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!

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.