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, 20 December 2012

Back from the Bush



I've just returned from outback Australia after a week continuing my Wedge-tailed Eagle research in the Murchison region of WA. (Click here for more info about this project). My good friend Mick came along to help out as we revisited active nests located in August and conducted further searches for new nests in areas we hadn't yet visited.

The weather was overall cooler than expected which made our ventures much more bearable, although on one afternoon I did get a touch of heat stroke and we had to return to the homestead. We got on really well with the research, finding 14 new nests and taking our eagle nest total up to 52, and our total eagle territory count to 22. This means there are at least 22 pairs of Wedgies resident at Lorna Glen - quite a nice handful really!

The interesting find was that no eagle nests had been successful in rearing chicks. Of 11 which were active in August, one had contained a week-old chick when we last visited its nest, but sadly we found the chick had died on the nest at approximately 7 weeks of age. We located the body under a nearby perch tree suggesting one of the adult eagles (i.e. its mum or dad) had removed the carcass from the nest cavity, quite a sad thought really. But this is nature and it's perfectly normal for birds to fail at a breeding attempt at any time during the 3-month nestling period. This is most often caused by a lack of consistent food, but I suspect the death of this eaglet may have been caused by heat. There was a very hot period in October where the mercury soared above 45˚C for more than 10 days, not a very easy thing to endure when your nest is barely shaded.

This Wedge-tailed Eagle chick died at about 7-8 weeks of age, possibly from heat stress.

Although not good for eagle chicks, the warmer weather had created the perfect conditions for many of the local reptiles to emerge and begin their reproductive behaviour. One of the first sightings we had was a beautiful Mulga Dragon (Caimanops amphiboluroides), a particularly exciting discovery as I had never seen this species before. I spotted him basking on an old fence post while we whizzed down a dirt track one afternoon, and he obligingly sat for a photograph!


Another afternoon we surprised the largest Australian land lizard - a Perentie (Varanus giganteus)! Despite being a formidable predator, these lizards are very shy of humans because they have been a prized meal for Aboriginal people for thousands of years. As we approached from our car, the Perentie raced away and hid among some nearby bushes, and stayed put as we approached for some photos. Here you can see his incredibly long head, which contains sharp teeth and powerful jaws equipped for killing live prey (especially mammals like rabbits) and tearing meat from kangaroo carcasses.



And while we're on the topic of monitor lizards, another really interesting find was the mating behaviour of some Yellow-spotted Monitors (Varanus panoptes), which I managed to capture on a motion-sensing camera placed outside a burrow. Much of the footage obtained was of a large male excavating a burrow, and seemingly guarding the entrance and chasing off other monitors (according to my herpetologist friend Dr. Sean Doody, they are known to do this). But at one point a female monitor emerged from inside the burrow and was instantly embraced by the male, who mated with her for several minutes, before 'escorting' her back into the burrow.



There were many more creatures active in this desert wonderland, but I'll save their stories for next time. You can see more photos from this recent outback expedition here.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

A Nice Hobby


These two beautiful chicks belong to an Australian Hobby, one of the many birds of prey we've seen out in the Murchison region this week. A good friend and I are currently conducting some fieldwork at Lorna Glen Conservation Reserve, about 150km north-east of Wiluna, as part of a long-term research project I'm conducting on Wedge-tailed Eagles (click here for more info). These swift raptors have taken advantage of an abundance of Budgerigars which have arrived after recent rains. Hobbies are one of the smallest falcons in Australia, and are incredibly fast flyers, flapping up against the breeze then zooming back with the wind behind them like a bullet. We observed a pair hunting a few evenings ago and were in awe of their speed!

Like all other falcons, hobbies are incapable of building their own nests - this pair took up residence in an old crow's nest high above the surrounding plains in a River Redgum. The female would have laid 2-3 eggs about 2 months ago, nestling down to incubate in the deep cup in the middle of this stick structure. Obviously the hobbies' prime food, which consists mostly of small birds like budgies, honeyeaters and swallows, has been in good supply and the chicks have grown rapidly. Mick and I discovered the nest this afternoon, and I climbed up to have a closer look. As you can see, the hobby chicks have had a very nice view of the creekline in which their nest tree is situated, and the surrounding landscape:




I managed to reach the nest and get some closer shots of the gorgeous chicks. They are about a month old and very close to being able to fly.




