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Northern Spiny-tailed Gecko Broome Bird Observatory Western Australia

Spiny Tailed Gecko

Spring slipped past us rather suddenly. Wildflowers common not even a fortnight ago disappeared without a single trace while Rose-tipped Mulla Mulla (Ptilotus manglesii) have popped up almost everywhere, signalling the start of summer with its dry and hot weather.

Although these conditions have restricted my outdoor activities to some extent, recent upgrades of camera gear as well as Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are the main culprits for my absence in the field. While spending many hours behind a computer screen is not my favourite pastime, I’ve become to realise that my photographic collection is in desperate need of proper organisation; a task postponed too often and which now I’m trying to complete bit by bit.

I guess that looking back at memorable moments is the fun bit though, and now and then I even stumble upon some almost forgotten encounters, as this Spiny Tailed Gecko (Strophurus ciliaris) which was seen during a night walk at the Broome Bird Observatory. Well-adapted to hunting in the dark, geckos’ eyes are around 350 times more sensitive to light than human eyes – they are simply amazing!

Little Egret Egretta garzetta Herdsman Lake Western Australia

Little Egret

The shallows and flooded grass on the fringes of Herdsman Lake host a variety of wading birds such as Spoonbills, Herons and Egrets. The latter are represented by two different species, with the big yellow-billed Eastern Great Egret (Ardea modesta) as a fairly common resident and the much smaller black-billed Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) as an occasional visitor. With water levels relatively high at the moment – much of the trail near the Swamp Paperbark trail is currently inundated – there is sufficient food for all, and the Little Egrets can be seen hunting little fish and tadpoles at lighting fast speed.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta Herdsman Lake Western Australia

Black Swan Cygnet Herdsman Lake Western Australia

Black Swan Cygnet

Black Swans are a common sight in our wetlands, and in spring both adults cruise the shallows with their offspring. In certain parts of Herdsman Lake they are fairly accustomed to humans, making it easy to observe their grey cygnets preen and do the occasional shakedown in order to keep parasites and bacteria at bay. Mum and dad always keep a watchful eye though, as young swans are sometimes attacked and killed by rivalling family’s cobs.

Black Swan Cygnus artratus Herdsman Lake Western Australia

Black Swan (Cygnus artrata) Herdsman Lake, Western Australia 

Tiger Snake Notechis scutatis Herdsman Lake Western Australia

Tiger Snake – Moyup

With the season of Kambarang in full swing reptiles are out and about again, and a walk around Herdsman Lake at this time of the year will be rewarded with an almost guaranteed sighting of a Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatis). These beautiful but highly venomous snakes call this wetland home, where they hunt mainly for frogs, although lizards, small mammals and young birds are also taken. Their live young are born in autumn and early winter, at the same time when the first baby frogs appear. They’re most active during spring and summer, although they prefer to forage at night as they dislike hot weather.

Tiger Snake Notechis scutatis Herdsman Lake Western Australia

Adult Tiger Snake on a Swamp Paperbark tree at Herdsman Lake

Little Corella Cacatua sanguinea Herdsman Lake Western Australia

Little Corella

Native to Australia but not naturally occurring in Western Australia, the Little Corella (Cacatua sanguinea) is a common resident in the Perth metropolitan area. In fact, abundant food and the absence of predators have allowed the population to explode over the last two decades, and flocks of a few hundred birds are not uncommon. They are opportunistic feeders that eat grass seeds, bulbs and grains in noisy nomadic foraging flocks, causing havoc and damage to trees, paddocks and homes. And while competing for nesting hollows with black cockatoos, parrots, owls and raptors, and interbreeding with endemic species, Little Corellas not only have an impact on our urban environment, but also to our biodiversity. Despite all the trouble they bring about, with their fleshy blue-eyed ring and rose-pink coloured plumage these birds always remain a great subject for photography, especially when you can connect with them at eye-level.

Little Corella Cacatua Sanguinea Herdsman Lake Western Australia

Oblong Turtle Chelodina Oblonga Herdsman Lake Western Australia

Oblong Turtle – Booyi

The Oblong Turtle (Chelodina oblonga) or Booyi is one of 8 species of long-necked turtles represented in Australia, where it can be found in the wetlands and swamps throughout the southwest region. These carnivorous reptiles use echolocation to hunt for fish, molluscs and crustaceans in low visibility water, and when identified prey is near their head strikes forward to snatch it. Although seemingly slow, large female turtles attack ducklings and even swamp hens with astonishing speed!

