Welcome to the News section of the iNSiGHT Ornithology website (
www.simoncherriman.com). This blog contains updates about various things I've been up to, interesting environmental issues and observations I make regularly while going about my day. It is designed to be fun AND educational, and inspire you about our wonderful natural world. Happy reading!

Thursday, 29 December 2011

An Endangered Cockatoo


Three years ago I spent a day hoisting a nest-box designed for Black-Cockatoos high into a Karri tree at my friend Jeff’s block near the Porongurup Range. The box was made partly from Form Ply scavenged from a skip bin, partly from Jeff’s Nanna’s old wardrobe, and was over a metre deep. On that day back in November 2008, just as I’d fixed the box in place, a pair of Carnaby’s Cockatoos flew in, passed the box and landed in a nearby Karri. Then one of them climbed down and entered a vertical slit-shaped hollow in the side, and it turned out to have a chick inside! I was worried that ‘my’ new box was too close to an existing nest, and would never be used.

A trip back to Jeff’s block was on the cards for New Year’s Eve 2011. A friend of ours who owns another bush block nearby had reported seeing a pair of Carnaby’s Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus latirostris) perched near the box and chewing its hollow front a year earlier. Jeff arrived yesterday and gave me a call to say that he had also seen a pair of cockies roosting above the box. They arrived just after sunset and were very vocal early the next morning. I was itching with excitement!


We arrived down at the block about lunchtime today, and I soon got out my climbing gear and set up a rope to the first big limb, below the nest box. I ignored the bark-scrapes to my legs as I began the climb, eager to reach the box. I made it to the first limb but still needed to throw a rope over the limb above the box in order to reach it safely. This took about ten attempts and nearly made my arm collapse with tiredness! Eventually the coil hit the spot and I changed ropes and carried on upwards. I was now level with the box. I then stepped onto a thick limb, feeling the cool sensation of Karri bark on my bare foot, and reached around the main trunk with my safety line. It wouldn’t reach, so I glanced down to gather more slack.

Something was crawling on my foot. At first I just experienced the sensation of six little legs touching my soul, but then, as I pivoted my foot upwards, the body shape of the insect was clear. It was a BULL ANT! I’d copped many a bite from these critters before, not the sort of welcome to the canopy I wanted! I flicked my foot, and he clung on. He walked down toward my toes. I rolled my foot sideways, hoping he would fall of the side, but he climbed around the edge of my foot and carried on across my soul. I flicked again, and he moved over my heel. Get OFF!! My hands weren’t free and there was no way of flicking him off. I pressed my leg up against the tree and he climbed off onto the bark. Wheeeew! Nearly got a bite there! Now for the box.

The instant I opened the lid I just knew there was something exciting to find. I heard a raucous, irritated gargle shoot up at me from within the box. I peered in... and there she was. Deep inside her nest-box home, a Carnaby’s Cockatoo chick. THRILLING! The pale bill told me she was a female. The joys of making homes for wildlife out of human rubbish... and having an endangered species move in.

What a perfect way to end the year :-)


Friday, 23 December 2011

Sly Scrubwren


Have you ever had a bird build a nest REALLY close to your house? I’ve had many a conversation with observant friends who have told me stories of honeyeaters and doves nesting in a lone pot-plant on their verandah. But nothing like this amazing find today...

My mum’s good friend, who lives at the edge of John Forrest National Park, had phoned to say she’d found a mystery bird nest by her back door. She has for a long time had many wrens, thornbills, silvereyes and honeyeaters living in the dense shrubbery around her house, so initially this wasn’t surprising. But the curious thing was, the nest was built between a ceramic plant pot and a wooden shelf in her pot-plant stand! When sneaking a peak into the nest to try and see what was in it, a blur of grey and brown shot past her left eye and disappeared. Charlotte wondered what species this was... and as I happened to be visiting her this afternoon, we investigated.

