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Irongate Conservation Park

Mystery flycatcher (read more about this bird in the article) Photo: Sue Mcilwraith

This wonderful conservation block near Pittsworth is always worth a visit – and this was our third time! Ironically the good season has made bird watching a bit more of a challenge….

Heading off Photo: Scot McPhie
Irongate Survey Sites

Being forced to juggle our schedule around we decided to visit Irongate as the Bunya’s trip has to happen a little bit later.

After all the rain we were expecting an abundance of birds ~ and there was – but seeing them was all that much harder because there’s more undergrowth and the birds aren’t forced to come close to paths to get any remaining seed.

It was still a very enjoyable morning and we surveyed our established sites there (see pic above) with the following birds sighted:

Australasian Figbird Sphecotheres vieilloti

Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike Coracina novaehollandiae

Cockatiel Nymphicus hollandicus

Double-barred Finch Taeniopygia bichenovii

Galah Eolophus roseicapilla

Golden Whistler Pachycephala pectoralis

Grey Butcherbird Cracticus torquatus

Grey Fantail Rhipidura fuliginosa

Magpie-lark Grallina cyanoleuca

Noisy Miner Manorina melanocephala

Pale-headed Rosella Platycercus adscitus

Peaceful Dove Geopelia placida

Pied Currawong Strepera graculina

Silvereye Zosterops lateralis

Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater Acanthagenys rufogularis

Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis

Striped Honeyeater Plectorhyncha lanceolata

Superb Fairy-wren Malurus cyaneus

Torresian Crow Corvus orru

Variegated Fairy-wren Malurus lamberti

Weebill Smicrornis brevirostris

Willie Wagtail Rhipidura leucophrys

Peaceful dove and Double barred finches Photo: Sue Mcilwraith
Variegated fairywren – Purple backed sub species Photo: Sue Mcilwraith
Australiasian figbird Photo: Sue Mcilwraith
Path Photo: Scot McPhie
Striped honeyeater Photo: Sue Mcilwraith
Mistletoe bird Photo: Rob Eckersley
Irongate panorama Photo: Scot McPhie
Photo: Sue Mcilwraith

This Flycatcher was spotted after we completed the sightings, and were having morning tea. It’s identity (Satin or Leaden) sparked a lot of discussion afterwards, firstly Roger made these observations:

  1. Because it is a strongly migratory species, Satin Flycatcher could turn up in a wide range of places and so a record from Irongate is, in that context, possible. Leaden also is migratory and may turn up much farther inland than Satin.
  1. Regardless of what the distribution maps suggest, Satin Flycatcher is very rarely recorded (confident, verified records) in the Toowoomba region (less than one record every 3 years perhaps), and likewise SEQ generally though perhaps more often in coastal ranges. Although breeding in the high altitude wet sclerophyll forests of SEQ is stated to occur, there would be precious few confirmed records because the species seems to be mainly a passage migrant to southern Australia. Records as far out as Irongate would be possible on migration although unusual in terms of habitat.
  1. It is possible to identify males of Satin and Leaden Flycatcher with a decent view and a few good photos, For example, if Sue’s excellent photo was instead of a male, the underside of the tail would be grey (Leaden) or blackish (Satin) and shape of the breast demarcation would be inverted. Identification of the females is far more difficult and I suggest that a confirmed record would depend on a combination of characters all lining up. I have seen some long debates over photos of female Myiagra flycatchers locally, usually being put down eventually as Leaden, and given the rarity of Satins, a confirmed record really needs to be utterly convincing.
  1. Although I have seen both species around Toowoomba and elsewhere, and have contemplated prospective ID of female Satins, I am no expert on these. But I would be reluctant to make a claim of Satin Flycatcher in southern Queensland based on a female-plumaged bird unless all the key characters matched expectations as per say The Australian Bird Guide (ABG). Even then I would seek a peer review.
  2. The photographed bird does appear to have buff edges to some wing feathers although the light can be tricky; according to ABG, this is a good basis for starting to consider Satin Flycatcher as the correct ID, so, well done to those who picked this up.
  3. However, the ABG character “diagnostic blue sheen on crown” does not match the photo
  4. and also “upperparts are darker grey than Leaden” does not match the photo.
  5. The undertail also is possibly too pale for Satin female.
  6. Even allowing for some effect of the strong light, the upperparts look like a typical Leaden female.
  7. I wonder if the pale bill base indicates a young bird, which may (unhelpfully) impact some of the features.
  1. Photos from other angles may help resolve the identity, but on the evidence available, I don’t think the case is sufficiently convincing.
Photo: Sue Mcilwraith

Nicci made these observations “I agree with the points Roger has listed. I think the neat glossy black cap of the female Satin would be evident in at least some of Sue’s photos, but it’s not. I also think the orange brownish wash on the throat and chest is deeper in the Satin than in the Leaden.”

Photo: Sue Mcilwraith

Roger also sought the advice of a friend who had this to say:

“Afraid I am no expert on this difficult group, and when confronted with a female phase of this group – seen under suboptimal conditions (which sadly now includes my eyesight) – I will a lot of the time record it as “unidentified” Myiagra sp. (Leaden or Satin, female phase)”, which is my advice with regard to this individual.

The lack of darker sheen on the crown rules out adult female Satin. The fleshy orange base to lower mandible I would have thought, like you, means it is probably a first year bird, an ”immature”.

I refer you to Graeme Chapman’s excellent website where he devotes much space to the ID difficulties of the two spp: http://www.graemechapman.com.au/library/viewphotos.php?c=181&pg=1

There he concludes, “ Immatures are virtually indistinguishable”.

Graeme concluded that only measurements of birds in the hand would allow one to be 100% confident of IDs of female phase birds.

The standard set for acceptance of sight records outside of a species’ known/customary range needs to be a “high bar”, near 100% certain – this bird cannot be conclusively identified in my opinion.”

Photo: Sue Mcilwraith

So in conclusion: we don’t know!

It’s most likely a Leaden flycatcher, but because we can’t be sure we can’t add it to our sighting list.

On the way home I filmed a mixed flock of parrots in a sorghum crop – there were Pale headed rosellas, Red rumped parrots and Blue bonnets all having a happy time – here’s a little of the footage:

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