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, 27 June 2012

Swimming from a Burrow


Tonight I found this tiny tadpole in my dam in Parkerville. You might not think there is anything unusual about finding a tadpole in a dam... but this one is a bit more special that the rest...

One thing you can see is that this tadpole has golden stripes... and no, that doesn’t mean it’s worth alot! It tells us that it is a baby Moaning Frog (Heleioporus eyrei), as gold stripes are a diagnostic feature of this species. It also makes sense that it’s one of the burrowing frogs, a group that finished breeding earlier in the year, because other frog species (like the Crinias) have only just begun calling, so it’s a bit early for their tadpoles to be sighted. If you read this story, you’ll know that Moaners lay their eggs in foam nest, deep in a burrow underground. So the exciting conclusion is that the tadpole pictured above originated from a dark burrow beneath the surface!

I spotted several Moaner tadpoles in the shallows of the dam tonight, all of which were very small (only about 10 mm long). now they are in a much more thriving waterbody that their dark burrow, these tadpoles will forage on various water plants and grow rapidly towards metamorphosis.

Another example of our wonderful world of nature holding more than meets the eye!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Eagle Breeding Time

 
While you might be cozy and warm by your fire during some of these wintery days, do you ever take your imagination out into the bush and wonder what our wildlife is up to?

Our largest bird of prey, the Wedge-tailed Eagle, has its mind on nesting, with some of the first breeders now with eggs. This means that those dedicated female eagles are sitting tight on their nests, even in some of the heaviest downpours, to keep the precious eggs warm.

Eagle breeding has lured me out and about to check the territories I’ve been studying for some years now. So far I’ve visited three nesting valleys and located active nests in all of them. The picture below shows one of these, perched high up in a tall Marri tree. This nest site was actually used in 2009, but heavy weather the following summer blew it down, so the eagles had to start from scratch this year.


Another nest on the Swan Coastal Plain near Perth, used successfully in 2011, has been refurbished this year. I was thrilled yesterday to discover it was active, with the first freshly laid egg laid in a bed of Eucalypt leaves:


You might wonder why eagles are nesting now, when the weather is wet and they have to sit in the rain to keep their eggs warm and dry. Why not wait until Spring when it’s a bit drier? This is not definitely known, but in nature everything happens for a reason. It is highly likely that eagles lay eggs now so their chicks hatch during the time when their prey is most abundant. In about six weeks when this egg will be an eaglet, the environment is seething with young kangaroos, rabbits, baby birds and reptiles who are emerging from winter hibernation, all things that a Wedge-tail would pounce on for a meal. If they laid later in the year, the eaglets would be growing up when all the other wildlife is dispersing or going into hiding for the hot Summer months.

And anyway, when you have a view over the gorgeous Banksia woodland such as that from this eagle nest during a sunny Winter afternoon, why wouldn’t you sit and enjoy it as soon as you could? Can you sharpen your eyes and find Perth on the horizon?

 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Frog Blog!


Just in case you don’t know - and I didn’t until I started this website - a ‘blog’ refers to a regular diary entry on the internet. It’s short for ‘web log’, and was shortened to ‘blog’ in the way that lots of things get made smaller for ease of saying!

Speaking of small things, the time of year has arrived for some of our smaller frogs to begin breeding. I just love listening outside during the evening and hearing our wetlands alive with frogs! Here is a story I recently wrote for the West Australian Newspaper’s ‘Ed!’ section, which will hopefully inspire you to learn about frogs in your local area . . .

Imagine a cold winter’s evening. The sun has just disappeared and it looks quite dark through the window. A golden fire crackles merrily in the corner of the lounge. The easiest thing to do is curl up in a beanbag with your favourite book. But the more exciting option is to grab a torch, head outside and venture down to the trickling creek. Go on. Do it! There are many little creatures waiting to be discovered.

At first you feel cold, dew-covered grass beneath your bare feet. Then soft mud. The sound of water trickling through the valley fills your ears, and you scan the reeds and paperbarks with your torch. No movement. You look up at the crescent moon, and the darkness seems soothing. Not scary at all. Just exciting to be out exploring at night.

Then there’s a sound.

“TICK_____tick___tick-tk-tk-tk…

TICK_____tick___tick-tk-tk-tk”…

It’s like someone dropping a marble on a stone bench top. You squat down and it gets louder… then there’s another. And another. As you hold your breath in silence, you hear many tiny ticking sounds resonating all around you. You face one and peer closer to the ground, and the noise is now louder than ever. It almost hurts!

