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, 30 January 2012

Pigeons: After the Storm


The morning after the massive rainfall 10 days ago (around 80mm in Mundaring!) I found some unlikely survivors of the rough weather. As you can see from the above photo, this Common Bronzewing (Phaps chalcoptera) nest was still in one piece and its two lustrous white eggs were safe and sound. The incubating female scared the life out of me when she flapped away suddenly as I walked unknowingly past her nest site. Bronzewings build one of the simplest bird nests possible, a flimsy gathering of twigs placed anywhere from a metre above the ground up to 20 metres high in the canopy. They can breed any time of the year, depending on the seasonal conditions, and the owners of this nest must have thought the timing was right this month!

This nest was only about 2 metres above the ground in a dense bush, very easy for me to access. I kept track of the birds during their incubation period over the next 10 days, and once I managed to creep close enough to photograph the incubating female without disturbing her. In this photo her beak is just out of sight:



Today I visited the nest and was again trying to photograph the female pigeon sitting, when she suddenly flushed, revealing that her 2 eggs were now hatched! I’ve only seen baby Bronzewings twice before, years ago when I was exploring the local forest near my home. It was great to have my memory refreshed on how different the chicks look to their fully feathered parents: soft, blonde down covering their tiny bodies, pink skin, and a beak which looks more like that of a duck! The little egg tooth is still visible in the second photograph here:



After finding the hatched Bronzewings, I was eager to get footage of them being brooded, so mounted my GoPro camera on a neighbouring branch and camouflaged it with bark and leaves. As you can see, the incubating female (who returned 20 minutes later) didn’t seem to even notice the camera as she eagerly returned to sit on her young...

 
Bronzewings from Simon Cherriman on Vimeo.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Birds of the Night


A friendly neighbour came up to me at the shops last week and told me of a family of Tawny Frogmouths that roosted every day in trees at the vacant block right near his house in Parkerville. “They’re there all the time if you’d like to come up and get a photo. My son has taken some good shots of them already!” Yesterday I drove up to the location he described to me, and sure enough, there were two birds (one adult and one juvenile) sitting low down in a Marri sapling. As I climbed through the fence, I noticed another two: one juvenile in an adjacent tree and another adult in the tree behind him.


The Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) is a well-known Australian night bird with an expertise for camouflage. Did you just read that scientific name, struggle to pronounce it, and wonder what the hell it means?! Well, all animals are given two scientific names because they are sorted into families, genera and species according to their evolutionary relationships. The scientific name is often of Greek or Latin origins and it contains words which describe that animal. The species name ‘strig-oigdes’ comes from this bird looking like an owl: ‘strig’ after the name of the owl family Strigidae, and ‘oides’ meaning ‘like’ or ‘similar to’.

All this is very interesting because as you might have now guessed, Tawny Frogmouths are NOT actually owls, although they are very similar to them: both have brown or grey plumage, large, forward facing eyes, wings capable of flapping in silence, and are active at night. Owls from the family Strigidae also use their eyes to hunt (as do Frogmouths), rather than their ears as in some other owl families. The only species of owl which is similar to the Tawny Frogmouth and occurs here in Parkerville is the Southern Boobook (Ninox novaeseelandiae). It’s two-noted ‘book-book’ or ‘mor-porke’ call can often be heard echoing across the valleys of the Perth hills and is familiar to many people. Some people have even said to me “What’s that cuckoo that calls at night?”. Frogmouths on the other hand have a low, booming call which doesn’t travel very far at all. Some photos of the Southern Boobook can be seen in this album.

Anyway, back to our family of Froggies! They were so low down that I could get quite close, and snapped lots of photos of their changing postures. The two together straightened out into the usual frogmouth ‘stick-like’ pose, moving only their eyes as they watched me adjust my camera. Their feathers were so well matched to the Marri bark that the birds look exactly like broken off stumps on the side of the tree!

Being higher up than the rest of his family, and much less experienced, the lone youngster wasn’t worried about playing the freeze game and he posed quite well for me, looking at the camera and following my every move. Each time I looked at his huge, yellow eyes and his fluffy head, he reminded me of one of the muppets! What an awesome family! And a fantastic opportunity to share these amazing birds with others. All thanks to a friendly local :-)





Monday, 16 January 2012

Spiders


I found this Red-backed Spider (Latrodectus hasselti) underneath a chair that my mum’s friend gave us. Even though I know these creatures are dangerous, I was fascinated to be able to look at it closely and get photos of its egg-sacs, neatly suspended from the leather of the chair’s underside. It made me feel quite alarmed that only yesterday, I’d sat on the chair while chatting to a friend on the phone without even knowing! It also made me think that the spider has probably been in the shed for weeks, happily living its life in there without bothering us.

