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!

Friday, 29 July 2016

More Cockatoo Boxes for Stoneville


After last year's successful breeding by Ngolyenoks (Carnaby's Cockatoos) in one of the artificial nest-boxes installed after the 2014 bushfires, the Mundaring Shire has shown great enthusiasm to continue supporting the species' conservation with the provision of three more boxes, in the hope that this will increase the number of pairs of cockatoos that breed in this reserve. Two additional nest-boxes were donated by local singer-songwriter Storme, who conducted a crowdfund for cockatoo nest-boxes several years ago. Last week I had the pleasure of installing all five boxes, and it was great to be back in local bushland and admire the continuing post-fire regrowth, which, as you can see above, is looking very lush after a decent rainy start to the year!

Spot the Simmo! Climbing a tall, burned Marri to set up ropes for nest-box installation.

The installations had me hanging in some wonderful Jarrah and Marri trees, which were tall and healthy but still very young. In terms of habitat value, the addition of these boxes ages their host trees significantly - it would take about 500 years for the Jarrah tree below to form a hollow the same size as the box attached to it. This tree is probably only about 80 years old.

A Jarrah hardwood entrance matches the red-brown bark of the host tree.

All my nest-boxes designed for Black Cockatoos include sturdy sacrificial chewing-blocks placed around the vertical entrance, as well as one or two hardwood posts placed inside. This material is used by the cockatoos to tear off 'cigar-shaped' splinters of wood, which are dropped on the nest-hollow chamber, creating a well-drained substrate on which eggs are laid. Other cockatoo nest-box designs (e.g. those made from PVC pipe) use a simple wire ladder, made from 40mm weld-mesh and measuring about 150mm wide. Having found many examples of non-target species (e.g. ducks, smaller parrots and bats) becoming trapped inside these boxes and killed (the mesh isn't fine enough to allow them sufficient grip to climb out), I try to ensure my wooden boxes are fitted on at least three sides with a wire mesh ladder with squares no larger than 20mm, to ensure all fauna can enter and exit the boxes safely.

Looking down inside one of the newly installed boxes. Note the mesh ladder on 3 sides.

After spending the past five weeks wandering the Scottish highlands and climbing to eagle eyries, it felt wonderful and very healing to be back in the canopy in the Perth Hills again. The cockatoo breeding season is fast approaching so it will be exciting to monitor these new nest boxes later in the year and find out whether more beautiful Ngolyenoks take up residence!

The view from the canopy always gives a wonderful perspective on the bush... and my roof rack!

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Eagle in Sight e-Book: Launched!


In 2009 I started jotting down some short stories about adventures I had during my early years of studying Wedge-tailed Eagles in the West Australian bush. Together with some pictures of eagles and the habitats they live in (of which I have just a few!), they gave the perfect material from which to make a book. Since completing and printing the first draft hard-copy in 2012, I've been exploring various publication options, and I eventually decided that the most efficient way to release this work is as a PDF e-Book. This will allow readers to carry it on any device (e.g. laptop, iPad) and read it wherever they go. On my recent long flight back from Scotland I managed to give this project the last bit of energy needed to send it flying at last! So, today I'm THRILLED to announce that the book I've been working on (among one or two other things!!) for the past 7 years is FINISHED!

Below is the blurb for my Blurb-published e-Book:

"The Wedge-tailed Eagle is the largest Australian bird of prey and the fourth largest eagle in the world. Featuring 18 short stories and dozens of colour photographs, this book communicates the unique natural history of this powerful and secretive predator, though the adventures of one boy as he pursues an eagle interest while growing up in the Australian bush. It aims to give the reader an intimate insight into the life of one of Australia's most magnificent and iconic birds, and in doing so, emphasise the enormous rewards one can enjoy from taking an interest in and engaging with the natural environment."

I hope that eventually I will manage to publish a hard-copy, but for now, this e-version allows me to at least release the work. I'm selling the e-Book for $AU12.00, and the Blurb publication website charges $AU4.99 per copy, bringing the total cost to $16.99. To buy your own copy, simply click on the image below. The Blurb sales page also allows you to view a preview of the book, where you can read two of the chapters as a taster before you take on the whole thing. Happy reading!

  http://au.blurb.com/b/7238266-eagle-in-sight#

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Quenda: From Pouch to Pavement


After a busy trip in Scotland where I've been assisting raptor researchers with fieldwork for the past 5 weeks, I'm now settling back into life in Perth. A good rainy start to the season of Makuru has set the creeks flowing and local wildlife is thriving in the newly replenished landscape. One animal that has made some frequent and delightful appearances is the Quenda or Southern Brown Bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus), a local native marsupial which is common and doing well here in the Perth Hills. Before I went overseas in June, I noticed one of the resident females had a bulging pouch, and closer investigation revealed this:

A litter of embryonic Quenda suckle in the safety of their mother's pouch.

