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Springtime in Perth

Springtime in Perth

Spring was well and truly sprung in  Perth over the last week.  The counter balance to my hideous hayfever is all the new little birds that are popping up all over town.

Black Swan – Cygnet

When they are really little it is difficult to imagine how they got the name of ugly ducklings.  As they grow into adolescence it is easier to understand, but weren’t we all like that at that age?

 

Purple Swamphen

This rather inelegant name suits the babies much better than their babies.

Dusky Moorhen

The bright red heads and wing tips of these little fluff balls does not stop them from being ugly but cute little suckers.  They appear to be cared for by friends and relatives as well as their parents.

Pacific Black Duck

This little one swam off in the wrong direction then started crying out for mum. When Mum came back to collect her little stray she gave him a telling off.

That did not compare to the yelling and splashing match she had with a coot that came too close to her brood.

 

Australasian Shelduck

Great Cormorant

I’ve seen ibis breeding colonies at Tomato Lake and outside Bunnings at Morley (bless the sausage in a bun) , but this year was my first discovery of the Great Cormorant island in Maylands.

 Australasian Grebe

This is still a work in progress as mummy grebe sits on her eggs. These pictures are heavily cropped and taken at a distance so as not to disturb her. She is at a nice public place so I hope I’ll get to see her offspring (pun) soon.

Australian Wood Duck

Australian Wood Duck

Wood ducks are one of those ducks that I always seem to see in pairs.  Perhaps it is just that the male and female ducks are easily distinguished by the boy’s darker head and the ladies white eye liner. She is also more comfortable with print as the speckles on her chest extend down to her flanks while he matches his with a simple grey.

There are other differences too, but by this point I’m pretty sure I have the two worked out. It’s all enough to let you know they  they are together.  Like they are wearing matching jackets or something.

For all I know pacific black ducks might hang out in couples too – I’ve just never noticed.

It’s August here in WA, which means the end of winter and the all too early start of spring. In addition to the coming of the allergy season and concerns that we really haven’t had enough rain, we get the ducklings.

 All of the youngsters have the white stripe above and below the eye – I’m not sure at what age they will start to differentiate between male and female.

In the metro area mums and dads seem to be quite relaxed having people about their brood.  If you sit yourself down a decent distance away it is not uncommon for the family to come to you.

Seeing the little ones bobbing about in the water is very cute. They need to be careful though – there are some places where getting in is easy, and getting out is hard.

After a good bit of eating and swimming they all snuggle up for a bit of a nap while Mum and Dad watch over them.

More information

 

http://www.birdlife.org.au/bird-profile/australian-wood-duck
http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Chenonetta-jubata

I have also discovered a great new Facebook Group, Western Australian Birds.

Red-capped Robin and Scarlet Robin

Red-capped Robin and Scarlet Robin

The robin is one of those birds that gives you a little thrill when you see one. Maybe it brings back memories of Dicken in the Secret Garden, a much loved story from my childhood.

In Western Australia we have two types of  these flamboyant birds, the Red-capped Robin and the Scarlet Robin.

I happened across this Red-capped Robin on the road west from the Kingston Barracks at Rottnest Island. While he wouldn’t let me get too close, he did hang around for a while and seemed quite interested in what I was up to. Perhaps he could see his reflection in the camera lens.

Red-capped Robin

The Scarlet Robin and his mate were enjoying the winter sunshine at Araluen Botanic Gardens. 

Scarlet Robin

Actually, now I think about it the boy in this case was checking out his
reflection in a window most of the time, so either these birds have
narcissistic tendencies, or they are a bit territorial.

Male (left) Female (right)

It was great to see the pair together as I could see the differences. Unlike the female Red-capped Robin, the female Scarlet Robin has a lightly blushed chest, but is still far less showy than her mate.

More information

http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Petroica-goodenovii
http://birdlife.org.au/bird-profile/red-capped-robin
http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Petroica-boodang
http://birdlife.org.au/bird-profile/scarlet-robin

Southern Boobook Owl

Southern Boobook Owl

I was brought up to think of owls as being creatures of the night.  You can imagine my surprise, when walking the dogs along the firebreak on a property in the south west town of Northcliffe, to see a Southern Boobook Owl just hanging out in a tree at about 10am. It’s hard to say if he/she was staying up well past bed time or was up super duper early.

 In either case,  this owl was very settled and just sat in its tree to watch me watching it.

These owls are widespread across Australia. They don’t have the typical heart shaped, flat face that story book owls have either.

This one had the most beautiful chest feather. They look like a chocolate and cream hounds-tooth check to me.


More information

http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Ninox-novaeseelandiae

Rainbow Bee-eater

Rainbow Bee-eater

The Rainbow bee-eater apparently visits Perth and Rottnest island frequently.  I’ve never noticed one here, but on a recent visit to Broome they were everywhere. And yes, they do eat bees, and other flying insects.

Their hunting style is mesmerizing.  Each bird seems to have its favourite spot, a special barnch on a special tree.   

  From this perch it will launch itself out, perform some acrobatics mid
air,
 

and it successful return to its perch with a tasty morsel.

