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, 24 December 2014

Khristmas Koel


Like a lofty, obese teenager putting an arm around its tiny parent, this cuckoo chick barely notices the food morsel go down its throat as it flaps its wings and continues begging, even though the collection of insects in the mouth of an unsuspecting surrogate mother makes her cheeks bulge! The large bird visible in this photo is an Eastern Koel (Eudynamis orientalis) chick, one of the eleven species of cuckoos known to occur in Australia. But who is the bird you can see here feeding it?

On a recent walk to the local shops near my Christmas accommodation in Sydney, a repeated begging call caught my attention, and I looked up to see a large and beautifully marked bird. I recognised it as a cuckoo but not having seen a Koel before (they do not occur in the south-west where I live), I had to check my field guide to confirm its identity. Rushing home to grab my camera, I returned to find the bird gone, but it didn't take long before I honed in on its begging call and found it in a tree not far from my first sighting. I then waited to see who would come in and feed it.

Juvenile Eastern Koels have pretty markings, almost like a pheasant.

It only took about five minutes for an adult Red Wattlebird (Anthochaera carunculata), a large and very well known species of Australian honeyeater, to fly in with food, quickly feed the chick and then disappear. It flew up to the canopy of a large Eucalypt where it began busily foraging among the foliage. A second wattlebird (which later proved to be the Koel's other 'parent') quickly flew in with another mouthful of insects, which seemed to have little effect on the cuckoo's appetite. Its real parents were nowhere to be seen - they were probably off looking for fruit to sate their own hunger. But how did they come to deceive the wattlebirds?

Cuckoos are certainly clever birds. When the breeding season spreads across the Australian bush, cuckoos migrate from their wintering grounds  - in the case of the Koel, this can be as far north as Papua New Guinea - an arrive in southern breeding areas. The calls of several species of cuckoo can often be heard ringing from the tree-tops, such sounds being a telling sign that spring has arrived. Male cuckoos call to attract females, who, after mating, seek out the nests of another bird in which to lay a single egg. Different cuckoo species have their own targets, depending on the size and shape of the nest. Koels seek out species which build fairly large, open 'cup-shaped' nests, including wattlebirds, friarbirds (another type of honeyeater) and magpie-larks. An egg is dropped swiftly into the host's nest, often after one of the existing eggs is removed. Even if the nest owners catch the female cuckoo in the act of laying, they do not usually suspect anything is wrong, as the cuckoo egg normally has similar markings to those in the target nest. (They will, however, attack the female cuckoo and chase her away, especially if they have seen her remove an egg, which host birds simply think is an act of predation. This is why you see many songbirds chasing or mobbing cuckoos in the same way they do Kookaburras, ravens and raptors - they have learned to recognise those species capable of predation). The cuckoo egg has a shorter incubation period that its new 'siblings', and once hatched, instinctually expels the other eggs in the nest. It then proceeds to grow and grow and grow, taking all the food for itself, and creating a huge 'shopping bill' for its poor surrogate parents! The sad thing is that, again because of instinct, the hosts often attack other would-be predators with great gusto, defending the cuckoo chick as their own. After all, it came from their nest, and hatch from their eggs. Didn't it!?

Although we often feel sorry for birds which are 'cuckoo-ed', this method of reproduction is certainly ingenious when it comes to getting the best 'bang for your breeding buck'! It also provides another example of how amazing the natural world is, and how different animals have evolved such a variety of strategies to succeed.

The Koel chick looks more or less equal in size to its surrogate parent, which looks larger with its wings spread.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Trayning Nest Boxes


Today I spent the day in the WA Wheatbelt town of Trayning where Gill and ran one of our Re-cyc-ology Projects with the local primary school. We had great fun making 6 boxes of various designs to suit different animals, including bats, parrots and larger cockatoos. It was great to get back into the some 'nest box education' after a long time between workshops (the last one we did was at Wandoo Prison in early 2014). Hopefully these kids are another bunch who are now converted!

