As I was driving south from Katherine, NT, on the first day of my return journey home and faced with the prospect of repeating in reverse the long drive through Mount Isa, Adventure whispered seductively in my ear ‘why not go home via the Gulf of Carpentaria and look for White-breasted Whistlers?’. So, I turned left at Daly Waters and drove to Karumba via Borroloola, NT (first night) and Burketown, QLD (second night). That drive involved about 700 km of gravel road and half a dozen river fords, but I was rewarded on day 2 by great views (no photos though) of a Grey Falcon on the Northern Territory side of the border with Queensland.
I found a female and young White-breasted Whistler – and insufferable numbers of little biting sandflies – in the mangroves at Karumba Point, but no males so I decided to do the sensible thing and go out with Ferryman River Cruises on the Norman River: http://www.ferryman.net.au/ (07) 4745 9155. Not only did Alison and Glen know their birds and where to find them but are also enthusiastic members of the bird of the week list. So, the three of us had a great morning on the river and they found me the White-breasted Whistlers and other good things like Red-headed Honeyeaters. They also have some friendly Black-necked Storks (Jabirus) and various raptors only too ready to put on a good display in return for garfish. So, if you’re ever in Karumba, you know what to do.
White-breasted Whistlers, particularly the females, look like Rufous Whistlers but are much more robust with large, (invariably muddy) hooked bills adapted for feeding in mangroves on invertebrates such as small crabs. The males, first photo, are more distinctive with a completely black head, a rufous collar and a white breast. The large, hooked bill is much more like that of the related Shrike-thrushes and the specific name lanoides refers directly to Lanius, the generic name for (true) Shrikes. The second photo is a young male in the middle of acquiring adult male plumage but still has the streaky buff breast of young birds and females. The third photo shows a female peering coyly through the mangroves. Rufous Whistlers were also present at Karumba Point and the first bird that I got excited about and photographed turned out to be just that. White-breasted Whistlers occur in mangroves in northwestern and northern Australia from Carnarvon in the west to western Cape York in the east.
The bushfires in Bluewater are now all under control thanks to the efforts of the fire service and the SES and my house still stands! My thanks to those of you who expressed their concern. I was glad, though, that I cut short my trip to Sydney as the situation was still threatening when I returned.
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Phone: +61-411 602 737
Preferred Email: email@example.com
Australasian Whistlers make up the bulk of whistlers (Australia with 8 and New Guinea with 15). There are 41 species in 6 genera. They also are found in Southeast Asia and some Pacific Islands. They are known for the melodious songs and I had hoped to find a recording of the bird whistling, but couldn’t find one. Maybe someone can leave a comment with a link to a recording.
I did find a video by Nick Talbot, of a Rufous Whistler singing. It is posted on my Whistlers and Allies page.
They have a head that is rounded and fairly large. “One of their earlier alternative names was ‘thick head’ (from which the Latin family name, Pachycephalidae, is derived).” (From Complete Birds of the World, National Geographic) The birds are between 12-20 cm. or 5-8 in. in length and only weigh .5-1.5 oz. or 13-44 g. Also from the book, “Obvious features are the fairly large, rounded head, short, thick neck, and short, stubby, thick bill. The wings are short and broad, with 10 primaries; in most species the wings are rounded, but in two (including the most migratory), the wing-tips are pointed. Tails vary in length, being longest in the larger species; they have 12 feathers and are squared-ended or slightly notched. The legs and feet are strong, especially in the larger species.”
The whistlers do most of their feeding among the upper foliage of trees and feed on spiders and insects they find on leaves or “hovering in flight.”
Glad he made that different trip home so we can share in his find. I am also glad the fires were in control.
Keep up the great photography and newsletters.
In that day the LORD will whistle for the fly that is in the remotest part of the rivers of Egypt and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. (Isaiah 7:18 NASB)