I woke one morning while camping near one of the lakes in Hattah-Kulkyne National Park to golden light spilling over the horizon across the lake and through River Red Gums. The incessant cheep of Noisy Miners filled the air with the occasional chatter of parrots. The sun light illuminated flying insects that presented themselves as glowing undulating entities in the air. Light reflected off the water onto the underside of the trees casting beams of light across them like a printer scanning a document. Various Grebes patrolled the shallow water looking for food to eat, and a dad Emu with 15 chicks strolled by camp picking vegetation as they went. This is just a snapshot of what goes on in Hattah-Kulkyne National Park in Victoria. A fantastic place to see wildlife and explore nature, and boasts a range of habitats including mallee, low scrub, open pine woodland, lakes and creeks that provide homes for numerous interesting creatures. Late one morning we decided to go for a walk out to a lookout not far from the campground. My wife alerted me to a small honeyeater with a black head and distinctive tapering black line down its chest. A Black Honeyeater! I said excitedly. I tried to get a good look at the bird and a picture but this male was preoccupied with chasing a female around and darting from bush to bush. Despite a number of trips over several years to Hattah-Kulkyne and other areas that could have Black Honeyeaters they had proven to be elusive.
Black Honeyeaters are small nomadic honeyeaters found in the drier parts of Australia. They follow flowering plants across the landscape, and in particular Eremophila sometimes called Emu or Poverty Bush. To impress the mostly grey females, the male Black Honeyeater flies straight up into the air and then glides down with his wings partly open and calling. If sufficiently impressed, after mating the female will build a nest and lay two or three small eggs. Both of the parents assist with the incubation of the eggs and feeding the young as they grow. These honeyeaters are also called Charcoal Birds because the females in particular have been observed eating charcoal and ash from old camp fires. The charcoal is a rich source of calcium and the honeyeaters may be eating it to gain calcium after laying or in preparation for laying eggs.
I failed to get any reasonable photos of the honeyeaters over a couple of days, but on the final morning I could hear them calling along one of the tracks. We went out to investigate and a male was flying between trees and displaying. He would sit in a tree for a bit and sing, then promptly fly to another tree. I watched the trees he was flying to and realised that he was visiting the same trees. I found one that would provide bit of cover for me so the bird wouldn’t see me as it flew in, and give a good photo opportunity. I waited a little while watching him dart about other trees and sure enough he flew in and sat beautifully in the sun on the tree in front of me before zipping off again into the next tree.
Black Honeyeaters are stunning little birds, with some interesting habits. They occur throughout much of inland Australia, but follow the flow of nectar from plants like Eremophila. So if you out in the drier parts of Australia, keep an eye out for these awesome birds and you could be rewarded. It was fantastic to see these beautiful little creatures in such detail and I look forward to my next encounter with them, whenever that may be.