Year: 2014

Christmas Tree Nuytsia floribunda Perth Hills Western Australia Moodjar

Christmas Tree – Season Greetings

The Australian Christmas Tree (Nuytsia floribunda) or Moodjar is not exactly known for its lights or baubles, but for its spectacular display of golden flowers that appear in Birak or the ‘yellow season’. The succulent roots, nectar-rich flowers and nutritious sweet gum of the world’s largest mistletoe are prized by the Nyungar, however, as the tree is thought to be inhabited by the spirits of dead people it is better left alone when not in bloom. So we are lucky to have another kind of Christmas tree around our place – and therefore would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas while it’s in full glory!

Forest Red Tailed Cockatoo Karra Perth Hills Korung National Park

Forest Red-tailed Black Cockatoo

The call of the Forest Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus banksii naso) is a sound you simply can’t miss. The discordant ‘ka-rark’ resembling screech is so high-pitched you normally hear this bird before you even see it – no wonder the Forest Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo is aptly called Karrak in Nyungar language. But in case you would’t recognise its call, this Cockatoo is easily identified by its spectacular red and orange tail feathers – a feature that makes them one of the most beautiful Australian birds in my humble opinion. Endemic to the forests of south-western Australia, the Forest Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (FRTBC) is one of the five subspecies of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos present in Australia. It has a distinctive larger and wider beak than birds from the other subspecies – perfect for cracking its favourite Marri (Corymbia calophylla) and Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) nuts. Marri and Jarrah trees dominate its habitat, not only providing food but also hollows in which the birds can nest. But as these hollows are becoming increasingly scarce by deforestation and competition from …

Gilbert's Dragon Ta Ta Lizard Amphibolorus gilberti Kalbarri NP

Gilbert’s Dragon

Some visitors of iAMsafari might have noticed my fascination with dragons. I guess the sheer variety of shapes, patterns and colours simply intrigues me – together with the fact that the latter can change according to gender, temperature and behaviour. But when I met this Gilbert’s Dragon (Amphibolurus gilberti) I was most impressed with its speed because this little agamid is a true sprinter – moving rapidly and agile on the rocks and branches that lined the banks of the Murchison River – and as it quickly waves its forefeet after each sprint this dragon is aptly called “Ta Ta Lizard”. Most of the time these creatures observed me carefully in a vigilant posture – arched back, tail down and head tilted towards me. Just long enough to take some close-up portraits before waving good-bye.

Bull Banksia flowers Beelu NP Perth Hills Australia

Bush Tucker # 3 – Poolgarla

Only one look at the flowering spike of the Bull Banksia (Banksia grandis) and you know why the Nyoongar season of Birak was sometimes called the ‘yellow season’. During the hot and dry summer months these Poolgarla spikes where collected for their nectar – either sucked directly from the flower or steeped into water to produce a sweet drink called mangite or mungitch. An account from famous botanist John Drummond (1839) states that ‘the natives, men, women and children live for five to six weeks particularly upon the honey which they suck from the flowers of this fine tree’. In the Diary of George Fletcher Moore (1884) the production of mangite was described as ‘this was done by lining a hole in the ground with paper-bark, filling it with the spikes, and then covering these with water and leaving them to soak’. Consumption of this slightly fermented drink in large quantities could eventually lead to intoxication – a possible explanation why during Birak there would be large gatherings of Nyoongar people participating in mangite drinking parties. On a walk through …

Rose tipped Mulla Mulla Pom Poms Ptilotus manglesii

Rose tipped Mulla Mulla – Birak

The season of Birak has started. Sometimes it’s called the first summer, characterised by easing rains, warm easterly winds and increasingly hot weather. The dry conditions transform the surrounding landscape – most wildflowers slowly wilt while certain trees as Banksia, Balga and Mudja are in full bloom. One of the smaller flowers showing its beautiful colours at the moment is the Rose-tipped Mulla Mulla or Pom Pom (Ptilotus manglesii) – easily found on the pea-gravelled paths of nearby Beelu National Park this fluffy flower is certainly one of my smaller highlights this time of the year.