After snapping these shots I was keen to see if I could get any footage of parents coming back to feed the chicks (which wouldn't happen very frequently with the chicks being so large), so I mounted my mini High Def camera to a branch overlooking the nest. The battery lasted 2 hours, and I returned just on sunset to collect the camera. Our excitement was short-lived as even though the chicks appeared to quickly accept the camera, the parents didn't as they didn't return (or perhaps they'd had no luck with hunting anything to bring back!). It is important to note that while this may seem disturbing, the chicks were fine when we saw them the next day, and at such a late stage of development the parent birds wouldn't abandon them. It was worth a shot - and I still captured some behaviour of the chicks anxiously looking around, preening, and enjoying the afternoon light in this gorgeous environment.
 

Hobbies from Simon Cherriman on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Photography Exhibition!

I am pleased to announce that a few friends and I are having a PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBITION! We are celebrating the 12th of the 12th of the 12th by releasing some postcards detailing the event. Here is all the info you need (except for the spelling mistake in the first 'Thursday'!).

More info at the facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/432427686810748/

Hope to see you there!


Monday, 3 December 2012

Not Easy to Fly a Kite


Ticks crawled up the inside of my trousers as I waded through scratching vegetation, and the air was thick with humidity. Strong wind gusts tore through the scrub but I still managed to hear my mobile phone ringing. I answered it.
“Is that Simon? Hi, it’s Marra here, how are you?
G’day Marra! I’m great thanks, what’s happening?
I’ve got a baby Square-tailed Kite that was found near Forrestfield yesterday. It’s very near fledging but can’t fly. Just wondering if you’re available to go and search for a nest? Would probably involve some tree-climbing!”
Not many things are more exciting to me than climbing a tree to rescue one of our most unique and beautiful birds of prey (raptors). I accepted the offer at once and agreed to call Marra Apgar, one of Perth’s most dedicated wildlife rehabilitators and manager of the education business ‘Raptor Presentations’, for more information when I returned home the next day. The field trip I was on was nearly over but already I had something else to look forward to. A mission away from the ticks and humidity, but one that would prove just as challenging.
Marra informed me that the orphaned bird had been found by some ladies walking their dogs in a regional park in the Perth foothills. I arranged to meet them on one of their routine mornings so they could show me where it had been found, and hopefully allow me to find a nest. According to Marra’s assessment, the kite was well developed but incapable of flying, so must have accidentally parachuted off its nest. Probably an easy mistake in the recent strong winds.
It was a grey morning when I met Caroline and Chris the next day, and we headed up a bush track through fields of low heath adorning the foothills, with Chris’s two dogs panting and showing us the way. The vegetation was mostly too low for raptor nests, but I noticed the occasional small red-gum growing by the track became taller and more frequent as we headed higher up the hill. This is looking more like kite-nesting country, I thought.
The ladies reached the spot where they remembered finding the young bird, who I’d heard so much about but not yet had the privilege of meeting. We stopped at a dip in the trail where a well-wooded gully sliced its way into the underlying bedrock, another highly suitable place for a nest site. Despite searching for about 20 minutes, and inspecting with my binoculars the crown of all the nearby large trees, there was no nest to be seen.
After some discussion and a quick phone-call to Marra to confirm that the bird was indeed a Square-tailed Kite (I had seen a possible tree hollow suitable for Kestrels), we carried on up the path. Another few hundred metres on and one of the ladies stopped.
“Hang on. Maybe this is where we found the chick!?”
With that I glanced skyward and an adult Square-tailed Kite flew right overhead, skimming the tree line in graceful fashion.
“There!” I yelled. “There’s an adult kite. We must be close to a nest now!”
Looking in the direction the kite had appeared from, I instantly noticed a large stick nest built in some leafy foliage of a tall red-gum.
“There’s the nest! Fantastic!” We all hopped around like excited children waiting for an ice-cream.
I rushed round one side of the tree and checked the nest repeatedly with my binoculars. The wind roared over my eardrums and sent the nest tree’s canopy rippling with air currents like a ship’s mast in a gale. The nest was very high but I could just make out the shape of another bird, flattening itself onto the platform to bunker down from each strong gust. It looked like a second fully-feathered kite chick and gave me hope I had a good chance of returning ‘our’ chick successfully.
The incredibly windy conditions prevented me from even considering tree climbing today, so Caroline, Chris, Marra and I arranged to meet on Sunday when the weather forecast looked more favourable. In the meantime ‘our’ chick, which had now been dubbed ‘Squrt’ (short for ‘SQUaRe-Tailed Kite’), would stay in Marra’s safe keeping. Although young birds of prey are known to imprint on humans when brought into captivity (i.e. by relying on a human to feed and nurture them, they grow up thinking they are human, becoming destined to a life in an aviary), larger nestlings which have passed the imprinting period can remain in human care for several days and still be returned to the wild with little impact on their psyche.
Sunday arrived quickly and, with Mum and Gill in tow, I arrived at Marra’s place early to finally meet Squrt in the flesh. She (we were uncertain whether she really was a she or not!) sat quietly in her aviary with her head cocked to one side as Marra and I talked quietly, then opened the cage for me to get some footage of her up close. I was amazed at the calm nature of the bird and instantly took a liking to her. I couldn’t wait to get her back to her nest.

