This has spawned the Swan River honeyeater as a full species in Western Australia thanks to version 2.6 of the IOC taxonomy, which now numbers 10,417 birds. A brief but memorable stop in Cania Gorge, Queensland furnished my only sighting of this Melithreptus species so even my armchair birding has failed my life list this time. By my reckoning the Australian honeyeaters now tally 74.
At Cania I’d had trouble separating the honeyeater from the other possibilities of brown-headed, black-chinnned and white-throated (the final two of the genus are Tasmanian specialities). They’re all sparrow-sized birds with a propensity for the upper reaches of eucalypts. They all have a white collar round the back of their necks and little else obvious from a distance to distinguish them.
I’d first encountered them when I’d set up camp in the evening but the following morning’s light helped me dismiss brown-headed straightaway for the birds’ lack of complete, white eye-ring. Then black-chinnned went… well, because they didn’t have black chins so that left me trying to discern a patch of eye crescent colour – red for white-naped; a pale something for white-throated. In fact the latter, as its name suggests, has far more of a chin and throat, leaving only a thin strip of black hood before the white collar kicks in; the white-naped looks far more bull-necked.
Those two distinctions clinched it for my 24th honeyeater and, at the time, my 979th world species. Amazingly, despite then travelling through the hinterland of southern Queensland, that was to be it for lifers for the better part of two days. My 2008/9 Australian travels were not all plain sailing.