Southern Brown Bandicoot Quenda Lesmurdie Falls National Park

Southern Brown Bandicoot – Quenda

Yesterday I spent some time in the bush again and returned as a very happy man. No, I haven’t found any Ornate Dragons – instead I had a superb sighting of an elusive Southern Brown Bandicoot or Quenda (Isoodon obesulus). Often mistaken for large rats, the Quenda is a marsupial roughly the size of a rabbit that forages on insects, small vertebrates and plants in dense shrubland and understory of Eucalypt woodland, a habitat that provides both ample food and security. They use their strong claws to dig cone-shaped hollows for food, most of the time the only trace you’ll find as the slightest movement or sound generally makes this wary animal rush back to its nest for cover – long skirts from grass trees are often favourite spots. The Southern Brown Bandicoot population has been protected as numbers declined due to habitat loss and feral predators. However, the Western Shield feral predator control program from the Department of Parks and Wildlife has brought a recent recovery, and not only the Bandicoot but also other …

Southern Tree Agama Mpila Hluhluwe-Imfolozi

Southern Tree Agama – Chasing Dragons

The past week showed some rather erratic spring weather – glorious sunny days with temperatures in the high thirties immediately followed by unusually cool days. Especially the cloudy ones didn’t help me much in the search of my next wildlife-fix: the Ornate Dragon (Ctenophorus ornatus). This colourful lizard lives in and around the numerous granite outcrops near our tree hut, and with their extremely flattened body it shelters in ridiculously narrow crevices. On about every sunny day I expect them to be out there basking on some boulder, but for almost one year now I have been looking in vain. It’s frustrating although I know that patience and perseverance are the key words here. However, sometimes nature provides us with wildlife effortlessly – just by being at the right place at the right time we are able to witness the most memorable spectacles. This made me think of an encounter with a Southern Tree Agama (Acanthocercus atricollis). This arboreal African dragon was sitting unhurriedly in a tree right next to our bungalow in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi’s Mpila camp …

Australian pelicans Murchison River Kalbarri NP

Pelicans of the Murchison

The Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus) is a mighty animal. Amongst the heaviest flying birds in the world – a full-grown male can weigh more than 10 kg – Australian Pelicans are native to Australia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and East Timor. Although evolved from seabirds, Pelicans mostly reside on rivers, coastal inlets and lakes of the interior. In fact, massive colonies of up to 100,000 birds are known to congregate occasionally on arid inland lakes such as Lake Eyre South and Lake Goolangirie after heavy rains and floods, only to disperse again over the vast continent in search of new food sources. How Pelicans exactly find their way between the coast and the interior is an unsolved mystery, however, in order to travel these long distances birds this big need to feed on a substantial amount of fish. Equipped with a long bill and a stretchy pouch that can hold up to 10 litres of water, Pelicans can therefore be seen fishing almost continuously. Although most individuals are perfectly able to catch their own …

Quandong Native Peach Santalum acuminatum

Bush Tucker # 2 – Quandong

Out of all plants the Quandong (Santalum acuminatum) is probably Australia’s most significant bush tucker. It was widely recognised as a source of food and medicine by Aborigines while the aromatic wood was used in their smoking ceremonies. Given the fact that it has adapted extremely well to the arid conditions of the country’s interior the Quandong has often been referred to as ‘Jewel of the Desert’ or ‘Desert Peach’ – one of the plant’s remarkable features is that it is semi-parasitic, with its roots cheekily attached to neighbouring plants for moisture and nutrition in order to survive. The ripe red fruit was a staple food for Aborigines and would be consumed raw or dried for later use – dried Quandongs can be perfectly reconstituted in water years later! The inside of the succulent fruit contains an edible oil-rich kernel with many uses such as skin moisturiser, ointment or ornamental bead. The best place to look for them is underneath the trees – but as emus are particularly fond of the sour tasting fruit the undigested …

