birding-aus White-gaped Honeyeater's Qld distribution

Subject: birding-aus White-gaped Honeyeater's Qld distribution
From: David James <>
Date: Sat, 27 Feb 1999 15:25:48 +1000

Hi all,

On 17/02/99 I asked the Birding-aus List for information on the
distribution of White-gaped Honeyeater in Qld (original question below). So
far I have had 12 replies which help to clarify the picture. Also, on
Sunday 21 Feb. I undertook an arduous and hazardous expedition of my own to
the uncharted birding wilderness of Ayr township, in a borrowed, souped-up,
red EH complete with mags, chrome exaust and fluffy dice, but little in the
brakes, steering or fuel-gauge departments. On the way to Ayr I searched
the gardens of Giru and Brandon, and riparian forests at the Horton River,
Morris Ck and Barrata Cks. At Ayr I searched 5 suburban blocks, a hospital
grounds, a golf course, a school, 2 parks, a drainage line and a remnant
riparian forest block spread over 3 different suburbs.   


Records are presented from W. to E. accross the Gulf and then S. from Cape
york to Bowen. 

I recieved no records from w. of Croyden. In the gulf country I've recorded
them at Croyden along streams. A sighting at Georgetown seems to be the
eastern-most for the Gulf region, but they are not regular there. They are
abundant at Pormpuraaw (W. Cape near mouth of Edward River, 220 km west of
Musgrave). Seen at Lakefield. One record from Cooktown and one from
Helenvale (Storr). Regular at Macleod River 25 km inland from Mt Carbine
which may be the usual s. limit of an  E. cape population. seen
occasionally at Big Mitchell Creek, n. of Mareeba. Seen occasionally at
Abattoir Swamp, Julatten. isted as an 'uncommon visitor' at Kingfisher
Park, Julatten. Seen occasionally at Mission Beach in the
early 1970's, but not during less frequent visits in the last few years.
Recorded at four sites around Ingham, but absent from coastal areas. One
recent sighting Bushland Beach 20km n. of Townsville. Trash common garden
bird in many suburbs of Townsville, but inexplicably absent from some
suburbs and from riparian forests and vine thickets around the city (ie not
found in the wild). Absent from Magnetic Is., 3 km off Townsville. Absent
from ranges and ck lines (Mt Stuart, Muntalunga and Sisters ranges) between
Townsville and Mt Elliot. Abundant in the e. drainages of Mt. Elliot from
Alligator Ck (25 km s. of Townsville) to the Horton R. but absent from s.
and W. drainages. frequensts gardens in town Giru on Horton R. Not recorded
by me between Horton R. and Ayr. Not located in Ayr. One record for Bowen
(evidently the southern-most record?). 


What a mess! It seems like White-gaped exists in an area of N Qld
comparable in size to Tasmania, as a series of small and rather isolated
populations. It's distribution seems unpredictable, as it is absent from
much seemingly suitable habitat. The number of one-off records suggests
that it is quite capable of dispersing and moves about more than I would
have expected. Overall, it is less evenly dispersed than is suggested in
the Atlas and Storr's list. All records are from below 500 m. It seems
tollerant of high rainfall (Mission Beach and Ingham) and low rainfall
(read dry holes: Townsville, Croyden, Mt. Carbine). I suspect it needs
permanent water, hence it's presence in Townsville suburbs but not
surrounding bush. It is tollerant of development (Townsville, Ingham) but
may have disapeared or declined at Mission Beach. Prefered habitats include
riparian forest, and suburban gardens, but not rainforest (except perhaps
at Mission beach?) or semi-deciduous vine-thickets. 

I suspect that interactions with other honey-eaters may have an influence.
They apparently do not occur sympatrically with Lewins' (which occur mostly
above 500m in the wet tropics and which are largely restriced to
semi-deciduous vine-thickets to the s. and w. of the Wet tropics), and
probably rarely with Yellow-spotted (although they do co-occurr at the s.
end of Yellow-spotteds range in the Mt Elliot drainages), Gracefull, and
Varied (apparently absent from coastal areas near Ingham were Varied is
common). They do occur with Yellow (and hold their own in battles), but
favour moister environments. 
This survey has some sampling problems. The question I put to the list
asked only for records, not negative results. I received little historical
info. There are many more residents of NQ whom I hoped would contribute
data. The sampling design for the Ayr expedition could be improved upon. I
only spent half a day there. If they were as common as they are in
townsville I would have found them, but I can't be sure whether they are
absent or uncommon. Ayr is flat so brakes aren't necessary. The roads are
narrow and windy, so functional steering may have improved my sampling. The
souped-up, red EH appeared to impress Ayr but the fluffy dice were
disadvantageous when I ran out of fuel right out the front of a hick pub at
closing time. 

Thank you to Birding-Aus correspondants: Keith & Lindsey Fisher, Jo
Wieneke, Edwin Vella, Francis Crome, Mick Todd, Alex Applemen, Jon Wren,
Phil Gregory, John Leonard, John O'Malley, Ian Montgomery and Stephen
Clark.  Thanks (heaps) to the bozzo who lent me the red EH, and to the
couple from Ayr who rescued me.  

PS the AYR expedition had its bright moments: Black Falcons and Bazas At
Morris Ck, King Quails (but no Button Quails), Zitting Cisticolas,
Bustards, Brolgas, and more at Alva Beach, Pied Imperial Pigeons all
through Ayr, and a couple of interesting frog and lizard records.

My original RFI was:  
>I'm quite puzzled/curious about the distribution of White-gaped Honeyeater
>(WGHO) in eastern Qld. Around Townsville they are locally common in two
>isolated restricted populations: (1) within the suburbs on the north bank
>of ross river; and (2) in the eastern? drainages of Mt Elliot.
>Aparently they occur south of Townsville in Ayr, but not Bowen. They don't
>seem to occur to the north of Townsville in the coastal forests and lowland
>or upland rainforests of the wet tropics. I've never seen them for instance
>around Ingham, Cardwell, Tully, Innisfail, Cairns, Daintree, Atherton,
>Malanda, Julaten or the Eastern Cape.  Most people I've talked to haven't
>seen them in too many palces either.
>The Atlas shows records in every block along the coast from about Bowen to
>Princess Charlotte Bay. I find that hard to beleive. Storr (1983, revised
>list of Q Birds) has a more reasonable distribution in three populations:
>(1) Gulf, (2) Southern Cape York S to Mareeba and E to Helenevale; and (3)
>Townsville to Inkerman. However, there is only one record from Hellenvale,
>1948-49 (see Mclean 1995 Sunbird 25:69). 
>Something is fishy. Why such big gaps in the range? There's nothing
>obviously perculiar about their habitat preferences: mesic, riparian
>forests and gardens. No problems with "development". They seem to need
>permanent water. They can co-exist with other honeyeaters like Yellow and
>I'm intertested to know where other birders have seen White-gapeds in Qld,
>apart from in the far NW.  I'm not after details, just districts and
>whether recent or long ago.

David James
PO BOX 5225
Townsville Mail Centre 4810

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