Ian’s Bird of the Week – Fuscous Honeyeater ~ by Ian Montgomery
Newsletter ~ 10-14-15
Townsville is experiencing one of its driest years on record, with only 258mm/10.2in of rain so far this year, with most of that in January. Farmers feel the effects of the dry the most of course from a human perspective, but the wildlife is suffering too. Any remaining open water whether on farms or in gardens is very popular. My bird bath and pond are visible from the window of my study so I have been watching the variety and abundance of visiting wild- (and feral-) life and keeping an eye out for unusual birds. These include some which here are mainly restricted to highland rainforest such as Macleay’s and Lewin’s Honeyeaters and other dry country species such as the Fuscous Honeyeater, normally found west of the coastal range in North Queensland.
This one, here ten days ago on the edge of my bird bath, is the northern race subgermanus. This race has a yellow wash on the face which makes it look rather like the closely related Yellow-tinted Honeyeater, a species I’ll say a bit more about shortly. This northern race occurs between Bowen/Mackay and the Atherton Tableland. Further south the nominate race ranges through the remainder of eastern Queensland, eastern New South Wales and through Victoria as far as about Adelaide in South Australia. The second photo shows an example of the nominate race west of Sydney. Fuscous Honeyeaters have different bill and eye-ring colour in breeding and non-breeding plumage. Non-breeding (and juvenile) birds have yellow bases to the bill and a yellow eye-ring (first photo) while breeding birds have dark bills and dark eye-rings (second photo) – unusual for the breeding plumage to be less colourful.
The third photo shows a non-breeding (or juvenile) nominate-race individual in Victoria and both the yellow eye-ring and yellow base to the bill show up well. ‘Fuscous’ comes from the Latin for ‘dusky’ while the generic name ‘Lichenostomus’ means ‘lichen-mouth’ or ‘moss-mouth’ in Greek and refers to the brush-like tongues of members of this genus, adapted for feeding on nectar. Compare that with ‘Trichoglossus’ – ‘hair tongue’ – a similar adaptation in Lorikeets of that genus, such as the Rainbow Lorikeet.
There are five closely related species of Lichenostomus, referred to as a ‘super-species’ which, although they overlap in some places, effectively carve up mainland Australia. The Fuscous as we’ve seen is an eastern and southeastern species; the Yellow-plumed (L. ornatus) occurs along the south coast from Victoria to SW Western Australia; the Grey-fronted (L. plumulus) is an inland and western-coastal species; the White-plumed (L. penicillatus) has a similar range to the Grey-fronted but extends to the coast in Victoria and New South Wales (e.g. suburban Sydney); while the Yellow-tinted (L. flavescens) occurs across northern Australia from NW Western Australia through the Northern Territory to western Cape York in Queensland (fourth photo). There is also an isolated population in south-eastern Papua New Guinea.
In case you’re wondering, subgermanus, the name for the northern race of the Fuscous doesn’t refer to Germany or a taxonomist called Germain. ‘Germanus’ means something like ‘sibling’ in Latin (literally ‘having the same parents’) and is the origin of ‘hermano/hermana’ in Spanish (brother/sister). ‘Sub’ is often used to indicate closeness in taxonomic matters, so subgermanus means something like ‘almost siblings’ and presumably refers to its similarity to the Yellow-tinted. That’s my guess, anyway, as my usual source of such gems, A Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names, OUP, doesn’t delve into races.
The range of the Yellow-tinted comes within about 100km of that of the yellowish northern Fuscous Honeyeater and the two species were formerly lumped into one. Recent studies have shown that although they look similar they don’t intergrade, so treating them as separate species seems justified. In the Yellow-tinted, the yellow base to the bill is a feature of just juvenile birds. All have yellow eye-rings, so there is no difference in appearance between breeding and non-breeding adults.
The dry season is an anxious time in bushland areas of North Queensland and this year particularly so. Last week a fire started beside the Bruce Highway on Saturday 3rd October and travelled the seven kilometres to my place over the next three days and then burned along the dry bed of Bluewater Creek near my house for three days. The last photo shows the bottom of my yard being water bombed on Thursday morning as I was heading down there yet again with a rake. The hill in the background is black all over. All is quiet now and we have the biggest firebreak in the country (at least 11km long covering 24 square kilometres) so I hope we’re probably relatively safe now until the wet season which should start in a couple of months, El Nino permitting. The firemen had some funny stories to tell about their arrival at a nudist colony in a secluded area about 4km west of my place.
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 firstname.lastname@example.org
Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/
Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au
My son, eat thou honey, because it is good; and the honeycomb, which is sweet to thy taste: (Pro 24:13)
Thanks, Ian, for telling more about your amazing Honeyeaters, especially the Fuscous ones. Sound like a bird I would like landing on my bird bath. Though he would have to fly a loooooong way to get here. :)