Monday, March 21, 2011


Most backyard birders tend to concentrate on the species they see and/or hear; it adds to their tally. Fay and I are among that league. Certainly we are always pleased to add a new species to the list but also enjoy the continual return of old favourites.

There are however those species that seem to be dotted around the immediate vicinity of Allen Road but have yet to be recorded anywhere along the street; those missing in action.

The core niggle is not the rarities, as itemized on the Department of Environment &Resources Management official Wildlife Species List for the South Burnett region. We congratulate those fortunate birders who have recorded such gems as: Black-throated Finch Poephila cincta [according to the List last sighted in 2003]; Painted Honeyeater Grantiella picta [circa 2002]; Sooty Owl Tyto tenebricosa [last sighted in 2007]; Swift Parrot Lathamus discolour [last seen as long ago as 1994]; Coxen’s Fig-Parrot Cyclopsitta diophthalma coxeni, a subspecies of the Double-eyed Fig-Parrot [1966];

Nor would we expect regular sightings of species such as Paradise Parrot Psephotus pulcherrimus, lasted recorded in the South Burnett region at the end of 1915 but now generally presumed to be extinct throughout its former ranges. Nor would we expect the Grey Falcon Falco hypoleucos to suddenly put in an unexpected appearance, given that it was last seen in the region in 1908. And while the ever-elusive Red Goshawk Erythrotriorchis radiateus remains a distinct possibility, we will not be holding our breath in anticipation – they can range over territories in excess of 200km2.

Allen Road has had its moments, or at least it has since Fay and I first began recording the local birds back in April 2001. Indeed, as early as 3 June 2001 we were fortunate enough to have crippling views of Black-chinned Honeyeater Melithreptus gularis; it was still here a week later [11 June] and while it has never been here again since, it was recorded in the general South Burnett region in November of that same year. Ours must have been among the last seen hereabouts.

The near threatened Square-tailed Kite Lophoictinia isura was noted flying over our property in March 2008. The Powerful Owl Ninox strenua, listed by the Department as vulnerable, was heard distinctly calling from a little west of the house in October 2008.

No, it’s not the megaticks that concern, they’re just part and parcel of everyday twitching. Our puzzlement remains with the lesser species, those that we have recorded on a regular basis from only a few kilometres away but which have yet to appear on our Allen Road Backyard List.

Take the finches. Our only Allen Road record is of the Double-barred Finch Taeniopygia bichenovii. Indeed, it has nested in our orchard. However, a mere five kilometres away, along Berlin Road, we have recorded both the Red-browed Finch Neochmia temporalis and Zebra Finch Taeniopygia guttata. The habitats are not that dissimilar. Why have they not taken the step across to Allen Road?

Both the Little Anthochaera chrysoptera and Red A. carunculata Wattlebirds have been recorded in the wider South Burnet region but not along Allen Road.

However, of most concern to Fay and I remains the humble robin, any robin! Our birding friends Colleen and Robert Fingland, who, as the [Torresian] crow flies, live no more than a few kilometres from us on ten hectares, have both the Red-capped Petroica goodenovii and Eastern Yellow Eopsaltria australis Robins on their backyard list. We have recorded the latter along Berlin Road.

The Department’s Wildlife Species List records no fewer than eight robin species for the South Burnett: Eastern Yellow Robin; Hooded Robin Melanodryas cucullata; Jacky Winter Microeca fascinans; Scarlet Robin Petroica boodang; Red-capped Robin; Flame Robin Petroica phoenicea; Rose Robin Petroica rosea and Pale-yellow Robin Tregellasia capito.

No robin has yet been recorded along Allen Road in the time that Fay and I have been monitoring the local species. Why?

