Welcome to the News section of the iNSiGHT Ornithology website (https://www.simoncherriman.com.au/). 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 8 February 2023

Australia's Wild Odyssey

It was a thrill to see the final episode of Wild Pacific Media's 3-part series Australia's Wild Odyssey go to air on ABC TV last night! The above clip shows a short snippet, but you can watch the full length episode (and the rest of the series) by visiting the ABC iView website here.

Saturday 19 November 2022

An Eagle in Passing

I was so heartened to hear this Caring for Country story from the Pilbara recently…

Horace Bynder and Julian Nott came across this poor, ragged adult female Wedge-tailed Eagle who was grounded near a roadside earlier this year and knew straight away something was wrong. They saw her ruffled feathers, were concerned about the dingos skulking nearby, and decided to help. Although half the size of a person and capable of inflicting severe wounds, this powerful apex predator showed the gentle, placid side all eagles have and allowed the men to catch her (using a stick for her talons to grip onto) and persuade her to sit in the back seat of their vehicle. Incredible! They then drove for more than two hours to Port Hedland where she was taken to a vet for a health check. She appeared fine with no broken bones or internal injuries, was given fluid and expert care while in captivity, and was cleared for release the next day. But overnight she drifted peacefully into a permanent soaring dream, her spirit kindly declining these amazing men’s gesture to return her home. 

Why did she die? How was it that such a beautiful bird found herself alone and adrift? Why was she not at her age (10++) settled in a breeding home range with food and a strong bond to a mate?

We know so little about many aspects of these amazing birds’ life cycle. There are many possible ways her story might’ve unfolded. Could she have been attacked, by another eagle, another creature? She may have been old, weak, have left or been driven from a stable territory, or perhaps she never occupied one in the first place? She may have for a decade or several wandered this vast continent, living life as a nomad, wild and free, riding the wind and feeding on the ample supply of carrion Australia’s harshness, and it’s human population, produces each year. We will never know; part of that fact is beautiful, part of it sad. But one part of her story we do know, and that is this:

She moved to another world in a gentle and peaceful way, thanks to the efforts of a couple of bloody decent Australian blokes who decided to try and help a majestic creature down on her luck. They dropped their work (with approval from their boss, who was clearly an awesome bloke too), put her well-being at the top of their priority list, then undertook a very difficult task, safely capturing her and willingly embarking on a round-trip rescue several hundred kilometres long. It didn’t end the way they hoped, but it ended peacefully. This story nearly wasn’t told because others at the time decided a ‘happy’ ending, one of survival, was the only justification for publicity. But is a peaceful passing and a tale of two remarkably kind-hearted humans not a happy one?

Australian’s for nearly a century disposed of these gigantic, majestic predators; our colonially-rooted culture despised them. Hundreds of thousands were slaughtered like flies. Knocked off. Wilfully wasted. There are still some naive and arrogant folk who hold these old-skool, archaic views, purely because they don’t understand this land properly, despite calling themselves ‘Aussies’. They don’t accept it for the giant, living, breathing, breath-taking assortment of cells, veins, arteries and organs that it is. A body battling with and fighting back with all it can muster the waves of viruses, colds and cancers Western culture has thrown at it. Many Australians, especially young men, are so ignorant of wildlife - a result of the urban upbringings our young people increasingly experience in a country with a largely peripheral population - that their care-factor is zero. But there are those, like Horace and Julian, whose isn’t. Men like this - REAL men - give us immense hope that a fresh attitude is possible.

Be inspired by this folks. Our land not only benefits from such an attitude. Now, more than ever, it needs it.

Thanks to Julian for telling me and giving me permission to re-tell this story, and to use your wonderful pictures.

Thursday 21 October 2021


 I'm THRILLed to announce that after many, many years in the making, my Nest-box/Tree-hollow book is very close to completion! "Hollowed Out?" is a story about the journey hollow-dependent fauna living in south-west Western Australia have endured, and how nest-boxes not only help these important animals survive, but foster custodianship for them into the future. It contains a wealth of information about habitat trees, the hollows they form, how human activities have impacted and continue to impact these precious natural resources, and, most importantly, the most up-to-date designs for a range of wildlife nest-boxes you can build in your backyard!