Twining Frinch Lily Thysanotus patersonii

Bush Tucker # 1 – Tjunguri

Ever since watching Major Leslie James Hiddins’s (aka ‘The Bush Tucker Man’) television shows back in the 90’s I’m totally fascinated by whatever resources nature provides man to survive. I’ll never forget the Major driving around in his Perentie – talking with that Aussie twang about everything edible from underneath his trademark Akubra hat. The episode that stayed with me most is about Burke and Wills, the famous explorers who died of starvation in The Cooper surrounded by ample quantities of Nardoo or Desert Fern – used by local aborigines as an important food source and given to the explorers to eat. They first consumed it without a problem and soon after started to collect and prepare their own. Despite the consumption of substantial quantities they grew weaker and thinner and developed tremors of hands, feet and legs and a slowing pulse. By not following or observing the correct recipe – roasting the spore cases before grinding them into a fine powder – Burke and Wills developed a disease known as Beri-Beri or Thiamine (Vitamine B1) …

Spider Orchid Lesueur National Park

Spider Orchid – Kambarang

The last couple of weeks the weather has changed significantly with longer dry periods and temperatures rising in the thirties again. This time of the year is called Kambarang in the Nyungar calendar – the season of birth. The warming trend transforms nature around us with animals starting to show more activity while flowers explode in all sort of colours and shapes. In wildflower country a spectacular floral display erupts including Balgas, Banksias, Kangaroo Paws and Orchids. A very good place to witness this spectacle is Lesueur National Park, with over 900 plant species – of which many endemic to this region – one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots along with places like Sundaland in South East Asia, the tropical Andes in South America or the Cape Floristic region in South Africa. Important landmarks in this National Park are the laterite mesas that are called after members of the Hamelin’s Naturaliste expedition in 1801 – Mount Peron, Mount Micheaud and Mount Lesueur. The trails that surround those flat-topped mountains lead through the exceptionally diverse Kwongan heathland, home …

King Brown Snake Mulga Kalbarri NP

King Brown Snake – Mulga

Australia has no big game. Elephants, hippo’s or big cats can’t add that thrill of imminent danger when going bush – except the saltwater crocodile in the Top End of course. Sheer size and power don’t pose any threat but toxic venom does instead, subtly engineered for the smaller animals such as spiders, jellyfish and snakes. As far as the latter concerns, we had a magnificent encounter with a completely harmless, almost docile Carpet Python a few months back, but the real venomous and notoriously elusive species have been avoiding us so far. Until our last trip. Driving on the corrugated road towards the gorges of Kalbarri National Park I was focused on spotting emus instead of snakes, as all at the sudden we spotted a curled shape in the corner of our eyes. On sunny days reptiles are a common feature anywhere near warm surfaces – mainly as roadkill unfortunately. But as dead animals typically show those faded colours, the glossy black skin of this one clearly contrasted with the soft yellow sand. As …

Common brush-tail possum baby

Baby possum!

It was a special moment back in April when our brush-tail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) featured on iAMsafari. Yesterday was maybe as memorable when the female proudly presented her young to us! Although common brush-tail possums tend to breed in spring (September to November) we already saw a lot of activity last autumn with a local male consorting the female around her den. As possums are marsupials the newborn climbs up through the mother’s fur into the pouch to attach to a teat. Only after seven to nine months the youngster leaves the den to ride on the female’s back. Easy to look around and explore the new surroundings but pretty hard work – and balancing – for mum.

King Skink Egernia kingii

King Skink

We have a family of King Skinks (Egernia kingii) living under the laterite blocks just in front of our tree hut. With the weather warming up significantly the entire family can be seen basking in the sun almost every day now. It is easy to observe them as long as you don’t make sudden movements or cast your shadow over them – those lizards are extremely shy and the slightest movement will make them hide in their burrow. Despite their skittish nature they’ll quickly take a peek to see if the danger has gone after being disturbed, and once your spotted they closely keep an eye on you. Smart thing to do when you’re considered a tiger snake’s favourite prey… Who’s watching? Tell me who’s watching. Who’s watching me? Rockwell – Somebody’s Watching Me  