We drove up to the foothills and eagerly piled out of the car with cameras, backpacks full of climbing gear, the pet-pack containing Squrt and a whole bunch of enthusiasm, and set of along the walk trail. It wasn’t long before we arrived at the ‘nest tree’ and were greeted by Chris (Caroline had had to leave for work before we arrived). As Marra shared information about Squrt and gave the others updates on her condition, I wasted no time in unpacking my tree-scaling equipment and setting up ropes to the nest.
Just before I was ready to ascend the tree, some movement caught my eye and I noticed a Little Eagle tucking its wings up, having just landed on a main branch above the kite nest. I alerted the others and we all watched it preen briefly then look down to the nest, then back at us. It was very suspicious that one species of raptor would land so close to the active nest of another, unless of course it was hungry. From my position near the base of the tree, the nest appeared empty. No sign of the kite chick I’d seen a few days before. My mind raced. What was going on here?


I knew the only way to find out was to get up to the nest, so I quickly grabbed a camera and began scaling the rope. As I got higher, the Little Eagle promptly launched from its perch and glided away across the valley. Soon I was just below the nest platform. A gentle breeze ruffled the leaves around me. I secured a safety line around a thick limb, then pulled myself right up to the nest. There before me was an amazing sight. An incredible spectacle of nature…



The Little Eagle chick was only days old. It was tiny, not much bigger than the palm of my hand, and covered in a fine, smoky-grey natal down. Tiny whispers filled my ears as it called softly next to my head, probably thinking I was a parent bird. The small cup in the centre of the nest, lined sparsely with Eucalypt leaves, was only just big enough to cradle this little being’s body. What a sight! I pulled away from the nest and lowered myself into a sitting position in my harness.

“There’s a Little Eagle chick up here. The nest isn’t a kite’s after all. This one belongs to Little Eagles. We’re back to square one again!”
The others muttered a few words in surprise from down below. I heard Chris asking Marra questions, and the explanation that followed. If we couldn’t find a nest to return the kite to, it would have to remain in captivity. A life in prison. I dreaded the thought. Captive birds of prey play a huge role in education, and when an event like this occurs, an opportunity arises for one individual raptor to become an ambassador for its kind. To allow humans to experience at close quarters a bird that most people would never even see. And hopefully to capture children with that magic aura, the mystic glow that birds of prey seem to emit. But for me, seeing a species which is born to soar high on rising air currents restrained by domestication is still depressing. No cage is big enough to house the most powerful of our flying birds.
The figure-eight warmed my fingers, hot after my rapid descent down the static abseiling rope. I unclipped myself and walked over to the others.
“What should we do now hey? It’s a bit of a mystery where this bird has come from.” I stared at Squrt who sat on the soft blanket placed next to her pet pack. Her head tilted to one side as though she was waiting for an answer.

