All posts filed under: Australian Wildlife

Galah Tendon Locking Mechanism Kalbarri Western Australia

Galah – Defying Gravity

“Every bird that flies has the thread of the infinite in its claws” – Victor Hugo, Les Misérables This galah I met on the banks of the Murchison River near Kalbarri seems to defy gravity. But it doesn’t. As any other creature or object it would fall to the earth – even while being a bird – without the ingenuous anatomy of its feet. As in most birds they’re gifted with the so-called tendon locking mechanism or TLM – a mechanism in which the toes automatically grasp a branch in pincer-like fashion when bending its knees and heel articulations, allowing it to stay up in a tree without wasting too much energy and ‘play the Galah’.

Carnaby's Black Cockatoo Calypthorhynchus latirostris Yanchep National Park Western Australia

Rain Birds – Carnaby’s Cockatoo

The short-billed black or Carnaby’s cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus latirostris) is one of Western Australia’s most fascinating birds. In summertime they reside in coastal areas while feeding on the seeds of Banksia, Hakea, and eucalypts – and with ample water and roosting sites Yanchep National Park is a favourite hangout and excellent place to spot them. Last Sunday we weren’t short of luck with flocks of up to a hundred individuals socialising in the tall Tuart trees. Here we witnessed a noisy spectacle of feeding, crooning and preening – the meticulous grooming ritual in which pairs strengthen their bond. Preening is the earliest sign of the approaching breeding season when the female will lead her partner back to the place where she was born, deep in the arid inland of WA’s Wheatbelt region. The arrival of the first storms and winter rains will be the starting sign of this journey, and the early settlers therefore called them ‘rain birds’, referring to the change of weather and seasons when the cockatoos flew over. However, the future of the Carnaby’s cockatoo …

Australian Pelican – Jurruna

With so much fish around it doesn’t come as a surprise Australian Pelicans reside in Monkey Mia. Although some individuals are kept at bay with handouts during the dolphin interactions, most pelicans can be seen hunting throughout the rest of the day. They fly out to wherever food can be found, but mostly stay close to the shore to herd fish into shallow water – the same strategy as used by dolphins. Pelicans therefore like to shadow them and try to swim between the dolphins and the shore to capitalise on the dolphins efforts. Obviously not only dolphins are smart!

Emu foot Dromaius novaehollandiae Monkey Mia Shark Bay Western Australia

Yalibirri – Walking with Dinosaurs

When camping at Monkey Mia it is hard to miss the Emus wandering around the grounds looking for anything edible – or seemingly edible. Regarded by many as a nuisance, for nature lovers as us they offer the perfect opportunity to study them a bit better. What strikes me most about these big birds is their peculiar body structure that is considered by paleontologists as similar to theropods – giant three-toed dinosaurs that roamed the earth in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Their feet are very similar to dinosaur feet, and while looking at them walking it’s impossible not to think of their ancestors with toes curling back first and  spreading out again just before planting their foot –  no wonder Hollywood used emus when creating Tyrannosaurus Rex for Jurassic Park!

Green Sea Turtle Chelonia mydas Monkey Mia Shark Bay Western Australia

Green Sea Turtle – Buyungurra

Western Australia’s vast and remote Shark Bay is a unique region covering more than 2.2 million hectares of land and sea. It is home to a great diversity of plants and animals, some of them found nowhere else on earth. Unfortunately many of the species that live in this immense wilderness are vulnerable or even critically endangered. One of them is the Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas), a species that depends on the bay’s plentiful seagrass meadows – just as the more than 10,000 Dugongs (Dugong dugon) that graze in this World Heritage Area. Considering the high number of sightings of this massive turtle out in the water, it is hard to believe they are under serious threat. But although Green Sea Turtles are legally protected in Australia and hunting is restricted to traditional use by aboriginal people, they still face numerous challenges. Apart from crabs, goannas, birds and sharks that feed on hatchlings, the major threats are created by human activities. Each year thousands of turtles end up on baited longline hooks as bycatch, …

Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops Aduncus Monkey Mia Shark Bay Western Australia

Bottlenose Dolphin Puck – Leading Lady of Monkey Mia

When international dolphin research started in Western Australia’s Shark Bay in 1982, female Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) Puck would never have believed she’d become a true film star – but she did. Just before we left for a trip to this remote World Heritage area 850 kms north of Perth, we watched the 2009 BBC Documentary ‘The Dolphins of Shark Bay’. This documentary follows a family called ‘The Beachies’, named after their regular fishing expeditions in the shallow waters of Monkey Mia. As other dolphin families living in the vast Shark Bay area The Beachies form a tightly knit group led by adult females; matriarch Puck and her daughters Piccolo and Kiya. Together with their offspring they regularly visit the beach of Monkey Mia to hunt or to receive fish from Department of Parks and Wildlife rangers – the perfect chance to meet those big brained mammals up-close and personal! Interaction between humans and dolphins in Monkey Mia goes back long time. Aboriginal fishermen would use dolphins to chase fish close to the shore and share their …

Emu Dromaius novaehollandiae Gloucester National Park Pemberton Western Australia

Emu – Giant of the Southern Forests

Since I was a young boy I have always been fascinated by the big flightless birds that roam the grass- and woodlands of our planet. I guess their long neck, inquisitive look and striding gait are just a few of the hallmarks that make those animals so completely different and unique. But as these birds only inhabit the continents of the Southern Hemisphere I had to wait a long time to see them in the wild – you might therefore understand my excitement when I spotted my first Ostrich on the plains near Satara in South Africa’s Kruger Park almost 20 years ago. The fascination for big birds never left, so when we heard a family of eight Emus (daddy with his offspring) regularly visited the dam of our friends vineyard in Pemberton, we were getting ourselves ready for some serious bird watching. The beautiful backdrop of this place – a vineyard surrounded by tall golden grass and towering Karri trees smack-bang in the middle of Gloucester National Park – would allow us to take …

Splendid Fairy Wren Perth Hills Korung National Park

Splendid Fairy Wren

As in John Paul Young’s classic song, the bright cobalt blue of this male Splendid Fairy-wren (Malurus spendens) indicates that ‘love is in every sight and sound’ at this stage of summer. Many birds are in full breeding plumage now, but none of them is so striking as the one that has been voted Australia’s Favourite Bird in Birdlife Australia. The males have their groove on and are frantically drawing the attention of the dull-brown coloured females, and although pairs bond for life and are seemingly monogamous their sexual appetite is in overdrive – those birds don’t shy back from adventures with multiple partners while they sometimes even raise the young from those affairs. Soap opera in the wild!

Whistling Kite Haliastur sphenurus Lesmurdie National Park Mundy Perth Hills

Whistling Kite

Summer has really started with temperatures soaring to a record high of 44.4°C a few days ago. The bad news about those extreme conditions is that bush fires are an almost common feature this time of the year – and we already had some eerily close. Apart from their beneficial effect on the germination of native plants, uncontrolled fires can be devastating for men, property and wildlife. While taking some pictures of blooming Christmas Trees a few weeks ago I noticed a raptor cruising the high skies while using the early afternoon thermal currents. Excited as a young kid I started to look for its perch, and to my big surprise I managed to locate the nest about 300 metres from where I first noticed the bird! According to the distinctive high-pitched call there was no doubt I had found the hide-out of a family of Whistling Kites (Haliastur sphenurus), a medium-sized raptor found throughout Australia and New Guinea. Mum and dad perched on the high branches of a tall Marri tree, but my discovery held …

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.

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 …

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 …

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 …