As a family of fishers, the cormorants are amongst the bigger birds found in Australia. The Pied cormorant (Phalacrocorax varius) is surely much lighter than the Australian pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus), but with its 130 cm wingspan, 2.2 kg weight, and beautiful yellow eyepatch, this aquatic hunter is nevertheless impressive.
The Striated Heron (Butorides striata) is a common bird along the coastlines of Africa, South America and Australia, and in Roebuck Bay it spends a lot of time in the mangroves and on the rocks, hunting for fish in pools and creeks in typical stealth mode.
The Broome Bird Observatory offers tours in the different habits of Yawuru country, showcasing the enormous variety of birds in this beautiful corner of WA. I joined the tour to the saline grasslands, saltmarshes and claypans of Roebuck Plains Station, an iconic Kimberley property that covers 275,000 hectares and is home to 20,000 head of cattle. During the wet season the inundated plains are green and lush, abundant with fish, crabs and frogs, an enormous food bowl for thousands of water birds, but in the dry dust devils sweep through the vast open space, where water is only a memory of different times. The majority of birdwatchers who join this tour are in search of the Yellow Chat (Epthianura crocea), a strikingly coloured passerine bird that can be seen on the plains relatively easy, and as it is one of the must-see species, the Broome Bird Observatory even runs the specific Yellow Chat twitch. I had some good views of this marvellous little bird through the telescopes provided, but unfortunately haven’t been able to get …
After a very dry wet season, the bush surrounding the Broome Bird Observatory looked brown and dry. The sandy soils of this part of the Kimberley are dominated by Coffee Fruit (Grewia breviflora), Helicopter Trees (Gyrocarpus Americanus) and Broome Pindan Wattles (Acacia eriopoda), with diffused tufts of Spinifex grass in the understory. Although this habitat offers most abundant food in the wet, opportunistic feeders as the Agile Wallaby (Macropus agilis) are perfectly able to broaden their diet by shifting to alternative food resources, such as fruits, leaves and roots from other plants: the tracks that can be found on the beach every morning show those marsupials come to the mangroves to feed on propagules during the night. But Agile Wallabies are not the only creatures that harvest the beach after dark. Every morning before the sun rises, thousands of Land Hermit Crabs or irramunga (Coenabita variabilis) commute between beach and bush after the collection of their newly found homes. A journey that many are not likely to survive when crossing Crab Creek road – a journey …
When visiting the Broome Bird Observatory, it’s hard to miss the resident wildlife that gathers in and around the camp’s ablution blocks; from the highly venomous King Brown Snake (Pseudechis australis) to the harmless Stimson’s Python (Antaresia stimsonia), some of Australia’s notorious reptiles are drawn to this place to hunt Green Tree Frogs (Litoria caerulea). These ever smiling and relaxed amphibians love to live in toilet bowls – hence its nickname Dunny Frog – during the dry season, when water in the bush is scarce. Although it was easier to find them when flushing, the sight of the dust covered tree-climber was well worth the spotlighting effort.
When descending the red Pindan cliffs towards the beach and benthic flats of Roebuck Bay, one comes across several mangals and tidal creeks. The tropical mangrove forests near Broome consist of several species, such as the common grey mangrove (Avicennia marina), stilt-rooted mangrove (Rhizophora stylosa) and the red mangrove (Ceriops tagal) or lanyi-lanyi. Those forests are complex and rich habitats that require much specialization to live in, and many animals found in the mangroves are therefore absent or rare in other places. With their bright red colour, flame fiddler crabs (Uca flammula) are the most beautiful crabs of the mangroves by far. The typical big and oversized claw of this mostly vegetarian crustacean is waved to defend their territory rather than to crush food, while their remarkable appearance is further enhanced by eyes positioned on tall stalks, enabling them to detect threats from afar so they can disappear in their burrow quickly. The Mangrove mudskipper is another conspicuous creature that can be found in Roebuck’s mangroves. Because they are able to breath through their skin …
Ngaji Gurrijin! We’re back from our wonderful adventure in Australia’s North West. Back from a long trip that brought us to the Yawuru country of Broome’s Roebuck Bay. Although we didn’t have the intention to drive all the way to this magic Kimberley destination, the abnormally wet conditions in the Pilbara left us with little options. With the prospects of some lovely dry tropical winter weather, and the chance to stay at one of the country’s most beloved wilderness destinations in mind, the decision for this 988 kilometres detour was easily made. No big deal, we were planning to drive 2,894 kilometres anyway! Mud and holiday-destinations are not easily associated, however, in the case of Roebuck Bay it’s an entirely different story. Sediments trapped in the bay are carried in by ocean currents, forming mud flats where the particles settle in quiet waters. Cyclones, heavy rain and wind further accumulate deposits, while big tides and a shallow sloping coast expose large parts of these intertidal flats. Extraordinary rich in invertebrate life, the flats provide the most important …
Land Cruiser loaded and cameras packed; our long anticipated trip up north has started! Two days on the road have brought us to Port Hedland, last stop before our final destination Broome. With heavy rain forecasted on Tuesday, we postponed the visit to Karijini until we head back south again, however, the vistas we enjoyed at Munjina East Gorge were a perfect teaser.
With grevillea, hakea and eucalypts flowering in abundance, different species of honeyeaters (Meliphagidae) can be found feeding on their nectar. With thin curved bills and brush-like tongues, they’re probing flowers and lapping up large quantities of sweet liquid at a time. Most members of diverse family of passerine birds can be found in Australia and New Guinea, with the Red Wattlebird (Anthochaera carunculata) or Djoongong the largest species in Western Australia. The distinctive red-pink wattles or caruncles have lend this bird its common name, and as one of the noisiest inhabitants of our urban bushland they’re hard to miss when chasing away other nectar-feeding birds as lorikeets and parrots.
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.