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!

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Window in the Nest-box


Today I saw this beautiful family of Pacific Black Ducks on the dam. After exactly 4 weeks of incubation, this proud mum has successfully hatched her brood - baby animals are definitely some of the cutest beings Late rainfall in the Perth Hills has given us a very wet August - good weather for ducks! Plenty of pond life is flourishing on the wetland surrounding their mother's nest site, giving these ducklings ample food, especially small insects, which they begin snapping at instinctively on their first day on Earth. Time will tell how many survive - unfortunately most of this family are likely to end up as food for goshawks, ravens and even Long-necked Turtles, which while swimming can easily gulp them up from below. This makes it especially important to keep your pet cats and dogs away from native wildlife, which has a tough time as it is with a vast range of natural predators. Please share to promote responsible pet ownership.

Here is a short video offering a glimpse at the female duck returning to incubate her eggs. Notice how careful she is to tuck the down feathers close to her body, sealing in that vital warm air to prevent the eggs chilling. Also (not shown in this video), she moves the eggs around underneath her, altering their position in the 'circle' and to ensure even warmth reaches each egg. This regulates the temperature and means all eggs will hatch at the same time, so the family can depart the nest together.



Incubation Glimpse from Simon Cherriman on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Fluffy whites


These are the first Wedge-tailed Eagle chicks to hatch this year! Although it's hard to see the second one, which is tucked up beneath it's sibling, this nest proves that both eggs laid have successfully hatched. The next challenge is one of survival - will one eaglet fledge, or both? In 10 years of monitoring eagle nesting in the Perth region, only about 10% of nests fledge both eaglets. The second egg is laid as an 'insurance policy', in case one egg is infertile. The abundance of food and behaviour of siblings (sometimes the older attacks the younger, sometimes the two get on fine) will influence this outcome.

While walking back from the nest in this territory yesterday, I spied this Shining Bronze Cuckoo (Chalcites lucidus) zip over my head and land in a nearby Wandoo sapling. This adult was carrying a large caterpillar and I watched as it smashed it on the branch and ate its fill. What a great meal - equivalent to me eating a chocolate bar the size of my leg! Adult cuckoos are currently on the prowl, searching for nests of the many small songbirds which breed in the eagle valley. Granite outcrops and their surrounding heaths are very diverse in plants, and consequently they can support a huge range of small nesting birds. If you are a parasitic cuckoo, this is great news! You can read more about cuckoo parasitism in this post.


Sunday, 18 August 2013

Great Western Woodlands!


That's where I am right now - in the largest, intact, Mediterranean woodland left in the world. And this amazing area happens to be located 600km east of Perth, in an area which is ineptly named 'The Goldfield's'. Such a human-centric term implies the area consists of 'fields of gold', not vast, unbroken tracts of Eucalypt woodland stretching to the horizon.

This week is all about engaging local young people with their environment, getting inspired about the plants, animals and indigenous culture, and hopefully instilling in them the want to nurture and protect unique areas in this fabulous wilderness. Photos taken during this week will be added to this album on my website.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Barking up the Tree


Spot the bird's nest! In this photo it's not actually very hard to see, but if you were level with or below this tiny cup, it is almost invisible, exceptionally camouflaged. Who made it?

This remarkable piece of engineering is the work of a small, cryptic bird of the canopy - the Varied Sitella (Daphoenositta chrysoptera). But isn't Sitella a winery in the Perth region? Yes! But many human businesses take their name from something in nature, and it can be unfortunate when their original meaning is forgotten.

Varied Sitellas, so named because the species appears in several different colour forms, are widespread across Australia. They are seldom seen because flocks prefer to stay in the canopy, often only alerting themselves to humans with their distinctive call. The birds are also quite small (10cm), and are similar to tree-creepers in behaviour, spending their days clinging with ease to vertical trunks and high up branches, hopping up and down them and gleaning insects from the bark. Sitellas can easily move around without detection, foraging in the canopy in a cryptic manner.



