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!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Legless Lizard Lesson


I always get angry when I find animals killed on the road, immediately thinking there should have been an opportunity to avoid this. And dead reptiles always evoke feelings of suspicion - I've heard many people admit to deliberately killing snakes. However, road deaths can sometimes provide a valuable educational opportunity.

This morning I drove past Mundaring Christian College and, as you can see in the above picture, noticed a limp-looking reptile on the road. I pulled over and closer inspection revealed a beautifully marked Burton's Legless Lizard (Lialis burtonis). I considered that someone may have hit it on purpose, mistaking the long, slithering body for that of a snake. But closer inspection revealed this animal hard barely a scratch on it, and could quite easily have been clipped by accident. Here you can just see traces of blood on her head near the ear opening. You can also see the amazing scale detail and patterning on this beautiful animal:



Burton's Legless Lizards are quite common in the Perth region, living in remnant bushland and feeding on other reptiles, especially small skinks, which they crunch up in their strong jaws. They can come in a variety of colours, being a plain pale cream, grey, dark brown, or like this one, having a beautifully striped pattern on their back. They are a stunning animal to see and another part of our unique biodiverse reptile life in the Perth region.

The tragic part of my tale is that this lizard was a female carrying eggs (known as 'gravid') and was probably on her way to find a place to lay them. I could feel at least five hard shapes in her belly, which is noticeably fat in the below picture. So in this sad case, the one animal being hit actually caused the death of more than six reptiles.

I hope this provides a valuable lesson - drive slowly and keep a sharp eye on the road as you pass remnant bushland. And next time you see a 'snake' on the road, have a closer look and you might get an opportunity to see an unusual, harmless and quite beautiful animal you've never encountered before.



Black Cockatoo Reserve

 
Every day presents an opportunity to meet someone or something new, and last Wednesday was one of those days for me. I had an early start and met a Mundaring Shire bushcare officer and some lovely ladies from the local 'Friends of' group at an amazingly beautiful bush remnant near Mundaring: the Black Cockatoo Reserve. The meeting was arranged to tee up some suitable locations to place motion-sensing cameras on nest boxes installed for Black Cockatoos, and here was the perfect place as there are several boxes which have been in place for a number of years.

One nest box shown to me had, according to the Friends group, not had any birds (cockatoos or otherwise!) showing interest in it for some time. I'd experienced this before and suggested this could be because of a possum living inside, which you wouldn't know unless you saw it emerge on dusk. Having my climbing equipment handy, I thought "...there's only one way to find out!", and scaled the tree to get a closer look.



The first thing I noticed was the way this box had been attached to the tree. You can see from this photo that a large amount of chain has been used to secure the top, and been wrapped twice around the box to hold it to the limb. This is a really awful method! Having chain strapped to the box in this fashion not only cuts into the bark over time, damaging the tree's tissue, but it also shortens the lifespan of the nest box. As the limb becomes thicker, the chain tightens on the box and eventually it will crush it completely.
 
This is not something that is anyone's fault, it just presents a valuable learning opportunity. I've changed many nest box installation techniques by trial and error over the last 10 years and sometimes you have to just adapt things as you go.

While it is true that nest boxes are heavy and chain is the most suitable fastener, there is a way to do this without damaging the tree at all. Chain can be secured to one side of the box, passed around a sturdy fork and through some old rubber piping to protect the bark, then fixed back onto the other side securely. The length of chain used should be long enough to let the box 'hang' in position, and this will also allow some space as the tree grows thicker, protecting the tree and giving the box a longer life.

I am a great believer in respect and understanding of our environment, and as intelligent creatures humans have the ability to minimise our impacts in everything we do. I've climbed trees for over 20 years and always maintained the view that while high in the canopy, the tree is looking after me, so the least I can do is 'be nice to it'!

