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)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Seagull Steals Video Camera

I had to put up this fantastic video of a seagull stealing a small video camera. The lesson is, always look after your video gear, especially when seagulls are around!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Herdsman Lake Birds

It's winter in Perth and most of the days are now cloudy, windy and cool. We are starting to get some good rains, so will we get a decent winter rainfall this year? It's looking good so far.

In Perth there's usually enough sunshine in winter to go birding at least a couple times a week, to good nearby bird places such as Herdsman Lake. This is a video of some of the birds there, going about their winter business.

The birds in the vid are Australian Shoveler, Great Crested Grebe, Grey Teal, Black Swan, Great Egret, Coots, Purple Swamphen, Little Egret, Freckled Duck and Australasian Grebe.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Back To Paradise

I have just returned from Paradise, after another wonderful level 2 fauna survey, this time a 14 day survey. The country was still in great condition with lots of wildlife after a good late wet season in the Kimberley, but the nights were very cold and the days often cool and windy, limiting some of the animals we caught.

Most boab trees have now lost their leaves and the grass is brown, but most of the wattles and grevilleas are still in flower in many areas.

One of our interesting skink captures, a Ctenotus uber. Interesting in that our surveys in this area have greatly extended it's known range, as before it was only known from far further south in the Pilbara region.

One of our most common skinks in the area, a Ctenotus inornatus.

Another common lizard here, but this time a dragon Diporiphora lalliae.

There are a few Diporiphora in range, but lalliae have a single strong gular fold on the throat.

Now he's getting a bit annoyed!

Some of our trapping sites were in areas of big spinifex clumps, provding great animal habitats.

Most spinifex areas had these baby Ctenotus pantherinus.

Here's a couple of older pantherinus. These beautilful spotted skinks are also commonly called Leopard Ctenous.

Two nice twin D. lalliae.

Another wonderful dragon, a Dwarf Bearded Dragon Pogona minor.

So well hidden! They can change colour to blend in with the environment.

This one's a lot lighter in colour, at the bottom of the bucket in the pit trap.

A beautiful Spotted Tree Monitor Varanus scalaris, caught in grassy woodland .

The spinifex sites also supported these striped Ctenotus piankai.

Boabs are amazing trees, lots of foliage during the wet season, then during the dry they lose all of their leaves.....

and develop these wonderful big boab nuts that you can eat. The white pith inside tastes a little like powdered milk with a zing! I'm sure someone could create a nice recipe for them.

A nest of a Spotted Nightjar, if you can call it a nest!

Very hard to see amongst the rock scree.

The billabongs we visited during our Northern Quoll survey in May, still had lots of water in them.

A nice find at one of the billabongs, was this colourful Jewel Beetle.

There are lots of species of these beetles and they all look amazing.

Another site we visited again was Snake Creek that connects to the Fitzroy River. We had our cameras set up here again and unfortunately filmed lots of feral pigs and cats this time.

One bird I was really hoping to see was Flock Bronzewing, a pigeon that is very hard to locate. Their stronghold is in the eastern Northern Territory, but with good rains they have now travelled to this area of the Kimberley. Once there were huge flocks of thousands, but over the last hundred years numbers have greatly reduced.

This shot by Rob Drummond shows how beautiful male Flock Bronzewings are. A great sighting of a flock of 170+ bronzewings and it's a new lifer for me.

Another lifer for me from the last trip here, was the Red-chested Button-Quail.

The head pattern, red chest and reddish flanks distinguish it from the other button-quail found here.

We caught this brightly-coloured female (with red chest) and less colourful male in the same funnel trap.

The more common Little Button-Quail looks totally different in the hand, but it's a lot harder to tell button-quail apart when they burst from the grass at light speed!

So end our level 2 fauna surveys at Paradise, which first started two years ago, but hopefully we will have more in the Kimberley area of Western Australia, as it's such a beautiful place with  fantastic animals.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Northern Quolls

It's time to head back to Paradise for another big two week level 2 fauna survey with lots of digging in buckets, checking traps and bird surveys. I'm hoping for a new bird on this survey, Flock Bronzewing, a long shot but with the good rains in the arid areas of Australia this year, I've heard big flocks are on the move and if I'm really luck could come up our way.

