The local bird-watching community is in a spin, with a flock of critically-endangered regent honeyeaters spotted near Cessnock a number of times over the past six weeks.
The flock of at least 20 birds was seen feeding on the nectar of flowering spotted gum trees on a Quorrobolong property that is monitored regularly by BirdLife Australia.
Up to 50 of the birds were present at the same site in 2012 — the last time regent honeyeaters were seen in such numbers anywhere.
BirdLife Australia’s Woodland Birds for Biodiversity project coordinator Mick Roderick said the latest sighting was a rare find.
“You just don’t see flocks of regent honeyeaters like this these days,” he said.
“The only place you’ll see a flock of more than 10 is around Cessnock, when the spotted gums start flowering.”
Mr Roderick said the forests around Cessnock are so important to regent honeyeaters, they have been recognised internationally as a key biodiversity area for the critically-endangered species.
The regent honeyeater is one of Australia’s most threatened bird species, with recent population estimates at 350-to-400 adult birds left in the world.
In November last year, a pair of adult regent honeyeaters was found at Kitchener by a member of the Hunter Bird Observers Club, and they were accompanied by a young bird — evidence that breeding had occurred somewhere nearby.
“This record illustrates just how important these spotted gum forests are for the survival of the regent honeyeaters, because they not only provide food in the winter, they’re also breeding sites in the spring,” Mr Roderick said.
The forest on the property is protected under a conservation agreement that was brokered by BirdLife Australia.
The organisation maintains a national database of sightings of regent honeyeaters. Anyone who sees one is encouraged to call (03) 9347 0757 or email email@example.com.