Ian’s Bird Of The Week – Yellow-spotted Honeyeater ~ by Ian Montgomery
Newsletter – 03-13-11
I’ve been working on the Honeyeater galleries on the website recently and a Yellow-spotted Honeyeater showed up outside my house a few days ago, pushing this species into the foreground when I was contemplating the choice of this week’s bird. Bluewater is at the southern end of its range, so it turns up only occasionally and this one is presumably a cyclone Yasi refugee.
It’s very similar to the Graceful Honeyeater, which has an almost identical range from just north of Bluewater (Rollingstone) to Cape York, so they are both North Queensland endemics and, in turn, similar to Lewin’s Honeyeater, which occurs right along the east coast of Australia as far south as Melbourne. Both the Yellow-spotted and the Graceful are common in forest habitats in North Queensland and I had trouble separating them when I first moved up here until I learnt their calls – the easiest way to distinguish them – so a comparison of the three species might be of interest and I’ve selected photos taken under similar condition using flash in poor light, typical of forests.
The Yellow-spotted – first photo – is intermediate in size (17-19cm/6.7-7.5in) between the larger Lewin’s – second photo – (19-22cm/7.5-8.7) and the smaller Graceful – third photo – (14-17cm/5.5-6.7in), so perhaps the key is to separate it from the other two species. Lewin’s has a dark-grey face (in front of the ear-patch), a large half-moon-shaped ear patch and a heavier bill. Both have longish pale-yellow, almost whitish, gapes. The typical call of the Lewin’s is the familiar loud and regular ‘machine-gun’ rattle of the forest of eastern Australia; that of the Yellow-spotted is clearly related but different: slower and descending. Both also have harsh chattering calls, differing in tone and intensity in a similar way to the machine-gun calls – that of the Lewin’s is louder and harsher in a bigger-bird sort of way.
Both the Yellow-spotted and the Graceful have greenish faces and smallish ear-patches which look similar to me (though some field guides make distinctions such as ’rounded triangle, yellow’ versus ’rounded, cream’: huh?). The gapes, however, are quite different, that of the Yellow-spotted being long and pale like that Lewin’s while that of the Graceful is shorter and very yellow (chrome). The Graceful has a longer bill with a decurved lower edge (that of both Lewin’s and Yellow-spotted is almost straight), though I’ve found that a tricky field mark unless you get a good, exactly lateral view. Happily, the call of the Graceful is very different, a sharp ‘tuck’ or ‘pik’ repeated at intervals and very distinctive.
All three species are quite vocal and in the forest you normally hear them before you see them, so I find it best to use the visual field marks to confirm an auditory identification, particularly if you find the Graceful and the Yellow-spotted together, which happens sometimes. In the north, the Lewin’s is more of a highland species, though it does move down in winter, and it’s unusual to find it in the company of the other two.
We made a recent trip to Paluma to inspect the cyclone damage. The local birds, particularly the fruit-eaters seemed very hungry and responded well to feeding so I’ve added photos of these species:
At home the good news is that my lone cyclone-surviving male Blue-winged Kookaburra seems to have attracted a mate, and there were plenty of Dollarbirds around yesterday.
Eating too much honey can make you sick. (Proverbs 25:16 CEV)
To see more of Ian’s Bird of the Week articles – CLICK HERE