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2 Jul: Little and large

Today started out as just a regular Monday – got into work, edited a manuscript, began my first meeting with Shawan Chowdhury, a highly talented PhD student working on migratory butterflies. Then at 1125 a text message came through from Elliot Leach that changed everything “Western Gerygone at Whites Hill right now!!!”

My mind was racing, but I didn’t need much time to decide what to do. I finished up the meeting, postponed my afternoon meeting until tomorrow, and rushed to UQ Lakes bus stop. I had parked the car in Camp Hill, so took the bus back there, dropped in at home to get my camera and then raced to Whites Hill, only a couple of kilometres from my house! Elliot Leach and Gus Daly were waiting for me at the car park, and we walked up the spot where Elliot had seen the bird earlier. We split up to search for the bird, and after a tense few minutes I heard it singing – YES!!!!!! But I had forgotten how much like Mangrove Gerygones they sound, especially the eastern subspecies exsul. Hearing it was good, but I really needed to see the bird and ideally register and photograph the salient features. Eventually the bird showed, but it really gave us the run-around, being quite mobile and always managing to stay behind leaves. I managed a few blurry pics but nothing really useful – there was clearly lots of white in the tail, and I had no doubt the bird was a Western, but I wanted some pics.

After a while we decided to move off for a bit and look at the Powerful Owl roost. Sure enough one bird was there, sleepily checking us out. Little and large were my two year ticks today. Back at the gerygone, Steve Murray had turned up, and had already located the bird. It showed on and off, but didn’t come close again. Eventually Elliot and Gus left, but soon after the bird did a close pass in front of Steve and I, and we finally got some half-decent pics – I add some ID notes under the photos below. Michael Daley showed up shortly after and also enjoyed some good views but endured a frustrating time with the camera, with the bird sticking to cover and by now becoming a little elusive.

At about 3pm, I called it a day, the bird still showing and singing intermittently. What an amazing record – the first documented Brisbane record that I know of. Astounding, and huge kudos to Elliot for working his local patches (Moorhen Flats and Whites Hill) diligently over the weeks and months. Patch birding pays off once again!

With two year ticks today, my year list surged forward to 288 species. I spent 2 hours 31 minutes birding, walked 2.743 km and drove 19.4 km. My chronological year list is here.

Noticeable in this pic is the blood-red eye, and the thick, black lores (area between the eye and the bill), which contrasts with the thin whitish supercilium that doesn’t reach beyond the eye (unlike in Mangrove Gerygone). Also of interest, although I’m not sure if it’s an ID feature are the pale edges to the secondaries, which form a panel on the closed wing. Extensive white is visible on the uppertail even though the tail is closed, unlike any other gerygone species.

The changed angle of the bill in this pic renders the black lores much less visible, but the pale wing panel, and white in the uppertail base are still noticeable.

The blood-red eye shows well in this pic, not the brownish-tinged red of Mangrove Gerygone, also the almost-complete white eye-ring.

The undertail shows a very distinctive pattern unlike any other gerygone – with a broad black band contrasting with the gleaming white undertail coverts, and white distal half of the tail feathers, which are tipped black. Only Brown Gerygone approaches this black / white pattern in the undertail.

Although the tail is unfortunately partially obscured in this pic, the uppertail pattern can be pieced together. The tail feathers have a whitish base, then a broad black band, white subterminal spots and finally brown tips. This pattern is unique among gerygones – in particular, Mangrove Gerygone doesn’t show pale bases to the uppertail feathers.