When I saw the bulky nest, a largish ball woven from grasses, leaves and spider egg-cases with a hidden entrance in the side, I knew it belonged to a wren or a thornbill. It was so well hidden, crammed in behind some overhanging ivy leaves, but I managed to poke my finger in and feel two small, warm eggs inside. Then, thinking back to some of the nests I’d found in my life, I had an inkling it was that of a White-browed Scrub-wren (Sericornis frontalis) - it was the right size at least and in just the right sort of hidden hidey-hole. But Charlotte hadn’t seen these birds near her house before, and come to think of it, nor had I. Maybe it was just a Splendid Fairy-wren (Malurus splendens). There were heaps of these hopping around the birdbath.

Then, just as I was doubting my gut instinct, a small bird hopped into view and perched on a plant pot right near the nest - a White-browed Scrub-wren! It chirruped with suspicion and hopped closer to inspect its nest after our curious prodding. Then, just as we backed away from the window, it returned to the entranced and popped into the nest. Perfect fit!

Another amazing little episode of the ‘barrier’ between the natural world and humanity breaking. As it should.

Click here to read about Scrub-wrens in Parkerville earlier this year.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Recycling Wood


Today felt like an early Christmas for me as I went down to collect a present from the construction site at the Great Eastern/Roe Highway intersection. Lots of concrete work has been happening there over the last 6 months, and this means one thing - lots of plywood!

When making bridges/beams/onramps/ and all the other parts of a large highway overpass, construction workers use special timber or ‘Form Ply’ to build moulds for their desired structure before pouring in the concrete. Once the concrete has set, the wood gets removed, and unfortunately much of this goes to landfill. I’ve salvaged many a piece of this valuable timber from skip-bins and roadside collections to make nest-boxes with, as it is waterproof and lasts years.

Earlier this year I rang Macmahon, the contractor in charge of all the building at the G.E./Roe Highway site, to ask if they would be interested in donating some of their waste timber to an environmental cause. They were very happy to give me 15 sheets of Form Ply which I plan to use to construct nest boxes for wildlife. I’ve been building these for over 15 years and have had a great deal of success with native birds using them (see other entries in this News section).

Nest boxes can be an important way of restoring habitat for threatened species including Carnaby’s and Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos, who require large hollows in which to breed. Such hollows take at least 100 years, usually longer, to form naturally,

I believe that one of the most important things about nest boxes is they give people, especially those in urban areas, an opportunity to encourage local native species to make homes in their gardens, learn about them, take ownership of those animals, and ultimately develop a connection with the environment which results in conservation outcomes.

“We only care about what we love, and we only love what we know.”

My plan is to design many boxes from the Macmahon Form Ply, then organise an educational project where I can take the material to 50 local schools, build boxes with the school children, and install their box up a tree in the school. That way, hopefully children can take ownership of ‘their’ nest box, and keep track of what fauna uses it. Watch this website for forthcoming news.

Click here to see pictures of a large nest-box for Black-Cockatoos I built and installed in a Eucalypt at my parents’ property in 2008.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Airport Turtles


An excavator driver got a surprise when he went to fill in a ditch near the main runway at Perth Airport last week as he saw something in his bucket moving - a turtle! You may be surprised to hear that a thriving wetland could exist next to the constant din of aircraft coming and going. But it could and it did! No matter how humans modify their environment, nature always carries on  - everything is an ecosystem.  

I received an urgent call to help out and see if I could trap as many turtles as possible from the ditch so they could proceed with filling, which was necessary for runway modifications. So first thing this morning, with bucket and gumboots in tow, I drove down and met with airport staff at the runway gate. After a brief induction I was escorted onto the runway by a orange-flashing safety vehicle and shown the ditch in question. As the blast of a landing aircraft faded, sounds of Clicking Froglets (Crinia georgiana) filled my eardrums. A female Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa) frantically swam across the ditch with her five ducklings as a Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis mollucca) alighted from the bank. I noticed how high the water level was and counted a few native grasses and sedges as well as many weeds, all thriving at the water’s edge. An ecosystem! Bustling.