A find like this often prompts me to do some research and I found out that the female Red-back can store sperm from the male and use it over a 2 year period after mating! Each egg-sac contains about 250 eggs, and the spiderlings take 2-4 weeks to hatch. Only female spiders develop the red markings, they grow much larger than males and can live for 2-3 years. The most interesting fact I read was that since development of Red-back anti-venom, no human deaths have occurred. Reading this made me firmly decide not to squash the spider, but to be aware of its presence and carry on observing it. I might even get some photos of the young spiderlings - how exciting! More information on Red-backed Spiders can be found here.
 
A visit to my parent’s place the day after had me checking the progress of my wetland seedlings planted around my dam. In a thick shrub I found a large female Golden Orb Spider (Nephila sp.), sitting beautifully in the middle of its web with the tiny male poised just a few centimetres away. What an amazing sight hey!



I then noticed another female Golden Orb hanging not-so-delicately in her web nearby, and closer inspection revealed she was dead. Stuck in the sticky silk next to her was a Honey Bee (Apis melifera) with its sting missing, and as I looked even more closely I could see poison-sac of the bee-sting protruding from the spider’s abdomen. In the photo below you can see the bee, and its sting marked with an arrow. Amazing! She had caught a bee and been killed in the battle while trying to wrap it in silk. The first time I’d ever seen this before. Yet another fascinating insight into the natural world.

 

Friday, 13 January 2012

Bee-eater Magic


The chicks inside the burrow hadn’t been fed for over an hour, and I just knew the adults were due back any minute. Then I heard the call: “Drrr-drrr-drrr”, a high-pitched repetitive trill. I could see a bee-eater perched on the power lines just down the street with a large insect in its bill. I poised my finger on the shutter button. Suddenly, a myriad of birds flew overhead - doves, swallows, honeyeaters... the bee-eater... and a sinister Brown Goshawk appeared, gliding slowly past the tree-tops and over the roofs, flushing the droves of wary birds away from its gaze. Somewhere out there was an unwary one. But not the bee-eaters. The two adults fluttered away trilling constantly in alarm, taking their single newly-fledged young away and into hiding. The second chick at the front of the burrow had disappeared... as did my last photograph opportunity. It was time to go, and be happy with what I’d got.

The magnificent Rainbow Bee-eater (Merops ornatus) migrates from northern Australia to the south-west to breed every year around October, usually returning to the same site each season. The adults work at tunnelling a long burrow into the ground and laying eggs in a nest chamber at the end, sometimes more than a metre in. A pair of birds had done this very thing on the front lawn of a friend’s house in Bayswater, and much to my delight, Adrienne had emailed me with the news that I stood a good chance of getting some shots.

I spent about 3 hours in the most deluxe wildlife hide that I’ve ever worked in (inside the front door of Adrienne’s house, complete with a cup of fresh tea!) and watched the adult bee-eaters brings butterflies and dragonflies to feed the chicks which remained inside the burrow, ready to fledge at any minute. It was incredible to see how quickly the birds shot in with food and shot out again! And their efforts were often thwarted by the comings and goings of tradesmen working on a new house on the block next door. Adrienne told me that some men tried to deliver some concrete pipes to her house (instead of the place next door) and nearly drove their bloody truck over the bee-eater burrow. Bloody humans!

With the help of bright sunlight I managed to snap this photo (at 1/6400 sec, f6.3, ISO 800) of the male landing at the burrow, head pointed downwards as he prepares to deposit a meal:


The male can be distinguished from the female by his longer tail shafts and more vibrant colours. The photo at the top of the page shows the female leaving the burrow and in this shot her ‘duller’ appearance is more obvious. 

Once again, here is another example of a native species adapting to the urban environment and carrying on its busy lifestyle among humans: nature in culture. And this epitomises my philosophy of ‘conservation’. While it clearly does not work for all local native species, there are still many animals which can thrive in the presence of humans. Our role in this relationship is to ensure that our movements and developments fit in to the ways of nature with the lowest possible impacts. If we can make it easy for the local nature of the Perth region to carry on, by planting native trees and shrubs, recycling, minimising landfill waste, looking, listening and learning to the world around us, we can all become “conservationists”. National Parks and Wilderness Areas still serve a huge purpose too. But what we see and learn about in our backyards on a daily basis has the most impact on our thinking.
Remember, we as human beings have the intelligence and the capability to recognise and minimise our impacts. And we should. Because it’s interesting, it’s good for our mental and physical health, it’s FUN... and it’s the right thing to do.