Monday, 27 October 2014

Wedge-tailed Eagle Nesting Failures



Smashed eggs! Never a nice thing to find on any bird's nest that you have been monitoring with the hope it will soon house an eagle chick. However, such findings are to be expected and teach us a great deal about both the bird and its environment.

Above you can see a clutch of Wedge-tailed Eagle eggs that have been pecked apart by crows (judging by the beak size and shape, shown in detail below). This is not an example of predation - crows are unlikely to be game enough to 'eat from the lion's den', given how regularly they appear as eagle food. It is instead an indicator that the eggs were probably left exposed, which points to a desertion by the incubating female after she was forced off the nest in search of food. Clearly her mate was not hunting regularly enough, and perhaps there was not much to hunt.


A Wedge-tailed Eagle egg after crows have finished with it. Everything in nature is recycled.
 
It is easy for us humans to imagine that when birds breed, they incubate their eggs and produce young successfully with each attempt. However, the truth is that life in the wild is never easy, and it is naive to think that every bird succeeds at every breeding effort. A range of factors influence breeding success - food supply, weather, time of year, age and experience of the bird, predation, human disturbance, to name a few - and one or more of these can come into play for any pair of birds at any time. Successful breeding is indeed a miracle!

Being relatively long-lived, large raptors such as eagles do not need to breed every year, and in many cases they will not even attempt to do so unless conditions are perfect. Our research at Matuwa (Lorna Glen) over the past few years has shown that only about one third of the 35 or so eagle pairs will lay eggs each year. These pairs are in territories where local conditions suit reproduction. Other pairs remain present as long as their is enough food to support themselves, and only breed in good seasons (as published by Michaels Ridpath and Brooker in the 1980s, and Graeme Robertson, in 1987).


Carrion like this dead Red Kangaroo is important for keeping adult eagles alive in drought years.
 
Laying eggs is only the first step. Assuming both eggs are fertile (often one isn't), an incubating female must be provided with enough food to sit for 6 weeks before the eggs hatch. Then if they do, there is high demand from a growing eaglet for a constant supply of 'portable' prey for the next 3 months. In an arid environment like central West Australia, there is a minimum prey threshold required for eagle breeding. It is only after good seasons (sometimes one or two years after rainfall events) that this threshold is met, and it must be maintained from the onset of laying (May/June) right up to after fledging (around November).

In the last three years we've found that in most cases, arid eagles do not even hatch their eggs. The nest is deserted before hatching, leaving the eggs exposed, and scavengers like crows eventually break inside and consume the contents. In past years I've checked nests in November or December, by which time any evidence of eggs has gone (if they were abandoned in July or August. The state of the nest platform, and its lining, can tell us whether or not the eagles have bred in any given year, but that's another story!). However, this nest was inspected in late September, and the broken eggshells were still there to tell us their story.



**In case you are wondering about 'researcher-induced failure', here is some more information. When I mentioned 'monitoring a nest' at the top of this post, you might think 'are nests climbed during incubation and could this be a reason for the eggs' desertion?' In some cases, nests are climbed during incubation if we are unsure of their contents, but mostly climbing is avoided until chicks have hatched. However, failures that have been recorded at climbed nests have occurred in the same season as unclimbed nests, and there is no evidence in our studies which attribute failure to climbing. If flushed, an incubating female is often observed returning to her nest to sit again. And we have found broken eggs or shell fragments on many nests that were not even visited (let alone climbed) during the incubation period, but checked later in the year. The above photos show a nest that was visited and climbed for the first time in 2014 in August. The last time it was climbed was in October 2013 in a year when it had also failed. In 2012 this nest had 2 chicks in August, and when inspected in December that year, contained a dead nestling aged ~7 weeks, whose death we attributed to heat after a prolonged period of daily maxima above 46˚C. Prey abundance is clearly low in this territory although the resident eagles are regularly observed within it.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Kambarang Kites


KAMBARANG! This Noongar (Aboriginal) word is the name of the current season we are experiencing in south-west WA, also known as Spring. It is a time of plenty, when creatures of the bush are capitalising on abundant resources to raise their young. This is especially applicable to our fabulous birds of prey. If you've read my other posts before on Square-tailed Kites, you might have realised that I have quite an affiliation for this species! Being involved in the rescue of a chick in 2012 was all I needed to make this bird of prey soar up to become one of my favourite animals in Australia. Today I was again privileged to visit the same kite family for the third year in a row, and photograph their behaviour at a nest. It was so exciting to see the female brooding 3 small chicks!! (Last year their single egg failed, and the previous year they raised 2 chicks).