“I am still sure where we found her was back down the track. Where we first looked the other day,” Chris said convincingly. Maybe I’d missed something. Gill, Chris and I headed back to the place I’d first looked for a nest, while Marra and Mum waited with Squrt.
Nearly an hour of thoroughly nest-searching the gully still brought us no luck. It was beginning to heat up and Marra was concerned to get Squrt back to her place for a feed. Chris had had to leave. Mum waved her hands at the flies. I wiped sweat from my brow. After a morning which began with so much enthusiastic energy, we were now all feeling quite dejected.
Marra placed Squrt into her pet-pack and began walking back to the car. A head start with the awkward cage would be useful. I still had quite a bit of climbing gear to pack up, so Gill took my camera back-pack and tripod then went on ahead with Mum as I gathered the last of my ropes. I heaved the heavy pack onto my shoulders and plodded up the trail. A slight rise in the landscape took the track out of the thicker vegetation and into an open section of Wandoo trees. It was dead still now and quite warm. Nearing the top of the hill, I glanced upward at the path ahead. A large Wandoo overhanging the track stood out, reaching toward the light offered by a window in the canopy. And there, in a large fork on the lowest horizontal limb, sat an adult Square-tailed Kite with its large chick on a bulky mass of sticks. At last! A kite nest. The right nest!
I burst into action and raced toward the tree, calling to Mum and Gill who had just disappeared around the corner. Some faint replies came and soon they were back again.
“MARRA! Where’s Marra? Tell her I’ve found the nest!” I dumped my bag and ran on ahead to catch up with Marra, who fortunately hadn’t yet made it back to the car. She was thrilled to hear the news and followed me excitedly as I pointed in the direction of the kites’ nest.
The kite nest is just visible at the top centre of this photograph, with me ascending from the bottom.
It wasn’t long before I had a rope set up just above the nest and began ascending the tree. The nest was quite a long way out on the limb, precariously balanced, not the easiest thing to access. Looking from below, the adult kite’s head was just visible through the sticks, and seeing as most raptors flush before you even reach the nest tree, I was surprised she was still there. I drew level and secured a second safety line, then glanced toward the nest, the female kite raising her wings slightly as I prepared to go out on a limb. The moment was here. It was finally time to send Squrt home.
My hand quivered as I reached into the Woolworth’s ‘green bag’ and clasped my fingers around Squrt’s back. The young kite was quite large, but huddled up, its torso easily fitted into my palm. My other arm locked around a thin branch, helping my body balance on the horizontal limb. I ignored the 10 metre drop below me and focused on removing the bird from its cradle, slowly but surely. Its talons caught on the fine material of the bag’s rim and remained hooked for a few seconds, but I managed to free them and lift the kite into the open.

Marra places Squrt into a green bag, ready for her release.
Photographing the kite family up close!



Just a metre away, perched at one edge of the large stick nest, sat another chick, virtually identical looking to Squrt. And opposite it, the fine hooked bill, pale head and glorious red-brown markings of an adult Square-tailed Kite, curiously watching my every move.
I nervously leaned forward, still clutching the baby bird in one hand, clinging to the tree with the other, and after a long stretch, placed it back in the centre of the nest. Its sibling reacted by raising its crest feathers and gaping, the classic threat posture adopted by many birds of prey when humans are close to their nest. The adult watched its offspring flop clumsily forward into the nest cavity, then seconds later shuffled closer to it and looked down as if to say ‘where the hell have you been!?’ The whole world was quiet and all I could focus on was these incredible birds sat before me, not just the chicks but their parent, who to my disbelief had remained on the nest this whole time. What a wonderful, placid bird. Minutes passed, I heard muffled voices below, but nothing could break the space I was in, captivated by natural history.

