There have been several sightings of the uncommon black honeyeater in Victoria over the past month or so. The latest of these is at Clunes.
Normally a bird of mallee scrub in far northern Victoria and into inland Australia, the Clunes black honeyeater chose a scrubby roadside lined with dead and living hedge wattles east of town. This was in otherwise open pastoral country.
Such an uncommon local occurrence prompted visits by seven local bird observers the following day. They found not only a second black honeyeater, but also a pair of singing honeyeaters.
Both the black and the singing honeyeater are scarce in the Ballarat district. While the black honeyeater has been seen in a few summers, the singing honeyeater is an even scarcer bird here.
Its scarcity is rather surprising, considering it is a coastal resident at Breamlea and west of Cape Otway, and also in the Mallee.
It is a very widespread bird Australia-wide, but there is clearly something about the Ballarat district that it doesn’t like. It is also scare around Bendigo.
Earlier records, from the 1980s, were from Stockyard Hill and Wendouree, but it is 30 or more years since it has been found in the Ballarat region (within 40 kilometres).
The black honeyeater was seen for several summers from the mid-1980s at Wendouree, Clunes and one or two other places. At Wendouree they fed on flowering eucalypts.
Neither the black honeyeater nor the singing honeyeater live up to their names. The black honeyeater is very small, black above and on the chest, then white beneath, so it is black-and-white, rather than all-black.
The larger singing honeyeater is quite a vocal bird, but its rolling, chirping and mewing notes are mostly short and hardly to be described as a song. The bird deserving the name of “singing honeyeater” is the brown honeyeater, not found in Victoria.
One publication attempted to change the singing honeyeater’s name to black-faced honeyeater, but that was not successful.
With the two uncommon and unexpected honeyeaters turning up recently, bird observers are keeping an eye out for other birds that may appear here as the drought in much of Australia continues.
Some birds have chicks out of the nest, others are sitting on their eggs, and others are building nests.
In the latter category are yellow-faced honeyeaters, one of which was recently seen gathering fur from a grey kangaroo. It made three separate visits, which the kangaroo seemed to scarcely notice.