And the bush has friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him, In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended, And at night the wonderous glory of the everlasting stars.

Banjo Paterson (1889)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Murchison

After my last post about the controversial mining of the ironstone ranges of the midwest, I thought I'd show some pictures of the fauna survey we carried out in some of the ranges in the Murchison region of WA.

These ranges are islands for fauna in basically a flat arid sea. As you can see it's often many kilometres across dry flats to the next island and therefore many fauna become endemic to a particular range.

The dry flat areas often have low sparse vegetation , except for creeklines such as this which provide many layers of habitat for various animals.

When not along major creeks or rivers with big eucalpyt trees, Wedge-tailed Eagles (Aquila audax) have to nest in the tallest trees they can find.

When we did our survey, this region of the Murchison had heavy rainfall from a cyclone only weeks before and lots of the vegetation was very green and flowering. Many plants such as this vine only appear after heavy rain.

A couple of the problems you encounter when doing a survey after heavy rain are lots of flies during the day and millions of mosquitoes at night. This area at that time was really bad, as the mosquitoes even attacked savagely during the day! All hungry for blood so they could lay their eggs before the water dried up.

One of the more common large skinks that live among the rocks of the ranges is the Rock Ctenotus (Ctenotus severus).

A harmless reptile egg eating snake that lives in the area is the North-western Shovel-nosed Snake (Brachyurophis approximans)

One of the geckos found in arid areas is this Fat-tailed Gecko (Diplodactylus conspicillatus). He often lives down vertical spider burrows (probably after eating the spider) and blocks the shaft with his broad tail as protection.

Due to lots of rocky habitat, these Pygmy Pythons (Antaresia perthensis) were quite common in the area.

Fauna surveys usually include catching or at least recording bat calls, so if your a bat expert like our fellow zoologist Brendan here, checking out old mining tunnels is part of the job.

Handling bats is generally for the bat experts, as some species carry a rabies-like virus.

Identifying fish species in the area is also part of the job, sometimes with great fun trying to catch them if you haven't got a net with you.

Usually we will stay in big well established mining camps, but sometimes you have to conduct surveys around exploration camps, such as this one. The transportable rooms (called 'dongas') were new and looked nice, but had no toilet or shower facilities connected yet. So the toilet was down the hill and the shower was that yellow canvas next to the caravan. A least there was hot water most of the time.

One of the beautiful rock outcrops found in the area, which are great homes for many animal species.

Not a setup photo. This is how we found them one morning. A rock with a Pygmy Python and a Rock Dragon (Ctenophorus caudicinctus) sunning themselves, or was the python hunting him?

Pygmy Pythons are such beautiful snakes and one of my favourites. I always get a kick out of seeing one.

A beautiful big gecko that can be found in these rocky areas is the Marbled Velvet Gecko (Oedura marmorata). They often have a bit of an attitude and give you a good nip if they get a hold of your finger.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Disgrace

I would normally place wildlife or holiday stories and pictures on this blog, but sometimes I must add to the social comment and place my thoughts on here as well.

What caught my eye recently in our local state newspaper, The West Australian, was an article titled 'Minister overrules green watchdog over mines'. Colin Barnett, the leader of our state government, has to me always seemed like a weak naive individual ,who seems to only chase acceptance and votes from the upper crust, often by using his policital power to ride over issues of common sense and government structure. Probably sounds like most politicians, but I am always amazed at his lack of knowledge or concern for the environment.

Here's the story from The West Australian in a nutshell:

The State Government has rejected the advice of its own environmental watchdog by giving the green light to iron ore mining at a biodiversity hotspot in the Mid-West, sparking accusations it is putting Chinese mining interests ahead of the environment.

Environment Minister Donna Faragher approved yesterday two iron ore mining proposals by Karara Mining. The move overrode an Environmental Protection Authority recommendation that mining not be permitted in the area surrounding Mungada Ridge, part of the Blue Hills Range 225km east of Geraldton, because of its unique and vulnerable ecosystem.

The EPA assessment said mining posed a risk of species extinctions on the Mungada Ridge and the neighbouring Terapod iron formation, and recommended that the site be a class-A conservation reserve.

But Mrs Faragher overturned the advice after Karara pledged to conserve 995ha. Mrs Faragher said the eastern portion of Mungada Ridge would become the region’s first conservation reserve and she was confident it was big enough to protect endemic species.

Conservation Council mining spokesman Tim Nicol said the 995ha was “inadequate”, and many species on the ridge had not been studied.

What I am also interested in is what scientific infomation Mrs Faragher used to decide that 995ha was enough? Her own guess? An order from Colin? A big business executive?

Ranges, especially the Ironstone Ranges in the Mid West are basically islands in an arid sea, where special short range endemic animals have evolved and cannot move anywhere else. I have worked and visited many of these special ranges and they are amazing in their biodiversity and difference compared to the surrounding areas. To mine areas such as these when other options are available is a complete disgrace! Shame on Colin Barnett and his government!