Leaving the tree was like trying to prize myself from some powerful magnetic force which kept me glued to the scene like an invisible magnet. But eventually my legs were numb and an aching back forced me to retract myself from the nest. It was time to get down.
*       *       *       *       * 
Twenty-four hours later I returned to find both kite chicks still on their nest. The amazingly placid adult female also remained there, and once again she accepted me into her space. I nearly fell out of the tree when she walked slowly to the edge of the nest, reach out with her beak and touched my hand gently. I took more photos, then later that day broke the fantastic news to Marra, who informed me that the chicks both had a bulging crop, a sure sign that they had been well fed since Squrt’s reunion. All the signs were good for both chicks to fledge successfully. What an awesome outcome!
Being involved in this kite story was a simply amazing experience. The image of that beautiful female kite drifts into my mind often, an image I will remember forever.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Legless Lizard Lesson


I always get angry when I find animals killed on the road, immediately thinking there should have been an opportunity to avoid this. And dead reptiles always evoke feelings of suspicion - I've heard many people admit to deliberately killing snakes. However, road deaths can sometimes provide a valuable educational opportunity.

This morning I drove past Mundaring Christian College and, as you can see in the above picture, noticed a limp-looking reptile on the road. I pulled over and closer inspection revealed a beautifully marked Burton's Legless Lizard (Lialis burtonis). I considered that someone may have hit it on purpose, mistaking the long, slithering body for that of a snake. But closer inspection revealed this animal hard barely a scratch on it, and could quite easily have been clipped by accident. Here you can just see traces of blood on her head near the ear opening. You can also see the amazing scale detail and patterning on this beautiful animal:



Burton's Legless Lizards are quite common in the Perth region, living in remnant bushland and feeding on other reptiles, especially small skinks, which they crunch up in their strong jaws. They can come in a variety of colours, being a plain pale cream, grey, dark brown, or like this one, having a beautifully striped pattern on their back. They are a stunning animal to see and another part of our unique biodiverse reptile life in the Perth region.

The tragic part of my tale is that this lizard was a female carrying eggs (known as 'gravid') and was probably on her way to find a place to lay them. I could feel at least five hard shapes in her belly, which is noticeably fat in the below picture. So in this sad case, the one animal being hit actually caused the death of more than six reptiles.

I hope this provides a valuable lesson - drive slowly and keep a sharp eye on the road as you pass remnant bushland. And next time you see a 'snake' on the road, have a closer look and you might get an opportunity to see an unusual, harmless and quite beautiful animal you've never encountered before.



Black Cockatoo Reserve

 
Every day presents an opportunity to meet someone or something new, and last Wednesday was one of those days for me. I had an early start and met a Mundaring Shire bushcare officer and some lovely ladies from the local 'Friends of' group at an amazingly beautiful bush remnant near Mundaring: the Black Cockatoo Reserve. The meeting was arranged to tee up some suitable locations to place motion-sensing cameras on nest boxes installed for Black Cockatoos, and here was the perfect place as there are several boxes which have been in place for a number of years.

One nest box shown to me had, according to the Friends group, not had any birds (cockatoos or otherwise!) showing interest in it for some time. I'd experienced this before and suggested this could be because of a possum living inside, which you wouldn't know unless you saw it emerge on dusk. Having my climbing equipment handy, I thought "...there's only one way to find out!", and scaled the tree to get a closer look.



The first thing I noticed was the way this box had been attached to the tree. You can see from this photo that a large amount of chain has been used to secure the top, and been wrapped twice around the box to hold it to the limb. This is a really awful method! Having chain strapped to the box in this fashion not only cuts into the bark over time, damaging the tree's tissue, but it also shortens the lifespan of the nest box. As the limb becomes thicker, the chain tightens on the box and eventually it will crush it completely.
 
This is not something that is anyone's fault, it just presents a valuable learning opportunity. I've changed many nest box installation techniques by trial and error over the last 10 years and sometimes you have to just adapt things as you go.

While it is true that nest boxes are heavy and chain is the most suitable fastener, there is a way to do this without damaging the tree at all. Chain can be secured to one side of the box, passed around a sturdy fork and through some old rubber piping to protect the bark, then fixed back onto the other side securely. The length of chain used should be long enough to let the box 'hang' in position, and this will also allow some space as the tree grows thicker, protecting the tree and giving the box a longer life.