One interesting observation I recorded on film was the male kite (who is responsible for delivering most of the food) landing on the nest with an entire Silvereye nest, which contained one chick. Square-tails specialise in foraging close to the canopy and picking off nestling songbirds, which are usually extracted from their nest and carried off. But for 'small and tricky to handle' prey species like Silvereyes, there's nothing like delivering food inside a pre-made shopping basket!

The female kite 'checks the shopping basket' as she removes the Silvereye's nest from her own nest.

The male kite barely spent any time at the nest - he would deliver prey and then take off again on another hunting foray. The female fed her chicks with the delicate care that all mothers in the animal kingdom show, and after feeding she took care to brood them beneath her warm feathers. Here you can see the female feeding 2 of her chicks, an image which has been ingrained in my mind for most of the day. It is a scene that I will certainly never forget!



Saturday, 18 October 2014

Latest Eagle Research


Isn't he gorgeous (the eagle chick I mean!!)? This is a Wedge-tailed Eagle chick aged about 7 weeks. I've just returned from the middle of Western Australia where I've been carrying on the research on Wedge-tails which began back in 2011. You can read more about what the latest field trip has involved by visiting the latest blog post on the Wedge-tailed Eagle Tracking website here.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Brown Falcons



Isn't he stunning? Here you can see an up-close view of one of our most fabulous and well-known species of raptor, the Brown Falcon (Falco berigora). Did you know that its species name 'berigora' comes from an Aboriginal word for this bird, originating in NSW? Ecologically, 'brownies' are probably equivalent to the multi-talented Common Buzzard of Europe and Asia - they will hover like a kestrel and swoop like a goshawk, or even hunt on the ground to run after and catch frogs, lizards and snakes. This 'jack-of-all-trades' characteristic helps explain their wide distribution and success in many different habitats.


Brown Falcon chicks! Like all the falcons, browns do not build a nest of their own. This species uses an existing one built by another raptor, corvid, magpie or babbler, as with 3 of the 5 other Australian falcons (Peregrine Falcons and Australian Kestrels will also nest on cliff ledges). The clutch of 3 in this old Wedge-tailed Eagle 's nest atop a tall Gidgee tree has now hatched and the chicks are into their first week, with eyes open and alert. It will be a few weeks until fledging. Here is another brood of three which are much more advanced - the youngest is a bit squashed under his sibling!! (can you spot him!?).

These gorgeous young predators are about 3 weeks old, and huddle together in their nest while they wait for their parents to deliver prey. Currently there are many small songbirds in the Mulga shrubland surrounding this nest - Zebra Finches, woodswallows and honeyeaters - which provide a good source of prey for these falcons.
As part of a study of birds in the arid inland of Western Australia, we've been recording the breeding of all species of birds of prey. Brown Falcons are one of the most common raptors and we have currently recorded 6 nest sites. Nestlings are being fitted with metal rings/bands on their legs - these are a fixed size, are applied when the legs are big enough to hold the ring (the rings do not stretch/grow), and most importantly are harmless to the bird. The older brood pictured above was lowered down in a soft bag where the chicks are weighed, measured and ringed.
At about 3 weeks of age, this Brown Falcon nestling (known as an 'eyass') is the perfect age for ringing.