Wednesday, 11 January 2012

A Flying Kite


The Square-tailed Kite (Lophoictinia isura) is an Australian bird of prey that specialises at hunting small birds, especially those still in nests, in the canopy. Consequently it is often observed soaring low overhead, circling the canopy as it searches for birds’ nests or small fledglings. It is an uncommon raptor but there are a few locations in the Perth Hills where I have reliably seen kites over the past 10 years or so, including around Kalamunda, Roleystone and the Helena Valley. This time of year you may be lucky enough to observe more than one as the newly fledged juvenile kites accompany the adults on hunting forays.

As you can see in the above photo, this raptor has obvious banding on the primary feathers (at the wing tips), a small white head (in the adults) and a red-brown underbelly. Their flight is unmistakable as they circle the tree-tops with their wings curved down at the tips. Today I jumped up to a magpie alarm call and snapped this photo of a kite flying low over my house - a thrilling break from reading my Sociology of Science text book on the front verandah! Look out for kites in your area - there are a rare and exciting bird!

From Rubbish to Nest Box


Thanks to the person who dumped what appeared to be an old skate ramp or bike jump next to Thomas Road in Mt Helena, I now have a new nest-box! I found 3 sheets of old ply-wood just thrown on the side of the road a few weeks before Christmas, rusty nails sticking out all over the place, and collected them for use later on. Today I used recycled nails and another piece of form ply (collected from a roadside verge!) to construct the above box. The box which has been used for the last 8 years by a pair of Pacific Black Ducks (Anas superciliosa) at my parent’s dam has recently disintegrated, so this box serves as a perfectly timed replacement! Here’s a picture of the female duck incubating in August last year:



Monday, 9 January 2012

Terrific Tuarts


The name ‘Tuart’ comes from the Nyoongar word for the tree ‘dooart’, a similar sounding word. Confined to coastal limestone areas between Jurien Bay and Busselton, tuart trees are enormous eucalypts. They extend over 40m into the sky, their rippled grey-brown branches stretching out massive lengths between each fork. Some limbs are so thick that they make the trunks of most trees look thin.

Tuart forest is one of the most endangered forests in the world, with less than 10% of the original 1100km2 that once spanned the WA coast remaining. Unfortunately, much of this habitat has been lost to the urban expansion of the Perth metropolitan area, and sadly, the felling of giant Tuarts, some of which have diameters of 2.5m at the base, continues. The problem with this is in many cases, trees do not need to be felled to build houses. Much of the understorey in block of Tuart planned for development has already been cleared, so it would be very easy to build houses in the cleared sections and leave the giant trees standing. How AMAZING would it be to have such a tree in your backyard? But our progressively worsening obsession with safety and liability means that having trees above our houses is ‘dangerous‘ (because a leaf might hit someone on the head!), and we have to fell everything before building commences.

I’ve driven down many winding roads among Tuart trees, and the same thing always enters my mind. Climbing. And today was one of the rare occasions when I got to scale these amazing gums. Some good friends of mine were doing a tree assessment near some Tuart forest and when they’d finished, we all got roped up and spent three hours scaling this one massive tree. It was massive - but for a Tuart, it was a baby. Here’s a photo taken from the fork we reached, 25 m above the ground. My car looks like a micro-machine. See if you can spot my mate Andy, standing at the base of the tree: he looks like an Ant!

Friday, 6 January 2012

Bobtails on the move


Today I found this gorgeous Bobtail Skink (Tiliqua rugosa) wandering in our backyard. It poohed all over our brick paving as I picked it up, and I was fascinated to notice several snails in it’s faeces! An excellent native snail-killer, and a good reason not to use snail pellets.

This female seemed enormous and as I pressed her belly gently, I could feel a couple of large shapes inside. She was almost certainly carrying babies, ready to be born in Bunura (early Austumn) this year. Unlike most of their reptile relatives, Bobtails give birth to live young, usually producing 2 or 3 once they are fully grown. The young are very vulnerable to predators including native ravens and introduced cats when they first emerge, and can stay with their mother for up to 2 years for protection!

Bobtails have been on the move since about the beginning of Djilbah (late winter, August), and unfortunately many get run over on our roads. They can often be hard to see when basking in the mottled shade on the road and so get hit accidentally, but other times drivers deliberately swerve to kill them. The main thing you can do is be aware that they are active when the wether starts to warm up, and watch the road carefully!

Thanks to Ruth Haight and her article in Western Wildlife for the information.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Karri Country


Well, you just read about the amazing success of the Porongurup Cockatoo box on Jeff’s block. Are you now wondering what other cool animals are found down that way?

We did plenty of other bushwalks, foraging in leaf litter and spotlighting at night, and this gave us lots of amazing creatures to look at and photograph. This one is my favourite: a Motorbike Frog (Litoria mooreii) that Jeff and I found basking on a stick next to the walk trail up to Devil’s Slide. To see more pictures check the relevant album in the Photo Gallery.