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, May 18, 2010

Woodie Woodie - Back again

Woodie Woodie minesite in the east Pilbara is a place I know well now, as this was the 5th survey there. Only a quick Level 1 site survey, but interesting enough, with fairly cool days (for the Pilbara!) and minimal flies.

Hopefully Port Headland will be as nice and forgiving, as the big Level 2 fauna survey there begins tomorrow. I know I'm in for some hot humid environs when I return, as it's off to Miri in Sarawak Borneo for a week. My wife has work there, so this time I'm tagging along (can't let her have all the fun) to do some birding and get some wildlife video. New Borneo birding areas to explore, such as Niah Caves and Lambir Hills, can't wait!

Here are a few pictures of the Woodie Woodie area, taken last week.

Woodie is a beautiful but harsh place, with big areas of hard spiky spinifex, creeklines and numerous rocky ridges. Always a good spot for interesting arid zone animals.

Water is pumped from the deeper mining pits and creates an 'oasis in the desert' for the local animals. The water here is fresh, clean and of a good quality compared to some other minesites.

At the ponds there were good numbers of waterbirds, such as Coots, Australasian Grebes, Black Duck, Hardhead and Reed-Warblers. The excess water flows down the small creeks, which had at least 3 species of native fish that we saw, plus honeyeaters and finches in the creekline vegetation.

It was a little windy and dry during the survey, so birds were few and far between, once you moved away from water. The beautiful call of the Pied Butchbirds were always heard at the survey sites.

One of the 'nuked sites' as we called them. Lightning starts fires that often burn large areas of spinifex grass, but life survives even at these barren sites. Last time we caught a number of geckos and dragons that live amongst the charred rocks.

One of my favourite areas at Woodie, a beautiful creek with a rock gorge to the north of the minesite. We have explored this area during previous surveys and on a warm night the rocks are alive with many species of geckos and other reptiles.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Broome Cuckoos and Their Hosts

I'm looking forward to a big fauna survey starting this week up in Port Headland. It's a long strip of trapping sites running for a couple hundred kilometres south from Port Headland and is in the range of many conservation significant species, such as Bilbies and Mulgaras. Marsupials that have disappeared form most other areas, plus a whole bunch of reptiles that I haven't seen before, from the coastal area of the North-West.

Hopefully it will be warm enough and we should catch some good reptiles, but the birding may be harder as most of the migrants have left and the local birds are quiet, as it's not breeding time. In these northern areas you really need to be there during the wet season or just after a big cyclone to see the birds at their best.

Here are some pictures from my birding trip with my cousin to Broome during the wet season, when breeding was in full swing and lots of cuckoos were there.

In Broome you can get up to 8 cuckoo species at the right time of year. During February, most cuckoos were calling and watching their host's nest building activities, such as this Little Bronze-Cuckoo.

A young Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo that has left it's host parents nest. Over a 100 species of bird in  Australia have their nests parasitised by cuckoos.

Pheasant Coucals were in breeding black and brown plumage and calling from all grassy areas. No longer considered a cuckoo due to their DNA and habit of building their own nests, instead of using host species.

One of the local host species that the cuckoos were watching, a lovely female Red-backed Fairy-wren.

A beautiful male Red-backed Fairy-wren, heading back to his nest.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Coobina - Wildlife and Stygofauna

Such a busy time of year conducting fauna surveys for the mining industry, Coobina last week, Woodie Woodie this week and Port Headland next week. Will it last, seeing the government has recently announced a huge increase in mining taxes? Up to 40%, so miners aren't very happy and may cut back on projects.

Here are some pictures from the Coobina site survey east of Newman.

The survey site was a beautiful area, but birding was hard at this time of year, especially after a long hot and dry summer. The most exciting sight was a flock of 6 Ground Cuckoo-shrikes at the mine area.

A nice area to the north of the survey site.

This area was the home of a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles. You can see the nest at the base of a tree on the right hand side of the picture.

The gorge area in the early morning.

A lot of trees in the local area had the scars from aborigines making shields. Some were recent ones made with metal axes, such as this one, and some were very old. This poor tree had 3 taken from it, resulting in it's death from ring-barking.

