Regent Honeyeater status (se Australia)

Subject: Regent Honeyeater status (se Australia)
Date: Mon, 16 Jun 2003 12:26:16 +1000
On behalf of a colleague of mine, a further posting from a Regent
Honeyeater worker in se Australia.

Martin O'Brien

The discussion regarding the distribution and status of the Regent
Honeyeater in Victoria has finally come to my attention. Thanks to David
Geering for going to the primary sources of information on this - a very
extensive collation of available records undertaken by Don Franklin, John
Robinson and myself in the mid 1980s. Chris Tzaros' original statement that
he understood Regents to have been rare, even vagrants, west of Bendigo is
a good example of how easy it is for statements to be interpreted in
different ways by different readers, particularly after a period of time
has elapsed and people's perspectives have changed.

The quote mentioned by Chris:  "in the Yellow Gum habitat between
north-central Victoria and the South Australian border, the Regent
Honeyeater has never had better than vagrant status" is taken from one of
our papers [cant remember which - don't have them in front of me at
present]. However, the confusion stems from the interpretation of
'north-central Victoria'. We considered north-central Victoria to include
all the box-ironbark zone from the Goulburn River to Stawell, ie similar to
the Land Conservation Council of Victoria 's North Central Study Area. We
were certainly aware that Regents had been regular and common visitors to
the Bendigo and Maryborough districts. Around Maryborough, records tended
to be to the south of the town eg Paddy's Ranges and Talbot areas as far
south as Mt Beckworth beyond Clunes. Hence we described this area as the
Clunes district in our summary paper in Emu 89. When attempting to describe
the global situation it is necessary to make generalisations and to
amalgamate information, knowing full well that somebody, somewhere will
wish that more details had been provided [try winning that argument with
editors of scientific journals]. So the Yellow Gum habitat we had in mind
was that in the Wimmera/Grampians/Little Desert, rather than the
box/ironbark region.

As people have pointed out, the Newstead bird is behaving exactly as one
would predict - choosing flowering, mature eucalypts growing in a
relatively damp and fertile part of the landscape. Yellow Gums are
definitely a favoured source of nectar for the Regent Honeyeater, Red
Ironbark has been rarely used in recent decades but obviously used to be.
Chris is probably correct in thinking that the Regent Honeyeater has
abandoned the forests of north-central Victoria rather than Red Ironbark
being poorer quality habitat per se. Reasons for this shift are not
understood, but may be related to past very heavy silviculture in these
forests aimed at producing pole stands [for electricity poles amongst other
uses]. This process turned woodlands of mature spreading trees into dense
immature stands of straight-trunked eucalypts that produce less nectar and
probably harbour fewer invertebrates. The proclamation of much of the
remaining box-ironbark as reserves [thanks in no small part to some dogged
work by well-known birders like Paul Peake, Barry Trial and Doug Robinson]
will be an important step in trying to restore a more natural forest

David Geering reminded us that a Regent Honeyeater had been seen in
Gippsland this year, and suggested that this was surprising. In fact
Regents are regular, though infrequent, visitors to the forests of the
coastal plain and foothills of East Gippsland, even extending west as far
as the La Trobe Valley. As we know from Allan Morris' postings, Regents
visit the Central Coast of NSW in large numbers in some years. Other
Regents visit the South Coast of NSW [there are many records from the
Ulladulla area and elsewhere], some go further south and turn the corner
into Victoria, just like other primarily-nectarivorous fauna including
Scarlet Honeyeaters and Grey-headed Flying-foxes.

Regent Honeyeaters were also regular visitors to the lower Yarra Valley -
they were reported more-or-less annually at Eltham, Blackburn, Kew etc.
They are still reported occasionally from suburban Melbourne -  anywhere
from Plenty to Yarra Bend is potential Regent territory.

Michael Norris quoted H. R. Wheelwright as regarding them to be 'rare and
uncertain visitants' that mostly came in large flocks. However, Wheelwright
operated mostly on the Mornington Peninsula, and was probably not in prime
Regent habitat - I bet he would have formed a different opinion had he
lived along the Yarra Valley. By the way, there is nothing contradictory
about his description of the Regent as being a rare visitor, mostly in
large flocks. I suggest that the White-browed Woodswallow would fit that
description now in the area covered by Wheelwright. Another way of putting
it is: an irruptive species - which is exactly what the Regent Honeyeater
is in parts of its range.

sorry to blab on, but the Regent Honeyeater has consumed a significant part
of my life these past 20 years.

Peter Menkhorst
Threatened Species and Communities Section
Flora and Fauna Branch
Department of Sustainability and Environment

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