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, 27 February 2012

A Fox Among the Waterbirds


If you have never visited Lake Leschenaultia then I thoroughly recommend an afternoon barbecue at your first available opportunity! This freshwater lake was created in the early 1900’s as a reservoir for the needs of steam trains, which were one of the main forms of transport into the Perth Hills during that era. Nowadays the lake is a recreation reserve where you can enjoy a picnic, swim, canoe paddle or a quiet bushwalk in the serene setting of the Chidlow jarrah and wandoo forest.

I love visiting the lake for its birds. Since I was a young boy I’ve been exploring the different habitats for various species of waterbird living there. I still remember the thrill of finding my first clutch of Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) eggs in a nearly woven, floating nest, concealed deep in the reed beds, when I was about twelve.

This weekend I caught up with some good friends for a barbecue at the lake and had a relaxing explore to see what I could find and photograph. I saw a variety of waterbirds and managed to get some good shots of them by floating close to them in my canoe (click here for the full array). My favourite picture is the one at the top of this page, of two beautiful Purple Swamphens (Porphyrio porphyrio) foraging on the shoreline, perfectly lit in the golden afternoon sun.

Unfortunately in most parts of Australia nowadays, wherever you find waterbirds, there are introduced Red Foxes (Vulpes vulpes). The waterbirds must smell great and make your tummy rumble if you are a fox, which on the weekend I discovered is a regular visitor to Lake Leschenaultia’s waterside. I’d left a motion-sensing camera in the reed-beds at one side of the lake for a few weeks, and today I checked to see what I had captured. Early one morning, this curious devil had come RIGHT in to sniff the camera, probably suspicious of the tiny red light that turns on when the motion trigger is set off.

Then later that night, he came back for a second look. The scourge of the Australian bush.


video

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Osprey


This story needs very few words as the pictures tell it all. Today I watched a magNIFicent Osprey (Pandion haliaeetus) swoop down and catch a fish only 10 metres away! I was out and about conducting some waterbird surveys at Point Grey in the Peel-Harvey Estuary near Mandurah, when I spotted this beautiful bird perched in a dead tree at the water’s edge. Keen for a photo, we crept the car closer so I was within range of a good snap. Suddenly, this happened:






As you can see in the above photo, the Osprey was heavily waterlogged after the dive so was keen on shaking herself while flapping upwards with the fish. After landing briefly back in her perch tree to shake more of the water from her bedraggled feathers, she flew to another perch to begin tucking into the mullet meal. Again we crept closer in the car as she removed the operculum (gill covers) and ripped into the meal with ease.


These marine raptors feed exclusively on fish and as a consequence are extremely good at what they do. They have very long talons, perfectly suited to grasping the slippery, slimy skin of their prey, and a very long bill, all the better to eat it with. Also, osprey are capable of closing their nostrils to prevent filling with seawater once they dive in to seize their victim.

A final glare told me that she wanted to eat her fish in peace, so I snapped this shot then left her be, feeling blessed for this wonderful experience from Mother Nature.


Thursday, 9 February 2012

February Wildlife Bonanza!


As I write this, a beautiful Kambekor (also Kambyne, Nyoongar for Tawny Frogmouth) is sitting about 5 m away outside my office window, perched on a horizontal limb and tucked neatly against the trunk of a Sheoak tree. His camouflage is perfect. The squabbling magpies already drew me outside once to investigate, but I couldn’t see anything suspicious. A raven had also come in for a look, and he croaked a couple of warnings making me squint and scan the trees carefully for a bird of prey. Nothing. I then searched the ground for a snake or goanna - birds are very good indicators of predatory animals. Still nothing. I went back inside and kept working, but the magpies persisted their cackling. It was only on the second check that I noticed him. What an exciting garden visitor!


The presence of this beautiful bird of the night in our front yard at Mt Helena today continues with the theme of our February wildlife bonanza. This month we’ve had company in the form of many different species, big and small, some common and some not so. It all goes to show if you keep your eyes peeled, you can see a whole variety of animals!

Two days ago we were lucky enough to meet ‘Winston’. This gorgeous juvenile Red Wattlebird (Anthochaera carunculata) flew down in the early morning and began begging me for food. I made some honey-water and poured it into a small lid, and he instantly began lapping it up with his nectar-feeding brush-tipped tongue. Later that day he followed me into the shed and began eating spiders that I caught him from the ceiling. Soon he was catching his own!

