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!

Friday, 28 September 2012

More Nest Boxes! - Applecross Primary


Another day, another nest box! Today Gill and I had the privilege of spending the day at Applecross Primary school running our Schools Nestbox Program. The Year 5 class made six nest boxes of different sizes - above you can see them adding the finishing coat of paint, and below you can see me installing the first box.

Thanks to the fantastic teachers Vanessa Mann and Jessica Williams for organising us to come along, and to the kids who ran a fundraiser to help make it happen. Also, we can’t forget our sponsors, Macmahon Construction and Mundaring Hardware. What a brilliant way to finish off the school term - Happy Holidays!










Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Bioblitiz!



Yesterday I returned from the fabulous location of Korrelocking in the West Australian Wheatbelt. I spent the weekend volunteering to do bird walks with community members and track down as many species of birds as possible as part of the 2012 Korrelocking Bioblitz (click this link to have a look at the group’s Facebook page. There were lots of other wildlife specialists and enthusiasts there who all focussed on different interest groups - with the result being more than 200 species of plants, invertebrates, birds, mammals, reptiles and frogs being detected. Not a bad result for 24 hours work!

One of the highlights for me was finding a pair of Spotted Harriers (Circus assimilis) breeding in the remnant bushland. Local Phil Lewis has reported this pair breeding in the past but it was the first encounter of this species in the wheatbelt for me, so I was very excited! Here’s a picture of this beautiful raptor species, and below, their fresh nest, which is still under construction, being recently lined with fresh gumleaves:




Another highlight for me was observing may White-fronted Honeyeaters (Prunella albifrons), and hearing them call away merrily from the bush near our camp. I was lucky enough to find one pair nesting, another first for me. The nest, as you can see below, was beautifully built and carefully lined with plant down, being hidden deep in the fork of a sheoak shrub. After mounting my (camouflaged) miniature HD video camera on the nest I was thrilled to capture this photo of the pair returning to their nest:





What a fabulous way to spend a weekend! It was so encouraging to see the number of people who were keen to be out camping, socialising, and learing more about their natural environment!
To view more photos from the weekend, click here.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Back to Pt Walter


Today I was back at this beautiful recreation reserve to take about 50 girls from Perth College on yet another bird walk. The above picture shows the whole group after the walk - I hope this says they all had fun!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Pt. Walter PEAC and a Penrhos Butcher


I got to Point Walter on the Swan River nice and early this morning and had a quick walk around to prepare for a bird walk. It wouldn’t be long before the Year 1 PEAC children from Penrhos College (and a few other local schools) arrived! It was great to have an intact remnant of Tuart habitat along the edge of the river complete with a walking track, which was ideal for our walk.

The children soon turned up and we headed off, spotting many Australian Ravens, and a few Galahs, one pair of which were chewing around their nest-hollow inside a gum tree. Further into the bush we found a raven’s nest high up in a tall fork, and spotted some Australian Ringnecks looking into one of the many nest-boxes we saw had been installed in the area. Blossoming Parrotbush plants grew thickly along our walk trail, and we saw many Red Wattlebirds foraging in them, chortling and coughing as they went! We talked about the specially designed ‘paintbrush’ tongue which is able to probe into flowers and absorb the nectar with ease.

We finished off the walk with a quick ‘treasure hunt’ for a bird’s nest which I’d found earlier, and hidden in the bush. The kids were soon bringing back handfulls of down feathers, and we learnt that this was from a duck’s nest inside another nest box close to the track. We learned how ducks use their own feathers to keep their eggs warm inside the nest, and how the baby ducklings have to jump to the floor when they hatch!

I spent the afternoon giving a some talks about Australian birds and local habitats to three wonderful classes of Year 5’s back at Penrhos College. Most of our session was in the classroom, where we talked about the Banksia woodland habitat and the variety of Honeyeaters that live in it. We also learnt how humans have cleared much of the Banksia woodland, and that many birds have disappeared because of this.

To finish of the sessions, I took the girls outside and we had a quick look for birds at the school. I also showed them some feathers and a few birds’ nests, and we thought about some ways to detect birds other than looking for them: finding feathers, spotting nests and listening for songs and calls. In a highly modified environment (with pine trees and many introduced plants), I didn’t expect to see many local native species. However, we heard a Brown Honeyeater calling, saw a few Australian Ravens and even watched one dipping some food in the bird bath. But the highlight of the day was finding a Grey Butcherbird nesting about 4m above the ground in a Silver Birch tree, RIGHT at the school’s front entrance!! I’d brought in a butcherbird nest to show, thinking this would be something the girls might not see in their area – how wrong I was! Being so used to people, we were able to watch the butcherbirds flying to their nest in front of us without being worried. What a learning opportunity! I climbed the nest to take a photo before leaving, and found 3 wonderful eggs!

This is what they look like:




The Year 5’s will now be keeping close tabs on the nest to check its progress, and are hoping to see chicks very soon!
Thanks to all the fabulous teachers for having me talk to their children today, and to the children for their enthusiasm and interest to learn new things!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Constant Competition


I arrived back in Parkerville today after a month away and did the routine nest-box check at my parents’ block. This was what I saw when I looked straight up the trunk of this Lemon-scented Gum next to the driveway: an Australian Ringneck seeing who was knocking on her door!
I climbed up to inspect the box and count how many eggs she was incubating, and as I opened the lid, this is what I saw...