Back to the nest box inspection - as I looked at the top,  I could see that some birds had been near it recently as it had quite a few chew marks on the hollow log entrance:


And peering inside, I realised my prediction was right - there WAS a possum in there! This cute Common Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) seemed very happy for such a spacious sleeping place, and was surprised to be woken up by me. You can see if you look carefully at the below picture that possums have been using this box for a while - there is the skull and several bones of a long-dead possum littering the floor of the nest box. I've found dead possums inside nest boxes before following consecutive days of severe heat (45˚C +), and can think of this being one possible explanation. Alternatively the animal may have died of old age in his sleep, or possibly attacked by feral bees which are known to be a problem for artificial nest boxes. There is no way animals with such brilliant climbing ability could get trapped: you can see the wire mesh ladder covers all 4 sides. Whichever the case, the live possum clearly isn't worried otherwise he wouldn't be in there!


I was so enthralled by Black Cockatoo Reserve that Gill and I decided to return for a stroll around the reserve this morning. This decision proved enormously worthwhile as we were provided with the lucky opportunity to witness some more unusual animal behaviour. We found a pair of Endangered Carnaby's Black Cockatoos (Calypthorhynchus latirostris) in a dense thicket of Bull Banksia, and spent some time sitting quietly in the bush filming their behaviour.

These birds are known to be devourers of the fruits of a variety of native plants, especially Eucalypts and Hakeas. I'm sure many of you have watched a flock of these birds feeding on honkey nuts or clipping the cones from Banksia trees on the coastal plain. However, I've rarely seen cockies seeking out flowers for a taste of sweet nectar, as these bird were doing. I was privileged to sneak within 10m or so of these wonderful creatures and observe them getting a 'sugar fix'. You can see in the below shot how much pollen has rubbed off on this male's face as he probes his bill close to the stalk to reach the nectar. I observed him using his tongue in fine movements on the flower tips to absorb the nectar. A delicate operation for a bird which often uses its beak like a pair of bolt-cutters!


His nearby mate (who has a pale bill, grey eye-ring and larger white cheek patch) was also tucking into the Banksia flowers and looked up nicely for this photo:



A morning filming Endearing, Endemic, Endangered birds is the best way to start a Snday!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Caught on Camera!



Our nest boxes have a strong Australian Ringneck theme this month! Today I checked a motion-sensing camera installed on a Black Cockatoo box at Mundaring Primary which I placed there a few weeks ago. Look who's been checking out a potential nest site? :-)

These vertically oriented nest boxes, over a metre deep, are supposed to be designed to suit Black Cockatoos, and not be favoured by other species like Galahs which prefer horizontal entrances. However, in the last 2 months, we’ve recorded both Australian Ringnecks AND Galahs laying eggs in them! It’s probably too late for the above pair of ringnecks this year to nest anyway. And perhaps they are just curious birds, looking to see if anyone is home in the tree hollow.

At least we know that some wildlife has found the box, so there’s no reason that a pair of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos (the target species) won’t do the same in the future.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Private Life of Parrots


Have you ever seen baby parrots, only a few days old, being fed by their mother? Did you know that parrots laying several eggs in a clutch begin incubating with the first egg, which means young hatch at different times and grow at different rates? If not, read on!

You might have seen my past news posts about Australian Ringnecks nesting inside artificial boxes before. Some have in fact just been reared in one of our nest boxes at Ardross Primary. I’ve photographed their eggs and various stages of chick growth for many years now (here’s one from 2011), but I’ve never shot any footage of behaviour inside the nest.

Today I inspected the large nesting box above, which was installed for Black Cockatoos in 2008, to make sure it was still securely attached to the tree. I didn’t know anything had been using it this year but when I peered inside I was surprised to see three tiny Australian Ringneck chicks huddled together in one corner, and a couple of as yet unhatched eggs. 

Here’s what they look like:



This discovery made me spring into action, and I quickly descended the tree to fetch my miniature HD video camera and a long stick on which to mount it. Then I set it up inside the nest chamber, which, as you can see, being designed for a large cockatoo, is more than adequately large enough for these small parrots:


With a 2 hour battery, I had plenty of chance to capture the female returning to brood, so left it recording and returned later this afternoon . . . . .

When I collected the camera and looked at the video files, I was extremely pleased to see the female ringneck had been caught on film with her chicks! Even though the box was a bit dark being naturally lit (I didn’t use any artificial lighting), the below video shows her behaviour quite well. You can see her suspicion of the camera in her nest as she looks at it curiously, before being nagged by her young to begin feeding. The size different in the (asynchronously hatched) chicks is also really obvious, with the largest of the brood probably 3 days ahead of his very tiny little sibling.