I had hoped to time the launch of this book with my appearance on the ABC TV programme Gardening Australia, which aired on Friday 22nd October as part of National Bird Week (you can watch this story, named 'Bird Box', by clicking here). But as often happens with creative projects, a few delays emerged so it wasn't ready in time. 

After the initial launch of a paperback book, "Hollowed Out?" will be launched as an e-Book, to allow a fast, green way of getting it out there as far as possible! 

Friday 16 October 2020

MORE nest-boxes for Porongurup Carnaby's Cockatoos

If you saw the 2018 news post containing an update on the success of our Carnaby's Cockatoo nest-boxes in the Porongurups, you might be as thrilled as we are to know that a recent grant provided by the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife has seen FIVE more cockatoo boxes added to this breeding site! The latest installation brings the total number of cockatoo breeding sites now available to 12: one natural tree-hollow and 11 nest-boxes. I have just returned from the Porongurups after installing the new boxes and was excited to have observed female Carnaby's Cockatoos emerge from two of the existing nest-boxes, suggesting incubation has already begun for two pairs. At the end of 2019, all seven sites were occupied and five pairs fledged chicks. With five new, vacant sites now available, we are looking forward to seeing how many pairs of this precious, Endangered species breed in 2020!

To see a video documenting the early success of nest-boxes at this site, which includes footage of the cockatoos and a beautiful nestling, click here.


One of the newly installed nest-boxes for Carnaby's Cockatoo in the Porongurup Range.

Tuesday 1 January 2019

Waalitj Boodja

I was recently accompanied on a Waalitj / Wedge-tailed Eagle colour-banding mission by two very special people: my friend and bush photography companion Andy, and his young niece Eia, an incredibly talented artist whose enthusiasm to help the environment saw her design, produce and sell some unique 'eagle cards' to raise money towards my eagle research. Eia had heard all about my visits to eagle eyries in the Perth Hills and I had long promised to take her to one. Fortunately Andy is also a highly accomplished filmmaker, which allowed this short snapshot of the colour-banding component of my research to be produced and shared with others. Please visit Andy's website and Youtube channel to view and endorse more of his work, and you might wish to follow Eia's work on here on Instagram. I hope you enjoy!

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Hack and Counterpoint

This past week has been another busy one with regard to media interest in the East Gippsland eagle poisoning, and I've been glad to provide information in interviews on two ABC programs that have recently gone to air.

It was great speaking to Amanda Vanstone on her Radio National show Counterpoint which was played yesterday, because there was plenty of time to provide important background information about eagle biology which is relevant to the poisoning episodes. If you visit this link and fast forward to 41:30, you can hear the discussion.

I also had a chat to Tom Tilly on Triple J's Hack program last week, which felt a little daunting because it went live to air! But again there was enough time to make the key points necessary and I was very pleased that most people who called in to the show were sympathetic to eagles and saw the need to protect them. You can read this article by Jo Lauder, which also contains a link to the list of previous shows, or you can go straight to the "Driverless cars, platonic friendships and why farmers are baiting Wedge-tailed Eagles" episode.

Friday 22 June 2018

Kalamunda Eagle Extravaganza

Last night I delivered the reward to the City of Kalamunda for their pledge to last year's 'Where's Wailitj' crowdfund, in the form of a public presentation and workshop on the FULL suite of Wailitj / Wedge-tailed Eagle information in my vault! It was exciting to arrive early at the venue and build a life-size Wedge-tailed Eagle nest, then have Noongar elder Dr. Noel Nannup arrive to be in some photos and open the evening by presenting a wonderful Welcome to Country. Yvonne from the WA Birds of Prey Centre also swooped in for a quick visit with Micro, an adult male eagle who delighted the children attending with his affectionate nature and willingness to allow them to get up close and personal.

It was wonderful to be sent the following feedback letter, written to the City by some very happy participants. I am always thrilled to receive such feedback, because my talks often have so much in them and the time goes so quickly, so it's not easy to know how they have been received.