I ended up spending about five hours wading through the ditch, foraging through the knee-deep water with my hands and sifting waterweed with my fingers for tortoises. The reward was NINE Oblong Turtles (Chelodina oblonga), all having a shell length of less than 20 cm! Like most members of their family, these tortoises probably live for many decades, and even the small ones I found are likely to be quite old and valuable to the population.

Just as I was about to drive ‘my’ animals to a new home, my phone rang and the lady at the security office had found another LARGE turtle crossing the road in need of rescue. So this one, which had a shell length of nearly 40 cm (see photos below), was added to my collection! I then took my turtle haul to a nearby swamp for a safe release into their new home. Until next year’s rains bring about their wandering to another ditch. Hopefully not near the runway though.


Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Cataby Christmas Critters


Nature always finds a way to colonise even those areas which, from a first glance, seem devoid of creatures! The Banksia heathlands about 200 km north of Perth are one such place. While heading through Muchea, Regans Ford, Cataby or Eneabba, you may have looked out the window of your car to see endless low shrubbery extending to the horizon, mostly barren at this time of year. But did you know that there can be more plant species in one hundred square metres of this habitat than in the whole of Europe? And to follow the flora’s rich diversity, the animals here, too, are varied and vibrant.

I’ve just returned from a fauna survey in this region where we were trapping reptiles and small mammals to monitor numbers of different species as part of a long-term study. Even this late in the season, when many creatures are winding down their activities as the heat of Birak (early summer) approaches, there was still much to see. Here are some pictures of some of the more unusual creatures which you may not expect to live in this environment:

Black-naped Snake Neelaps bimaculatus
These snakes are NOT POISONOUS! They are totally harmless, having a sharp snout perfectly suited to their life of burrowing through the sand feeding on termites and other invertebrates. We caught 2 in a pitfall trap.

Javelin Lizard Delma concinna
 This may look like a snake but it’s NOT! It is in fact a legless lizard (you can tell because unlike snakes it has an ear opening and it’s tongue is not forked). They can often be seen coiled on top of a bush basking in the sun.

Turtle Frog Myobatrachus gouldii
UGLY!, you’re probably thinking. Well, I kind of agree, but I am of the mindset that everything has its place. This amazing looking animal lives deep in the sand and comes out to move around after rainfall. If you’re lucky enough to see one you might notice they prefer walking to hopping, which seems funny for a frog.

Gecko Lucasium alboguttatum
I think he looks like he has a big grin on his face - do you agree!? This amazing gecko can be found foraging of the mindset that everything has its place. This amazing looking animal lives deep in the sand and comes out to move around after rainfall. If you’re lucky enough to see one you might notice they prefer walking to hopping, which seems funny for a frog.

Brown Honeyeater Lichmera indistincta
 This GORGEOUS chick was still blind and naked when I found him and his sibling in the tiny nest above, dangling about 1m above the ground in a Beaufortia shrub. Just four days later he was almost fully feathered and sat on the edge of the nest begging for food! His sibling (out of view behind) was taking up all the room in the nest and looking just as developed. The total nestling period is about ten days.

Noolbenger Tarsipes rostratus
 Clinging to my finger with all his might, this Noolbenger (or Honeypossum in English) was half asleep when I lifted him from the pitfall trap. This truly adorable, delicate mammal can be found anywhere in the south-west where their is an abundance of nectar-producing flowers. The Noolbenger is nocturnal and arboreal, climbing around the shrubs and trees with ease as it drinks nectar with its very long tongue.


    
 

Monday, 28 November 2011

Konnect with the Kimberley


Today I finished cutting this short clip of footage shot on the 2011 Australian Geographic Scientific Expedition. This video is designed to 1) inspire you about wildlife of this spectacular corner of Australia, and 2) come and see these amazing sights for yourself on the next trip with AG in 2012!!
I would like to thank the fabulous West Australian musician Dave Mann for letting me use his music.

If you like what you see and you are keen to register for the trip to El Questro in 2012, visit www.australiangeographic.com.au and click the ‘Expeditions’ tab for more information.


