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!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Canning River Activity Day


‘Birds Galore’ was an appropriate title for the workshop I ran at the Canning River during today’s fabulous activity coordinated by the Swan River Trust, with 31 species recorded in total. The weather was fine and warm when we met at the CREEC (Canning River Eco-education Centre) at 9:30am to start the day, which kicked off with an enthusiastic introduction by Linley Brown. Thanks for giving us such an inspiring start to the day Linley!

Six primary schools participated in five different activities - Nyoongar Perspectives, Tree Planting, Feral Fish, The Wonderful World of Water, and the birdwatching activity. I had the pleasure of taking 5 groups of primary school students on a short walk to learn about local birds. We ventured from a highly modified ‘man-made’ environment towards a relatively natural lagoon at the edge of the Canning River. The focus was meant to be on wetland birds, but we also recorded many ‘bush birds’, and discussed several key points on the walk:
  1. -key features to observe when identifying birds, including the size and shape of the beak, length of legs, colour of feathers, and the birds’ behaviour.
  2. -looking out for indirect evidence of birds, including remains of food (e.g. chewed nuts), feathers on the ground, and calls.
  3. -the difference in vegetation between man-made areas and remnant bushland.
  4. -the presence of invasive species in the man-made environment.
  5. -the overall diversity of birds in the area.
We also had lots of practice at using binoculars, thanks to the event organisers providing enough for every student to use a pair each. As you can see from the photo below, some students even needed binoculars to be able to see up to my face!! When we saw different species, I pointed out features in the bird book and talked about how to recognise them. One of the most abundant species we found was the Rainbow Lorikeet, a parrot introduced to the Perth region. These were using many of the tree hollows and feeding in large numbers in introduced Eucalypt trees near the centre.


Although we sighted many of the same species throughout the day, each group was also lucky enough to see different birds too. One exciting moment was when a student saw a Little Eagle soaring above us. Another time, 9 Red-tailed Black Cockatoos flew right overhead just as we happened to be talking about how to recognise honkey nuts eaten by this species. They must have heard us!

Students had fun climbing up into the bird hide located at the edge of the lagoon, which gave a good view over the water. One group had very close looks at a Great Egret wading in the shallows next to a Yellow-billed Spoonbill searching for food. We also spied Pink-eared Ducks, an uncommon waterbird, and many Australian Shelducks from the hide’s elevated position. A common theme for each group was the assumption that all birds on the water must be ducks - something we learned was not necessarily true by again focusing in the size and shape of birds’ beaks. After close inspection with our binoculars we noticed that many of the ‘ducks’ were actually coots!

At the end of the day all presenters were exhausted but thrilled to have had the involvement of so many enthusiastic young people. Hopefully, as Linley said at the end, all will take home the knowledge they learned and share it with their friends and family. That’s just what environmental education is all about!

A big thanks to Linley for coordinating the event, and to Jos Fissioli and Miranda Holker for their help and for providing photos they took during the day. I’ve written a list of all the birds we recorded below. If you are one of the students who took part, I hope you can find this useful for remembering the birds we saw.

Keep your eyes out on the Canning Times who will be doing an article about the birdwatching activity very soon!



Sunday, 20 May 2012

Back from the Kimberley


I’ve just returned from the amazing Kimberley region where I spent the best part of the last month. Seeing Gouldian Finches (like the gorgeous black-headed male pictured above) was one of the highlights for me, as well as the hundreds of other unique species of wildlife I was lucky enough to encounter. 

This region really is a jewel in Australia’s rich diversity of natural history. You can’t visit without feeling a unique sense of  ancient history, evoked by a place where the world’s oldest indigenous tribe of people originated, tens of thousands of years ago. Looking over a vast landscape with boab trees, glistening flood plains and glowing red rock formations stretching to the horizon in every direction, scarcely a sign of human occupation, makes you have a soothing sense that wilderness largely free from Western humans’ economic destruction can exist. At least for the moment.

My photos from three recent experiences in the Kimberley can be viewed by clicking the links below: 2 weeks at El Questro Wilderness Park on a filming stint with Australian Geographic; a 3-day canoeing adventure on the Ord River from Lake Argyle to Kununurra; and a few days exploring the local surrounds of Kununurra and Lake Argyle itself. I hope my photos of the Kimberley’s natural environment can inspire you to visit the area. To see it for yourself. And ultimately to take ownership of this area and feel the want to preserve it as a unique wilderness.

Kununurra

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Kookaburra Killed


If you look carefully, you can see something grasped firmly in this majestic-looking Wedge-tailed Eagle’s talons. The victim, whose lower bill I recovered from beneath the tree, was an iconic bird of the Kimberley - a Blue-winged Kookaburra (Daecelo leachii). This was one less bird that would wake us campers up at dawn! He (I knew the kookaburra was male from discarded tail feathers) was almost certainly caught live by either this eagle or her mate this morning at El Questro Wilderness Park.

When Gavin Scott (an El Questro Ranger) excitedly rushed over to tell me about seeing an eagle feeding, I didn’t expect we would return to the scene and find the bird still there. But as we drove slowly along the dusty road and I glanced out the window eagerly, I focused instantly on a dark shape perched on the highest limb of a Bauhinia tree, only 20m from us. An adult male Wedge-tailed Eagle! Gavin quickly pointed out that it was not the bird he’d just seen feeding. Then we saw movement and noticed the female was perched just below him - not one eagle but TWO!!

I shot some footage of her ripping the kookaburra to pieces and even filmed her eating the whole top of the skull! She didn’t seem fazed by me as I snuck out of the car, so I circled around to her north-western side to have the sun at my back. Just the right lighting for a good photo. I snapped a few of the male (below), then started approaching her. She stopped feeding when I got to about 10m, then flew shortly afterwards.


Many doubt the Wedge-tail’s capability at hunting birds on the wing but I firmly believe that the smaller and swifter male finds it easy. A few weeks ago I observed a family trio of  wedgies hunting black cockatoos and their agility astounded me - they flapped furiously and split a flock up to single out just one bird, staying low to the ground, flapping upwards and plummeting to gain momentum, before disappearing below the treeline. Combined with their sheer patience, skill at ambush and manoeuvrability, it wouldn’t have surprised me if the male eagle had captured this kookaburra after a pursuit (albeit a short one) through the air. My instinct also told me he had captured it for his mate because she was about to lay eggs. 

I found their nest, pictured below, in a stunning Boab tree, high up on a rocky escarpment during my visit to El Questro last year. This year I’d checked it again and it was freshly lined in preparation for breeding very soon. The female eagle needs peak body condition in order to produce eggs and it is quite possible that some extra snacks are provided by her soulmate, whose loyalty to her during the breeding season is immeasurable. I’ve watched eagle behaviour for countless hours and when you see a male perform aerial courtship, bring prey to the nest or take over an incubation shift, you can see how dedicated he is.

I’m really looking forward to hearing updates from Gavin Scott about the breeding progress of this pair of eagles. Keep watching this News section for updates!