A silvery fluting drifts across the heath and enters your consciousness like fragments of a half-remembered dream. You listen harder but the fragments escape. The notes waft about, coming and going. You scan the surrounding shrubs but there’s no knowing which way the sound comes from.
As it turns out, the song comes from high above. Look carefully and you might see a tiny speck in the sky, rising higher and higher on fluttering wings before spiralling back to earth. The male Tawny-crowned Honeyeater is proclaiming his territory in preparation for nesting.
Grassland birds like songlarks, pipits, bushlarks and the introduced skylark are well known for their song-flights. So too are shorebirds that breed in the treeless Arctic. A surprising number of honeyeater species also display in this manner. The Pied, Painted, White-fronted and Spiny-cheeked readily come to mind. These four are found in the arid or semi-arid interior where the wide open landscape seems particularly suited to singing from aloft.
The Tawny-crowned is a bird of dense shrubs and open spaces. Its domain is in the wide expanses of low heathland, whether in coastal or mountain environments or further inland in the mallee regions of southern and western Australia.
It was on a windswept ridge in the upper Blue Mountains that I saw them displaying last week. July may be the coldest month of winter here but the days are getting longer, which spurs many non-migratory birds to start nesting. The Tawny-crowned Honeyeater is one such species. Its nesting season extends from July to February.
You can listen to a beautiful example of the Tawny-crowned Honeyeater’s song on Graeme Chapman’s website [click here].