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Birdwatching is much more than ticking off a list

Brdwatching at Eagleby
Brdwatching at Eagleby

Adding to a “life-list” (a list of all birds you have seen in the wild) can be fun, and can take you to many beautiful and exciting places and offer many hours in the clean air of seaside, desert or forest.

However, just ticking off a bird as seen and rushing off for the next “tick” can cause you to miss out on a lot of enjoyable experiences that give you a much deeper understanding of natural ecosystems.

Little corella, and active and playful species
Little corella, and active and playful species

Birds are not just pretty objects that happen to move around. They are living creatures – quite extraordinary living creatures in fact, with a rather complicated anatomy associated with flight, better eyesight than humans, more intelligence than they’re often given credit for, with a great variety of social structures, and many kinds of ecological relationships with other species. Instead of the “stamp-collecting” approach to bird-watching, you can gain many insights into the life of birds and the ecosystem generally by quietly sitting and watching, even if it is a species you’ve seen many times before.

Male satin bowerbird offering a flower to the female: we watched this during a tour to O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat
Male satin bowerbird offering a flower to the female: we watched this during a tour to O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat

One of the most fascinating to watch is the satin bowerbird during breeding season. The male is a few years old before he even tries to build a bower, and often takes a year or two to get it right before the female is sufficiently impressed. With only his bill for building, he lays down a platform of twigs and then constructs an avenue of twigs into which to attract the females (one at a time) for mating. To accentuate the blue sheen of his feathers he collects blue objects – quite a task originally to find enough feathers, flowers and berries of the right colour, but nowadays often including more readily available drinking straws, bottle tops and other such objects. He struts around, singing, dancing and rearranging twigs and decorations, and when a female arrives continues his song and dance, even sometimes carrying flowers or other gifts to her, before finally consummating their relationship. She then has to build her own nest and raise the kids while he attracts more females.

Brush turkey sunbaking
Brush turkey sunbaking

Female brush turkeys have it better: the male makes an enormous mound of leaves and keeps adjusting it to an appropriate temperature, as the energy originally stored by photosynthesis is released as heat as the leaves decompose. All the female needs to do is lay an egg in this every few days. You would be lucky to catch a visit by the females, but the males are often seen scratching more leaves onto their nests and chasing off intruders.

Grey fantail waiting for flying insects to catch
Grey fantail waiting for flying insects to catch

Keep an eye out for birds who follow other birds. When brush turkeys or other strong-footed birds are kicking the leaf litter around in their search for insects, smaller birds such as scrubwrens often hand around waiting for insects that escape the notice of the large forager. If you see a grey fantail, especially out of breeding season, it is very likely to be following a whistler, a treecreeper or some other species that is foraging in the leaves or under the bark, ready to use its tail to facilitate acrobatic manoeuvres to catch insects trying to escape through the air.

noisy-miner-callingYou can also get to know the different calls of a species: territorial songs, the alarm calls and the contact calls between male and female or members of a feeding flock. You can hear different melodies piped by pied butcherbirds in different districts or listen for the highly complex call, complete with amazing mimicry, of the lyrebird. You can head out at night listening for the calls of owls, frogmouths and nightjars (and no, despite a popular myth that was even believed by Banjo Patterson, the frogmouth does NOT give the mopoke call: the boobook owl does that). You can try to tell the difference between two birds having a dispute or indulging in courtship (sometimes this is obvious, sometimes not).You can sit very quietly in the forest for 20 minutes or so, preferably dressed in greens and browns, to see whether any shy birds, which would be disturbed by footsteps, make an appearance.

Wompoo Fruitdove eating bangalow palm fruits
Wompoo Fruitdove eating bangalow palm fruits

Many birds depend on plants, but many plants also depend on birds. Take note of any birds feeding amongst flowers or fruits. Most of these will be playing a role as pollinators or seed dispersers, although a few damage the flower to reach the nectar without picking up any pollen, and some either avoid swallowing the seeds or, worse still for the plant, digest them.

