Wednesday, 11 October 2006

Lotus eaters

Australia is the land of honeyeaters. About 70 species are found here, almost all of them found nowhere else. The group is relatively old, originating in Australia perhaps as early as 50 million years ago. From Australia honeyeaters spread to and diversified on the Pacific Islands including Hawaii. They feed on blossoms, fruit and insects. Their nectivorous diet makes them important as pollinators.

I photographed these two at Lake Eacham, when I visited in August. Macleay's honeyeater (Xanthotis macleayana) (top) is a North Queensland endemic. It is a careful bird. It seems to give consideration to each move. Even so, it is engages in moments of piratical boldness. This individual snatched a piece of fruit from the beak of a male Victoria's riflebird. Having robbed the riflebird, it sauntered off to a nearby perch to consume the booty.

Lewin's honeyeater (Meliphaga lewinii) is more widespread, living in suitable habitat (which is just about everything) along the east coast from Cooktown to the Dandenong Range, east of Melbourne. Although it is abundant in the north of its range, it becomes scarce in the south. In Far North Queensland, Lewin's honeyeaters behave rather like sparrows at picnic areas and cafes. They are adept at pinching crumbs from plates. (And they have a real soft spot for jam.)

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