Friday, 13 May 2016

Bell Miner

When we first moved to our rural property in East Gippsland in 1976 there were no Bell Birds. We now have a colony that has been here for about 15 years. A long-time local told me that there used to be Bell Birds on the river for many years however they were either wiped out or moved during the disastrous 1965 fires. It took 35 years for a new colony to establish after the fires. The new colony has increased in size over the past 15 years and while the area they occupy has expanded, the location has not changed even though there is plenty of suitable habitat along the river.

The colony is located on the Nicholson River in a tall stand of dominant Manna Gums (E viminalis) and a smaller number of closely associated River Red Gum (E tereticornis), Apple Box (E bridgesiana) and Coast Grey Box (E bosistoana).

The Bell Miner (Manorina melannophrys) is a honeyeater. The Manorina genus includes three other species, the Noisy, Yellow-throated and Black-eared Miners. Like their cousins Bell Miners are colonial birds and aggressively defend territory however the Bell Miner is unique in that each colony occupies a relatively small well defined area where it feeds more or less exclusively on sugar produced by sap sucking insects called psyllids. The white crystalline structures produced by the psyllids are known as lerp.

Bell Miner, adult males and females look the same, the red triangle behind the eye is olive in juveniles.  
Tall Manna Gums near the centre of the Bell Bird colony’s area.

Bell Miners are well known birds in southeast Australia from Melbourne in the south to around Gympie in SE Queensland in the north. They are generally confined to the east side of the Dividing Range. Their loud bell like calls are distinctive and easily recognised however seeing the birds, even with binoculars, can be difficult even when there are large numbers calling close by. Their olive-green-yellow plumage blends in well with the eucalypt canopies they occupy.

Much has been written about Bell Miners so I will not include more details in this post but instead refer you the the following excellent blog posts:

The Following photos were taken during three sessions over the past couple of days.

Bell Miner eyeing off lerp – small white dots on eucalypt leaves.
I managed to catch this bird as it made its way along a branch to feed on lerp.
This photo managed to catch the bird with its tongue out.
Looking for lerp.
Still looking.
In this shot you can just see a lerp in the bird’s bill.
A lucky flight shot captured just as the perching bird flew.
A juvenile bird clumsily flew in to perch beside an adult.
The juvenile begged briefly. Was this just a ritual bonding behaviour or did the young bird expect to be fed?
No food was forthcoming so the juvenile departed leaving the adult to watch it go.

The chorus of bell calls generated by a large Bell Miner colony can be hard on the ears at times - a good thing this colony is some distance from our house.

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