Year: 2015

Stromatolites Cyanobacteria Hamelin Pool Shark Bay Western Australia

The stromatolites of Hamelin Pool

It’s not a very long drive from the Overlander roadhouse to the old telegraph station of Hamelin Pool, but the dry shrub-like vegetation makes it a rather monotonous one. The barren landscape is an indication of the hot, dry and windy weather in this remote part of Western Australia, a place where summer temperatures average between 35 and 37 degrees Celsius. Those high temperatures create a very high evaporation rate that turns the shallow waters of Hamelin Pool extremely saline – twice as much as regular seawater to be precise. Under normal conditions this hyper-saline water would be diluted by the flow of fresh or low salinity waters, but in Hamelin Pool this is restricted by very low rainfall and a limited tidal flow. So what? Is salt water a good reason to stop in such a desolate corner of the world? Well, in Hamelin Pool it is as this environment is rather unique and one of the reasons why Hamelin Pool – and the whole of Shark Bay – is listed as World Heritage. …

Candlestick Banksia attenuata Kalbarri National Park Western Australia

Candlestick Banksia – Piara

The Candlestick or slender Banksia (Banksia attenuata) – also known by its Nyungar name Piara – is the most widely distributed western Banksia. It occurs on sandy soils from Cape Leeuwin to Fitzgerald National Park in the south-west of Western Australia and as far as the Murchison River and Kalbarri National Park to the north. In the latter we encountered numerous small shrubs with early budding, almost green spikes that slowly develop into bright yellow during anthesis – ready to attract insects, birds and mammals for pollination.

Pink flowered Myrtle Hypocalymma angustofolium Mundy Perth Hills Western Australia

Myrtle flowers of the Darling Scarp

Each time I go out for a bush walk this time of the year I wonder which treasures nature keeps in store for us to discover. Because of the warm spring weather many plants and animals undergo a transformation; the flowering of the Moodjar or Christmas Tree indicates that hot weather is already underway, but before the season of Birak brings the wildflower season to an end the incredibly beautiful Myrtle flowers show off their purple splendour. And although both the Graceful and Rough Honeymyrtle (Melaleuca radula and Melaleuca parviceps) are most common it is the ostentatious Pink Flowered Myrtle or Kudjid (Hypocalymma angustifolium) that steals the show.

Granite Petrophile biloba Lesmurdie Falls NP Perth Hills Western Australia

Granite Petrophile – Pollock in the Bush

The Granite Petrophile (Petrophile biloba) is endemic to the south-west of Western Australia and mainly grows on the granite overlaying soils of the Darling Scarp. It is generally unremarkable, but when this shrub starts flowering in spring it displays pink, grey, white and yellow flowers arranged in a seemingly chaotic order only seen in works of Jackson Pollock – a cacophony of colours, shapes and textures that draws you in when engaging with it long enough.

Sea Urchin Hakea petiolaris Lesmurdie Falls NP Perth Hills Western Australia

Sea Urchin Hakea

The last few weeks have been a real wildflower carnival. With warm weather and still decent rainfall we have been watching a parade of colours and shapes unfold up in the hills. Although the participants in this parade try to outshine each other in the quest for pollinators, the striking Sea Urchin Hakea (Hakea petiolaris) is one of my favourites. This early flowering tree is mainly found around the granite outcrops where it benefits from increased moisture and shade, and because of its stem-flowering or ‘cauliflory’ habit, it is thought that the Sea Urchin Hakea is a relict of an earlier, wetter and more forested habitat.

Orangutan Pongo pymaeus Forest Reserve Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Orangutan – back to the wild

Wow, it really has been a fair while since my last update on the Easter trip to Borneo. A lot has happened in the meantime: I followed the footsteps of my wife and have started running the Perth Hills trails rather seriously, making me stronger, faster and lighter every day. Winter is the best time of the year to pick up outdoor activities as this – mild temperatures and refreshing rains make those lengthy runs bearable while the transformation of nature into one big flowering mass provides a real feast for the eyes. I promise to post some truly spectacular wildflowers photos on iAMsafari very soon as they are not to be missed. Another project that has kept us busy is the purchasing and gearing up of our own Toyota Landcruiser – an investment in hardware indispensable for the discovery of the Australian outback, just tested around the wilderness of Gnaraloo where we have been swimming with Loggerhead turtles in Ningaloo Reef  – so stay tuned for more indeed! Although I really would like to …

Water Monitor Varanus salvator Kinabatangan Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Water Monitor – Portrait of a Dragon

The Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) is the second-heaviest lizard in the world after the Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) – a fearsome looking animal with a muscular body, split tongue and sharp claws. Scanning their surroundings by walking upright, defending themselves with infection causing bites and feeding on carrion, birds, eggs and young crocodiles, this aquatic and arboreal carnivore is one of Borneo’s apex predators. Although the water monitor is a common inhabitant of the island’s riparian zones and rivers, we were fortunate to watch this dragon up-close on several occasions. Note the sheer size of the claws in the photograph below – and compare it to the innocent look of the juvenile above…

Praying Mantis Mantidae Kinabatangang Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Life in the Understory # 3 – Praying Mantis

The Kinabatangang Nature Lodge is a place of great adventure. Their slogan ‘it’s a jungle out there!’ not only refers to the forest surrounding the lodge, but also to a world where it’s ‘eat and be eaten’. This certainly holds true for the many insects inhabiting this environment and its therefore not surprising that mimicry is one of the many mechanisms deployed, either defensive or aggressive. The wings from this mantis (Mantidae) offered almost perfect concealment with the colour, shape and texture resembling the leaf it was hiding under – waiting for the next victim to pass.

Borneo Bow-Fingered Gecko Cyrtodactylus malayanus Sepilok Borneo Malysia

Life in the Understory # 2 – Bow-Fingered Gecko

There are around 5,600 species of lizards living on our planet and around 1,500 are gecko’s (infraorder Gekkota). Scientists keep discovering new species that in one way or another have adapted to their unique habitat, however, despite all their differences gecko’s share some common traits as for example the regular shedding of skin, the voluntary dropping of their tails when attacked by a predator and large eyes, with vertically elliptical pupils that lack eyelids. Many gecko’s have clearly dilated digits with adhesive toe pads – enabling them to run up smooth and vertical surfaces – while others have slender toes as this Borneo Bow-Fingered Gecko (Cyrtodactylus malayanus) we spotted on a night walk in the Sepilok Forest Reserve.

Pill millipede Glomeridae Danum Valley Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Life on the Forest Floor # 3 – Recyclers

The enormous amount of plant and animal material on the forest floor is decomposed by fungi and bacteria in what is called saprotrophic nutrition – a process in which decaying matter is absorbed and metabolised on a molecular scale. The bigger bits are left for other recyclers such as worms, flies and millepedes, a group of animals often referred to as detritivores. Especially the millepedes are fascinating, roaming through the delicious rotting matter in search for food. Heavily armoured with dorsal plates, equipped with chemical-secreting glands and able to curl themselves into a tight pinball-like ball, these millepedes are able to bulldoze along relatively undisturbed. We thought that the orange-coloured giant Pill Millepede (Glomeridae) and the Tractor Millepede (Polydesmidae) we encountered in Danum Valley were particularly impressive!

Yellow Fungi Kinabatangang Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Life on the Forest Floor # 2 – Fungi

Fallen leaves, fruits, branches and trees play a crucial role in the ecosystem of the tropical rainforest – they provide the essential nutrients for the typically poor soil and therefore enable new plant growth. Fungi and bacteria act as decomposers of the litter, breaking up the material into smaller pieces for detritivores such as worms, mites and millipedes. The shapes and colours of the fungi are truly amazing: some look like mushrooms while others resemble corals, tongues or sponges, and with their sometimes bright colours they add a certain magic to this already wonderful world.

Longhorn beetle Batocera rubus Sepilok Forest Reserve Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Life on the Forest Floor # 1- Wallace’s legacy

Although only covering around 2% of the Earth’s surface, tropical rainforests are home to more than half of all life forms on our planet. Its biodiversity is truly immense, but the answer on why so many different taxonomic groups have evolved in this biome is rather complex. When thinking about the biodiversity of the Bornean forests the name of Alfred Russel Wallace automatically comes into my mind. As collaborator of Charles Darwin and co-author of the famous 1858 paper On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection Wallace is one of the founding fathers of the evolution theory – but where Darwin’s fame got firmly cemented by his book On the Origin of Species, Wallace’s contribution to what is now known as ‘Darwinism’ became almost forgotten. However, with his skills as an animal collector, storyteller and founder of biogeography, Wallace has left behind his own legacy; especially his observation that the islands of the Malayan Archipelago represented a frontier between two faunal provinces (the Indo-Malayan to the west …

Slow Loris Danum Valley Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Slow Loris

Over the past couple of weeks we have showcased some remarkable animals on iAMsafari and today’s slow loris (Nycticebus menagensis) is definitely another one! With the Western Tarsier being the smallest primate of Borneo, the slow loris is second in line – with only 11 inches in length and a body weight of around 300 grams it’s certainly no giant. Apart from the fact these animals are small they live high in the forest’s canopy and are therefore very hard to spot – combined with extremely low population densities of around one individual per 12 km² one is actually very lucky to find one at all. The first slow loris we encountered near the Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre walked on a height of 25-30 metres, slowly but surely moving on a thick branch in search of insects, fruits and tree gum – a fair sighting at dusk from the centre’s canopy walk, and judging the enthusiasm of our guide we got the impression this had to be regarded as very special. But as on so …