 

They nest by making burrows in the mounds of red pindan earth at the sides of the dirt tracks and can be seen swooping across the road in their signature loops in search of
bees.

More information

http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Merops-ornatus
http://birdlife.org.au/bird-profile/rainbow-bee-eater

Broome Bird Observatory Part 2

Broome Bird Observatory Part 2

The
routine of the BBO is a mix of running tours for guest and day trippers
form Broome, and coordinating the more serious role that the Observatory holds for conservation and research.  Tours include the Lakes Tour, which we took, Plains tours
and search for the Yellow Chat.

On the weekend we were
there a canon netting was scheduled and we (kind-of) volunteered to
help.


The principle of canon netting is to set up a concealed net, wait for
a lot of interesting shore birds to start hanging out together on the beach, then to
explosively shoot the net out over the top of the birds without hurting
any of them, so they can be caught, weighed, measured and tagged.

You need a
very special license to do it, and you’re restricted as to when.  It’s a
game with the tide because you need the birds to be far enough away
from the net so you don’t hit them when it shoots out, and
far enough away from the water that you don’t drown any.

I
think I have mentioned before that birds can be well, flighty. Lots of
little things can cause a flock of birds to launch off at the last
moment, so all of us – the ‘volunteers’ were asked to wait out of sight
at the top of the cliff. We were given instructions that on the sound of
the canon we were to race down the steep, narrow path down the cliff
and onto the beach where each of us was to run to our designated spot to
make sure no birds were trapped in the water where the might drown.

On the day we missed out on catching any birds, and missed out on
seeing the ones we didn’t catch because we were hidden away at the top of the cliff.  Over all not the most satisfying experience, but one we can
chalk up to experience.

There were birds on the beach, in the right place, but not the right mix of species.

If
we’re honest we were both quite relieved- the idea of running down the
gully at break neck speed to make sure we get to the beach in time to
make sure no birds come to harm – not to mention making sure you DO NOT
WALK ON THE NET – well it was all starting to feel quite stressful.

The best part of the morning was helping roll up the net.


If you’re interested in knowing how it was meant to go, here are some other sites to check out.
http://www.pbase.com/footloose54/bbo
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannon-netting

Broome Bird Observatory Part 1

Broome Bird Observatory Part 1


 When time is the things you’re short on you have to squeeze every bit out of what you have.  In September that meant taking a ‘roll your own’ long weekend up to Broome.

I’ve been to the Kimberley twice before and loved it both times.  This time I went with a specific purpose – to visit the Broome Bird Observatory.

In what seems to be be my developing travel style, I didn’t know a lot about it before booking.  My dad had been some years before and said good things about it, and I’d read a little online but that was it.

I bought a new zoom lens for the occasion, but I’m not doing it justice yet.

To the Obseravtory batdog!

The observatory is about 20 kms out of town along a pretty rough road, 4wd required, They don’t have an online booking system, so everything happens by email. That means you have a real live person on the other end of your message though and Mandy was very responsive.

We arranged to be picked up from the visitor centre, giving ourselves time to go take a short walk from the airport to the supermarket and pick up supplies first. As it happened we over catered – how unusual – but the left overs went to a worthy cause.

The observatory is a mix of research station and camp accommodation.  The staff were lovely as was our Camp Host, Wendy.  She and her husband were there to help out and keep the toilets and kitchen ship shape in exchange for free camping.  Sounds like something I would love to do one day.

Mandy, Hazel and Rick were the staff running the show. It takes a special kind of person to dedicate their lives to working in these far flung places and I think they are amazing. We were warned that Rick might not the most talkative guy going around but we got along just fine.  Botany is not his bag, but it isn’t mine either so no dramas there.

Accommodation is mixed. We stayed in the units, which are sort of a donga with beds and  a desk and not much else.  But what more do you need?  There is a shared bathroom / toilet facility so hot water and flushing toilets.  We’d call it ‘glamping’ if we were talking to our beautiful buddy Craig. There are also camp sites for those who prefer a tent, and one chalet which looked quite flash from the peeks inside we managed. The chalet does not count as ‘glamping’.

The Shadehouse is the share kitchen facility and it has everything you could ask for other than a microwave.  The power is solar with generator backing, so things that spike like hairdryers and microwaves are not a good idea up there. But there is a full size kitchen range, fridges, BBQ, pots, pan, plates, cutlery and even a can opener.

It also offers the company of resident green tree frogs and a view of
the bird baths. You get a range of views from here, including double
banded finch, wallabies and an occasional Brahman bull from the
neighbouring property. Somehow they all seem to get along.

Just outside the door to the shadehouse we had a mother and two young  restless flycatchers. I think mum will be pleased when these two leave home.

The funny thing about expectations, you have them even when you don’t know you have them. With my minuscule amount of research before this trip I expected to see;

  • a LOT of shorebirds – but didn’t
  • a few birds of prey – saw HEAPS
  • birds, birds, birds – saw them, but also lots of crabs, spiders, frogs and cattle
  • a lot of flies – surprisingly few
  • Clear blue skies and hot weather – and along with the blue skies we got… mist??

