Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Bellbirds, Lerp and Dieback

Heard any Bellbirds around Drouin of late?

There are three or four bushland locations within or adjacent to urban Drouin, where these endemic honeyeaters are easy to find – or at least to hear, because quite often it is their sweet bell-like call, (Graeme Chapman - external link), that gives away their presence.
Bell Miner - often heard more than seen.
Bell Miners gather in large social groups, sometimes up to 200 strong, and aggressively defend their feeding territories, often chasing off much larger birds than themselves and peculiarly, often including species that offer no competition to them at all!    
Feeding on lerp - those little white spots.

They prefer dense eucalypt habitat with plenty of undergrowth and recently I encountered a colony busily feeding in the old Drouin Nature Reserve in Pryor Rd.

The Old Drouin Nature Reserve is excellent Bell Miner habitat.

Bell Miners feed largely on lerp, the ‘protective’ sugary coating of the leaf eating insect called psyllid, (Birdlife – external link). The jury is out at the moment, but some research suggests that the birds actually farm the food source by just taking the lerp and leaving the psyllid to survive and excrete a new sugary coating.
A psyllid, (look closely), and plenty of lerp.
Over time, the leaf eater population builds up and may eventually defoliate the tree – a form of dieback, (Bell Miner Associated Dieback working group – external link). The Bell Miner colony then moves on to ‘fresh fields and pastures new’.

Aint nature grand?

“And, softer than slumber, and sweeter than singing,
the notes of the bell-birds are running and ringing.”
-        Henry Kendall (1869) – external link.

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