Kimberley from Simon Cherriman on Vimeo.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Eagle Education


Today I had the privilege of giving a talk and educational workshop about Wedge-tailed Eagles at Avon Vale Primary School in Northam. One of the benefits of working for Millennium Kids is I am able to be creative with my education sessions. So to get the children really inspired and give them the most practical experience possible, I designed a workshop where they had to build an eagle nest! What better way can you teach children to appreciate how clever birds are by using their beaks to build than getting the kids to use their hands for the same task?

I showed up at the school with a ute full of large sticks (conveniently our backyard stick pile needed moving before our upcoming rent inspection!) and made a big pile near the school oval. After a brief powerpoint presentation on eagle biology in the classroom, I took the children outside and asked them to think about how eagles build nests. They’d seen many pictures during my presentation so already knew the nest had to be large, stable, and lined with green leaves. We even found the perfect tree: a Eucalypt with a nice,  large fork low to the ground. But the challenge arose when it came to working out how to get the thing to stay together!

The group of Avon Vale children were excellent and were soon working together to construct their eagle nest, weaving sticks tightly and discussing the best approach to stop the nest from falling apart. Even though the fork was low down, I still had to get them a couple of chairs so they could reach up and add the finishing branches and green lining.


After the nest was complete, the children had to do a bone-identification activity - just like real eagle diet research! I hid lots of bones in and around the completed eagle nest, and the idea was for the children to collect the bones and identify them using life-size, laminated photos of all the bones. They did brilliantly and managed to tell the difference between left and right Kangaroo legs, and many smaller rabbit bones. The final result was 5 Rabbits, 2 young Kangaroos, and 1 Australian Raven. What a meal!

There is definitely no better way to learn than hands on!

If you like the sound of this activity and would like me to visit your school, please email me for a quote.

 

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Rapid Ringnecks


Parrots grow so fast! The Australian Ringneck or ’28’ (Barnadius zonarius) is one of the most common birds in the south west of WA. This species has readily used nest boxes in my garden for the last 5 years or so, and this year I have two boxes with birds nesting. The funny thing is that one pair has moved in to my Black Cockatoo nest box which, you could say, is a bit on the large side for a small parrot!

While climbing down from the Raven’s nest in the dark after retrieving my GoPro camera, I swung my climbing rope and positioned myself above the vertical entrance to the box, just to have a look. When I shone my head-torch into the box I was surprised to see this female Ringneck incubating her eggs (below). This is the second time the birds (presumably the same pair) have nested in this location - talk about deep down!

  
I discovered five white eggs in another of my nest boxes a few weeks later. This box had last year housed my first successful family of Red-capped Parrots, and I was somewhat disappointed not to have the less common species return (although they did nest again nearby). Nevertheless, I still got that feeling of excitement to know that something had decided to nest in a box made from entirely recycled material.

I kept track of the Ringnecks’ progress in this box over the following weeks to show you just how quickly the chicks grow. Unfortunately I left my camera behind on one occasion when I climbed to find the chicks when they were only a week or so old. Incredibly the female Ringneck stayed with her young as I peered into the box with amazement, perplexed by her behaviour. Anyway, here’s some shots from the visits where I did have my camera. The whole nesting event lasted about 2 months.
 

29th September:

 

26th October:



3rd November:


11th November:

  

 

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Urban Eagle Success!


Another southward journey took me past the Pylon Eagles early this morning, but the nest appeared empty. This seemed to confirm the observations of another eagle enthusiast Glenn (who had also been keep tabs on this amazing nesting event) that a young eagle he had seen on the nest has now fledged.
On my way home this afternoon I stopped again to have a better look, and noticed THREE eagles at the nest! Closer observation revealed that two of the eagles were in fact juveniles, being watched closely by one parent as they fed on a fresh kill on the nest platform. This told me that the Pylon Eagles have indeed been successful, rearing two young to fledge for the 2011 breeding season! This behaviour is part of the normal ‘post fledging period’, where newly fledged eaglets remain close to the nest and spend several months with their parents learning how to hunt. During this time, the eagles will often return to the nest and use it as a feeding platform, and sometimes to roost there at night.