Proboscis Monkey Kinabatangan Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Proboscis Monkey

“Sometimes a man may be as ugly as a monkey, and a monkey may have something very human about it; indeed, it is quite customary to call monkeys humanity’s caricatures. Of none this can be said with such truth as of the Borneo proboscis-monkey” – Eric Mjöberg, Forest Life and Adventures in the Malay Archipelago The proboscis or long-nosed monkey (Nasalis lavartus) is endemic to the jungles of Borneo, living close to rivers, tidal swamps and mangroves. It never ventures too far away from water and is rarely seen far inland – it might therefore not come as a surprise that they are proficient swimmers with evolved webbed feet and hands in order to outpace saltwater crocodiles. However, the species is highly arboreal and instead of swimming most prefer to cross water by impressive leaps – often followed by rather comical flat landings on their distinctive pot-belly. Proboscis monkeys are sexually dimorphic with males that have giant noses dwarfing those of the females and often hanging lower than their mouth. This fleshy appendage doesn’t give the proboscis …

Saltwater Crocodile Buaya Tembaga Kinabatangang Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Saltwater Crocodile – Buaya Tembaga

In the Kinabatangang Nature Lodge every new day is welcomed with the sound of a fast-beaten gong, a wake-up call that is followed with a 6am river cruise to meet the local wildlife. The inhabitants of the river and surrounding rainforest have their own rhythms with certain animals showing themselves at different times of the day. At dawn most primates are just waking up from their sleep – high in the treetops where they are safe from predators. Soon they will disappear deep into the shady jungle only to go to the riverbanks again late in the afternoon. Morning is also the time when birds start calling, and hornbills, eagles and egrets begin to hunt their favourite food.  The first rays of light start to warm all boat passengers now, waking up everyone for real in this peaceful and serene setting. However, the tranquility is deceptive as we are not the only ones waking up and getting active: Borneo’s Kinabatangang is one of the most crocodile infested places we’ve ever seen with the fearsome and …

Long-tailed Macaque Kinabatangan Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Long-tailed Macaque

When cruising the Kinabatangan river in search of wildlife it’s impossible to miss the numerous long-tailed Macaques (Macaca fascicularis). Found in a wide range of habitats including forests, mangroves, plantations and villages it is beyond doubt Southeast Asia’s most successful primate. Despite the fact this rather common species competes with more iconic primates such as the Orang Utang or the Proboscis Monkey on most bucket lists, the cheeky social interaction and inquisitive nature of the long-tailed Macaques deliver entertaining wildlife-watching almost guaranteed. They therefore could easily be considered the most reliable jungle animals for the boatsmen who try to deliver the best possible sightings to visiting tourists day in, day out!

Musang Common Palm Civet Danum Valley Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Common Palm Civet – Musang Pandan

As opposed to peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra, Borneo is not inhabited by tigers – the title of biggest predator therefore automatically goes to the Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi). This beautifully marbled cat is one of the trophy mammals when trekking in the forests, however, they are so rare and elusive a sighting would be highly unlikely. Apart from other rare felines as for example the endemic Bay Cat (Pardofelis Badia) or the Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis borneoensis), civet cats are more numerous and therefore easier to find – especially the Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) can be seen more readily at night around the densely vegetated sides of gravel roads and forest paths. In this habitat the almost entirely frugivorous civet builds its day-bed and acts as a major seed-dispersal agent. On one of our night walks around the Danum Valley Field Centre we stumbled upon this individual sitting on a big vine right next to the trail. Instead of rushing off into the forest it seemed stunned by our presence (and torchlights) only …

Veiled Lady Phallus indusiatus fungus Danum Valley Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Veiled Lady – 6.6.6 Tessellation

Most colourful and amazing lifeforms in the wet tropics can be seen on the forest floor, however, they often go unnoticed. But if one keeps an eye open for the little things some truly spectacular gems can be found – and this goes for fungi in particular. They play a vital role for the life on our planet, especially in rainforest where their long thread-like hyphae invade and breakdown the tissues of dead wood and leaf litter, producing nutrients for other plants and animals. On a strenuous hike in the pristine Danum Valley we stumbled upon this beautiful Veiled Lady or Long Net Stinkhorn (Phallus indusiatus), a fungus that can be found in tropical regions around the world. Whenever it is ready to reproduce the fruiting body is grown in an effort to attract insects for the dispersion of the spores. The veiled lady is very short-lived, yet the specimen we found was still fresh regarding the slime covered cap and the undamaged hexagon-tessellated skirt – almost a perfect piece of modern architecture.