Ringing nestlings allows us to identify individuals and gain more information on their movements and survival. Such information is important for conservation - it provides land managers with the most up-to-date and accurate knowledge required to help the environment support maximum biodiversity! This research is conducted under the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme and has been approved by an Animal Ethics Committee to ensure it follows the Animal Welfare Act.
A bird in the hand is definitely worth two in the bush! But it also allows us to view detail not otherwise visible in the field. One of the most noticeable features of the Brown Falcon chicks we handled was their almost blue legs! Here you can see the detail of the scaly toes, which currently have soft and delicate skin, but will soon develop the tough armour that helps the species handle reptilian prey such as snakes.


The most amazing part of these falcon experiences was the nature of the adult male falcon who is pictured at the top of this post. As I balanced myself with small branches in the dense canopy of the Gidgee tree in which his nest was situated, and took photos of his very cute offspring after I'd placed them back, he suddenly alighted on the leafy outer foliage, just over a metre in front of me. He was in no way aggressive, but calmly clung to the canopy, lifting his wings to balance himself against each gentle gust of wind. I photographed him for about 10 minutes, and all the while he gazed across at me with those big, brown eyes that I knew could detect the finest detail on my face.
 

The silence was suddenly shattered by the female falcon, who arrived overhead with a loud call, warning me that she did not respect my proximity to her chicks. You can see a picture of her below - she is a much darker bird than the male. I knew then it was time to get down, and leave this family in peace. It was exciting to have ringed them, and think about where in arid Australia they might turn up down the track.

As with all my photos, these ones in this blog aim to offer 'insight' into a common yet beautiful bird's life, and enhance appreciation of just one of our many wonderful animals! I hope you've enjoyed them :)

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Film Premiere


Today I'm pleased to announce that a date has been set for the documentary film about my Wedge-tailed Eagle Tracking Project, called 'Where Do Eagles Dare?', to premiere in Perth. You can watch the trailer for the film by visiting the link above, and clicking the 'Documentary' tab. The above flyer contains the info you need to attend the two screenings. You can also visit this link to find out more and see a direct link to the ticketing page. I hope to see you in December!

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Re-cycler Red-cap


This male Red-capped Parrot (Purpureicephalus spurius) has been recycling the many fallen Marri fruit ('honkey nuts') in our front yard in the Perth Hills over the last few days. This spectacularly coloured native bird has a bill specially adapted for probing deeply into Marri fruit and reaching the seed chamber inside. It uses the fine point at the end of the bill to hook out the seeds and remove the husk, before swallowing them. Red-caps usually feed on fresh fruit in the canopy, moving through the leaves with a speedy climbing action and finding a nice perch on which to feed, their green backs blending in with the leafy surrounds. But when the fruiting season is over it will quietly sneak down to the forest floor and search for fallen fruits that still contain a hidden reward. Such 'recycling' behaviour demonstrates certain species know just where and when to capitalise on a particular food source in their environment, and shows how intelligent these birds really are.

The Red-capped Parrot is one of my most favourite local birds. Its colour is striking yet at times it can be very hard to spot. And the fact it is an endemic species (found nowhere else other than WA's south-west region) makes it extra special. These observations of such a pretty animal feeding on the ground show how vulnerable it is to free-roaming cats, and should provide strong incentive for responsible pet ownership.

You can read other blog posts on this species by typing 'red-capped' into the search bar at the top left.

The long bill is ideal for reaching deeply into the fruit.

The Red-cap's notched beak grips a Marri seed with fine precision as the bird nibbles softly to remove the husk.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Outback Whistlers


When you uncurl yourself from a warm swag and step out from under the homestead verandah, not many things make such a beautiful morning scene as a pair of wonderful birds of prey!

I've just returned from a fortnight doing eagle research in the arid interior of WA and one of the bird species I saw daily was the Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus). The scientific name comes from Hals (Greek for 'the sea') and astur (Latin for 'hawk'), sphen (Greek for 'wedge') and urus (Greek for 'tail'). The species does have a slightly wedged tail, although nothing like that of our largest eagle! Whistling Kites are usually found near water, but on outback roads they may be seen circling over road-killed animals in dry areas, sometimes in small flocks. They can be distinguished in the field by the way their wings bend downwards at the tip, and a unique 'floating' flight, hence the name 'kite'. The species' call is a long whistle, followed by a series of shorter, ascending notes, and they are Australia's most vocal bird of prey. Not many other raptors call like a Whistler!