You may not always understand what a bird is doing or why. Sometimes it becomes clear just by watching for a few minutes, or sometimes it is an intriguing observation that keeps you puzzled for some time. Maybe others have observed it, or maybe not. There are various Facebook pages and other websites where you can put a question to the group, e.g.: “has anyone seen a xxx do this? Any idea why?”

Mudlark and nestling
Mudlark and nestling

A final note: some avid life-listers get so carried away with their hobby they forget the welfare of the bird. The occasional recorded call in a seldom-traveled area may not bother birds too much, but when male territorial calls are repeatedly played to the same birds in a popular birding spot, especially during breeding season, it can waste a lot of a bird’s much-needed energy in defending his territory, with the potential of stressing it to the point where it shifts home, possibly to a less optimal habitat, or is so drained of energy it is more vulnerable to disease, parasites or predation. Waking up a diurnal bird at night or a nocturnal bird during the day can cause it to blunder off clumsily, possibly into danger. Getting too close to a nest may cause temporary desertion by the parent, exposing eggs or chicks to predation and uncomfortable or even dangerous temperatures. Different species and different individuals within the species have different temperaments, but it is better to err on the side of caution than risk the welfare of the individual bird or, in the case of rare species, their conservation chances for the future.

To Adelaide and back. Part 5. Central NSW (Parkes and Dubbo)

Through central New South Wales

On the road

Crossing another  important river, the  Murrumbidgee, made famous in the song "The Road to Gundagai"
Crossing another important river, the Murrumbidgee, made famous in the song “The Road to Gundagai”

wheatbalesontrucks

 

Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo

This was the first free-range zoo in Australia, opened in 1977, now harbouring over 1000 animals..

SafariVehicleGiraffesWPZ

White rhino and youngster. Some are suggesting wearing more rhinos to Australia's outback (contained of course, but in enormous enclosures) to protect them from poaching inter hime countries.
White rhino and youngster. Some are suggesting wearing more rhinos to Australia’s outback (contained of course, but in enormous enclosures) to protect them from poaching inter hime countries.
The female needs a rest.  They had a very energetic mating session right in front of us.
The female needs a rest. They had a very energetic mating session right in front of us.

MeerkatRestingWPZTiger-WPZooCheetahWPZ

 

The Parkes Telescope

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The Dish stands about 15km from where my mother was born (Parkes) and spent most of her childhood years (a sheep and wheat farm near Alectown)
The Dish stands about 15km from where my mother was born (Parkes) and spent most of her childhood years (a sheep and wheat farm near Alectown). It achieved fame when asked film Armstrong’s first steps onto the moon, an event later to be made into an entertaining  movie, “The Dish.”.

TheDish TheDish2

Within the information centre are other signs letting us know the fact and the fiction in the movie.

Passing through Alectown, we made a very brief stop at the little church where my parents were married in the 1930s

AlectownChurch

Many years ago I visited with my parents. Each signed the visitor’s book, and each of my parents wrote “married here.”  I wanted to put “result” after my name but wasn’t allowed

 

Then back to Mullumbimby to return Axel to his mother and dog, and on to Running Creek, to be greeted by our dogs and Denis

 

 

 

To Adelaide and back. Part 4. Lake Mungo

We had wanted to see Lake Mungo in western New South Wales – famous for Aboriginal history and palaeozoology – for many years.

An early start from Adelaide and a very sleepy look at Australia’s largest river- the Murray

dawn

Axel-sleep

Crossing the RiverMurray, SA
Crossing the RiverMurray, SA

 

By the time we got close to Lake Mungo it was obvious we were now truly in the outback, especially the last 60km or so along a bumpy dusty road with saltbush and other semi-arid shrubs to either side.

A kangaroo hopes through the saltbush shrubland
A kangaroo hopes through the saltbush shrubland

 

Emu near Lake  Mungo
Emu near LakeMungo

 

 

Lake Mungo

Well, it used to be a lake, until about 20,000 years ago, when it rapidly dried out. You can still clearly see the ancient sand dunes along the edge (even from the air – I saw them on a flight to Adelaide earlier in the year).