Collecting stygofauna from bore-holes was also the aim of this visit. There were 10 bores to sample with most being 80 metres deep and at most of them you need 8 samples (for small bore-holes - 14 samples). That's a lot of rope to be dropped and pulled up by hand. That's at least about six and half kilometres of rope to be pulled!

The stygofauna is caught in fine mesh funnels with a collection tube at the bottom.
If you want to know about the interesting animals called stygofauna, see this site.

Some of the wonderful patterns in the clay.

Shame it's just a holding pond for waste from the Chromite milling plant.

Even here at the holding pond life finds a way to live, with a beautiful Solanum species growing on the edge.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Camballin Fauna Survey Part 3

Night spot-light surveys can be very exciting or very boring, depending on how many animals you see. Hour after hour can be spent travelling down dusty tracks with no animals in sight. How many are out may depend on many factors. Season, temperature, moon, wind or sometimes no known reason.

It's a good night. We came across this Bush Stone-curlew on a lonely track.

A species of spider that we haven't seen before, living on big termite mounds.

Beautiful patterns on these spiders.

A female Red Kangaroo and joey were feeding near one of our trap sites.

A fantastic frog of arid areas, a Desert Spadefoot (Notaden nichollsi).

They come up when it rains, but when it drys they burrow vertically down with their large shovel-like feet.

A beautiful glossy Moon Snake (Furina ornata) that has just killed a skink for his dinner. I always get a buzz from catching this lovely snake.

Next morning it's off to check the trap sites again.

One of our trap sites in a woodland with termite mounds. An interesting observation was that many of the termite mounds had been taken over by armies of small black ants. Is this a natural event or some type of man-made environmental change? Old big termite mounds are extremely important homes to many of the local animals, so their loss could be devastating.

An early morning catch, a Northern Spiny-tailed Gecko.

Another lovely Glaphyromorphus (Eremiascincus) isolepis.

A huge Spiny-tailed Monitor (Varanus acanthurus). One of the largest we have ever seen. Fantastic tail!

Some animals come out in great numbers of certain days and often we don't know why. This day was a Mulga Snake (Pseudechis australis) day, with a number caught at our trap sites, including this one in the grass I almost stepped on. At another trap site, one of our zoologists was bitten and had to be rushed to Derby hospital. He was ok luckily. Snakes can control how much venom is injected and often just bite you to tell you to go away. Venom is an expensive substance for a snake to make, so they don't want to waste it!

He's a great animal! About 2.5 metres long.

Another predator on the hunt, a big Yellow-spotted Monitor (Varanus panoptes).

A nice big fellow, growing up to 1.5 metres.

So ended a great fauna survey at a very interesting site. A mix of Kimberley and Pilbara animal species.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Camballin Fauna Survey Part 2

Just back from my survey this week in the east Pilbara at Coobina. Here are some more pictures of the last Camballin survey.

Fauna surveys are not just about trapping animals, but also involve bird and habitat suveys. At the Camballin site there were still a few billabongs that had water in them from the wet season. These Australian White Ibis were feeding on the easy pickings in the drying waterhole.

One of the bigger billabongs used by the local cattle, which was also a area for Whiskered Tern, Royal Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis and Brolgas. 

A survey of the local creek, which flows inland from the Fitzroy River barriage dam. Small noisy colonies of Black Flying Foxes and Rufous Night-herons were found along here.

Looking like something from Angkor Wat in Cambodia, a big fig tree pushes through the sandstone rocks of the creek.

The creek narrows, but still flows inland towards a failed agricultural project from the 1960's on the Camballin floodplain.

At one of our trap sites we found six of these weird small mounds about 3 metres in diameter with a small pile of sticks in the centre. We still don't know what made them. Birds? Crocodiles? Humans?

Night spot-lighting surveys are also an important element of fauna surveys, as most Australian animals are nocturnal. We usually have our dinner outdoors near our survey site on these nights, such as this old dam that had about 400 Plumed Whistling-Ducks.

The whistling-ducks weren't too happy about us being at their dam, but didn't mind the local cattle coming in for their evening drink.


We often get a beautiful sunset to enjoy with our dinner!


At sunset the whistling-ducks formed small flocks and moved off to new wetlands and feeding areas for the night.


A beautiful sight to end the day!