I do have records of newly fledged eagles that live close to overhead wires being electrocuted (in fact I still have one carcass in my freezer), as their sometimes clumsy landings lead to wings touching two wires. This really emphasises the fragile balance that such ‘urban eagles’ are living. Let’s hope these two young birds (pictured below) do not suffer the same fate.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Roadside Raptors


Does the tree on the right hand side of the above picture catch your attention for any particular reason? Well, it caught mine!

Yesterday I was driving along this country road in WA’s Wheatbelt region when I spotted the enormous hollow in the side of this Salmon Gum. Having stopped to take a picture of a Gwarder snake crossing the road (see below), I heard a soft screeching sound of an Australian Kestrel - the sound the young make when being fed. Just as I looked up at the hollow tree, an adult kestrel emerged from the hole and flew away. A kestrel nest!

Fortunately the hollow was quite low to the ground, so I managed to park my car below and stand on the roof-rack. The contents: a beautiful female Australian Kestrel brooding young chicks! She seemed eager not to move anywhere, so I took a couple of photos and let her be.

And the best part? My mum was with me, and she managed to get on the roof and see inside too. It was fantastic to be able to share this with her :)




Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Raptors Out Back


And so on the first day of the new month I return to Perth after an amazing adventure into Australia’s interior. It lasted only three days but felt like we were out bush for weeks. Here’s how the story began...

Gill and I left Perth early in our car packed to the brim with camping, climbing and photographic equipment. Oh, and a bit of food. There was just enough room for us! It was still quiet as we turned onto Great Northern Highway and began the journey north, bound for Lorna Glen Conservation Reserve on the edge of the Gibson Desert. Our goal was raptor related: to begin a study of Wedge-tailed Eagles at Lorna Glen, and in particular find out if they were eating reintroduced mammals.

The Department of Environment and Conservation acquired Lorna Glen in 2000 and has been releasing endangered mammals  from Barrow Island in an effort to reestablish them in a landscape managed for conservation. Some species like Brushtail Possums (Trichosurus vulpecula), Golden Bandicoots (Isoodon obesulus) and Bilbies (Macrotis lagotis) have fared well in their new home, but others have had problems surviving. One possible reason for this is predation by raptors, especially wedgies, so that’s what we were going to investigate: what is the status of eagles at Lorna Glen, and to what extent might they eat our furry friends?

After the long drive of about 1200 km we arrived at the Lorna Glen homestead in the dark. It was exciting to drive down the entrance road knowing there was the possibility of seeing a Bilby cross the road in front of us! Galahs squawked outside in nearby River Redgums as they settled down for the night, and we settled into our bunks for a well-earned sleep.



We spent the follow three days exploring the amazing Mulga plains in search of Wedge-tailed Eagles nests, managing to find three in total. One of these was old and inactive, and one had been lined with leaves sometime in the last few months but was also inactive. While looking for any bones below this nest (left), Gill's keen eyes spotted a small pile of scats, which she knew belonged to a reptile. This led her to make a closer inspection of the large cracks in the nest tree (which you can see in the below photo), and our faces lit up when she spotted lizard hiding inside!

This gorgeous little reptile is known as Pygmy Spiney-tailed Skink (Egernia depressa). The species lives in arid regions of Australia and lives almost exclusively inside the cracks in trees, very often Acacias, staying hidden inside from predators. The spines on their tail are an adaptation which enable the animal to lodge inside a narrow cavity, preventing them from being removed by predators. Pygmy Skinks leave the protection of their hiding spots during the day to bask, and defecate in the same location, leaving a small pile of pooh (known as a 'latrine'). This was a great find, and we learned that the tall Gidgee trees which eagles build nests in are home to more than just wedgies!


