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.