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!

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.