It seems that again we in Western Australia and the whole world will lose all our interesting ecosystems and wildlife by the slow 'death of a thousand cuts'.

In the not too distant future, will there be anything interesting to put on a nature blog? Maybe just some old digital photos and old stories.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Borneo - The Caves

During our 2nd trip to Borneo we visited Gomantong Caves in Sabah and the Mulu Caves in Sarawak. With the high rainfall and large areas of limestone, these cave systems have become some of the largest in the world.

The Mulu Caves have some of the biggest caverns in the world.

Millions of bats, especially Wrinkle-Lipped Bats call the caves home and every night at dusk they leave the caves to go feeding in the forest. A truely amazing wildlife spectacle to see at Mulu.

While at Mulu we stayed at the Royal Mulu Resort, which has a wonderful system of elevated walkways leading to the rooms and a great place to spot animals. It's easy to see animals such as Prevost's Squirrel running along branches, often at eye level.

Spending time walking the walkways is well worth it as it can lead you to find these Common Flying Lizards resting on branches during the day or sometimes to see them gliding from tree to tree.

Barbets which as often so hard to see in the tree tops, like this male Red-throated Barbet. We found this one digging a hole near the walkway at eye level.

The river leading to some of the caves was stunning and a good way to see more animals, especially birds feeding and roosting at the river's edge.

A beautiful, peaceful section of river.

Shortly after taking this photo at the end point of the boat ride to the caves, the heavens opened and the lightening and rain came down. The huge afternoon thunderstorms turned the once peaceful river in a fast flowing torrent for the way home. That was a fun, wet journey back!

A Striped Bronzeback Tree Snake, often found on the ground as well as trees.

The common but beautiful Crested Green Lizard, found over most of Borneo and south-east asia.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Quacking Frogs

Rain this past week has been coming down in bucket loads and frogs have been calling along all the creeks in the Jarrah forest. An area I often go to, has a creek running over a flat sheet of granite with rocks scattered over it. There seemed to be at least two frogs under every large rock, many with eggs. I could hear other species, but all the frogs I found under the rocks were Quacking Frogs (Crinia georgiana).
For a single species, there seems to be so much variation in just an area of 10 metres. Normally you can tell the species by it's red or gold eyelids and red groin, but some didn't even have that.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Borneo - K's Galore

Yes, K's galore. The keen and kindly Kings keep getting to know the knockout, kaleidoscope of experiences at Kota Kinabalu, Mt Kinabalu and the kampongs of the Kinabatangan. Try saying that when you have had a few drinks!

A colourful view of Kota Kinabalu the capital of Sabah. We often try to stay at the central Hyatt Regency because it's close to good natural history bookshops and you have wonderful close views of swifts and martins as they swoop past your balcony.

If there are flowering plants near the hotels or resorts, you can often get wonderful birds like this male Olive-backed Sunbird.

You can sometimes find bats roosting, such as this cute Blossom Bat (Macroglossus minimus) hanging under one of the resort's garden palms.

On a clear day, the huge outline of Mount Kinabalu can be seen from the city of Kota Kinabalu.

To get to the the cool air of Mt Kinabalu is always a delight after spending any time in the hot humid tropical lowlands. It's one of the places we always go to when in Sabah, as there are lots of trails at the base of the mountain to explore.

The whole area around Mt Kinabalu supports a large number of butterfly species, including this beautiful Rajah Brooke's Birdwing.

The second time we were at Mt Kinabalu we decided we would climb up to at least the Laban Rata resthouse not that far from the summit, well about another 3 hours. Unlike most people going to the top, we birded around the resthouse, trying to get the Mountain Blackbird and Kinabalu Friendly Warbler. We got the Blackbird, but not the unfriendly Warbler. My wife liz always regreted that we didn't go to the summit, so last Christmas she made it to the top.

We did get to see some interesting species of Pitcher Plants growing near the trail.

On the trail up, Mountain Ground Squirrels would run around looking for food scraps at some of the shelters.

It was good to have a nice warm room for the night at the Laban Rata resthouse, seeing that it had rained heavily with a cold wind all the way up. What we didn't know at the time, that we would have rain all the way down the next day as well!

We also made a trip out to one of Borneo's great wildlife areas, the Kinabatangan River.

Of course, one of the animals you must see in Borneo is the Proboscis Monkey. This male was one of many Proboscis we saw when travelling by boat down a small tributary of the Kinabatangan. He loves his figs!

Long-tailed Macaques may be a fairly common monkey in Sabah, but they still a lovely animal to see, especially their interesting facial expressions.

Next we travelled eastwards across Sabah to Sandakan.

Liz had read books by Agnes Keith about her life during World War II in Sandakan, so a visit to the English Tearooms near her house was a must.

We just managed to finish our tea before the severe afternoon storms hit. You can see the darkening sky in the picture. Moments later a strong wind with torrential rain overturned most of the tables smashing crockery and glasses.