On the third day we spotted a third eagle nest and hurried to check it out. As we approached the nest I could hear a loud yelping from nearby and we were excited to see a newly fledged juvenile eagle perched in a dead tree. He soon took off and began circling low overhead, and shortly afterwards was joined by his large, dark parents. We knew THIS nest had been active and were rewarded with a large quantity of prey remains below it which I later analysed to determine these eagles had fed upon a few Endangered mammals, including Mala and Golden Bandicoots. The next thing to determine whether the eagles killed enough of these species to harm their numbers.

The final day began exploring an area of tall Eucalypt trees in the hope we would locate another nest. We did - but this one belonged to Whistling Kites, not wedgies. Although it was not our specific target it still warranted a closer look, so I climbed the tree to find 2 small kite chicks and a freshly killed Galah on the nest. One of the kite chicks responded instantly to my movement and poked his head up to pose for this photo! (You can also see the freshly plucked Galah carcass in the background).


This find had us filled with enthusiasm to find more nests, but we had some disturbing news on the radio which caused an end to our trip. There was a storm coming... a big one... and we had to make the spare-of-the-moment decision to either leave ASAP, or be stuck out here for 2-3 weeks. In the arid region of Western Australia, a dumping of 20 mm of rain makes the ground turn to slush and brings a halt to anyone wishing to drive vehicles around. It then takes quite a few weeks of fine weather to dry the ground out enough to drive on again.

Seeing as Gill and I both had commitments back in Perth within the next week, we had no choice but to pack up and leave. After a hurried session of cramming all our gear into the car, we joined 2 other teams of scientists and headed for Wiluna, hoping to beat the rains. We didn't hold much hope though after seeing the sky ahead of us becoming blacker by the minute...


The rain began about 80 km to Wiluna where we hoped to reach the safety of a bitumenised road. Puddles in the road gutters turned to large pools and eventually fast-flowing rivers and the rain increased and lightning lashed the sky overhead. I felt a slight hint of reassurance knowing that we were in a convoy with other cars who had towing equipment, but I was still slightly nervous at the thought of the rising water. Then, 30 km from Wiluna the road turned into one, GIANT puddle! Here's my point of view looking out the window:


This sight was initially very daunting but after a few metres we realised that although waterlogged, the substrate was still quite firm and my car motored along through the 'river road' easily. I felt like I was driving a dingy up some isolated river in the Kimberley! This stretch lasted for several hundred metres, then there were some 'dry' patches, more water, lots of mud, and finally we reached the bitumen.

It was an amazing way to travel out from the 'desert', proving that our ever-changing environment is unpredictable and can turn roads into rivers in the blink of an eye. The eagle research may have been cut short, but I plan to return next year to carry out more nest searches and increase the understanding of my totem animal, the Wedge-tailed Eagle, in this outback wonderland.

To check out pictures of more wildlife and landscapes at Lorna Glen, check this album in my Photo Gallery.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Sudden Death


I don’t have lots to say here as I am still quite saddened. But today I had the terrible news that all Red-cap chicks in the box have gone - most probably taken by Ravens. We had some very strong easterly winds over the last few days, and my mum noticed the lid of the nest box was open. She had also seen ravens hanging around the box a lot (I was away in the field), so it seems these are likely to be the guilty predators. Ravens are very smart birds and it wouldn’t surprise me if they worked out how to open the lid.

I have taken the box down for repairs and plan on installing a catch to prevent this from happening again.

RIP Red-caps :(

Monday, 24 October 2011

New Arrivals!


After 24 days of incubation, the dedication of the female Red-capped Parrot in my Parkerville nest box was rewarded by the company of her adorable offspring over the weekend. The first of the young hatched on Saturday, with 2 more arriving yesterday and one more today. The final egg should hatch tomorrow - completing the clutch of fluffy white cottonballs inside the cozy nestbox.

Young parrots start of with a fine covering of white downy fluff, but develop rapidly and make an amazing transformation as they adopt the bright coloured plumage of their parents.