Oblong Turtle Herdsman Lake Western Australia

Life for metropolitan turtles is not easy, as many ephemeral swamps have been converted in housing estates and playgrounds, leaving their habitat rather fragmented in a hostile world, and although Oblong turtles still migrate, for many their journey ends when crossing busy roads. In spring females can be spotted out of the water in search for a safe spot to lay their eggs: they can produce up to 3 clutches of 2-16 eggs that take between 26-41 weeks to hatch. Although many hatchlings are born at the end of winter, many will never find their way back to the water as high curbs, long grass and numerous predators are encountered. The female I spotted yesterday didn’t have to travel too far to find a suitable spot for her eggs, and after she covered the small hole with with her back claws she quickly found safety in the water again. I hope the offspring will be as lucky as mum.

Ornate Dragon Ctenophorus ornatus Boyagin Nature Reserve Western Australia

Ornate Dragon

Over the past few weeks I have not only been looking for Western Brush Wallaby (Macropus irma), as mentioned in my previous post, but also for the Banded Anteater or Numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus). This carnivorous marsupial has featured on my bucket list for quite a while now, and several trips have been made to Boyagin Nature Reserve to find it. Located in the Wandoo woodlands of Western Australia’s wheatbelt, Boyagin is one of the few places where Numbats can be found, as a once thriving population has been dramatically reduced due to land clearing and predation by feral cats and foxes.

The translocated Boyagin population has been estimated at 50-100 animals, but as their home range is around 50 hectares, chances of casual sightings are not that high. Although my patience and luck are still tested as far as Numbats go, Boyagin is a beautiful reserve to explore with plenty of other interesting animals and plants to discover. The huge undisturbed granite outcrop that lends its name to the reserve is a prime habitat for the Ornate Dragon or Ornate Crevice-Dragon (Ctenophorus ornatus), where it can be found basking on warm slabs of granite. To take decent photos it is essential to thread lightly as not to disturb these fellas with a sudden approach, because in case of imminent danger this dragon will hide its relatively flat body in impossible narrow crevices.

Ornate Dragon Ctenophorus ornatus Boyagin Nature Reserve Western Australia

Male Ornate Rock Dragon (Ctenophorus ornatus) displaying typical brights colour and banded tail

Forest Red Tailed Black Cockatoo Kalamunda National Park Perth Hills Western Australia

Cockatoo Sunset

Kalamunda National Park has been amongst my favourite hangouts lately after a couple of sightings of the elusive Western Brush Wallaby (Macropus irma). I have been back several times over the past few weeks, and although I haven’t been able to capture it on camera successfully yet, I was pretty happy to run into a flock of Forest Red Tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus banksii naso) feasting on nuts from nearby Jarrah trees (Eucalyptus marginata). Smoke from a prescribed burn off that took place a few miles away lent a soft orange colour to a dramatic sunset; a perfect backdrop for this high- perched bird.

Forest Red Tailed Black Cockatoo Kalamunda NP Western Australia

Female Forest Red Tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus banksii naso)

Splendid Fairy Wren Malurus splendens Korung National Park Western Australia

Splendid Fairy Wren

“As spring advances they separate into pairs, the male undergoing a total transformation, not only in the colour, but also in the texture of its plumage; indeed, a more astonishing change can scarcely be imagined, its plain and unassuming garb being thrown off for a few months and another assumed, which for resplendent beauty is hardly surpassed by any of the feathered race” – John Gould, Birds of Australia

On a rather cold and cloudy day in the Perth Hills this Splendid Fairy Wren (Malurus splendens) showed the inevitability of seasons with the most beautiful breeding costumes of any Australian bird I know. Although featured on iAMsafari before, it’s one of those happy highlights no one can ever get enough of.

Gould's Goanna Racehorse Goanna Karda Beelu National Park Western Australia

Gould’s Goanna – Karda

When spring temperatures hit summer-like highs not only wildflowers and bushwalkers come out of hibernation. Reptiles make the most of the sunshine and soak up the heat to warm their bodies. This Gould’s Goanna (Varanus gouldii) lazily hung around the DPAW’s offices in Beelu National Park, where the dark spaces underneath the buildings provide ample opportunity to cool down again. As slow and docile as those large goannas might seem, when threatened they can rear up on their hind legs and make a dash for safety at such an astounding speed that their nickname racehorse goanna is well-deserved.