I am a great believer in respect and understanding of our environment, and as intelligent creatures humans have the ability to minimise our impacts in everything we do. I've climbed trees for over 20 years and always maintained the view that while high in the canopy, the tree is looking after me, so the least I can do is 'be nice to it'!

Back to the nest box inspection - as I looked at the top,  I could see that some birds had been near it recently as it had quite a few chew marks on the hollow log entrance:


And peering inside, I realised my prediction was right - there WAS a possum in there! This cute Common Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) seemed very happy for such a spacious sleeping place, and was surprised to be woken up by me. You can see if you look carefully at the below picture that possums have been using this box for a while - there is the skull and several bones of a long-dead possum littering the floor of the nest box. I've found dead possums inside nest boxes before following consecutive days of severe heat (45˚C +), and can think of this being one possible explanation. Alternatively the animal may have died of old age in his sleep, or possibly attacked by feral bees which are known to be a problem for artificial nest boxes. There is no way animals with such brilliant climbing ability could get trapped: you can see the wire mesh ladder covers all 4 sides. Whichever the case, the live possum clearly isn't worried otherwise he wouldn't be in there!


I was so enthralled by Black Cockatoo Reserve that Gill and I decided to return for a stroll around the reserve this morning. This decision proved enormously worthwhile as we were provided with the lucky opportunity to witness some more unusual animal behaviour. We found a pair of Endangered Carnaby's Black Cockatoos (Calypthorhynchus latirostris) in a dense thicket of Bull Banksia, and spent some time sitting quietly in the bush filming their behaviour.

These birds are known to be devourers of the fruits of a variety of native plants, especially Eucalypts and Hakeas. I'm sure many of you have watched a flock of these birds feeding on honkey nuts or clipping the cones from Banksia trees on the coastal plain. However, I've rarely seen cockies seeking out flowers for a taste of sweet nectar, as these bird were doing. I was privileged to sneak within 10m or so of these wonderful creatures and observe them getting a 'sugar fix'. You can see in the below shot how much pollen has rubbed off on this male's face as he probes his bill close to the stalk to reach the nectar. I observed him using his tongue in fine movements on the flower tips to absorb the nectar. A delicate operation for a bird which often uses its beak like a pair of bolt-cutters!


His nearby mate (who has a pale bill, grey eye-ring and larger white cheek patch) was also tucking into the Banksia flowers and looked up nicely for this photo:



A morning filming Endearing, Endemic, Endangered birds is the best way to start a Snday!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Caught on Camera!



Our nest boxes have a strong Australian Ringneck theme this month! Today I checked a motion-sensing camera installed on a Black Cockatoo box at Mundaring Primary which I placed there a few weeks ago. Look who's been checking out a potential nest site? :-)

These vertically oriented nest boxes, over a metre deep, are supposed to be designed to suit Black Cockatoos, and not be favoured by other species like Galahs which prefer horizontal entrances. However, in the last 2 months, we’ve recorded both Australian Ringnecks AND Galahs laying eggs in them! It’s probably too late for the above pair of ringnecks this year to nest anyway. And perhaps they are just curious birds, looking to see if anyone is home in the tree hollow.

At least we know that some wildlife has found the box, so there’s no reason that a pair of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos (the target species) won’t do the same in the future.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Private Life of Parrots


Have you ever seen baby parrots, only a few days old, being fed by their mother? Did you know that parrots laying several eggs in a clutch begin incubating with the first egg, which means young hatch at different times and grow at different rates? If not, read on!

You might have seen my past news posts about Australian Ringnecks nesting inside artificial boxes before. Some have in fact just been reared in one of our nest boxes at Ardross Primary. I’ve photographed their eggs and various stages of chick growth for many years now (here’s one from 2011), but I’ve never shot any footage of behaviour inside the nest.

Today I inspected the large nesting box above, which was installed for Black Cockatoos in 2008, to make sure it was still securely attached to the tree. I didn’t know anything had been using it this year but when I peered inside I was surprised to see three tiny Australian Ringneck chicks huddled together in one corner, and a couple of as yet unhatched eggs. 