Keep track of this blog to watch this happen over the coming weeks.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Ibis - an update


Today I revisited the Straw-necked Ibis colony in the Pinjarra region, which had well and truly progressed since mid-September. While a few nests still had eggs, most contained nestling ibis of various ages, including some that were nearly ready to fly. Among those I found was this gorgeous looking creature (har har!). When I first looked at him the saying ‘only a mother could love him’ came to mind. But then I felt sorry for him and began to appreciate the beauty of his spiky hair and delicate wings.

The Black Swan nest was empty and swimming nearby were 5 fluffy cygnets, under the careful watch of the two swans which fluted continuously at my presence. Such richness of life at this amazing wetland.

More photos in the last few pages of this album.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Check you pool filter boxes!


Today I just HAPPENED to lift the lid of the filter box on my parents’ pool and found a frog in distress. The filter was whirring, sucking the water downwards where leaves and debris were trapped inside the filter basket. And at the edge of the basket, underwater, was a large Motorbike Frog (Litoria mooreii). The frog’s long legs were not quite strong enough to swim him upwards... but the filter’s whirlpool was not strong enough to suck him completely to the bottom. The poor fella was in limbo - stuck in a whirlpool!

So I reached in and lifted him to freedom, and let him ‘catch his breathe’ before I released him in my revegetated wetland (formerly a ‘dam’), and snapped the below photo. Note the big smile on his face which says he loves his new home! You can also see how much his skin colour has changed after being transferred from the pale pool surface to the leaves and logs of the wetland which are much darker.


Many people may not realise that although happy underwater, frogs are amphibians and still need to breathe air. From now on the spring and summer nights are getting warmer, making resident Motorbike Frogs start moving around (they are usually Summer breeders). If you have a pool, then naturally these creatures will be attracted to water, and could quite easily end up in the same predicament as mine did.

So the message is - keep your filters under close eye.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Some Cuckoo Thornbills


Does this baby bird look too big for its nest? That’s because it is!

I had a quiet afternoon stroll along the bridal trail between Parkerville and Stoneville yesterday, and there were birds everywhere! Honeyeaters, wrens, thornbills, parrots, ravens, magpies, whistlers. The air was alive with their song. As I walked I glanced into nearby shrubs, keeping my eyes peeled for birds’ nests. And then I spotted this one: a tiny, domed nest with a side-entrance which I knew straight away belonged to an Inland Thornbill (Acanthiza apicalis). When I peered in closer to inspect the nest, I noticed its occupant was HUGE! And I realised it was a baby Bronze-cuckoo, probably a Shining. I snapped this photo of it eagerly poking out the entrance awaiting the next meal, when something amazing happened.

The cuckoo’s ‘parents’ suddenly appeared and began the most incredible performance of warning and alarm calls... but what made them amazing was that they mimicked. I already knew this species was a clever mimic, but these two individuals really showed their capabilities when they rattled off the alarms and songs of about 10 species: Grey Fantail cheep, Yellow-rumped Thornbill tinkle, Red-capped Parrot squawk, Western Gerygone tweet, Brown and New Holland Honeyeater trill, Magpie warble, Rufous Whistler whistle, to name just a few. They really wanted me away from their nest!

What happened next made this little event even more special. The young cuckoo, alarmed by his parents’ fuss, thought “That’s it, I’m fledging!”, and s q u e e z e d  himself out of the nest like a cork out of a bottle! The adult thornbills then came in to his rescue as he fluttered into the neighbouring shrub, all the time their persistent mimicking alarm song filling the air. I snapped a couple of pictures of the newly fledged ‘Cuckoo- Thornbill’ before leaving the birds in peace. The Inlands finished their song with a couple of brisk cheeps, then preened in satisfaction of their 10cm forms fending off a 201cm giant!

Here is the newly fledged Bronze-cuckoo (you can really see where the name ‘bronze’ comes from: note the sheen on his wing and back feathers. Cuckoos have a reputation of being ‘mean’ because of their parasitic behaviour. Is parasitism any ‘meaner’ than a lion killing a newly born zebra? Can something this cute really be considered mean? Nature works in weird and wonderful ways.




