Ian’s Bird of the Week – Eungella Honeyeater

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Eungella Honeyeater ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 4/22/12

Well, team, many thanks, your moral and spiritual support have done it again: here is the Eungella Honeyeater, photographed last Friday after some diligent searching. The field guides say: ‘noisy, wary, elusive’ and that I would agree is a good description. I heard several at the first location (Chelmans Road, Upper Dalrymple) but got only a brief glimpse of one in the rather dense rainforest regrowth. The second location, Digging’s Road near Eungella, proved more productive and, as I walked back to the car, I eventually encountered a flock of ten or so crossing the road and got photos of a couple of them.

Were it not for its distinctive song, rather scratchy like a very loud gerygone I thought, it would be easy to overlook, given its rainforest habitat, and, dare one say, rather drab colours even if tastefully highlighted by blue eyes.

And overlooked it was until 1976. Or more accurately, any earlier records, such as one collected in 1959, of this bird from the little studied Eungella/Clarke Range area were mistakenly assumed to be the closely related wet-tropics endemic, the Bridled Honeyeater, see the third photo.
The Bridled Honeyeater is much larger – 20-22cm/8-8.7in versus 16-18cm/6.3-7.1in – has a yellow base to the bill and rather different head markings. Their songs are quite different, sufficiently so for someone rather deaf like me to distinguish them easily. Early field guides, such as the 1974 Slater’s, shows the range of the Bridled Honeyeater extending the 300km or so from the wet tropics down to the Clarke Range west of Mackay.
In 1975, during a survey by the Australian and Queensland Museums, another specimen was collected and labelled as a Bridled Honeyeater. The following year, Wayne Longmore was working on the Honeyeater collection at the Australian Museum and realised that not only was this bird not a Bridled Honeyeater – based on the colour of the bill – but that it didn’t correspond to any known species. He organised further field trips to the Clarke Range in 1978 and 1980 in search of the mystery bird and found that the species was relatively common in a restricted area of upland rainforest. It was described in 1983 by him and Walter Boles and named Meliphaga hindwoodi (now Lichenstomus hindwoodi) in honour of  Keith Hindwood, ornithologist and Wayne’s mentor. You can read the full story here. The fourth image shows the records from the BirdLife Australia Atlas Project.
So you don’t have to go to the wilds of Irian Jaya to discover new species of birds! What would you like next week?
Best wishes
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
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Lee’s Addition:

I decided to produce this addition of Ian’s Bird of the Week in the exact format that I receive it. I am also happy that our collective prayers were answered for Ian’s latest adventure. The two Honeyeaters do look similar, but there is a difference. Thanks again, Ian, for letting us share in your birdwatching trips.

Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:12-13 NKJV)

See Ian’s other Birds of the Week