Here’s what they look like:



This discovery made me spring into action, and I quickly descended the tree to fetch my miniature HD video camera and a long stick on which to mount it. Then I set it up inside the nest chamber, which, as you can see, being designed for a large cockatoo, is more than adequately large enough for these small parrots:


With a 2 hour battery, I had plenty of chance to capture the female returning to brood, so left it recording and returned later this afternoon . . . . .

When I collected the camera and looked at the video files, I was extremely pleased to see the female ringneck had been caught on film with her chicks! Even though the box was a bit dark being naturally lit (I didn’t use any artificial lighting), the below video shows her behaviour quite well. You can see her suspicion of the camera in her nest as she looks at it curiously, before being nagged by her young to begin feeding. The size different in the (asynchronously hatched) chicks is also really obvious, with the largest of the brood probably 3 days ahead of his very tiny little sibling.


Keep watching this post for more updates of this Australian Ringneck family, nesting high above a Parkerville road in an artificial hollow built for cockatoos!



Ringnecks from Simon Cherriman on Vimeo.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Bandicoot Bash!




Sometimes we are lucky enough to be in just the right place at the right time to witness amazing animal behaviour. Today my mum was gardening next to the house when a sudden noise caught her attention. She looked deeper into the garden bed and saw two male Quenda (Isoodon obesulus) jostling among the shrubs. Immediately she raced inside to grab the camera, then rush backed to the garden bed, hoping they would still be there.

The Quenda proceeded to roll each other down the embankment and disappear among some ground covers! Mum walked along the driveway and saw them emerge onto the brick paving, still heavily locked in battle! Both animals were soaking wet suggesting their fight had given them a severe dunking in the nearby fish pond.

Thanks to Mum for this incredible series of photographs, which really captures the ferocity with which the duelling marsupials slam each other into the ground!







Monday, 5 November 2012

Useless Wire? Rubbish!



On the way home from an environmental survey near Bindoon today, Gill and I were horrified to find this huge pile of discarded wire dumped in the bush. It might sound funny but despite seeing cockatoos, a Rainbow Bee-eater nest and many other native animals, finding this wire was the highlight of my day!

This multi strand ‘clothesline wire’ is something which, after years of trials, I have found to be the best material for hanging nest boxes. It is strong, galvanised (so doesn’t rust) and is very easy to bend into shape. We spent about an hour untangling a very small portion of the above pile and salvaged about 200m. We stopped into the local shop and found the same wire for sale at $25 for 10m. Saving money, waste and the environment is our motto, and we love it!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Nestonia



On Friday Gill and I packed our car with form ply, wire, hosepipe, nails, screws, a few hollow logs and a whole bunch of tools and headed east. Scattered showers broke up the horizon and a glorious afternoon light lit up the Salmon Gums on the road verge. These were very precious to see as more than 90% of native vegetation has been cleared from this region for agriculture. You can see the evidence of this clearing, and the location of Westonia, on the map below.

Three hours later we arrived at Westonia, a tiny town just near Merredin in the WA Wheatbelt. We checked into our accommodation and had a relaxing evening, preparing for a busy Saturday.



We got up early the next morning and headed to the Shire depot to set up for another Nest Box Workshop, this time to be conducted with the local community. About 15 people ended up attending, including half a dozen children, which was very pleasing. The workshop was organised by the Shire of Westonia and WWF, who were really keen to put up some boxes in the Westonia Common, a local remnant of Salmon Gum, Gimlet and Red Morrel woodland surrounding the town, rich in biodiversity.

After an introduction to tree hollows and nest boxes, we laid out the materials and were ready to start! There was some reluctance at first, but once the first person in the group picked up their saw and began cutting up plywood, everyone jumped in and was busily working. By lunchtime we had most of our boxes finished and enjoyed some sandwiches, biscuits and drinks provided by the local deli. Nothing like a bit of food to revive our enthusiasm!

A coat of paint and some time drying in the beautiful sunshine and the boxes were FINISHED! (we were blessed with a nice fine day after 2 previous days of heavy rain). Here’s a picture of the team with the 1 Black Cockatoo, 2 parrot, 2 pardalote and 2 phascogale nesting boxes made on the day.