The three smaller white eggs belong to the ringneck, but the larger ones are much to big! These belong to Australian Wood Ducks, which have already been observed using my other nest boxes, sometimes in tight competition with other species (see the ‘Ducking Around’ and ‘Wood Ducks’ stories for more info). If you look really closely, you can also see a few pink feathers inside the nest box, which belong to Galahs, showing that they, too, have been inside this box.
Somehow I don’t think the ringneck is big enough to sit on the duck eggs, but I wonder if having such enormous things right in the middle of her nest bothers her at all?

Saturday, 15 September 2012

The Ravens of Castlemaine


Today is my last day in Castlemaine, so I thought I’d make this short film to share one of the exciting adventures I went on during my stay. The adventure was up a tree, and the reason was to learn more about the nesting habits of the Little Raven (Corvus mellori). This is one of five species of Corvids, or members of the crow family, which are found in Australia. The nesting habits of each species, including the Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides) which lives near in the Perth area, is very similar to the this one, so hopefully you can learn lots about the corvid near you!

Enjoy the film :-)


The Ravens of Castlemaine from Simon Cherriman on Vimeo.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Frogs in Victoria


The children giggled happily as we flicked on our torches and crossed the busy road. Despite the traffic noise we could still hear a chorus of frogs coming from along the creek. ‘Crick...crick...crick...crick’.

Last time I visited the creek (in 2011), massive summer floods had torn apart the vegetation and left a trail of destruction after the water receded. There were a few birds to be seen, but being the wrong time of year for frogs to be actively breeding, my explorations had focused mainly on searching for birds and reptiles.

This week, however, I arrived in this fabulous state just in time for some great amphibian action! There’s been some good winter rainfall and Campbell’s Creek in Castlemaine was alive at dusk with some very loud frog calls. Consequently Gill, her brother, sister-in-law, mother and I took her niece (4) and nephew (6) on a spotlighting adventure to see what types of frogs we could find.

It was great fun creeping along the wet, grassy creek-banks listening to the cricks, croaks and ribbits coming from the water, and scanning our torches among the reeds. After a few minutes searching I was lucky enough to locate an Eastern Common Froglet (Crinia signifera), hiding among a few grass blades. This species is only the size of a 20c coin, and males call from hidden locations on the ground close the the water’s edge. Although small with a plain old name, these frogs are spectacular little critters with beautiful markings and a grating ‘crick-crick-crick’ call which is loud enough to make up for their other shortcomings! Here are some picture of one:



As well as the small ‘cricks’ coming from the grass underfoot, we noticed other sounds coming from tree branches on the bank of the creek opposite to us. Curiosity drew me closer and I shed my shoes to wade across the shin-numbing waters in search of the ‘noise makers’. When frogs hear human footsteps they often go quiet: this is exactly what happened and I spent quite some time sitting quietly on a log waiting before another frog thought about calling. Eventually his urge to attract a female won out and he let go a loud rattle which interrupted the sound of babbling water. I quickly scanned a nearby bush with my head torch and spotted a small brown shape sitting on a thin branch. To my delight, this was a Southern Brown Tree Frog (Litoria ewingii), a species very similar to the closely related Slender Tree Frog found over in Perth. As their name suggests, tree frogs are brilliant climbers, and he was soon clambering over my fingers and up my arm as I attempted to grab hold of him!

A quick photo and show-and-tell to the others and the tree frog was back on his branch, ready to carry on his calling into the night.


Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Off with a bang!


Tonight is our last night in New Zealand after 2 fabulous weeks of catching up with friends, and travelling around this amazing country. While having dinner at a friend’s place we were shaken by a massive thunderstorm overhead. I rushed upstairs after trying a few long exposures with my camera, managed to come up with this photo. Not the best but a good reminder of this example of nature’s fury. Nothing like finishing a holiday with a bang!

You can see many more photos of New Zealand’s beauty by looking at the ‘Aotearoa, Aug-Sept 2012’ album in my Photo Gallery.



Monday, 3 September 2012

New Zealand Birds

 
I crawled on my belly at the edge of the water in Milford Sound to get close (~5m) to this spectacular female New Zealand Shelduck (Tadorna variegata). Sandflies gathered in their dozens to munch my skin, making me nervous that I'd scare the birds away with each *smack*. My hands are still itching! I've seen so many pairs of this bird before but have NEVER been able to get so close.

This species is known as 'Putangitangi' in the language of the Maori people. Like the Australian Shelduck, it nests in hollow cavities in trees, sometimes as high as 25m in forests. The female has a pretty white head and gorgeous red-brown plumage, complimented by a speculum (window on the wing) that flashes green in the sunlight. The equally beautiful male bird (below) appears mostly grey, however, the fine feathers on the back are intricately marked with squiggles of black and white. Males such as this are known to make large movements, with juveniles dispersing widely from their natal area and sometimes settling in territories more than 100km away!

Who says ducks are boring!?