Before then it was alive with active Aboriginal communities as well as diprotodons and other now-extinct megafauna (and some not so mega). 20,000-year-old human footprints surprised and intrigued researchers and others. There was even more surprise when the remains of Aboriginal people found there (especially Mungo Man and Mungo Lady) which proved to be 40 – 45 thousand years, and decorated to suggest a ritual burial.  Two surprises here – first that humans had been in Australia for such a long time (recent discoveries elsewhere have now suggested over 60,000 years) and secondly that ritual burial had such a long history.

The remains of Mungo Man have recently been returned to his home country of Lake Mungo.

20,000 years ago saw an episode of climate change causing Australia to become colder, drier and windier, gradually drying up the lake

Read more here about Lake Mungo’s history

In the museum at Lake Mungo

In the museum at Lake Mungo

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Driving towards the old lake (dry for the past  20,,000 years)
Driving across the old lake (dry for the past 20,,000 years)

 

 

Scenes from Lake Mungo

An interpretive signal the start of our walk
An interpretive signal the start of our walk

MungoLandscape3 MungoLandscape4 guide-group-Mungo

Mungotalk

photo-middenMungo MungoLandscape

backalonggullyAxelDarrenMungo Mungoscape

MungoLandscape5

Next: on to Parkes and Dubbo …

 

 

To Adelaide and back. Part 3. Adelaide

Our main purpose was to spend 4 days meeting travel agents from around the world and explaining our tours to them, at Australia’s biggest annual trade show, the ATE. It is very tiring, a bit like four straight days of speed-dating,  but also very enjoyable meeting a lot of friendly and interesting people, making potentially valuable contacts and gleaning new ideas, and also sampling foods from the various states and territories.

ATE18Qld

the Araucaria stand at ATE
the Araucaria stand at ATE

 

This is small part of the crowd
This is a very small part of the crowd

 

Environmentally-friendly transport
Environmentally-friendly transport

 

ATE street entertainment
ATE street entertainment

 

It does get a little tiring
It does get a little tiring

 

After the ATE we collected my grandson (Darren’s nephew) Axel from the airport after his first-ever flight in a large plane so that he could have his first-ever meeting with his Adelaide cousins and first-ever experience of Australia’s outback on our drive back to Queensland.

Axel arriving in Adelaide
Axel arriving in Adelaide

 

We met my niece Britta and her two boys Niki and Alex at the Adelaide Zoo . Lovely see them again. The boys seemed to quickly make friends and enjoy exploring and playing together.

R to L Axel, Niki, Britta Alex, Darren
L to R  Axel, Niki, Britta Alex, Darren

 

squirrel monkey
Axel meeting a squirrel monkey
Panda-Adelaide-Zoo
Giant panda, part of the only pair in Australia, part of a conservation breeding and research program

PandaSolarSign

Giant Aldabra Tortoise- vulnerable species from the Seychelles, hatched at the Zoo in 1976
Giant Aldabra Tortoise- vulnerable species from the Seychelles, hatched at the Zoo in 1976

 

Eclectus Parrot
Eclectus parrot from north Qld: unusual in that the female (pictured is the brighter-coloured (to our eyes at least – the male has an ultraviolet pattern visible to his mate)

 

squirrel monkey
Axel meeting a squirrel monkey
SuperbLyrebird
We wondered why we lost Darren for a long time. He was filming a lengthy video of a superb lyrebird displaying, with lots of mimicry

 

Meerkat - possibly Axel's favourite
Meerkat – possibly Axel’s favourite

 

Then a family reunion dinner

Around table from left: Paul (Britta's husband), Britta, me, Peter (brother, Alison (Peter's wife), Darren, Axel, Niki, Alex
Around table from left: Paul (Britta’s husband), Britta, me, Peter (brother, Alison (Peter’s wife), Darren, Axel, Niki, Alex

 

Next day a family visit to the SA Museum, which I was forever dragging my mother to as a child and later exploring frequently ion my own, followed by the art gallery and a stroll through Adelaide city streets.

fossilmegafauna dinosaur&boys Darrenmuseum

malachite
As a child I used togas at the malachite until I felt I was being absorbed into its depths

Radioactivitydisplay mineralsBH

Important fossils from the Flinders Ranges
Important fossils from the Flinders Ranges

 

SA Art Gallery

artgalleryNiki arttgalleryboys

 

Rundle Mall,  Adelaide

Adelaidesilverballs AdelaideArcade

Axel-pigstatue

 

Next day we (3 generations: myself, Darren and Axel) met with lecturers from the new ecotourism course being offered at Adelaide University (where I graduated with Honours in zoology many years ago), followed by a personal tour of the University, especially the science areas and library, some of which I remembered but much of which was new.

