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, 24 January 2015

Film Reviews - from the next generation

TEAR JERKING! I have just received the most wonderful piece of feedback from a close friend about the impact that my latest film, 'Where Do Eagles Dare?', has had on her 5 year-old son:

"You are inspiring the younger generation! He has watched your DVD twice and here he is building a hide so he can watch birds. Notice he is all dressed up in his camouflage gear!!!"

THIS is why I do what I do! It gives me an enormous drive to carry on my life's mission to receive this sort of feedback. THANKYOU to my friend who sent this to me, it makes all those hours spent in the edit suite, and all the effort of finishing a film, worth EVERY minute :D

Here is the little boy's completed hide. What a ripper! 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

CREEC Cockies

This photo is nothing out of the ordinary... but the bird in it is very special indeed. It is a male Kaarak (Forest Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, Calyptorhynchus banksii naso), one of three large and threatened cockatoo species found in south-west Western Australia. I took this photo while taking 10 wonderful children (plus a few super keen parents!) for a bird walk today at the brilliant Canning River Eco Education Centre (CREEC) in Cannington.

We all met bright and early at the centre and began the 'Home Among the Gum Trees' workshop, one of the school holiday activities coordinated by the Nearer to Nature Program. Our group was such a wonderful bunch of young, enthusiastic kids who were so efficient that we finished much earlier than expected, securing the final hinges into place on the last box not long after lunch time. This was obviously meant to happen, because we were later to make an EXCITING discovery!

Not far from the busy cafe and rumbling car park, a beautiful pair of Kaaraks were prospecting for a nest site. Being down by the Canning River (Djaalgarra) on a habitat work, exploring the plants and bird life of the area, we hadn't noticed at first, but as we looped past the picnic tables a grating sound caught my ears. It was the male cockatoo giving a breeding call, and we looked up to see him display flashes of his brilliant red tail at his mate, who was inspecting some large hollow branches in an introduced Sugar Gum. We watched with utter thrill as the pair visited about 3 different hollow spouts, the male 'guarding' his partner and watching on as she looked inside, and chewed around the hollow entrances. Soon it became apparent that the hollows were not deep enough, as the female could not get even half of her body inside. The pair continued prospecting though, and flew to look at the potential of several other trees in search of more hollows.

This behaviour is rarely recorded and as far as I know, there is still only one other site on the Swan Coastal Plain where this species breeds. Plans are underway to install a large cockatoo nest box at this site with the hope that it might encourage breeding. We'd like to say a big THANKS to Nearer to Nature who planned this workshop, the parents and volunteers who helped the day run smoothing, and most important, all the wonderful kids who attended, made some fantastic nest boxes to take home, and were an integral part of an exciting day! Here's a group photo of myself and Gill with a few of the kids who took part in the day.

Six of the 10 children with their completed nest boxes for small parrots.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Mundaring Shire Open Day

Last weekend the Mundaring Shire held an open day to mark the one year anniversary of the Parkerville/Stoneville/Mt Helena Bushfires. Part of this event included a small display to show a couple of my nest boxes, with the aim to attract attention from the local community (especially people who lost homes or backyards in the fires) and seek their interest in attending a nest box building workshop that the Shire is planning to hold at the Mundaring Men's Shed later in 2015. This will involve us building boxes with locals for them to take home and install at their burnt (but swiftly recovering) properties to improve the biodiversity values. Many properties that were singed by the flames lost large, hollow-bearing trees, either directly in the fire, or afterwards when such trees were pushed over to improve safety to residents. These trees are vitally important for native wildlife (like the possums and parrots shown in the photos below) and cannot be replaced for hundreds of years. Nest boxes will help to provide habitat for local wildlife, hopefully enthuse local residents about some of the other creatures that were affected, and reinforce that they can think positively and recover from natural disasters like bushfires.

If you require more information about my nest boxes (and if you wish to order one for your backyard), please visit this page. Nest box workshops are run as part of the Re-Cyc-Oloy Project and you can find more information about this here.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Installing Cockatoo Boxes

Today I was lucky to visit a beautiful bush block in Mundaring and install 2 nest boxes. It was extremely special because the owner of the block used to do fitness class with me many years ago when I was in high school, and we have bumped into each other many times in the local community since. Susan also works as a teacher at Parkerville Primary School, and we did a talk to her class as part of a nest box workshop conducted back in 2012.