Winston’s tameness was a clear indicator that he had been hand-reared, probably by some nearby neighbours who had saved him from a fallen nest. The presence of pollen on his beak was a reassuring reminder that he had been feeding himself on flower nectar. Often when young birds are hand-reared, they imprint to humans and do not develop the skills needed to survive on their own. But flower-feeding must be an instinctual behaviour for wattlebirds and I’m sure he’ll look after himself in the future. Even if he is still partial to some hand-fed honey!

Winston was tame enough to perch on Gill’s foot :-)

Winston’s yellow mouthparts and shorter bill tell us he is a juvenile, only a few weeks out of the nest.

While we’re on the topic of wattlebirds, we had another amazing observation a few days prior to Winston’s that had a slightly different tone. As we sat and had breakfast on the front verandah we heard a very unusual sounding wattlebird call - or more accurately, a choke. I walked down the back to have a closer look, and there, right up against the fence, was a female Collared Sparrowhawk killing an adult Red Wattlebird!! It had caught the wattlebird, pinned it to the floor and was squeezing it with its talons. I leapt into action and raced for my camera, but by the time I got back outside the raptor had flown up to a nearby bush and the wattlebird had escaped. Despite staying on its perch and surveying the area with it’s massive yellow eyes, the wattlebird remained hidden and the sparrowhawk left the area, no doubt disappointed at its failure. Here’s a very average photo that I managed to snap of the sparrowhawk waiting for her second swipe. You can tell it’s a female because of her size - the male is much smaller, weighing only about 120 grams.


This leads nicely into another bird of prey observation, but this time it was the sparrowhawk who felt threatened. At my parent’s home in Parkerville a few days ago, I rushed outside to the alarm calls of ravens and saw a Little Eagle (Hieraeetus morphnoides) fly overhead. As I grabbed my camera, I saw a tiny speck zoom in at the eagle and realised it was a Collared Sparrowhawk - this time attacking his large cousin. Smaller raptors are often threatened by their larger relatives and will dive-bomb them persistently in an attempt to get rid of the threat. These interactions make for some exciting photographic opportunities! In the below photographs, the sparrowhawk’s square-ended tail is a clear distinction of its species: the similar Brown Goshawk has a rounded tail and is much larger.

The sparrowhawk flies at the eagle with great speed...

... then kindly ‘escorts’ its rival away from Parkerville.

To continue with the eagle theme, I had my first sighting of Wailitj (the Wedge-tailed Eagle) above our home at Mt Helena on Monday. A large dark adult, probably one of the Parkerville or Chidlow breeding birds, soared high over the rooftops early in the morning. As usual, I was only alerted to this bird’s presence by a raven, who called loudly as he harassed the huge eagle. As you can see in the picture, the eagle is not really bothered by the pesky raven!


From massive birds to small reptiles that hide away in the shed... Gill and I uncovered this Marbled Gecko (Christinus marmoratus) when we were moving some form ply around in the shed yesterday morning. This species of gecko is common in the Perth Hills, often being observed on sheds and walls at nighttime when it hunts insects. This female was carrying 2 tiny white eggs, visible inside her almost transparent stomach, which she will be laying under some bark or rocks, probably in the next few days. Hopefully we get to see the tiny babies very soon!




Mum and Dad gave us a bird bath for a house-warming present about 2 months ago. It took a while for the local birds to learn it was there, but now they have, it has been very well used! At this time of year, when most creeks are dry and the only water to be found is in dams and the occasional tree hollow, sometimes quite far away, bird-baths can be really important to help our feathered friends keep hydrated. Imagine if you had to sit outside during 40˚C with your mouth open and try to stay cool in the mottled shade during our summer days! Some afternoons we have several species come to drink, or in the case of the Brown Honeyeater (Lichmera indistincta) at the top right of the photos below, jump right in! If you don’t have a bird-bath or you do but never get birds using it, try moving it to a protected area near your house, and make sure you put it near some small trees or shrubs so the birds can perch nearby.

That brings us to the end of a long news post - but hopefully you’ve found this one educational, and most importantly, enjoyable. I guess the message is: look what happens when you pay attention to the animals in your area, you can see a heck of a lot in only a week!