This post is about the last survey I was on only last week, a targeted Northern Quoll survey near Port Hedland.

My fellow Zoologist Blair takes a photo of the stunning views from the top of our trapsite hill. Three inportant sites can be seen in this shot, the big range of distant hills (on the left), a rocky ridge (left, half way) and an isolated hill (right).

The isolated hill does not appear to have many suitable large rock areas that quolls like. Are there quolls there? We generally know so little about quoll distrubutions and their local ecology. Maybe in another survey we will find out if they are there.

Quoll surveys are often one of the hardest surveys. Trap sites (like this one) are usually on steep rocky slopes, with each trap of 20 traps located about 50 meters apart. A long hard walk done twice a day, as the traps are checked in the morning and closed, and then re-baited and opened late afternoon.

Some of the traps are large Elliot traps.

Some traps are these metal cage traps.

At the end of the day it's a long 90 minute drive back to our accomodation at Port Hedland. Due to the accomodation shortage, we had to stay in the old detention centre, which has been converted to a motel/resort.

So glad to get back to your 'cell'..... I mean room, at the end of the day!

The Ospreys have taken over the role of security at the watch tower.

The next day's catches included crow, button-quail and this nice male (in moult) Crimson Chat.

So what's in the bag?

Our target have been caught.......Northern Quoll. The trick is keep the eyes covered, hold firmly and do your measurments quickly (try not to get bitten!). Weight, hind foot, tail base, M or F, insert a micro chip (in the neck) and a small ear clip for genetic research.

Once the eyes are uncovered.... they are away at lightening speed.

Due to recent rain the country was in wonderful condition.

Grevillea wickhamii was flowering everwhere and bringing in lots of birds, woodswallows, chats, honeyeaters and Yellow White-eyes.

Other plants were also in flower, such as this beautiful Acacia inaequilatera.

This is a Yellow White-eye, an interesting find. They are a mangrove species normally (also sometimes along coastal rivers), so why are they in these arid area grevillea groves, about 70km from the nearest mangroves and at least 15km from any type of dry river? We saw one flock of 15+ birds, but I believe there were many more in the area. We know so little about a lot of our Australian birds!

A view of the hill from of our trap sites on a the rocky ridge. We did catch a male quoll here that we micro-chipped on the top of the hill answered the question of, would a quoll come out this far? He was probably looking for some more lady quolls!

A southward view from the rocky ridge. Another big question is would the hill quolls make it to the distant big range about 20km south.

A wonderful surprise one morning while checking traps at our rocky ridge, a Black-headed Python.

One of my favourite snakes.

A big 2.5 metre specimen.

One of our favourite lunch places which we called 'Wolf Creek', at the big range. An old alluvial gold mining camp.

We were hoping to find a big gold nugget, but alsa no. Nice place to sit in the riverbed and have lunch.

The reason why we called it Wolf Creek (after the Australian horror movie).

A strange isolated camp with lots of bullet holes and spent shells.

A scary image. Someone is really practising their human head and heart shots.

After some looking around among the caves and big boulders near Wolf Creek, we found evidence that answered another question. Are there quolls at the big range?

Yes...... a quoll skull, but are there any living quolls here?
 Look at those teeth. I still have the bit marks (in my finger bone) from an angry quoll last year!

The rules are if you start getting too many quoll recaptures, you must close that trap site, so as not to cause harm to the quolls. We had to close two of our hill sites and were able to move them to the big range. This possibly would answer the question of quolls at the big range.

The two new trap sites at the big range were even harder on our legs. Lots of big boulders, steep scree slopes and spiky spinifex. Blair is inspecting a trap at a small cave (center left in the photo).

The hill can be seen in the distance, north of our big range trap site. A steep hard boulder-strewn climb to this last trap, from the flat plains below.

Some of the traps at big range had wonderful views, but hard work to visit all 40 traps twice a day.

On our last day we caught one quoll at big range. This showed that quolls are here at big range, but probaly in lower numbers than the hill. The hill is isolated, small and probaly at maximum quoll capacity, but these huge rocky ranges have more area, so quolls are spread out. It would be very interesting to do full surveys of these big ranges, as so little is known. Maybe one day!