Keep an eye on my Instagram and Facebook pages for information on future public presentations.

"Good evening,

Please convey my utmost thanks and sincerest congratulations to all staff from the City of Kalamunda who were involved in organising and presenting the Eagle Extravaganza. My two grandsons will never forget the day they were able to have an eagle stand on their wrist then stroke its chest. Please extend our thanks to the lady who was the eagle handler.

Noel Nannup had us in the palm of his hand as he spoke of his Ancestors and  Country. Simon Cherriman was an inspiration with his passionate stories of our beautiful local eagles and their lives as well as his deep interest in our Natural Environment  and our Indigenous people. Afternoon tea was bountiful and very welcome after school on a winter's day. All in all we were inspired as well as entertained as Simon offered his incredible insight into the life cycle of our great wedge tailed eagles.

Congratulations to all involved. Many thanks to the City of Kalamunda Environmental Staff,

Sue, Jack and Max" 

A life-sized Wedge-tailed Eagle nest, made from scratch for the Eagle Extravaganza.

Friday 15 June 2018

Eagles Die Hard but Old Habits Do Not

This Wedge-tailed Eagle was satellite-tracked from Perth to the Pilbara and died of injuries (chopped wing feathers) suspected to have been sustained following a collision with an aircraft or drone.

The news has been spreading like wildfire so you're probably well aware about the mass-culling of over 130 Wedge-tailed Eagles in East Gippsland, Victoria. This isn't the first case of suspected raptor poisoning in East Gippsland, with several White-bellied Sea Eagles testing positively to organochlorine last August. Since this recent story was released last week, ongoing publicity around the issue has sparked debates about eagles, lambs and what should be done when wild animals protected by legislation come into conflict with human interests.

There are a number of points that need clarifying (as always is the case, because of the simplification that often comes with rapid and concise communication), so I felt the need to post this update to offer a resource that can hopefully prevent the evolution of more myths (huh, one can only try! In fact, read all the freely available information on my websites, which might cull 130+ myths. Legally, of course). I have researched eagles for over two decades, during which time I have been fortunate to be mentored by some of the world's leading experts on this group of amazing raptors, and while I certainly don't know everything there is to know about their biology (the eagles, not the experts), I am amazed by how little of the basic information many people seem to know, and by the speculation and sheer lack of environmental understanding demonstrated this past week!

Firstly, 130+ eagles were not culled last week. The news was made public last week, but this is clearly an example of ongoing, systematic persecution which has involved culling birds over a period of several years. So, questions like "why were so many eagles in one place at once?" and "how did someone kill so many so quickly?" can be put to bed.

Secondly, people have again started debating whether or not eagles kill lambs. This issue is discussed more deeply in a very well-balanced piece published by Australian Geographic late last week, including immensely valuable comments from leading Australian raptor biologist Dr. Stephen Debus. Key points discussed here are:

- eagles are mammalian predators capable of killing lambs, but repeatedly evidence has suggested they are rarely the prime cause of deaths, which are more often attributable to foxes, crows, poor weather and mismothering.
- even in cases where eagle predation is documented, the costs of having them taking some potentially viable lambs are far outweighed by the benefits these predatory birds deliver through predation of pest species, and removal of disease-harbouring carrion.
- no economic impacts to the sheep industry have ever been proven to be caused by eagles.
- there are many alternative solutions to culling or 'legal' (i.e. with a permit) killing (read on!).

To clarify an important ecological point regarding the behavioural differences in the two broad 'types' of Wedge-tailed Eagle present in our landscape (1: sedentary, breeding adults, and 2: nomadic, non-breeding juvenile/immature birds), I responded on Tuesday to interest from The Conversation who published this article that I co-wrote with one of their editors. Breeding adults may occasionally take lambs (viable or otherwise) as nesting food, but this is rare and smaller vertebrates are preferred. Juvenile eagles are drawn to abundant prey sources and can sometimes accumulate in larger concentrations (dozens or more). Such birds may simultaneously attack larger animals, which can be perceived as 'pack hunting', but there is no evidence these attacks are coordinated. It is these birds which seem to have mostly been the target of the recent cull. I also published this article to raise awareness about the potential impacts to the population of a native predator that, as my recent satellite-tracking research has confirmed, can in its juvenile dispersal phase move such enormous distances. This means:

- EAGLES CULLED in East Gippsland could essentially be born ANYWHERE in Australia.
- ecological sinks created by humans are never a good thing, but to think the Gippsland one could be responsible for deaths of eagles born near you, wherever your Australian residence may be, is deeply concerning.

