Rain is plentiful now Makuru is in full swing, but cool and wet days alternate with dry and sunny ones, leaving ample time to explore nature. As the rains have steadily raised water levels of lakes and swamps, large flocks of birds aggregate on its waterlogged shores, offering excellent opportunities for bird photography. On the Swan Coastal Plain a chain of wetlands runs parallel to the coast; many small ones have been drained, filled or cleared in the past for agricultural and urban development, but Herdsman Lake is the biggest still remaining. Known as Ngurgenboro to the Yellagonga Noongar, the lake is not only a place with a significant cultural heritage, it is also one of the last remaining wildlife havens in the metropolitan area. Apart from a strong supply of reptiles, including the notorious Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus), over 100 bird species have been recorded at Herdsman Lake. Waterbirds are particularly visible, amongst which the Black Swan, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Nankeen Night Heron and Australian Shelduck I have written about before. The Ibis family is represented with …
A few weeks ago, Liz Hardman posted some stunning Protea or Suikerbos flowers on what is one of my favorite blogs, Nature on the Edge. If you are interested in South Africa’s Cape Peninsula, the conflict between its native wildlife and humans, but above all excellent photography, I can’t recommend this blog high enough. Suikerbossies are iconic South African plants, and, although cultivated as cut flowers, don’t occur naturally in Western Australia. But what Proteas are for Southern Africa, Grevilleas are for Australia, Indonesia and New Guinea: both are part of the same family, with common ancestors growing in the super-continent of Gondwana tens of millions years ago. The wildflower season is not in full swing yet, but on a recent venture on the granite outcrops in Beelu NP I discovered the majestic Fuchsia Grevillea (Grevillea bipinnatifida) as well as the Sea Urchin Hakea (Hakea petiolaris), another member of the family, showing their flowers and delicate textures. Nectar abound, so time for the honeyeaters to star in the upcoming posts!
“When perched on the trees or resting on the ground, it exhibits none of the grace and elegance of those birds, its short neck resting on the shoulders” – John Gould, Handbook to the Birds of Australia, volume 2 As their name suggests, Nankeen Night Herons (Nycticorax Caledonicus) stalk marches and wetlands during the dark hours of the day, searching for insects, crustaceans, frogs and fish. During daytime these stocky herons can be found roosting, heads hunched onto the shoulders, in the dense canopy of the numerous Swamp Paperbark (Melaleuca rhaphiophylla) trees that surround Lake Herdsman. Although this colony counts between 20-30 individuals, none of those secretive birds leave the thick cover easily, making decent photography a job for the patient. Apart from its nocturnal character, the cinnamon-brown colour has contributed to the other part of its name, as Nankeen cloth from Nanking resembles the adult bird’s plumage.
“I care more about Drosera than the origin of all the other species in the world” – Charles Darwin, Origin of Species Charles Darwin’s fascination with Sundews is no secret, and after elaborate experiments to unlock the mechanisms of those carnivorous members of the Kingdom of plants, he published his findings in Insectivourous Plants in 1875. And as Darwin wondered about the sensitivity of the tentacles and leaves, their reflexes and digestive powers, I’m continuously amazed by how the small and delicate Leafy Sundew (Drosera stolonifera) is so well adapted to the poor sandy soils of our Jarrah woodlands, patiently waiting to trap and devour the next unsuspecting insect.
The carnivorous Red Ink Sundew (Drosera erythrorhiza) grows on the poor soils of Western Australia’s south west. It is a tuberous species that survives underground during summer, and emerges in abundance after the first rains in autumn and winter. It supplements its limited nutrient uptake by trapping anthropods with its glandular tentacles, with the glistening drops of mucilage resembling fresh morning dew.
Makuru is blue, Makuru is wet. The rain keeps falling, and the forest is full with damp, musty smelling wood. Fungi start fruiting, rotting away trees and leaf litter, like this Beefsteak fungus (Fistulina spiculifera). Known as Numar by aborigines, it fruits on Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) trees, producing a slow decay in the wood called ‘pencilling’ or ‘black fleck’.