These calls are made by one of the smallest species of frogs found near Perth. Clicking or Glauert’s Froglets (Crinia glauerti) live in ephemeral wetlands and breed during winter. Their activities are prompted by the first rains, which set the waterways flowing and send the frogs into chorus. The clicking call is incredibly loud considering its owner is only about 2 cm long! Males find a hidey-hole at the edge of a waterway, often hidden among rocks and leaves, and call loudly to attract females. Tadpoles take more than 3 months to develop, a very long time considering eggs are only a couple of millimetres wide! The only photo I currently have of this species is in the 2011 News post on frogs here.





There are about five species of similar sized froglets (another name for a tiny frog) found in the Perth region. All are small and brown, are not very good climbers (unlike our two larger tree frog species), and are best distinguished by their call. The Bleating Froglet (Crinia pseudinsignifera), pictured above left and right), is only found in the Perth hills, and has a soft, continuous creaking or bleating voice. The males of this species are very variable in appearance, and seem to have a skin colour very similar to their surroundings. As you can see in the above photos, the male on the left has a similar brown colour to the leaf he was found on... and the male on the right is coloured to match the gravelly clay of the wetland where I found him!

The Quacking Frog (Crinia georgiana; pictured below left and right) can also vary in colour - but this doesn’t seem to be related to environment. These are mostly brownish but have all sorts of red patterns on their legs, belly and eyes. As you might guess, a Quacking Frog’s call sounds like a duck! They are one of the bigger species of Crinia, reaching up to 30mm or so. I’ve seen male ‘quackers’ in large numbers calling loudly and vying for a calling space! They require shallow, slow-moving water in which to breed, so can usually be found in small ditches and seeps coming off granite outcrops.





Because they lay eggs in shallow water which doesn’t last that long, their tadpoles only take around 35 days to develop, much quicker than other species which are half their size! Last night I found lots of beautifully marked males calling from a shallow ditch along the bridal path in Parkerville. Just before heading home I was very excited to locate a clutch of ‘quacker’ eggs - you can see them in the picture below.

It’s really important to have contact with our local native species so we learn what they are, and eventually learned to value them. Frogs are one of the easiest animals to find. The most fun thing about frogs is getting outside and listening to them! See what species you can discover near your house.




Friday, 8 June 2012

Swamp Things!


Low, grassy vegetation. Clay soil. Damp puddles. When you look at this picture of a swamp you might not think it’s the sort of place you’d find an ectothermic (cold-blooded) animal. But when I explored this ‘island’ in the Jarrah forest near Augusta recently, that’s just what I found.

In habitats such as this you can often find small mounds of fine twigs and sticks. These belong to ‘Stick-nest Ants’, a tiny ant that makes nests out of sticks. “What an amazing coincidence!,” I hear you say! The ants are very common and not every nest is occupied. Quite a few become abandoned, leaving a vacant dome of sticks and soil, a heat-retaining mound that keeps out the water. A perfect hidey-hole for a reptile.

Today we searched on hands and knees, carefully sifting through Stick-ant nests, and managed to discover some gorgeous snakes...



I was really excited to poke into one ant nest and see the gorgeous coils of this Square-nosed Snake (Rhinoplocephalus bicolor). You can see where it gets its name from shape of the head in the above photograph. This species is classed as venomous, but doesn’t carry enough poison for a bite to a human to be harmful. It feeds entirely on other reptiles, especially small skinks, and being from a colder part of the state, gives birth to live young. It’s interesting to know that juveniles have a very different appearance to adults. Here is one I managed to find in another Stick-ant nest. As you can see, he was quite keen to pose for the camera!


Another species of snake which has a liking for Stick-ant nests is the Crowned Snake (Elapognathus coronatus). We found one of these basking on top of a nest in the late afternoon sun, and luckily I was able to grab him quickly and place him on the ground under my hat, ready to poise him for a photograph. These  spectacular animals give birth to 3-9 live young in March and April. As their name suggests, they have a ‘crowned’ appearance, owing to the dark markings on the side of the head extending across the back of the neck. Like Short-nosed Snakes, Crowns are also not venomous enough to be considered harmful, making them a fun snake to find and photograph.
Next time you’re down in our beautiful deep south-west, find some time to go exploring and you might find some ‘swamp things’ too. They are proof that not every snake you see is a potential death threat, but yet another example of a unique Australian animal.