The team then loaded the boxes into a ute and we headed to the bushland, only 2 minutes down the road from our workplace. We began by installing the black cockatoo box, which would take the longest out of the boxes to be hauled into position with ropes. The other boxes were much easier and by sunset that evening all seven were in place.

A particularly exciting discovery during the box installation was a sighting of several Regent Parrots in the bush. We were also told that Purple-crowned Lorikeets had been recorded there. Neither of these native parrots are very common in the wheatbelt any more (Australian Ringnecks and Galahs seem to be dominant everywhere), so it was encouraging to know that a little bit more diversity exists at Westonia.

We are looking forward to what might use these new boxes in the future!
 

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Down at the CREEC


Before you comment on my spelling ability - I’ll just point out that the place we were at today is called the Canning River Eco Education Centre - or CREEC for short. This wonderful environment education building is located right next to Kent St Weir along the beautiful, paperbark-lined banks of the Canning River.

Today Gill and I visited CREEC to conduct a short nest-box workshop with members of the Cockatoo Kids Club. We had about 20 kids attend and watch us give a talk about hollow homes and recycling rubbish to build nest boxes. I was MOST impressed with these children’s ability to identify local native birds. Western Rosella, Australian Ringneck, Barn Owl, Brushtail Possum - they rattled off species names perfectly! Just shows what impact being a member of a cockatoo club has!

After the talk we showed the audience some pre-made nest boxes we’d brought along, which were designed for smaller birds including parrots and mammals like possums. Then it was time to venture outside and have a walk around the Canning River, point out existing wildlife habitat and select 2 trees in which to hang our boxes.

We finished with a climbing demonstration as I put a rope up the tree and hoisted up the first box, which I fixed in place with a length of TV antenna cable I’d picked up from a verge collection. Nothing like reusing old junk!

Thanks to Hayley from CREEC for contacting us to come and be part of the Cockatoo Kids Club education program, and for the opportunity to hang some more of our boxes in a great educational setting!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Wildlife Surveillance



If you look carefully at the bottom left of the above photo, you can see a small brown box mounted to a branch in this beautiful Marri tree. This is a motion-sensing camera which belongs to the Mundaring Shire, and I installed it today at this Black Cockatoo nest box at Mundaring Primary School (click here to read more about the nest-box installation).

Sensor cameras are a great way to monitor wildlife, and just the sort of thing that can help determine which type of animals might come along and investigate a nest box. Although the box is designed for cockatoos (especially the Red-tailed variety), tree hollows can be hard to come by and many other creatures may show interest in boxes. We want to see who they are!

Although it now has a hollow home, this enormous Marri was clearly an important habitat tree before. While installing the camera I noticed a Common Bronzewing nest built on a thick limb a few metres above my head. Here you can see the male pigeon on the nest with his almost-ready-to-fly chicks. Fantastic!

There is always something to see when you spend time up a tree! Let’s hope we get some interesting photos from our motion camera. Keep watching this blog for updates!


Monday, 22 October 2012

They Work!!



These three gorgeous Australian Ringneck parrot chicks were photographed today at Ardross Primary! They are about 3 weeks old, and should be ready to fledge in about a week, by which time the last of the feathers on their heads will have emerged. This breeding record is the first success story for our Schools Nest Box program, and is really encouraging for future success!

When I arrived at the school today many children were excited to run up and tell me about parrots being inside the box. You might remember from this post that the school first told me about the nest box’s occupancy a few weeks ago, and the kids had enjoyed writing down their observations about the ringnecks. The Deputy Principal Catherine Bishop showed me the wonderful ‘Bird Notes’ book at the school today, and I was SO impressed! This book contains the children’s observations of birds at their school seen looking at the nest boxes, and other interesting sightings. In many cases the children write entries, but where they are a bit young the teachers write in what the kids say. Check out this:



 

 It gives us so much pleasure to hear that the nest boxes have captured the attention of children at the school, and they have continued to take ownership of their boxes by keeping detailed records. No doubt, the successful pair of ringnecks have been keeping an eye on the school kids too, from their prominent perch above the courtyard (below). Hopefully they will remember their happy breeding site and return next year to raise more chicks!