Saturday, September 5, 2009

Meliphaga lewinii

Lewin's Honeyeaters are plentiful at our place at this time of year. The nectar of Gevillia seems to be their food of choice, but they also can be seen at other times eating insects and fruit from flowering trees including the mandarins that we have here in abundance in winter. They get themselves into all kinds of positions to take best advantage of the nectar of Grevillia flowers.



They seem to hold the same territory year round and advertise it through a distinctive loud rolling staccato “machine-gun” like chattering which they call often during the day. They breed during September to January. The nest is a large cup of vegetation and other materials, bound together with spider web and lined with soft material. The two to three oval eggs are incubated for about 14 days and the young birds leave the nest after a further 14 days. It is unclear what roles each parent performs in nest building and incubation, but both care for the young birds.

Lewin's Honeyeaters are named after artist John Lewin (1770 – 27 August 1819), who was born in England and arrived in the colony of New South Wales on 11 January 1800 on the ship 'Minerva', becoming the first resident professional artist in the colony. He published Birds of New Holland with their Natural History in 1808 in London. An 1813 edition made up from cast-off prints and pulls, was the first illustrated book to be engraved and printed in Australia. Birds of New South Wales, of which thirteen copies have survived, is considered one of the great Australian bibliographic rarities. Some of his watercolours are now held by the State Library of New South Wales.

He died in Sydney on 27 August 1819 leaving a widow and a son. His tombstone can be found at Botany Bay Cemetery.

His background as a natural history artist made Lewin an acute observer of the reality of the Australian landscape and its fauna and flora: critic Robert Hughes comments that he was the first to record the distinct 'look' of Australia without being blinded by European art conventions, and according to art historian Bernard Smith, "Lewin grasped the nature of the eucalyptus, its light translucent foliage through which the horizon may be seen, and the nature of the slender and feathery grasses of the interior. He succeeded, too, in portraying an authentic bush atmosphere."

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