Nowadays, it is rare that a new species of bird is discovered and rarer still that a discovery is made near a major town.
In 1975, the Australian and Queensland Museums conducted a joint rainforest study in the central coastal region of eastern Queensland. One of the study sites was in the Clarke Range, about 65km west of Mackay. There are well-known birdwatching localities to the south (Rockhampton) and north (Townsville) of this region, both of which are on the major highway. The intervening region seemingly offered few ornithological attractions. Clarke Range was just far enough off the beaten track that birdwatchers didn't bother making the detour, and the area's ornithology was not well studied.
A specimen of a bird obtained from Clarke Range during the 1975 study was lodged in the Australian Museum collection and labeled with the name Meliphaga frenata, the Bridled Honeyeater. According to field guides, this was the species that occurred in the Clarke Range area, extending northwards through the Atherton Tablelands.
The following year Wayne Longmore was working in the Australian Museum collection, sorting the honeyeater specimens. After examining the Clarke Range bird, he realised that it was not a Bridled Honeyeater as labelled; indeed, it was not a species that matched any in the books. This inspired him to begin research into the identity of the mystery bird. He found that little ornithological work had been carried out in the Clarke Range. One of the few trips for which there were published details took place in 1959. This publication had subsequently become the source of the distributional information found in field guides. The authors had captured a bird that they identified as a Bridled Honeyeater and included a photograph of it with their article. Wayne saw that from the photograph it was obvious that the identification was wrong - the bird was not a Bridled Honeyeater at all. The bird in the photograph, like that in the Museum drawer, had an all black bill. The bill of the Bridled Honeyeater has a black base and a yellow front half. Somehow this important point had been missed by everyone who had seen this picture - except Wayne.
Wayne, by now employed at the Museum, worked with other staff to organise an expedition to Clarke Range to search for the misidentified black-billed bird. An initial trip in 1978 and a subsequent one in 1980 found the birds to be relatively common in a small localised area at high altitudes. Wayne and Walter Boles described it in 1983, officially naming it as Meliphaga hindwoodi (now Lichenostomus hindwoodi) in honor of Keith A Hindwood, prominent Sydney birdwatcher, honorary Australian Museum ornithologist and Wayne's childhood mentor. They gave it the common name of Eungella (pronounced yungella) Honeyeater, after the small township of Eungella (an Aboriginal word meaning 'mountains of the mist'), which is perched on the edge of the Clarke Range escarpment. The Eungella Honeyeater was one of last new species of birds discovered in Australia.
Dr Walter Boles , Senior Fellow