Gould's Goanna Racehorse Goanna Karda Beelu National Park Western Australia

Gould’s Goanna (Varanus gouldii)

Blue Lady Orchid Thelymitra crinita Beelu National Park Western Australia

Colours of the Jarrah Forest

“Australian bush is rarely described as pretty, but the forest floor in spring is a mass of dainty and colourful blossoms” – The Southwest, Australia’s Biodiversity Hotspot – Victoria Laurie

Only a few weeks ago orchids were blooming profusely in the metropolitan bushland, but after the first spring heat they’ve vanished like snow before the sun. The same seemed to be the case in the Jarrah forests of the Darling range, where Silky Blue Orchids (Syanicula sericea) were plentiful in the Kalamunda area not that long ago, while none have been seen there on recent walks. Observations like this feed my never-ending hunger to understand the intricate relationship between the bottomless chest of botanical treasures, their respective flowering seasons and habitats, and, above all, have led me to approach nature in a more holistic way rather than singling out its individual parts. It has not only helped me to gain a better understanding of the flora that surrounds us, it has also helped me to find out how to increase the chances of sighting wildlife: the associations formed between plants and animals offer valuable clues of ‘where and when to look for what’. Don’t get me wrong, I’m out there to experience the thrill of nature in the first place rather than to contribute to science, and although I enjoy determination of species through field guides afterwards, I as much appreciate to read historical accounts of early explorers or hear indigenous stories about the significance of the natural world in our lives.

Knowing the season of Djilba has given way to Kambarang, change is noticeable everywhere in the forest. White Cottonheads (Conostylis setosa) and White Banjine (Pimelea preissii) flower abundantly on the shallow laterite soils in open areas, accompanied by colourful Myrtles in the proximity of granite outcrops.

White cottonhead Conostylis setosa Beelu National Park Western Australia

White Cottonheads (Conostylis setosa)

White Banjine Pimelea preissii Beelu National Park Western Australia

White Banjine (Pimelea preissii)

Grass trees (Xanthorrhoea preissii) or Balga of great age show massive white-flowered spikes, especially in areas that have been burnt in the previous year, attracting honey-eating birds as well as all sorts of insects like ants, flies and honeybees. As the trunk is built from layers of flat leaf-bases those trees only grow around 1½ cm a year, leaving me staring in awe at the specimen that have grown taller than a few metres.

Honeybee on Grasstree Beelu National Park Western Australia

Honeybee collecting nectar on a flowering Balga

The marked presence of Grass Trees, Zamia and Banksia in the undergrowth of the Jarrah forest was noted on the earliest expeditions. When Captain Stirling explored the region in 1827, naturalist Charles Fraser provided a vivid description, although as colonial botanist of New South Wales he confused the Balga with a species of Grass Tree dominant in the east:

“The Zamia, seen from the islands, was here to observed to attain the height of thirty feet. Zanthorhoeea arborea, too, was of equal size, and, associated with the splendid Banksias, imparted to the forest a character perfectly tropical” – Remarks on the Botany of the banks of Swan River, Charles Fraser (1830)

Slender Grasstree Burarup Xantorrhoea gracilis Beelu National Park Western Australia

Flower spike of Slender Grasstree (Xanthorrhoea gracilis)

While the spear of a centuries-old Balga can grow up to an impressive 4 metres long, the ones from the Slender Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea gracilis) or Burarup are much shorter, with a modest 20 cm flower spike sitting on a thin and flexible scape. As this species hasn’t got a trunk it will blend into the undergrowth anonymously once the scape and flower have fallen off at the end of summer.

Although the evergreen undergrowth is an ever-present and important feature of the forest – not in the last place because of the wildlife it feeds and shelters –  nothing really vies with the beauty of flowering orchids.

 “Orchid-hunting is a delightful pastime entailing much healthful waking exercise, and adding unending charm to bush excursions”. – West Australian Orchids, Emily H. Pelloe (1930)

While some species have disappeared, others have poked up almost out of the blue; the combination of rising temperatures and sufficient rainfall currently works wonders for the Blue Lady Orchid (Thelymitra crinita) as featured, Cowslip Orchid (Caladenia flava) and the Purple Enamel Orchid (Elythranthera brunonis). With over 400 (known) species in Western Australia alone there’s no doubt more will be found over the next few weeks.

