Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gracefully spotting Yellow-spotteds

Two honeyeaters in Tyto can bring birders to a serious identity crisis. Yellow-spotteds (Meliphaga notata) and Gracefuls (M. gracilis) are found in woodland and creek forest areas, mostly outside the hot pre-Wet and wettest months (November-March).

So in this saturated January I was a little surprised to first hear and then get poor pictures of this Yellow-spotted earlier in the week (before the rain really set in - again!). The hearing is almost everything, until the birds get into close range.

Yellow-spotteds offer a metallic rattling (feebly echoing 'machinegun' bursts from much larger - but seldom in Tyto - lookalike Lewin's Honeyeater (M lewinii)). Gracefuls, slightly smaller, with longer, slender bills, mostly give one repetitious 'tuk' (louder further north: can trick southerners into looking for 'tinking' Bell Miners).

But birds don't always call on command. And slight bill differences can be hard to spot. You could try and see whether the earmark is a rounded yellow triangle (Yellow-spotted) or merely rounded (Graceful). Good luck with that idea!

How to tell them apart? Well, both have a yellow gape streak, which points at the earmark. The Yellow-spotted streak points to the centre of the earmark, but in the Graceful it curves down and points to the bottom of the earmark. (Sorry, can't lay hands on Graceful picture: two oldies of mine just checked are Yellow-spotteds!)

It's obvious when pointed out, though not every guidebook gets it right. So that's my out for never having noticed. Many thanks to Tyto visionary and birder supreme John Young for showing me the difference.           


Denis Wilson said...

HI Tony,
At least my Lewin's HE is the only one of its kind, around here.
Nice description of the differences, but I would have to insist they call, to separate the species.
Nice images.
That bird was obviously curious about what you were up to.

Tyto Tony said...

Hi Denis

Greetings from the soggy north. Don't think bird was so much interested in me as exhibiting typical honeyeater foraging posture. White-gapeds often caught in same pose. Cheers

Duncan said...

More lovely bird pictures from Paradise!

Tyto Tony said...

Paradise moist! Ingham again cut off to north and creeks to south rising. But we laugh at a month's rain :-(((

mick said...

Great photos - but with difficult ID like that I am more than ever convinced that my shorebirds are easier! When I want another challenge .... maybe?

Tyto Tony said...

Shorebirds? Easier? Like Cox, Pectoral and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers? Or Stints? Or Dunlins and Sanderlings?

Teasingly too distant, too flighty, too variable, too seasonal. Too hard for me!

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