The loud and piercing call of the crescent honeyeater rang out from the small tree just above my head.
I should have been looking closely at the often flighty and elusive crescent honeyeater. Instead I was drawn to the lantern flowers of a cheesewood providing the honeyeater with a meal of pollen and nectar.
I could clearly see the feathered tongue of the bird thrusting into the yellow and maroon flowers. Because they hung from the end of thin stalks, the honeyeater had to perform a delicate acrobatic act to extract the food source, hanging upside down. Pollen strained the honeyeater’s head and to leave the bush it had to release its grip and fall momentarily before righting itself in mid-air.
I’d never noticed cheesewood trees before on my jaunts to the lower slopes of kunanyi/Mt Wellington at this time of the year when the first blooms of spring sprout from plant, shrub and tree, after the taller silver wattles have first burst into flower in the final weeks of winter.
It’s only in recent years that the birds have led me to an interest in flora. From mid-September I now find myself revelling in the beauty of not just the cheesewood, but the white daisy flowers of stinkwood, and the bright orange-and-yellow ones of prickly beauty. These appear the first flowers to bloom, on the sunnier, lower slopes of the mountain. They are set against a backdrop of the pastel-yellow petals of blackwood which scent glade and open woodland.
For once study of the crescent honeyeater and another family member which makes its way from lower ground nearer the coast to the high country in September, the eastern spinebill, had to wait until I had admired the flowers.
The crescent honeyeater needs close attention because the extent of its subtle beauty is not always apparent. It appears a dull grey bird, with a distinctive crescent pattern down both sides of its chest but when it balances itself in canopy and bush it reveals a golden streak of feathers in its wings. The spinebill is more dramatic. It mixes chestnut, black and white in its plumage and can also be identified by its long, curved bill.
The movement of the honeyeaters into the high country demonstrates that the wonder of migration is not just an inter-state affair. There is much domestic travel between low and high ground.
At this time of year the metallic “egypt, egypt” call of the crescent honeyeaters and the excited twitter of the eastern spinebills falls largely silent in the suburbs closer to bay and ocean.
I miss these birds once they have departed. They have sustained my spiritual connection with the bird world through the dark and cold days, and now I have to undertake longer journeys to find them.
There’s reward, though, for these mountain forays. The lantern flowers of cheesewood are just the beginning. Lancewood in ivory, speedwell in purple and the fiery reds of waratah are to follow, a happy hunting ground for both honeyeater and nature lover.