Above you can see a male (left) perched next to his mate, one of four pairs I've kept track of for the past three years. The slight plumage difference is probably due to age, with the male being darker and hence younger. This pair spent the pre-dawn period of 
each morning adding sticks to their nest, then took advantage of the first warming sun rays to bask, preen and watch small birds flying around their nest site. Being nearly September, the timing is right for the female to lay her eggs very soon, and these will take about a month to hatch. Last October at the same study site, I climbed to the nest of another pair of Whistlers to check for prey remains, and was greeted by a tiny chick emerging from the egg:


A Whistling Kite chick hatches from its egg.

This chick is still moist and totally helpless. You can see its eyes ('blue' section of the head on the right) are still closed; these will take several days to open, by which time the second egg will have hatched (like most raptors, Whistling Kite eggs are laid one or two days apart, leading to asynchronous hatching). The chicks' down feathers will slowly dry out as the female kite broods, and they will rely on her to keep them warm for the first one to two weeks. After taking this photo, I quickly descended the tree and watched as the female kite flew straight back in and resumed brooding.


Three years ago, I photographed two half-grown chicks belonging to this same pair of kites, who in that year used an alternate nest in a neighbouring tree (see this post for more on that adenture). The below photo was taken at the end of October when the kites are about 2 weeks old. You can see a freshly plucked Galah at the edge of the nest in the background, a good meal for these developing raptors.


By late November kite chicks will be ready to fledge. Hopefully I will be able to return to these nests later this year and check up on their progress. Another example of the many creatures which call the desert regions of Australia's interior home.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Dotterel Eggs


Today while conducting nest surveys as part of my Wedge-tailed Eagle research at Lorna Glen, I was fortunate to be with a fellow ornithologist Neil Hamilton when he spotted this very camouflaged nest. Can you spot the eggs? They look just like small rocks and have been laid on a patch of bare ground next to a small wetland. The owner is a pretty little species of waterbird - the Black-fronted Dotterel (Elseyornis melanops). The eggs are beautifully marked and although they should seem obvious out in the open, they actually blend in very well.


I am always amazed how waterbirds can turn up in the most remote deserts and breed when claypans are inundated. This rare event sets the surrounding ecosystem flourishing and gives birds like dotterels and other species the chance to reproduce quickly. We also found evidence of ducks and grebes breeding, and observed quite large flocks of Zebra Finches still nesting in the area. I am hoping the good conditions will prevail for the next few months as this will give the newly hatched eagle chick we found close by a strong chance of survival.


Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Whales Bight


The Great Australian Bight. One of the most well-known features of our vast country. This magical spot provides a sanctuary for migratory Southern Right Whales (Eubalaena australis), which travel from Antarctic waters to give birth to their calves in the calm, shallow and warm waters. The Head of the Bight Whale Centre has a brilliant interpretation centre with plenty of information about the Aboriginal history and ecology of the surrounding Nullarbor Plain, as well as the biology of these gentle giants, and beautiful boardwalks provide easy access to viewing platforms from which you can see whales.

We were absolutely thrilled to read on the sign on the main highway that no less than 126 whales had been sighted in the bay at the last count!! Views from the cliffs with fresh sea air in our faces had us overlooking about 30 female whales (cows) and their calves. We watched in awe as they floated in front of us and felt totally privileged to absorb such an amazing sight. How people in the past could have harpooned such majestic mammals is beyond me, but fortunately times continue to change and much more of the world now agrees providing conservation areas for whales is far more rewarding than hunting. I'll definitely be back one day to see these creatures again.

A female Southern Right Whale and her calf blow spouts of water in unison.


