Two bird photographs from my walk around Magnetic Island in June have languished on my hard drive ever since, waiting for an ID. In cases like this I usually spend some time going through references online or on paper then, if that doesn’t give me a result, ask the appropriate Friendly Local Expert (FLE). FLE’s are wonderful people, putting up with some very ordinary questions (I’m sure) for nothing more than the pleasure of sharing their passion for ants, sap-sucking insects, or (as in this case) birds. This bird was my problem:
It was foraging in the forest canopy like a small honeyeater, but wasn’t any honeyeater that I knew (and its beak looked wrong for that family, anyway). Its neutral plumage wasn’t giving much away except for the heavily streaked breast, and the pink beak was its only other unusual feature. If I can’t even make a good guess at the family (and then check the relevant pages of Slater’s Field Guide), the Bird Finder at Birds in Backyards is often the next step but in this case I couldn’t give the finder enough identifying features.
When I had to ask my FLE about the very similar bird at Alligator Creek (previous post), I included my Island bird in the question; I thought it might even be the same species. It wasn’t, but it is a fairly close relation since both are in the family Pachycephalidae, the Whistlers or Thickheads.
My Island bird is, in fact, a young Rufous Whistler, Pachycephala rufiventris. Juveniles are often harder to identify than adults because so many of them are camouflaged to avoid predators. If this youngster is female, she won’t look much different when she grows up – the main difference is that the beak will be black instead of pink, as seen here. If he’s a male, the difference will be far more striking, as seen here.