Then in an update published yesterday, we heard a response from a Victorian Farmers Federation spokesperson, who made this comment regarding potential unethical situations lambs face if attacked by eagles: "it's not a pleasant death for the lamb, it's fairly horrific." This prompted me to post a video response on my Twitter and Instagram pages to emphasise the point that, if we are talking about animal welfare here, it should be made a much more urgent priority to cull the live export industry, rather than a native predator!!

Although it was published on Tuesday, this update from The Weekly Times only came to my attention this morning. And this quote from it is what grabbed me the most:

"... governments and community needed to do more than just throw up their arms in horror."

I couldn't agree more. What cases like this recent mass-culling event do is highlight that there is clearly a problem (be it perceived or real), and they open a door towards potential growth and change, which is always required to find a solution (it is normally growth in our mindset that is most often necessary).

'We need to either issue farmers with permits to control [eagles], or the community compensates farmers for their (lamb) losses,' Mr Vallance said. 'Farmers are keen to preserve wildlife, but when they come into excess it really does change things.'"

This is one potential solution, but it is short-sighted and does not change the fact that since it was forced onto the Australian landscape, extensive pastoralism centralised around the production of a few species has and always will create all sorts of ecological issues.

As I stated in the Australian Geographic article quoted above:

"What often happens with pastoralism is we simplify ecosystems so every part of the landscape has economic value. We clear land, put sheep in and only focus on keeping animals that benefit us. But we need to focus on biodiversity conservation. This means having a huge diversity of animals in a landscape regardless of their economic value, because the more diverse the ecosystem is, the less likely it is that native predators will kill domestic livestock."

"Retaining large patches of native vegetation that can support a diverse range of animals that offer alternative prey to livestock, such as kangaroos, possums and birds, is one way of solving these problems [and one way of solving many other problems too!]. We simply can't clear all of the land, kill the kangaroos and rabbits, and expect these majestic eagles to eat dust."

A greater understanding of how this continent and its vast assortment of unique, amazing wildlife eats, sleeps, breathes, moves and changes, and a mindset that takes these facts into consideration when deciding what actions we humans take as its current custodians, its clearly what is needed to resolve any/all of the environmental issues that present themselves. Which leads me to my final point, stemming from this quote in The Weekly Times' article:

"... the horrific drought in NSW was likely to be driving Wedge-tailed Eagles off the western plains and on to southern sheep properties [a good ecological explanation and one that is likely, but still speculative without evidence of cause and effect]. 'It’s likely to be a short-term thing for farmers and once they get five inches of rain out on the swamps of NSW they’ll go back where they came from,' Mr Vallance said."

New South Wales and Victoria might be rivals over sporting events or for other anthropocentric reasons, but Australia's ecosystems and their components do not recognise a few lines placed on a map 230 years ago. So the connotations associated with comments about eagles coming from NSW as though they are foreigners invading a state boundary need to be culled. If apex predators did recognise any 'borders' then it would be those created by the land management actions of Aboriginal Australians tens of thousands of years ago, which (mostly through fire) created the diversity of ecosystems that Westerners first saw in 1788. And in order to grow (or 'move forward', as they say in the corporate world!) in the most urgently needed way, we need to turn back the clock, put all our fuel onto the fire of reconciliation with the First Australians, and use the natural history of this country to rebuild the cultural and economic framework that is rapidly weakening.

To listen to an interview I did with Richelle Hunt on ABC Radio Afternoons in Melbourne, click here and scroll forward to 1h 30mins.

To listen to more about eagles, lambs and biodiversity, visit this ABC Radio Gippsland's Drive podcast and scroll forward to 2h 30mins.

A bird's eye view gives valuable insights into better ways of custodianship.