Whale calves are 'small' - but only compared to the adults. They are still the length of a car.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Chats


 Always make time to stop for a chat! That is something I'm pretty keen on when it comes to being social with other humans, but also when an opportunity presents itself to photograph one of the most striking songbirds! Above you can see a male Crimson Chat (Epthianura tricolor), a vivid jewel in the low gibber and bluebush plains we have currently been driving through. Like many of the wrens and robins, this species shows strong sexual dimorphism in plumage, meaning males and females are very different to look at. In other birds the sexes are similar to look at but one is often larger than the other (size dimorphism). Here is the female chat, who you can see is much smaller. It was a thrill to watch her cleaning small insects from the bluebush shrub.


Sunday, 27 July 2014

Eastern Eagle Experiences


During the last few weeks of travel from Mudgee to Perth (5840 km) I've found 55 Wedge-tailed Eagle nests, 12 of which have been active. I thought I'd write a few stories about what I've seen, and of course share a few photos!

Above you can see one of the first wedge-tail chicks of 2014, taken in western NSW. This eaglet is just starting to pin (have its wing feather emerge) which puts it at about 4 weeks old, and means the eggs on this nest were laid in early May, a very early breeding attempt for this pair. The other active nests I've seen this month have all had females still sitting tight on eggs. Although their is some variation depending on local conditions, the majority of wedge-tail eggs are laid in June and July right across Australia, so it was exciting to unexpectedly come across a fluffy white chick!

It was interesting to find that another nest located only about 5 km away still had eggs being incubated, perhaps an indicator of how influential conditions in the exact eagle territory really are on the timing of breeding. I climbed the nest and found a freshly killed Emu chick on the edge, probably brought in by the male earlier that morning (we actually observed a male Emu, with three similar-sized chicks, only a few hundred metres from the eagle nest!).


An active Wedge-tail eyrie. You can just make out the fluffy Emu chick above the eagle eggs.

These eggs might've been due to hatch any moment, as after circling for a short time, the female returned to brood her eggs while we were still walking back to the car. You can make out her silhouette in this photo:



This was the start of better things to come. In relation to brooding females, a real point of interest to me this month has been the adult eagles' tolerance to human presence near their nest site, a stark contrast to behaviour I've observed for many years in Western Australia. It's not abnormal for a wedgie to flush when it sees a person approaching several hundred metres or more from its nest. But at three sites in arid NSW and SA, the eagles' response (or should I say 'lack of response') has been astounding. Here's a 'Where's Wally' shot to begin with. You can just make out the brooding female eagle's head, eyes looking right at me, peering out from behind the curtain of gumleaves covering her eyrie.



This wedgie didn't budge while I wandered around under her nest for a few minutes, and she kept up her piercing stare as we climbed back into the car to leave. It was amazing... but I met an even more tolerant female a few days afterwards, who peered down at me in a similar fashion as I stood beneath the nest tree and took photos. Her nest was probably the smallest I have seen, and barely seemed to be big enough to accommodate the sitting wedge-tail. I spotted it 50 m in from the dirt track we were driving on, and my first interpretation was a crow nest with a large plastic garbage bag flapping in the breeze - this turned out to be the eagle's massive tail feathers!




A female Wedge-tailed Eagle peers down at me from her nest, which was only 5m up in a Belar tree.

As if the above encounters weren't enough, my visit to the third site in question really was something else. I was fortunate to be shown this location along a seasonal watercourse in arid SA by good friend Kylie Piper, who visited the area last year. You can see the eagle eyrie, which has a gorgeous surrounding of fresh plant growth and desert wildflowers, in the top of the tallest tree in this photo:


As we approached the nest I could make out the shape of a bird sitting. It was the female, judging by the size of her bill, and the nest on which she sat was clearly a new one, being quite shallow and having plenty of loosely piled branches, not heavily compressed and faded like those of a nest years old. Despite its freshness the local Zebra Finches clearly hadn't taken long to find the eagle nest - several pairs had already constructed their neat, grassy domes into the side and the birds buzzed around like little flies. Can you spot the two finches in this photo?