Keep watching this post for more updates of this Australian Ringneck family, nesting high above a Parkerville road in an artificial hollow built for cockatoos!



Ringnecks from Simon Cherriman on Vimeo.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Bandicoot Bash!




Sometimes we are lucky enough to be in just the right place at the right time to witness amazing animal behaviour. Today my mum was gardening next to the house when a sudden noise caught her attention. She looked deeper into the garden bed and saw two male Quenda (Isoodon obesulus) jostling among the shrubs. Immediately she raced inside to grab the camera, then rush backed to the garden bed, hoping they would still be there.

The Quenda proceeded to roll each other down the embankment and disappear among some ground covers! Mum walked along the driveway and saw them emerge onto the brick paving, still heavily locked in battle! Both animals were soaking wet suggesting their fight had given them a severe dunking in the nearby fish pond.

Thanks to Mum for this incredible series of photographs, which really captures the ferocity with which the duelling marsupials slam each other into the ground!







Monday, 5 November 2012

Useless Wire? Rubbish!



On the way home from an environmental survey near Bindoon today, Gill and I were horrified to find this huge pile of discarded wire dumped in the bush. It might sound funny but despite seeing cockatoos, a Rainbow Bee-eater nest and many other native animals, finding this wire was the highlight of my day!

This multi strand ‘clothesline wire’ is something which, after years of trials, I have found to be the best material for hanging nest boxes. It is strong, galvanised (so doesn’t rust) and is very easy to bend into shape. We spent about an hour untangling a very small portion of the above pile and salvaged about 200m. We stopped into the local shop and found the same wire for sale at $25 for 10m. Saving money, waste and the environment is our motto, and we love it!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Nestonia



On Friday Gill and I packed our car with form ply, wire, hosepipe, nails, screws, a few hollow logs and a whole bunch of tools and headed east. Scattered showers broke up the horizon and a glorious afternoon light lit up the Salmon Gums on the road verge. These were very precious to see as more than 90% of native vegetation has been cleared from this region for agriculture. You can see the evidence of this clearing, and the location of Westonia, on the map below.

Three hours later we arrived at Westonia, a tiny town just near Merredin in the WA Wheatbelt. We checked into our accommodation and had a relaxing evening, preparing for a busy Saturday.



We got up early the next morning and headed to the Shire depot to set up for another Nest Box Workshop, this time to be conducted with the local community. About 15 people ended up attending, including half a dozen children, which was very pleasing. The workshop was organised by the Shire of Westonia and WWF, who were really keen to put up some boxes in the Westonia Common, a local remnant of Salmon Gum, Gimlet and Red Morrel woodland surrounding the town, rich in biodiversity.

After an introduction to tree hollows and nest boxes, we laid out the materials and were ready to start! There was some reluctance at first, but once the first person in the group picked up their saw and began cutting up plywood, everyone jumped in and was busily working. By lunchtime we had most of our boxes finished and enjoyed some sandwiches, biscuits and drinks provided by the local deli. Nothing like a bit of food to revive our enthusiasm!

A coat of paint and some time drying in the beautiful sunshine and the boxes were FINISHED! (we were blessed with a nice fine day after 2 previous days of heavy rain). Here’s a picture of the team with the 1 Black Cockatoo, 2 parrot, 2 pardalote and 2 phascogale nesting boxes made on the day.



The team then loaded the boxes into a ute and we headed to the bushland, only 2 minutes down the road from our workplace. We began by installing the black cockatoo box, which would take the longest out of the boxes to be hauled into position with ropes. The other boxes were much easier and by sunset that evening all seven were in place.

A particularly exciting discovery during the box installation was a sighting of several Regent Parrots in the bush. We were also told that Purple-crowned Lorikeets had been recorded there. Neither of these native parrots are very common in the wheatbelt any more (Australian Ringnecks and Galahs seem to be dominant everywhere), so it was encouraging to know that a little bit more diversity exists at Westonia.

We are looking forward to what might use these new boxes in the future!