Pinnacles Desert Nambung National Park Western Australia

Werinitj Devil Place – Pinnacles Desert

The Pinnacles Desert is situated in Nambung National Park, 250 kilometres north of Perth. This surreal landscape consists of numerous limestone pillars that rise out of the yellow sanded Quindalup dunes. The pillars have been formed by the leaching of calcium carbonate, dissolved from sea shell fossils by winter rains. As the calcium accumulated over thousands of years it formed a hard limestone rock. Westerly winds eroded the remaining surface of loose quartz sands, gradually exposing a forest of tree-like limestone statues. The discovery of Aboriginal artefacts suggests that the Pinnacles Desert was exposed around 6,000 years ago but has been covered by shifting sand again to remain hidden until only a few hundred years ago. Although there is no evidence of any recent human occupation there are several dreamtime stories surrounding the Pinnacles. The Yuet people call the pinnacles Werinitj Devil Place, a haunted place where young men were told not to go. The ones that disobeyed the elders vanished into the dunes with the pinnacles resembling their grasping fingertips, a handy lookout and …

Motorbike frog Litoria moorei tree frog

Motorbike frog – Born To Be Wild

While cleaning out part of the back garden I stumbled upon this little motorbike frog (Litoria moorei) sunbathing on a sheet of galvanised steel. These little ground dwelling  tree frogs are named after the male frog’s mating call, resembling a motorbike changing up gears. Especially after the last of the winter rains and into the early breeding season it sounds like a scene from Easy Rider. Click on the mp3 below, close your eyes and imagine cruising on you own Harley!

Short-beaked Echidna monotremes Lesmurdie NP

Short-beaked Echidna

Sometimes we travel long distances in the hope of finding our favourite animals. The idea is to cover as much ground as possible to increase chances of crossing paths somewhere along the track. However, some of our most memorable wildlife encounters were right at the doorsteps from more or less permanent residences; rest camps, look-outs, campgrounds or, more recently, our own house aka Tree hut. Yes, staying put and quietly observing your immediate surroundings is often the best way to enjoy wildlife in a much more relaxed and natural way – at least in my humble opinion. Yesterday we experienced another highlight so incredibly nearby. Just when I wanted to go for a late afternoon run a rustling noise in the bush drew the attention of my wife. Careful analysing the sound we came to the conclusion it couldn’t be one of the Western Grey Kangaroos living in the reserve. Quickly grabbing the camera and climbing over the fence of the garden we tried to discover the tiniest movement in the scrubby undergrowth of the …

Koala Yanchep NP

Koala

If there is one animal that has become a beloved Australian icon it is the Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). Widely perceived as cute and cuddly this arboreal marsupial feeds a few hours a day on Eucalyptus leaves. As this diet hardly contains any nutrients and calories koalas spend most of the time sleeping in a tree, and as nineteenth century British naturalist John Gould observed ‘it is so slothful that it is very difficult to arouse and make it quit its resting place’. Large numbers of koalas have been hunted for its fur and skins in the late 19th and 20th century. Regarding the millions of skins exported Koalas once were much more abundant than they are today. However, clearing, fragmentation and degradation of natural habitat, infections with Chlamydia, bush fires and drought are the main causes of population declines or collapses since the ban on the fur trade. The natural range of Koalas currently stretches from the north-east Queensland to the south-east corner of South Australia, a distribution thought to be similar to the one …

Common Donkey Orchid Lesmurdie Falls NP

Common Donkey Orchid – Djilba

Common Donkey Orchids (Diuris corymbosa) are some of the easiest recognisable Australian orchids due to their large ‘Donkey ear-like’ petals. These orchids flower between August and October, and with the first specimens blooming on the sandy soils of the Darling scarp the first signs of spring have finally arrived. According to the Nyungar calendar this time of the year is called Djilba – the growing season during which a massive explosion of wild flowers in Australia’s South West is happening. In anticipation of this botanic spectacle it would be an understatement to say we are getting a little excited!

Galah Eolophus roseicapilla Cockatoo

Galah – Djakal ngakal

The Pink and Grey Galah is a cockatoo feeding on native seeds and nuts in the bush. However, with the clearing of the Weathbelt during European settlement Galahs have been provided with ample grain and water which has resulted in a thriving population around the Perth metropolitan area. Mostly living in pairs or small flocks they never fail to impress with their striking appearance and noisy behaviour.