On the first morning we were there I got up early to go for a walk around one of the trails.  I was amazed by the mixture of mist and spider webs.  It was like wondering around in a faerie grotto. Totally unexpected – the weather seemed too warm to expect anything like mist. 

Once fully awake, fed and functional we started to investigate all the activities on offer at the Observatory…

Feral bees

Feral bees

One of my many failings is a lousy sense of direction. My inability to tell my left from my right is legendary among family and friends.  Sometimes that works out OK.

I was up at Whiteman Park last week, and I followed the Wunanga Bush Trail. The guys and girls up there do a fantastic job as all the trails are really well marked with painted bollards all along the way so you can’t get lost.

Oh, and the lovely lady at the visitor centre had fitted me out with a great map and info sheet on the the trail as well.


That didn’t stop me from getting distracted and wandering off the trail to an alternate track, not once, but twice. If you have ever been up there you will be scratching your head and wondering how the hell I managed that and that is a very fair comment. However, sometimes these accidents turn out for the best.

I’ve been reading a bit lately about the plight of the black cockatoos in WA.  My last post was on one of the creatures that take up the nesting hollows that those birds use.  One of the other competitors for these hollows are feral bees.

And, you guessed it, on my off track excursion I came across a bee hive in one of those hollows;

It was after pausing to look at these bees that it occurred to me that I couldn’t see any of the painted bollards, and that perhaps I should retrace my steps, which I did  and found my way safely back to civilisation.

I initially found it a little challenging to begrudge the bees their hollow. After all, world wide the health of our bees is critical to our overall survival and there are too many things they need to be worrying about. However, these bees happen to be an imported species, and taking up valuable real etstate, and resources, that might otherwise be available to threatened native species of bird.

So, what makes a bee ‘feral’ anyway? The term is used to describe European honey bees that have mounted an escape from their artificial hives (which makes me think of  the movie Chicken Run for some reason) and are now living on the land.  They are generally a bit agro, and don’t add much value in the pollination of plants or commercial production of honey.

We get quite a few bees in our backyard.  I have no idea if these are feral or if they belong to someone and are doing useful work. I do know I like to give them a bit of room.

In our last house we had a swarm of bees make their home in the ceiling cavity of our pantry.  It was a two story home and you could hear them humming from below and above.Very creepy.

For more information of feral bees here are some links;
http://museum.wa.gov.au/explore/online-exhibitions/cockatoo-care/feral-bees
http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/invasive/publications/bees/
http://www.aussiebee.com.au/bees-in-houses.html

Pink and Grey Galah

Pink and Grey Galah

Pink and Grey Galahs are as much apart of the Perth landscape as Cottesloe Beach. Whether it is flocks of them feeding on the school ovals as the day wears on, or a screeching pair in flight they seem ubiquitous.

I am coming to realise that this ubiquity may not actually be a good thing.

Oh sure, they are native, pretty, smart and funny.  But they are also highly competitive and in their high numbers restrict the number of nesting sites available for the rarer and threatened species of Black Cockatoo that also call Western Australia home.

I happened across a scene in a Maylands park last week where a pair of galahs seemed to be having a stand-off with a pair of Rainbow Lorikeets over a hollow in a tree. 

The Rainbow Lorikeets are an equally common and competitive species so I don’t suppose it matters much which one ends up winning, but the spectacle was very interesting to watch and hear. As the Rainbow Lorikeet is an introduced species to WA I suppose it would be better for the galahs to get the nursery.

In this picture you can see the male with the dark eye and the female with the “I didn’t get enough sleep last night” red eye.

I always call these guys pink and grey galahs (because they are) and that infers there are other galahs out there. I haven’t been able to find any information of other kinds, apart from the human variety.

For more information see;

www.birdsinbackyards.net
birdlife.org.au

New Holland Honeyeater

New Holland Honeyeater

Our backyard is like New Holland Honeyeater heaven at the moment. It has to be a pretty dark and stormy day for us to walk outside and not hear the chorus of these birds as they dart about the place.



Sometimes you have to stop and think before you realise where certain phrase and cliches come from.

Flighty for example.

I go out in my backyard several times a day, and I’m sure that the birds
that hang out there are the same ones that see me come out, sit and
read while having a cup of coffee, or hang out the washing, or play
with the dog. And even though I have never done anything to offend, they
will dash away as soon as I get too close.

Quite sensible really – but
‘flighty’ – oh yeah – like with wings…

They are very social little neighbours and hold corroberees as soon as they wake up in the morning, and again before evening. Apparently they are actually very active birds because they are all hopped up on the sugary nectar they get form the flowers – like little kids on red cordial.

It was only when preparing this post that I discovered that there was another, very similar looking honeyeater – the white-cheeked honeyeater. But I’m confident that these guys are the New Holland Variety as they have a light coloured eye rather than a dark eye.

 As far as I can tell these birds aren’t in any danger at the moment. They are a wonderful part of our urban environment.

For more information see birdlife.org.au or www.birdsinbackyards.net.