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)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Broome Finches

Easter is almost here, so planning our Easter bird trip is in full swing. It looks like we are going to be heading northwards into the dry Mulga areas looking for hard elusive birds such as Grey Honeyeater, Gilbert's Whistler and an extreme long shot, Scarlet-chested Parrot.

It doesn't look like there will be rain, so it's going to be a camping 'swag under the stars' holiday, and this time with a couple of friends in another 4WD. That makes it a lot safer, especially if your camped at least two days walk from any help (as usual).

Here are some more photos from the last bird holiday up in Broome.

Long-tailed Finches coming in for a drink at the Broome Bird Observatory. These are the WA form with the yellow bill, the Northern Territory/Queensland form have a red bill.

One of the most common finches in Australia, Zebra Finches. The male at the front is a lot more colourful with the orange cheek patch and spotted chestnut flanks.

The beautiful Double-barred Finch. This is the kimberley form annulosa with the black rump (white rump on bichenovii in eastern Australia).

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Nice Day for a Dam Walk

Saturday was a bad day for any photography or video at Herdsman Lake, with a very cloudy overcast day, so it was basically just a walk around. It was interesting to see the big increases in water levels after last Monday's storms. Perth had not had any rain for almost 4 months, so Herdsman was low with lots of open mud and reedbeds, and lots of birds. A few weeks ago with the Birds Australia excursion, we managed to record 71 bird species in just over 3 hours!

Now a lot of birds had moved on and the lake is home to the usual deeper water winter birds, such as Musk and Blue-billed Ducks.

The big areas of mud have disappeared and some of the birds seemed a little lost, such as these Black-winged Stilts and Glossy Ibis. This group had 44 Glossy Ibis, a good number for Herdsman.

Sunday turned out to be a nice day for our walk around Mundaring Weir, which is only a twenty minute drive from our home.

The dam was built around 1900 as part of the plan by C. Y. O'Connor to pump water 550km to supply the towns of the eastern goldfields. The project worked, but due to savage media and political pressure the poor guy ended up shooting himself before the water arrived! It's an interesting story and you can find out more at wikipedia

I have a personal interest in this area, as my father worked on raising the height of the dam wall after the second world war. My father met my mother in the small workers village that use to be to on the southern edge at the base of the dam. Now only some old concrete foundations remain.

One of the walking tracks that my wife and I love walking on is the Bibbulmun Track. It starts in Kalamunda, passes near our home, across Mundaring Weir and onto Albany on the south coast. A 1000 km (620 mile) walk with shelters about a day's walk apart. For more info see Bibbulmun Track

Only about another 970km to Albany from here. Most people need at least 6 weeks to do the end to end walk. We have spent a week walking a part of it a couple years ago and it was great!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Python Swallows Large Monitor

We know that snakes such as pythons can distend their jaws to swallow large prey, but this Black-headed Python really wanted to see how far it could go with this Yellow-spotted Monitor. These pictures were taken at a northern minesite in Western Australia during a survey a little while ago.

Good to see the workers pegged off the road area till the python had finished it's meal and was on it's way. That meal should keep him (or her) going for a few months!

After 5 hours, all finished!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Perth Storms

Here's some pictures of the damage from the massive storm that hit Perth on Monday afternoon. The damage bill is at 200 million dollars and rising fast. Some areas of the Banksia woodland around Perth have had most of their leaves stripped off and bark smashed by huge chunks of hail.

Lots of books lost as the university library is flooded.

There are cheap cars for sale at many dealerships now, but you may have to put up with your BMW or Audi looking a little like swiss cheese!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Northern Wheatbelt Site Survey

Perth was battered by huge severe thunderstorms that arrived late Monday afternoon and caused some major damage. We had planned to go out to dinner and then the monthly Birds Australia meeting, but we only made it half way before having to turn back due to the storms. As the road we take into Perth was blocked for miles with traffic, over a foot of water starting to flood all intersections and tree branches as thick as an arm falling on the road, it was time to turn back and head for home. After a nice round trip of about an hour and a half through a crazy storm, we arrived back at our safe but dark home, as the power was out over most of the Perth area and was going to be for a long time. Oh well, it wasn’t too bad, we did have a nice calming drink or two, and a candlelit dinner at home with a lightening show!

I was hoping that the storms would clear quickly, as the next day I had a long 4 hour journey to conduct a two day fauna site survey in the northern wheatbelt.


Wouldn't you know it. When we arrived at the survey site in the afternoon, so did the local thunderstorms and rain!

The next morning at the site was fine, warm and sunny.

The most of the survey site had been cleared many years ago, as most of the wheatbelt has been, but some of the more hardy vegetation had grown back. A large protion of the animals now found in the area are insects, such as this Case Moth caterpillar in it's protected home of sticks.

The area had a lot of old logs and branches scattered over the ground, so you had to watch your step in case one of them was a snake, such as this Mulga Snake out hunting in the early morning.

This lovely skink is the Pygmy Spiny-tailed Skink (Egernia depressa) which caused some excitement for a while, as the reason for the survey was to look for any threatened animals, such as the local Western Spiny-tailed Skink (Egernia stokesii badia) which looks very similar. The Pygmy Spiny-tailed Skink is fairly common over a large part of the drier areas of Western Australia.

These Egernia skinks are interesting lizards, as they live in small groups and have communal toilets outside their hollows. One of the best ways to see if the Egernias are living in a hollow, is to look for the long faecal droppings with the little white acidic ball. I think future research may reveal that these mass droppings have some social display function. Maybe it provides information on how many lizards are living there or their social rank?

A typical home for the Pygmy Spiny-tailed Skinks at the survey site. Lots of small hollows where they can hide and use their spiny tails and backs to wedge themselves in if something tries to get them out.

A lovely young Egernia depressa who came out of a hollow, to have a look at the people surveying his home.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Day at Rotto

It was an early start to catch the ferry to Rottnest Island on Sunday, for the Birds Australia Rottnest Island excursion. Rottnest is about 20km west of Perth and a good place for some island birding, especially some local races that differ from the mainland species, such as the larger and darker Singing Honeyeater.

It turned out to be a great day with 41 confirmed species and a nice temperature of 28C with a light breeze.

The ferry arrival place on Rottnest, Thomson Bay.

Looking for Rock Parrots at Thomson Bay. About 20 birders turned out for the excursion, most local but also some overseas visitors.

The island oval was a good area to see Banded Lapwing, as well as some White-fronted Chats that made an brief appearance.

One of the local sleepy residents, a Quokka (Setonix brachyurus) resting in the shade from the midday heat.

The centre of the island is made up of a network of salt lakes and a good spot for waders. About a thousand Banded Stilt were using the lakes for feeding during our visit.

A young birder having a great time checking out the new area and it's animals.

Herschel Lake held small groups of feeding Red-necked Stints, such as this one just starting to come into breeding plumage.

The group scanning Bickley Swamp for the two Spotless Crakes that some members saw and some missed out on.

Some of the island's accommodation is only a stone's throw from good birding salt lakes.

The afternoon's walk to Philip Point near Kingstown Barracks, which gave us excellent views of Bridled, Crested, Caspian and Fairy Terns, and other island birds.

A great day, but time to return to the ferries and back to the mainand before the afternoon storms hit.