Both nest boxes were large sizes designed for Black Cockatoos. Susan has resident Forest Red-tails in her area often, so is hoping to encourage breeding of this threatened species. Thee odds are good, as we know this design has worked for other black cockatoo species before, including Carnaby's Cockatoos in the Porongurups. We also had a pair of Red-tails lay an egg inside one of my nest boxes installed on another hills bush block in 2012 (the egg was subsequently abandoned, we think because Galahs drove the birds away). You can read more about that story here.

Here are a couple more photos of the boxes going up. Thanks to Susan for taking the pictures and allowing me to use them here :)

You can see how chain is used to hold the box up, and it is threaded through recycled hosepipe to protect the tree's bark.

This Jarrah tree is at least 100 years old but has only tiny natural hollows.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Striking Gold in Sydney

There once existed a myth about a mysterious city made of gold, El Dorado, located somewhere in the remote Amazon of South America. The thought of discovering endless riches drove Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century on countless gripping adventures. Gold fever has since motivated many people to search for this gleaming substance, often resulting in greed, anger and death. But there are other golden things in our world - living creatures, tiny wondrous organisms perfectly crafted by evolution - which, although not worth much in monetary value, can provide just as much mystery, plenty of mental stimulation and far more satisfaction than a pice of lifeless metal. Today in Sydney I found three of them.

An ordinary street scene, in the middle of which you can see an ordinary sign post. No, it's not made of gold! But when I looked closely I could make out a beautiful eight-legged creature who makes her living from spinning with gold silk.

This is a Sydney Golden Orb Spider (Nephila plumipes). Orb Weavers are a widespread and conspicuous Australian species, something that doesn't necessarily do them much good - being a spider and standing out might lead to you getting swatted by a fearful Australian human! However, unless you happen to be a small, flying insect, there is no reason to be worried about these creatures at all. They aren't poisonous and spend virtually all their time hanging in their wonderful webs, and even if one plasters across your face as you accidentally walk into it, the spider will quickly drop down and run for cover. Golden Orbs take their name from the colour of their silk. Even on cloudy days the web has an eye-catching lustre. It is often this which has alerted me to golden orbs' presence, together with the chain of food morsels which can easily be seen hanging from the web. The large spiders you can see are the females - males are much smaller and can sometimes be found clinging to leaves and stems of plants to which the female's web is attached.

When I zoomed out a bit and headed down the garden path to the block of flats I'm staying in, I was delighted to notice a well-kept garden bed with a little sea of mostly native ground-covers growing on a bed of fresh wood-chips. There were purple Scaevolas but more eye-catching were the tiny pom-pom heads of yellow poker flowers. Their golden glow is spectacular in the midday sun, and I soon saw that I wasn't the only one attracted to the colours. A tiny native bee honed in on the purple blooms, and a small fly (Drosophila?) was going for gold. Through a macro lens I observed the incredible fine detail of its body: coarse hairs stuck out from its thorax which glowed a solid gold like some type of giant treasure in an Egyptian's tomb.

Other golden jewels were visible on an even finer level. Grains of pollen were glued to the fly's body hair and the tips of its feet, the precise reason why the plant has concocted a sweet nectar for the fly to drink, and attracted it with a vivid golden sign which says 'Free: Sweet Drink'! When it ventures to the next sugar-meal, the fly will unsuspectingly do the plant a favour and transfer pollen grains, allowing the plant to reproduce.

So what is the third creature I found? It is another microscopic insect which is invisible to the naked eye. If I hadn't zoomed it to snap the fly with a macro lens I wouldn't have seen it. But its tiny body moved as it also sought nectar from the yellow flower, the movement catching my eye. I'm not even sure what it is - a tiny beetle perhaps? You can just make it out in this photo, another small animal as golden as the web of the Orb Spider.

All that glitters is not gold. Indeed, it can sometimes be something much more exciting! And all in a small patch of greenery inside a busy city suburb.