Monday, 17 October 2011

Any day now...



Our female Red-capped Parrot has been sitting tight for 3 weeks now, incubating her precious eggs with the true dedication that only mothers have. While taking the above photo yesterday I managed to observe at least 5 eggs beneath her. It shouldn’t be long until these are 5 baby parrots!

Watch this space for the news of their hatching...

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Scratch Beneath the Surface


What does this photo tell you? There are 3 pieces of evidence that tell an INCREDIBLE history. Read on to find the answers...

I recently visited a station in the northern Murchison region of WA, and was shown an interesting section of river by the farmer Tim, where just near the dry riverbed, the remnants of a historical homestead and wool shed stood. It was amazing to see how remote this would have been for the white settlers who first dwelled here. Thinking back 150 years was difficult... but not as difficult as thinking back thousands of years.

My good friend Jeff then pointed out some important features of this landscape.

Firstly, some thorough searching along a section of riverbank revealed the area was covered with Aboriginal artefacts - mostly stone tools and spearheads. This indicated it was probably  a well-used campsite by indigenous people who had lived here for thousands of years. And soon we noticed why.

Apart from the water source provided by the seasonal creek, a serious of mounds every hundred metres or so along the creekline told us there was once an abundant food source here. Native marsupials called Boodies (Burrowing Bettongs Bettongia lesueur) are small, hopping animals that live communally in ‘mounds’ or warrens. A mound is a serious of burrows dug in the same area, which connect in a complex underground warren. The mound is formed as the soil excavated from each burrow accumulates. In the above photo, a Boodie mound is visible and takes up about three-quarters of the photo, from the left hand side across.

So, why are are the Boodies gone? The above photo also tells this story. Firstly, it has a car track on the right, which cuts through the right hand quarter of the mound: white people arrived. They brought many changes to the landscape including altered fire regimes, hunting, and feral animals like cats, foxes, goats and rabbits. Secondly, it has a stock trail which cuts right through the mound: cattle. These herbivores were the most significant ‘ecosystem engineers’ that Westerners introduced to the arid Murchison. Cattle eat and trample native plants and remove significant amounts of vegetation, opening up the land enormously so that native mammals like Boodies loose vital sheltering habitat. While they have the warrens to hide in during the daytime, they still need dense cover to protect them at night while foraging. Any predators in the area, whether native or feral, kill them easily. Together with the pressure of competition for food from rabbits (which also invaded their warrens), the Boodies lost the battle.

And now they are gone from the Australian mainland.

Extinction is forever. Once these animals disappear, that’s it, they don’t come back. The thing is, Boodies aren’t totally extinct (yet).

They are locally extinct from over 95% of the area that they once thrived in. And I believe that not enough is made about LOCAL extinction, that is, the total disappearance of an animal from a particular area. Can you imagine if lions or elephants disappeared from almost all of Africa? Or if the Sistine Chapel or Sydney Harbour Bridge were almost completely knocked over? 

Boodies are still found on four islands, and in a few fenced mainland enclosures managed by Conservation groups. These populations can be restored to much of the landscape with the right planning and management. Now here’s where I am going to get a bit controversial. I stopped eating beef a year ago because I believe that cows are bad for Australian landscapes and their native fauna. If Westerners didn’t bring cows to the Murchison, much of the vegetation could still be intact, and Boodies may still be widespread. I would sooner eat Boodies, if they could be farmed in a sustainable way, for several reasons: they can live on the land with minimal impact, and their presence does not cause mass extinctions of other natives like cows do. Also, if we ate Boodie, then a few more people might know about them.

Knowing about both the natural and cultural history of the area you live in is the most important thing you can do, in my opinion.  I’m not saying we should all eat Boodies, or that what I mention here is any sort of solution to a problem. But my point is that we should all know about and understand the history of our land. True Conservation is about finding ways in which we can learn from past mistakes, and use natural resources in a way that makes them renewable for years to come.