Cowslip Orchid Caladenia flava Beelu National Park Western Australia

Cowslip Orchid (Caladenia flava)

Purple Enamel Orchid Elythranthera brunonis Beelu National Park Western Australia

Purple Enamel Orchid

Do they say that the bush is all greyness and gloom

Why, the rainbow has lent every thread from its loom

To weave into flower and shrub

Lilian Wooster Greaves

The wildflowers currently on display in and around the Jarrah forest are nothing short of spectacular. This purple enamel orchid (Caladenia brunosis) found near the Department of Parks and Wildlife headquarters was one of the highlights. I’m sure more will follow soon!

Willie Wagtail Rhipidura leugophrys Herdsman Lake Western Australia

Willie Wagtail – Djidi Djidi

The Willie Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys) is a small passerine bird that can be found across mainland Australia and up through New Guinea, Bismarck archipelago, Eastern Indonesia and the Solomon Islands. What it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in feistiness. While the sideways swinging of its fanned tail might be a salute to a nearby friend, attitude goes bad as soon as danger appears and wagtails are known for chasing and hitting much larger birds that threaten their nest.

Willie Wagtails can be found in various habitats, yet seem to prefer open woodlands nearby rivers and wetlands where insects are plentiful. It’s not uncommon to see them feeding near cattle or kangaroos, using the animal’s back as an ideal vantage point while hunting prey disturbed by those grazers.

 

Western Grey Kangaroo Leeuwin National Park Western Australia

Portrait of a Buck

When the search for a small animal turned into a close encounter with a big one! This portrait of a Western Grey Kangaroo – often overlooked and taken for granted in the Australian bush – shows its raw and authentic features when foraging at arm’s length. Inquisitive enough to pose for the camera, sufficiently alert to defend its nearby doe with a kick of its mighty hind legs.

Honeypot Dryandara Banksia Nivea Paruna Western Australia

Honeypot – Bulgalla

No other plant is more closely linked to Australia than the Banksia (Proteaceae). As the different species flower almost sequential in the south-western part of the continent they are most reliable suppliers of nectar and therefore a vital part of nature’s food chain. Unlike many Banksia the Honeypot Dryandara (Banksia nivea) or Bulgalla is a grounddweller, and the striking flowers make bees, honeyeaters and even Pygmy Possums stop for its sweet treasures.

Cowslip Orchid Caladenia flava Swan Coastal Plain Western Australia

Djilba Orchids

As soon as the cold, wet and stormy winter weather gives way to an increasing number of clear and warm days, we know the so-called season of conception or Djilba has arrived. This transitional stage that started a few weeks back is always accompanied by the emergence of wildflowers; rather hesitant at first with some yellow acacias, soon followed by more spectacular displays in the most striking colours of red, blue and purple.

Common Donkey Orchid Diuris corymbose Swan Coastal Plain Western Australia

Common Donkey Orchid (Diuris corymbosa)

Although there is an abundance of wildflowers with different colours and shapes to be discovered, orchids spark one’s imagination most. With around 25,000 species orchids form one of the three largest groups of flowering plants in the world; in Western Australia alone more then 400 species – 413 to be precise – have been identified so far. Scientific recording started as soon as the HMS Discovery anchored in King George Sound in 1791, and the ship’s naturalist Archibald Menzies collected the first three species.

Silky Blue Orchid Canicula sericea Kalamunda National Park Western Australia

Silky Blue Orchid (Cyanicula sericea)

For the local Noongar people orchids provided an important food source, as the starchy roots were roasted in hot ashes or pounded into paste to bake cakes. As soon as Djilba arrived kangaroos were hunted, emu eggs harvested, wild potatoes and orchids gathered.

Little Pink Fairy Orchid Caladenia latifolia Swan Coastal Plain Western Australia

Pink Fairy (Caladenia latifolia)

The season of Kambarang is already on our doorstep, and soon the weather will become increasingly dry. Although most of the orchids pictured will have vanished by then, the bush will have come up with other flowers for us to enjoy.