The Western, Gregorian or Christian calendar is the most used calendar in the world, with twelve months and four seasons dividing each year. This is no different in Australia, where it was introduced by European settlers. However, the Noongar of Australia’s South West use a six season calendar, based on the emergence of plants and animals rather than solar cycles or dates, and the seasons therefore can be longer or shorter. More importantly, the Noongar were guided by them, as they provided crucial clues and information for when to substainably hunt, gather and take care of country. Blue Leschenaultia (Leschenaultia biloba) Purple Flags (Patersonia occidentalis) When living in the forest we experienced the significance of the Noongar calendar, and realised how far city dwellers are removed from the natural world. Throughout the years I have mentioned and used the names of the Noongar seasons in several posts, but realised they were never explained within their context (courtesy South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council): Birak (Dec-Jan) – Dry and hot – Season of the Young Bunuru (Feb-Mar) …
Last October we were privy to see some fascinating Tiger Sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) when sailing with the awesome crew of Monkey Mia’s Shotover. This seems a redundant comment to make when Shark Bay is renowned for it’s big population of those undiscerning predators, but whenever they got close to the boat shivers of excitement ran through the crowd. Imagine how the plethora of sharks feeding on the carcass of a humpback whale off Steep Point last Friday must have left the people on those two boats in awe! The shared footage is filmed with a drone by Eco Albrolhos – please watch the final part of the clip and be convinced that a GoPro is a handy tool in those situations.
Last Saturday we battened down the hatches when a severe cold front hit Perth like a freight train, carrying destructive winds and dumping copious amounts of rain. No chance to go out on the trails, but excitement of things to come instead. Those early winter rains are essential for all future life, as this time of the year is called Makuru or the season of fertility in the Noongar calendar. This is the time of the year for birds to pair for preparation of breeding, like the Black Swan or Mali, and also the time for the first wildflowers, as the Pinheath (Styphelia tenuiflora), to emerge.
The Australian Shelduck (Tadorna tadornoides) is a gorgeous water bird. Its black head is separated from its beautiful chestnut coloured breast by a white ring, making it one of the easiest recognisable duck species in our wetlands. Shelducks are true wanderers, travelling long distances between the coastal lakes and estuaries and the inland Wheatbelt, however, some stay to breed in the metropolitan area during the winter months, such as this couple at the banks of Lake Herdsman. They pair for life, and the white eye-ringed female is constantly guarded by a watchful male – true love.
The Swamp Paperbark (Melaleuca rhaphiophylla), also known as tea tree or Yowarl, is a common appearance near rivers, lakes and salt marshes in the south west of Western Australia. Its name refers to the paper-like bark, and the long flaky strips were used by aboriginal people as roofing for shelters, carrying of water, cooking, medicinal purposes and smoking ceremonies. Most paperbark trees grow in flooded areas, providing the perfect refuge for the many water birds that share its habitat.
One of the most unusual residents of the Swan Coastal Plain wetlands is the Yellow-billed Spoonbill (Platalea flavipes). Instead of relying on eyesight when foraging for invertebrates in deep and muddy water, the spatula-shaped bill is equipped with papillae that detect vibrations of prey. It can often be seen walking slowly through the water, sweeping its beak from side to side in search for insects, crustaceans and fish, or just perching on a branch of a Swamp Paperbark tree (Melaleuca rhaphiophylla), such as this one on the banks of Herdsman Lake.
Perching on the branch of a dead Paperbark tree, this Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena) is waiting to swoop down on the clouds of mosquitos that appear around dusk near the banks of Lake Herdsman, one of the most important wetland areas on the Swan Coastal Plain. The Welcome Swallow is called Kannamit by the Noongar people, who believe this fast and acrobatic bird is a sign of imminent rain.
The Swan River Estuary is the centrepiece of Perth. It’s a place of great cultural importance for the Whadjuk people, who believe the Swan River (Derbal Yerrigan) and its tributary, the Canning River (Djalgarra), were made by the dreaming serpent Waugal, creator of rivers, lakes and other landforms on its journey to the Indian Ocean. The same rivers offer recreational activities such as sailing, kayaking or scuba-diving to most city dwellers, while for me the surrounding trails, magnificent views and prolific wildlife are the biggest drawcards. From Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus), Western Australian sea horse (Hippocampus angustus) colonies, marine and estuarine fish to a huge variety of waterbirds, the biodiversity of this unique ecosystem is astounding. Photo-opportunities galore, like this portrait of an Eastern Great Egret (Ardea modesta) waiting on the shores of the Canning River jabbing at fish and frogs with its dagger-shaped beak.