We can accept the absence of the Hooded Robin; it is a species associated more with drier habitats and no doubt sighted on the western reaches of the South Burnett. The absence of Jacky Winter is also understandable; in our experience it prefers more open woodland, wider paddocks and country roadsides. The South Burnett must be close to the northern range limits of the Scarlet Robin. The same would appear to hold for the Flame Robin. The Pale-yellow Robin prefers skulking in rainforest habitats

However, what of the Rose Robin? We have enjoyed fantastic view of this species only 40km south at Emu Creek.

But the bottom line, the pain, remains the absence of the Red-capped and the Eastern Yellow Robins. They are dotted all around us but continue to resist putting in an appearance along Allen Road.

Image via Ákos Lumnitzer @

Monday, March 14, 2011

All Quiet on the Allen Road Front

Overall aerial view of Allen Road. To the right [east] is the Nanango-Maidenwell Road. The fainter line to the left [west] is Andrew Road. The house can be seen at the approximate centre. The circle towards the bottom [south] is the dam. The blue line denotes the extensive area of Casuarinas

All told, it’s been a rather quiet birding time along Allen Road. Matters have not been helped by our inability to do our usual walk, either up towards the Nanango-Maidenwell Road junction or down to Andrew Road. Having a tree, well, a substantial main branch at least, suddenly fall across the Orchard/Middle Compound fence tends to rather preoccupy one’s attention… all the more when the chainsaw fuel line decides to rupture part way through the task!

Allen Road looking east to the Maidenwell-Maidenwell Road.

We continue our early morning birding, sitting in bed, both windows ajar [thank goodness for mosquito mesh], cup of tea in hand, listening to the growing crescendo of the Dawn Chorus. At weekends we do actually record these precursors to sunrise; during the working week we simply enjoy the various symphonies on offer.

Earlier in the week, Wednesday 9 March, Fay did note a handful of White-throated Needletails Hirundapus caudacutus overhead at the Allen/Andrew Road corner. They are often seen as portents of forthcoming storms. A minor rainstorm hit us on Sunday.

On returning from visiting our [non-birding] son [see the recent post at Birding the South Burnett] on Saturday, I drove a little further than normal past the gate, to allow for the trailer. I spotted a black bird in a low growing Casuarina, perhaps four metres to the west of the track. My initial reaction was to dismiss it as just another crow but immediately realized that the entire topographical jizz was wrong for crow. When I heard the soft crunch of large bill chew a Casuarina seed I knew the Glossy Black-Cockatoos Calyptorhynchus lathami, the darlings of our Backyard List, were back. Indeed, on closer examination we noted a pair of these beauties.

Allen Road looking west towards Andrew Road.

It was too tempting. We alighted and searched the area until we gained better views of the pair. I got in a couple of very poor shots [failing light remains my only excuse] before the bird flew off to the north.

Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus @ Allen Road.

We’d no sooner got back into the car than Fay spotted the Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus perched on a branch of the dead tree overhanging the track. We had written it off a while back as just another migratory species that had returned to its alternative residency. Perhaps when I have eventually transcribed all our handwritten notes onto computer I’ll be in a position to put together a paper on the local comings and goings of this little gem.

Other than these highlights the past week at Allen Road has been rather quiet- and science conferences will keep me away for the next two Saturdays!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Reflections on some Honeyeaters

Image via

Yellow-faced Honeyeater @ nest

It couldn’t happen again, could it? But it did. I’d come across a similar problem when reflecting on the Noisy Friarbird Philemon corniculatus [previous post].

Heavy overnight rain [in excess of 50mm over a few hours] found us, the following morning, walking down to the front gate, inspecting the condition of the track; we were expecting guests for dinner later that evening and didn’t want them becoming bogged if the surface had become too soft. It was as we passed the run-off to the “Duckpond” [a small dam we had excavated a little over a year ago] that we first heard the call of the Yellow-faced Honeyeater Lichenostomus chrysops. A moment later it flew across the track, disappearing somewhere in the woodland to the east.

It wasn’t new to the Year List [we’d ticked the first back in January]. It wasn’t even new for the 2011 Allen Road List [that had also occurred in January]. It had however become something of a rarity to our backyard.