The Sitella's ability to create such a well-disguised nest is one of the most astounding features of all Australian birds. They seek out a tiny fork in which to build and collect small flakes of bark, which are attached longitudinally to the stem with spiders' web, to make the nest appear like a broken off limb. Their attention to detail is just amazing! Peering up from the ground about 8m below, this nest is barely discernible from the other lumps and bumps on branches around it. Inside the nest a fine lining of plant down is added - in this case, the fawn-brown fuzz of Macrozamia has been used to create a soft bed for the 3 speckled eggs.

Another example of how birds never cease to amaze with their construction talent and effort when it comes to nesting.


Speech at Lynwood



After flying back from Adelaide to Perth this morning, I was greeted by this amazing sign outside Lywood Senior High School as a welcome for a speech I gave to the whole senior school. This was to tell the children about some of the exciting and fun things that come from doing environmental research and education work, and provide a  general 'kick off' to motivate them for Sustainability Week at the school. I always get a buzz to have the opportunity to talk to young people and excite them about the wonderful things to be investigated, appreciated and nurtured in the wonderful place that is natural Australia!

Thanks to Jo Willesee for inviting me to attend, and the staff at Lynwood for their welcoming attitude and making a very enjoyable visit (especially the morning tea!).

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Eagle Satellite Tracking: the documentary trailer


Today I finished making this trailer for the next iNSiGHT Film about satellite tracking Wedge-tailed Eagles in Western Australia. The film is a while away yet but at least you can get a feel for what it's about. The film will premiere in Perth in 2014 and DVDs will be available at the screening. Watch this space!


Where Do Eagles Dare? (Trailer) from Simon Cherriman on Vimeo.

Monday, 5 August 2013

NEST BOXES!


This is what every person in this photographed yelled as the shutter clicked to take this photo! About 200 students and teachers assembled on the lawn to celebrate the completion of these 26 nesting boxes, designed for a variety of wildlife (bats, parrots, possums, cockatoos, ducks, owls and Mardo), with students from Mundaring Primary School. This is part of an extensive project for which the school received state NRM funding to conduct environmental work in the bush reserve adjoining the school grounds. This block has just been renamed 'Mardo Reserve', taking its title from the local native marsupial, which is also called a Yellow-footed Antechinus (Antechinus flavipes). This species is relatively widespread but not very common close to residential areas lacking native bushland. However, a Mardo skull was found in the reserve, causing excitement that these mammals may still live here. The primary school's intention is to improve the habitat quality of Mardo reserve, enhancing its value for species like the Mardo, and other local natives too.

Apart from the installation of nest boxes, and replanting of native vegetation (which was conducted earlier this year), the project will involve spotlighting and fauna trapping to investigate which animals live in the reserve, and ongoing checks of the nest boxes.

Fingers crossed we make some exciting discoveries later this year!

Friday, 2 August 2013

Sad News



Not every nest box story ends in success, as we found out today in Sawyers Valley. You might have read this post about a Red-tailed Black Cockatoo occupying a local nest box. It was a really exciting discovery but sadly the egg failed to hatch.

In the above picture you can see a cold, abandoned Red-tail egg, covered with a fresh sprig of gumleaves. This may hold the evidence to what the likely cause of failure was: the over-abundant Galah. Also known as 'Pink and Greys', Galahs are the only cockatoo species which use any form of lining inside their tree-hollow nests, bringing in dozens of sprigs throughout the year to adorn their permanent home. The owner of this nest box, Brad Mitchell, had unfortunately observed Galahs harassing the female cockatoo during her incubation shifts for several weeks. The birds would sit on the top of the box, noisily squawking at her and chew at the entrance. Even though she had put up with this for nearly 3 weeks, perhaps there was only so much of this persistent pestering she could take. Once driven away, the Galahs could commence their occupancy and begin to line the nest for their own use.

Another option is the week of very heavy rainfall (we've had over 70 mm in the last 7 days) was too much for the cockatoo nest, and being a vertically oriented box with an open top, perhaps the bird became too wet or the egg chilled.

Whichever the case, this story provides a good example of the impacts of an over-abundant bird on a threatened species. If biodiversity conservation (preservation of as wide a variety of native plants and animals as possible), the Galah really should be culled on a landscape scale to reduce its population size. You can read more about Galah impacts in my previous blog post here.