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!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Gecko Eggs

These tiny white eggs belong to a beautiful nocturnal reptile with which we share our home: the Marbled Gecko (Christinus marmoratus). I wrote a previous post about finding small fragments of eggshell belonging to geckos in a backyard nest box - this indicated one record of a smaller creature (and one which we don't anticipate moving in when we build nest boxes) breeding inside. Today's discovery is the second time this has happened in our backyard, and the first time I have found intact eggs which are 'still incubating'.

Marbled Geckos are both beautiful and useful - their stunningly marked body and delicate 'gecko-toes' are a delight to see, and the fact that these lizards prey on a range of insects which pester us humans (like moths, midges and cockroaches) makes them a welcome tenant!

Hopefully these eggs hatch soon and supplement our little gecko population. We will look forward to finding tiny baby geckos (like the one pictured below) when out and about in the backyard. Take care - if geckos live at your place, they hide in cracks in doorways, under a coiled hosepipe, inside the bristles of the house broom, beneath stored timber and bricks, and even in your shoes! It's easy to accidentally squash one of these tiny animals without being aware they are there!

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Gone to Prison

Last Monday we took our nest box workshop to yet another sector of the community - residents of the Wandoo Prison. We worked with 10 young blokes to engage them with the environment through constructing nest boxes for Endangered Black-Cockatoos. When the woodwork was underway and everyone had a good idea of how to build a cockatoo nest box, we stopped for morning tea and Gill and I gave a talk about the importance of tree hollows, and re-using waste material for nest boxes. Phil Digney then showed some live cockatoos to the young guys, demonstrating their placid nature and amazing feeding capabilities. Above is a picture of the team involved.

Today we returned to the prison to find the residents had completed all 10 next boxes for which we provided materials, a fantastic outcome! I then installed one box in a tree inside the prison grounds, so the lads and staff at Wandoo are able to keep an eye on the box for birds showing interest. The location of this tree is only a few hundred metres from similar nest boxes in the Murdoch University grounds, which have had Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos successfully breeding since 2011. Fingers crossed that Wandoo's new box has similar luck!

Thanks to the staff at Wandoo Prison and Extra Edge Community Services for coordinating the event, and Phil Digney from Conservation Outcomes for including our Re-Cyc-Ology Project in this fantastic event!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Backyard Birds

I often say it - but having REMNANT BUSH on your property is fantastic! It not only provides a cooler environment for your home (studies have shown that treed suburbs are 3˚C cooler than those which are open and concreted or bitumenised), but it also suits local native wildlife seeking food and shelter. This applies especially to birds - like the Djaryl pictured above, the Noongar word for one of our most beautiful, endemic species, the Red-capped Parrot (Purpureicephalus spurius).

For the last few weeks I have been delighted to work in my home office to the sounds of Endangered Kaaraks (Forest Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos, Calyptorhynchus banksii naso), calling softly as they forage on the fruits of Marri (Corymbia calophylla) trees that adorn out backyard. There have been up to 10 individuals but most often there is one family trio (male, female and immature) who feed together. It has been interesting to observe first-hand some information recently published by cockatoo experts Ron Johnstone and Tony Kirkby, that juvenile/immature cockatoos can take about 6 minutes to open and extract seeds from inside a honkey nut (Marri fruit), whereas adults can do this in less than one third of the time! This shows how these long-lived, highly intelligent birds rely on observing their parents and having lots of practice to forage efficiently. Here are a few pictures of the cockatoos

A Male Red-tail has jet-black plumage and a darker bill.
Female Red-tails have a pale bill and are beautifully marked with yellow-orange bands and speckles on their head.

Looking carefully at these chewed Marri fruit discarded by Black-Cockatoos after feeding, you can determine which species is responsible. In the below photo, there are 2 culprits. The older fruit faded brown was dropped by a Kaarak, which leaves a 'dish-shaped' imprint with its broad lower mandible, about the width of your index finger. The freshly chewed fruit have much smaller, square-edged 'trough-shaped' imprints, only half the width of your 'pinky' finger, made by the more delicate lower mandible of one of two White-tailed Black-Cockatoo varieties. Large shredding around the top of each nut tells us the species responsible was Gnolyenok, the Carnaby's Black-Cockatoo (Calyphtorhynchus latirostris). Baudin's Black-Cockatoo (C. baudinii) is 'the surgeon' and only leaves a few, small 'trough-shaped' marks near the stalk and no damage to the top of the fruit. Which species can you find evidence of in your area?

Sunday, 16 February 2014

A Jar in the Night

Many of my blog posts are written to emphasise the huge variety of creatures we share our land with, and especially to alert people to how they can act to conserve them. A line I often use is "take care when driving and keep a sharp eye on the road for wildlife". Tonight's story provides yet another example where this line is relevant.

I was returning from a meeting in Toodyay earlier this evening and getting close to home in Mundaring. A smashed glass bottle on a bend in the road distracted me enough to think that the shape which I saw just after the broken shards must've been a larger fragment of glass. In the split second before my car whizzed over it I realised it was a nocturnal bird sitting in the road, and my gut wrenched as I realised I had probably just killed it.

However, returning to investigate further, I found the bird still intact, still sitting in the middle of the left lane, and still very much alive. To take a closer look at the nightjar on the road and make sure he wasn't injured, I reached forward and grabbed him gently. What was it?

This moment provided an opportunity to show you one of our very secretive and (in the Perth area) quite rare birds. It is 'Yoodjyn' (pronounced 'you-chin'), as the local Aboriginal Noongar people called it. Or as many other people know it as, the Australian Owlet Nightjar (Aegotheles cristatus). This species is a nocturnal bird with a rounded face but not closely related to owls at all, much more similar to the Tawny Frogmouth. Unlike owls it has tiny feet, pretty useless for catching prey with, but like the Frogmouth, it has a large beak, an excellent tool for trapping insects. It's mouth is made extra wide by a series of bristles, rigid feathers that help divert an insect meal straight down the hatch. You can just make out these bristles in the picture below - they look a bit like long moustache hairs!

You won't see Owlet Nightjars during the daytime, unless you happen to tap on a tree with a small hollow in which one is sleeping. They require hollow-bearing trees for both roosting and nesting, yet another reason to maintain natural bushland. Anyone who has seen a nightjar can relate to the experience of hearing scratching noises inside a branch, looking up to a hollow entrance and seeing that gorgeous face peering right back down at you!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

A Special Spot for a Special Species

It was only a year ago when I scaled a Karri tree on my friend's property in the Porongurup Range and hoisted into position an artificial nest box, designed to replicate a vertically oriented tree hollow. This is the favoured nest site for three charismatic birds of south-west WA: the Black Cockatoos. In 2008 we recorded a pair of one of these birds, the Carnaby's Cockatoo, nesting in a natural tree hollow, so to increase the number of nest sites, we put up a nest box. The box became occupied the following season, doubling the number of nesting pairs. Last year we put up the second box and today I installed the third, bringing the number of potential cockatoo nest sites available to four.

Here's what I found when I arrived at the block yesterday and checked the box that was installed a year ago . . . . .

What's in the Box? from Simon Cherriman on Vimeo.