Our ornithological position has always been to the effect that in the early years of our residence in Allen Road, the Yellow-faced had been the dominant honeyeater; its close relative, the Blue-faced Honeyeater Entomyzon cyanotis a comparative newcomer, a latter-day usurper. It was a stance we adhered to rather rigidly.

Blue-faced Honeyeater, juvenile [note the green rather than blue face].

Then of course, as in the case of the Noisy Friarbird, along came Bluebird Technology’s Bird Journal software. I can only repeat that neither Fay nor I have any commercial association with this company but nevertheless, while admitting that it does not perfectly dovetail with all or birding requirements, it is one of the best bird recording programs I have come across in many a year.

In transcribing hundreds of handwritten records onto the computer it inevitably brought a few facts to light; shed a little reality over the dimness cast by time.

Yes, the Yellow-faced Honeyeater has seniority over the Blue-faced; it was first recorded here [as the 13th new Backyard List species] on only our second visit to Allen Road, 21 April 2001. It was there again on the subsequent visit, Saturday 12 May 2001 and again on the next day, Sunday 13 May.

However, also present that Sunday, as the 35th addition to the Backyard List, was the Blue-faced Honeyeater.

The Yellow-faced Honeyeater was reported on all 13 trips to Allen Road throughout June 2001, including one visit [29 June] when only two honeyeaters were recorded [the other being the Noisy Miner Manorina melanocephala]. The Blue-faced was not.

That initial pattern set the mould: the Yellow-faced was the dominant resident honeyeater; the Blue-faced was merely an occasional visitor.

That remained a fairly accurate assessment throughout 2002, although the Blue-faced was beginning to put in more appearances and, on albeit rare occasions, was present when the Yellow-faced was not [e.g. 31 March; 25 June 2002].

The status quo remained until the end of the first week in July 2003; the Yellow-faced was present on our visit over the first weekend in July 2003 [4-6th]. It was not reported in any of the five subsequent July visits nor, indeed, in any of the eight visits made in the following month, August.

It was next recorded on 4 October and again on 1 November 2003. During the latter part of 2003 the Blue-faced Honeyeater was beginning to be recorded on almost every trip to Allen Road.

Their roles had reversed; the Blue-faced had [and remains]] the more dominant of those two honeyeaters.

Image via

I apply the pronoun those in that in all these reflections on the seniority and reporting longevity between the Yellow-faced and Blue-faced Honeyeaters [species with the word honeyeater in their name], Bird Journal rather sharply reminded me that throughout this same period two other members of the honeyeater family, apart from the Noisy Miner and the migratory Little Philemon citreogularis and Noisy Friarbirds, were consistently recorded and regarded as permanent at Allen Road; Lewin’s Honeyeater Meliphaga lewinii [first recorded on the same day as the Blue-faced, 13 May 2001] and the Striped Honeyeater Plectorhyncha lanceolata which was initially recorded on 21 April 2001 [alongside the Yellow-faced Honeyeater], giving it seniority over the Blue-faced and Lewin’s Honeyeaters. Indeed, the latter has remained a firm fixture, a resident, on our sightings lists while the former, like the Yellow-faced, now puts in only rare visits.

Striped Hineyeater. Image via

Nevertheless, hope remains for the Yellow-faced Honeyeater; over the past week it has been heard calling from somewhere in the northeast quadrant on at least three occasions.

There are 74 species listed under the Meliphagidae family [Christidis & Boles, 2008] of which 14 have been recorded at Allen Road. Along with the seven already mentioned above there have also been:

Eastern Spinebill Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris
Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater Acanthagenys rufogularis
Brown Honeyeater Lichmera instincta
Black-chinned Honeyeater Melithruptus gularis
Brown-headed Honeyeater Melithreptus brevirostris
White-throated Honeyeater Melithreptus albogulasris
White-naped Honeyeater Melithreptus lunatus