“…en oock geen sonderling gedierte of gevogelte daer ontwaert, als ten principale in die Swaene rivier een soort van swarte swaenen, daer aff er oock drie levendigh tot ons gebragt hebben en wij UEd. gaarne hadden toe gestuurt, maar sij sijn alle een voor een korts naer hun herwaerts comste gestorven” – Iets over de reis van den schipper-commandeur Willem de Vlamingh, naar Nieuw Holland, in 1696 The first black swans (Cygnus atratus) were observed in January 1697 by Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh when venturing on a just discovered river in Western Australia. The black swans were a novelty, as back in those days everyone thought swans were white. The spooked expedition returned to the coast after this unsettling encounter, and baptised the river Swarte Swaenen Rivier (Swan River). The three swans taken on board of the vessels died before the end of the journey, however, a century later French explorer Baudin was more successful, bringing back those beautiful black birds to adorn the imperial gardens of Chateau de Malmaison.
“Moreover the purchasers of plants will often be able, by a reference to this sketch, to ascertain, by the names under which Swan River plants are offered for sale, whether particular species are worth possession, either for the sake of their beauty or singularity” – John Lindley, A Sketch of the Vegetation of the Swan River Colony Even when the forest is eerily quiet, when not a single sound can be heard, in the Australian bush there’s always something new and interesting to discover, no matter how small. On a recent walk I found those beautifully red hairy jugflowers (Adenanthos barbiger), a species of the Proteaceae family endemic to south-west Western Australia. Apart from the esthetic aspects, I often find the botanical history of flowers and plants equally interesting, as it reflects the amazement of the early botanists and explorers when new species were discovered – species that now have become so common and sometimes even unremarkable to us. The hairy jugflower was first described by John Lindley in A Sketch of the Vegetation of the Swan Colony. …
We’re into May already and well into the season of Djeran, with cool nights, dewy mornings and pleasant daytime temperatures. The colours around us slowly start to shift from predominantly browns to greens, and that feel will remain until at least the end of September. These conditions make spending time in the bush rather pleasant, and therefore I have been out regularly in the last month. Last week’s highlight was this inquisitive and frantically foraging Bandicoot or Quenda. With its brownish color it was fairly neutral against the leaf litter, so I desaturated the picture to remove color and increased the blacks for a contrasting fur and snout.
The Common Bronzewing (Phaps chalcoptera) might be Australia’s most widespread native pigeon, it might also one be the country’s most beautiful. This stocky bird is rather cautious and seldom allows a close approach, but its deep and penetrating “oom-like” call always gives away its location – and with some tact and patience those birds guarantee excellent photos when the greens and browns beautifully blend with the shadows of dusk.
When in the Australian bush, most people have visions of marsupials and reptiles in their mind. Understandable, however, the feathered inhabitants of our reserves and parks often get overlooked, and this is a pity regarding the fact that their number and diversity are far greater than those of mammals and reptiles combined; and with around 150 different species there is an impressive number to tick off! The biggest and noisiest birds are fairly easy to spot and identify, however, the majority of birds are small, move around rapidly and are hard to see and recognise. This certainly goes for the splendid fairy-wren; not so much for the blue males in full breeding plumage, but for the plainer, brown-coloured females and non-breeding males. Add the fact that five different species live alongside each other in our local bushland and you’ll get an idea about how complicated identification can be. When several species are around in an area, useful clues can be given by the colour and plumage of accompanying males or the repertoire of songs. However, out …
After the Dingos of El Questro, Hyenas in Mpila and Moongooses on Sugerloaf, we can now add the possums at Conto’s – the scrounging scavengers of one of our favourite campsites in WA. Spot them on the prowl in the dark of the night, high in the canopy of the peppermint woodland; just stay around long enough around the campfire with torch, camera and nightcap for guaranteed mischief!