Common Wallaroo Euro Bigurda Marsupial Kalbarri National Park Western Australia

Common Wallaroo – Bigurda

“The estuary appeared this morning even more lovely than yesterday, and as the heavy morning mists arose, unfolding its beauties to our view, all those feelings came thrilling through my mind which explorers alone can know; flowering shrubs and trees, drooping foliage, a wide and placid expanse of water met the view; trickling springs and fertile flats were passed over by us; there was much barren land visible in the distance, though many a sign and token might lead the practical explorer to hope that he was about to enter upon a tract of an extent and fertility yet unknown in south-west Australia” – George Grey, Journals of two expeditions of discovery

When Sir George Grey and his exploring party stranded in Kalbarri in 1839, they were the first Europeans to see the mouth of the Murchison river, with 820 kilometres the second longest river in Western Australia. It rises north of Meekatharra in central Western Australia, from where it flows southwest to the Indian Ocean. For about 80 kilometres, when the river enters Kalbarri National Park, it meanders through a narrow and steep gorge carved out of the 400 million years old red and white bended Tumblagooda sandstone. The outstanding beauty of the gorge make this pristine wilderness a major drawcard, however, further exploration of the Park’s pretty estuary and rugged coastline is highly recommended.

Australian Pelicans Murchison Kalbarri Western Australia

The coastal section of Kalbarri National Park consists of steep sandstone cliffs, where the relentless force of the Indian Ocean has created remarkable features such as Mushroom Rock, Island Rock and Natural Bridge out of the layered sandstone. These landmarks are all connected by the eight kilometres long Bigurdu trail, named after the Nanda word for the Common Wallaroo or Euro (Macropus robustus), a marsupial that can be encountered grazing on the coastal heath at dusk and dawn.

Although it can be tricky to distinguish the Common Wallaroo from the Western Grey Kangaroo (Macropus filiginosus), a closer look learns they  are markedly different: Wallaroos not only have shorter limbs, they also have a shorter fur that ranges in colour from reddish brown to ironstone red. As opposed to Western Grey Kangaroos, Wallaroos exhibit embryonic diapause, and although a female can become pregnant soon after giving birth, the new embryo remains underdeveloped until the pouch is free.

Wallerroo Euro Kalbarri National Park Western Australia

Wallaroos can be found feeding in the open expanse relatively easy, however, some individuals prefer steep and rocky areas, earning them the nickname ‘Hill Kangaroo’. In this habitat overhanging rocks, ledges and even caves are used for shelter against the often extreme heat. And for those who dare to look beyond the edge another world unfolds. Call it a lucky day!

Dolphin Pod Kalbarri National Park Western Australia

 

 

 

Joffre Gorge Karijini Pilbara Western Australia

Joffre Gorge – Jijingunha

There is no doubt Joffre Gorge or Jijingunha is one of the most spectacular places in Karijini National Park. Located around 31 kilometres west of the Park’s Visitor Center, this is where the Joffre river plunges down in a natural amphitheatre. The falls can be reached by climbing down the narrow ledges and following the chasm, carved through the banded ironstone formations by the force of the water.

Joffre Gorge Karijini Pilbara Western Australia

 

The hike as described is not unlike the journey iAMsafari has taken this year; sometimes easy, sometimes more difficult, but always rewarding and enlightening. Our next adventure will start in a few more days, therefore wishing you all the best for now and hoping to see you back in good health and spirit in the New Year!

Joffre Falls Karijini Pilbara Western Australia

 

Yellow-throated Miner Kalbarri Pilbara Western Australia

Yellow-throated Miner

“But territorial possession can be more extreme than this. Two honeyeaters of large size practise the most intense resource defence of any birds on earth” – Tim Low, Where Song Began

The Yellow-throated or Dusky Miner (Manorina flavigula) is one of the four colonial and co-operatively breeding honeyeaters in the genus Manorina. Closely related to the Black-eared (Manorina melanotus), Bell (Manorina melanophrys) and Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala) it breeds communally, with breeding pairs often assisted by other members of the group. Yellow-throated Miners inhabit dry forests and woodlands across Australia, foraging on insects, fruits and nectar, and although not as aggressive and troublesome as Bell and Noisy Miners, they defend their territory and food sources fiercely against any intruder.

Fern Pool Jubura Karijini Pilbara Western Australia

Fern Pool – Jubura

Fern Pool or Jubura is the last of the major landmarks hidden in Dales Gorge. The trail that leads from Fortescue Falls is surrounded by relictual riparian vegetation, reminding the hiker of the humid and tropical climate that once occurred in the Pilbara. Ferns colour the surroundings a lush green while fig trees or Winyarrangu (Ficus brachypoda) slowly strangle the rocks that support them.

Fig Tree Fern Pool Karijini Western Australia

After a strenuous hike, Fern Pool offers a rewarding swim to some or a peaceful oasis to others, while the noisy Flying Foxes or Warramurungga (Pteropus alecto) have made it their favourite hangout.

Black Flying Fox Fern Pool Karijini Western Australia