The male eagle suddenly flushed from a low perch beneath the nest, and to my surprise, he flew very near to me and landed on a sand dune only ~30 m from the nest. He stood guard as I walked slowly along the sandy river bed and allowed me some very close photos. The sitting female remained incubating and looked right through me as though I was invisible. I didn't know which way to look! Two of the most beautiful eagles were within only 20 m of me, and they could see me, but they had an air of tolerance that was incredible. I turned to walk away and the male launched himself from the dune just as I pressed the shutter, resulting in the below photo.

Never before had I encountered eagles at such close quarters for so long, without being concealed in a hide for hours and hours. The wedge-tail is in my experience a species that takes so much time and effort to obtain pictures of, and at the nest it is normally quite unapproachable. But this pair had allowed me into their world, albeit for a few minutes. It was certainly a day I would never forget!




Friday, 25 July 2014

Dragon Rescue!


This Centralian Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) came dangerously close to being run over today. After spotting it in the middle of the highway heading north from Pt Augusta, we pulled over to do the right thing and move it off the road. However, before I could turn around and stop in time, a 4WD and caravan rig shot straight over the top of it at full speed... and kept going. Fortunately the lizard remained intact but closer inspection revealed blood inside its mouth, which we thought resulted from it 'lashing out' at the passing car's undercarriage. Despite some sore lips the dragon seemed fine, and I managed to gently pick it up and take it to the side. A quick couple of photos and we encouraged it to head further away from the bitumen, and hopefully find a basking place far from traffic.

How could someone not even attempt to slow down for such a beautiful animal?


Thursday, 24 July 2014

More Pretty Parrots


I saw this beautiful male Mulga Parrot (Psephotus varius) while camping in Mungo National Park yesterday morning. A pair came into our camp very early but didn't hang around long enough for any photos. But not long after we'd finished breakfast these pretty parrots returned, and the warmth of the morning sun was obviously too good to give up for two humans with cameras! I managed to sneak around one side of them so I had the sun behind me, then gradually creep closer. You can just make out the female in the background of this picture.


As we packed up our camp another pair of parrots ducked in for a feed. These ones were 'Mallee' Ringnecks (Barnadius barnadi), a subspecies of Australian Ringneck which is quite different to the south-western variety I am used to, being much more vividly coloured with aqua-marine. It was brilliant to see them so close, proof that one of the best ways to experience wildlife is to camp amongst it!


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Sleepy?


The name 'Sleepy' is the term used in eastern Australia for this large and beautiful skink, also known as the Shingleback or Bobtail Lizard (Tiliqua rugosa). It has characteristic large scales, a triangular shaped-head and a short stumpy tail. During the last few days I've seen quite a number on the move, a key sign that the weather is warming up and they are no longer feeling 'sleepy'. On thing I've noticed is the variation in colours in this widespread species - the above animal is almost plain dark brown and grey, but another one we saw a few days later (below) was a much deeper chocolate colour and its body was covered with fine yellow specks. It's always good to take notice of the more common Australian animals and appreciate how beautiful they are, even though some of us might see them regularly.


Saturday, 19 July 2014

Pretty Polly


Today's highlight come from arid New South Wales, where we have spent the last few days camping and doing some very pleasant bushwalks. This pair of Pink Cockatoos (Lophochroa leadbeateri), also known as 'Major Mitchell's Cockatoos because of their very prominent and brightly coloured crest, had a nest in a hollow branch of a live gum tree. They sat quietly and allopreened (groomed each other) as we walked below. Here is a close up shot of the female, which has a pink iris and black pupil. She can be distinguished from the male who has a black iris.

It was refreshing to find these cockatoos nesting as they are quite rare, being much less abundant than other species and no doubt get out-competed for both food and nest sites by the more aggressive Galah (Eolophus roseicapillus) and Little Corella (Cacatua sanguinea), birds that have undergone enormous population expansions following the broad-scale clearing by Europeans.