In the above photo you can easily see the noses of three tiny Quenda, and with a closer look, the whiskered snout of a fourth is visible in the centre. It is amazing to note how well the young grip onto (and stretch) their mother's teats, taking in the all important protein-drink needed for growth and development. This marsupial can give birth to up to six young at a time, but normally there is not enough space in the pouch and it is common for only two or three to survive. This find of quadruplets, however, was very exciting, and made me think from then on that each time I saw the 'single' female, I was actually witnessing five Quenda at once!

Weeks later, I've seen at least two independent (but still small and dinky!) juvenile bandicoots foraging in the garden, and given the timing it follows that these are two animals from the above litter. Yesterday I disturbed one of the juveniles near the shed, and it promptly dashed to hide underneath some old wool-bags.


Yesterday morning while making a cuppa, I saw another juvenile (the same one?) quickly run between two clumps of vegetation about 50 m from the house, and an instant later, another similar-sized one was foraging at the edge of the brick paving outside the kitchen window. It was very exciting to watch it sniff out, grasp and then consume a whole grape which I'd put out for the local parrots :)


As I photographed the Quenda feeding, I noticed a small tick (a natural parasite harmless to the animal) hanging on its right flank. I often get asked by hills residents whether bandicoots bearing ticks should be trapped and the parasites removed, but my advice is always the same: being undergrowth dwellers, parasites are a natural part of the Quenda's ecology and unless the animal is riddled and looking like its health is being impacted, it's best to let nature take its course and leave things be.

It will be interesting to continue observing these beautiful animals over the coming weeks, and see for how long they are visibly active. Juvenile Quenda will be tolerated by adults (especially females) for some weeks or even months after weaning, but eventually they must disperse to search for their own territories, and it is during this time that they become highly prone to predation. After seeing how much effort goes into this new generation of local natives, it would be a great shame to know they'd been unnecessarily eaten by a roaming pet cat.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Treecreepers


While Ewan and I were walking in a patch of woodland today, a small chirping sound from above caught our attention. I knew it was coming from a fledgling songbird, and scanned the canopy in search of any movement. After following the sound for a few minutes, we realised it was actually coming from the ground and being projected upwards in a way that sounded like the source was higher up. Suddenly we noticed a brood of recently fledged Common Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris) chicks, beaks pointed skyward as they tucked up against the upturned root mass of a fallen tree, only a few metres away from a well used walk-trail. They were very well hidden, except for their bright orange mouth-parts which flashed as they opened their beaks to beg for food.


Counting the chicks was difficult due to their camouflaged feathers and the way they were huddled up, but eventually we could see there were five altogether. The adult Treecreepers were close by, making occasional contact calls while gathering food in the treetops. I hid in the grass next to a large pine and waited to see if I could take some family feeding photos.


After doing a few fly-pasts to inspect the new object near their chicks, and landing to make sure their brood was still intact, the adult birds soon accepted me and continued feeding, bringing in a beak-full of insects every few minutes. Then they would zip over to the base of a nearby tree and creep upwards in short bursts, spiraling around the trunk to stay hidden while gleaning prey.

An adult Treecreeper has caught a large mosquito from the canopy.


Then they would fly in and cling expertly to the upturned root mass, using their large claws to grip the rough surface and creep towards the chicks, before dropping down and using a mossy stone below the brood from which to deliver food.


Occasionally, while leaning backwards to face their parents in a desperate begging motion, one of the chicks would tumble town the small slope of the root embankment, then quickly climb and flutter back to its cozy nook with the rest of the brood. I was amazed how determined the chicks were to stay together in their protective huddle. Like the young of most songbirds, these chicks expel faeces in a small, membranous sac which is easy for a visiting adult to collect and carry off to discard away from the nest site. This cleaning activity helps detract attention from the chicks, reducing the likelihood of predators locating and devouring them.

The adult removes a faecal sac discarded by one of the chicks.

The time passed quickly as I watched and snapped photos, before it was time to head home and leave the birds be. It was a thrill to have found and observed this wonderful family of secretive woodland inhabitants. And again it proves that nature is so often 'doing its thing' right under our very noses. We just need to keep our eyes and ears out to make exciting and rewarding discoveries!

Friday, 1 July 2016

Wildlife e-news


If you are a regular iNSiGHT reader, you might have been as excited as I was to hear about the Wambenger I photographed in the Perth Hills earlier this year. For a number of year's I've contributed articles on various Australian animals to the Australian Wildlife Society's quarterly newsletter 'Australian Wildlife', and for the most recent issue I was very excited to know the society were keen to feature a piece on Wambengers. Today the newsletter was released - you can read the full newsletter at this link. This organisation does a fantastic job at raising awareness about and promoting the conservation of our unique fauna, so if you would like to become a member, head to their website and jump on board!