia: http://www.birdlife.org.au/bird-profile/beach-stone-curlew and see their listing on the IUCN Red List: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22728621/0

To experience a story like this yourself, come on our 6 day Wild Top End tour!  http://www.echidnawalkabout.com.au/wildtopend

*there seems to be no way of telling Beach Stone-curlew sexes apart, so this is just for the sake of the story

The Friday Five: great outdoor things to do this week… 10 August 2012

1. The Savannah Walkabout – one day Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD guided tour!  This amazing tour showcases the icons of Australia – Koalas and Kangaroos in their natural habitats. At this time of year the roos are really active and breeding, so its pretty exciting.  It’s for small groups (2 to 8 passengers only) so it’s really interactive.  Great for kids, international visitors and locals.  Go to http://www.echidnawalkabout.com.au/en/tours/savannah for more details.

2. Westgate Park, just near the West Gate bridge. An easy walk from the Docklands along the Yarra River, this beautiful park is an example of what a dedicated group of volunteers can do with an old unloved quarry. You can now walk through River Red Gum woodlands, past lakes and wetlands, have a picnic, a run or a cycle and see some wonderful birds.  Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters are still in residence and fill the bush with their liquid notes.  Watch out for Great Egrets, tiny Black-fronted Dotterels and beautiful little diving Grebes – both Australasian and Hoary-headed.  You will usually find some volunteers working in the park and they are so helpful. Go to: http://www.westgatepark.org/

3. Raymond Island, East Gippsland.  Near Paynesville, in the Lakes National Park area, is a island sanctuary for wildlife. Koalas, Kangaroos, Wombats, Echidnas, Tawny Frogmouths, parrots and lots of other birds live wild on the island.  The human inhabitants love their wildlife, and the wildlife knows it – they don’t seem as scared of humans here as in other places. Winter is a great time to be here.  There’s very few people around, but everything is open.  My tip – stay 2 nights at one of the lovely accommodation options.  Take an early morning birdwatching walk, followed by a short trip on the ferry to Paynesville, a long, lazy breakfast, then back to Raymond for an afternoon nap! When you’re refreshed get out again to search for koalas and kangaroos in the late afternoon sunshine, but make sure you’re back near the ferry to watch out for dolphins as they come in at dusk.

4. Melbourne Sports Tours. Sport is just such a part of Melbourne.  I’m not a huge fan of TV sport, but even I get excited by the buzz around the MCG on a Footy night.  The crowds are fascinating, friendly and fun.  I love just driving or walking past it, and savouring the rivalry/camaraderie of it all.  Whether you’re a local or a visitor, you should check out these tours.  You’ll learn something, have a ball, and share the day or evening with a guide who is passionate about sport and Melbourne.  Go to: http://www.melbournesportstours.com.au/index.html

5. St Kilda Botanical Gardens.  This is my latest discovery.   A tip from a young birdwatcher sent me there in search of a rare little bird called a Pink Robin.  I found her, but I also enjoyed the whole park experience enormously.  They have patches of beautiful native bush, a tranquil rose garden, a pond.  There is a friendly and welcoming EcoCentre in one corner – walk in anytime from 9 to 5 to find information about the area, terrific books to buy, eco-friendly products.  Go to: http://www.foskbg.org.au/