 

Axel's turn to be tired
Axel’s turn to be tired

unipond

Many hours were spent in the Barr-Smith library  during my undergraduate and Honours year, usually with great enthusiasm for exploring so may aspects of our planet.
Many hours were spent in the Barr-Smith library during my undergraduate and Honours year, usually with great enthusiasm for exploring so may aspects of our planet.

 

unilibraryAxel unilab

I remember being quite enthralled by the large models while studying botany
I remember being quite enthralled by the large models while studying botany: not sure if these Arte the same ones

 

Next day it was off towards that site so famous for Aboriginal history – Lake Mungo …….

 

Wildlife Tourism conference, South Australia


Where the Wild Things Grow.

Wildlife tourism conference to be held in  Adelaide, 6 to 9 November  2016
 
Filming shingleback in Queensland's outback
Filming shingleback in Queensland’s outback

Organized by Wildlife Tourism Australia Inc.

Explore how to “do it right”, discuss what kinds of research have been useful for wildlife tourism and what research will now be most valuable, what kinds of training are currently available and what more may be needed in Australia and elsewhere. How can tourism businesses best work in cooperation with researchers, governments, local communities, NGOs and traveling citizen scientists or conservation volunteers? What ethical responsibilities do tour operators have towards tourists, local communities, other operators, animal welfare and biodiversity conservation?
Enjoy quality presentations, join in round-table discussions, visit wildlife attractions old and new near Adelaide, promote your own business, conservation cause or research …
For details visit:

The Araucaria team seek wildlife on an island near Brisbane

The Melaleuca Wetlands are adjacent to the beach
The Melaleuca Wetlands are adjacent to the beach

For some years now we’ve been conducting tours to Coochiemudlo Island, an attractive and varied little subtropical  island with long sandy beaches over which thousands of blue crabs march as the tide recedes, rocky platforms, mangroves, coastal woodlands and red cliffs much prized by the Aboriginals, who used the red ochre for body painting and trade with mainland groups. Bush stone-curlews, with their arresting stares, raptors, butterflies, bush-birds, shorebirds and a variety of sea creatures in rock pools all add to the charm of this island, so close to Brisbane yet often so deserted as holiday-makers rush to the far more commercialized Gold Coast.

Unlike most crabs, they travel forwards instead of sideways' often marching across the beach in search of food as the tide goes out: hence the name 'soldier crab.'
Unlike most crabs, they travel forwards instead of sideways’ often marching across the beach in search of food as the tide goes out: hence the name ‘soldier crab.’
There are plenty of bush stone-curlews wandering around the island, and their weird, wild calls at night add to the atmosphere.
There are plenty of bush stone-curlews wandering around the island, and their weird, wild calls at night add to the atmosphere.

Darren and I have recently been employed by Coochiemudlo Coast Care (under a grant from Redlands Shire Council) to conduct a fauna survey o the Melaleuca (tea-tree) Wetlands over four seasons (mid-summer, mid-autumn, mid-winter and mid-spring, with a view to enhancing conservation management plans. We completed the first session in January, with a team of volunteers to help set, check and wash traps (used to capture animals which are promptly released after identification).

The delights of staying overnight, listening to the weird, wild calls of the stone-curlews, watching the sun and moon rise over the waters and wandering safe bush tracks at night are encouraging us to add overnight stays to our island tours. We may also in future involve our tourists in some weed eradication (an on-going threat to the native understorey plants) in conjunction with the excellent programs by Coochiemudlo Coast Care, and spotting species in a monitoring program.  Let us know in comments below or by emailing us at info@learnaboutwildlife.com if interested.

Exploring the Wetlands. Tea-tree wetlands have disappeared from much of their former range on the mainland.
Exploring the Wetlands. Tea-tree wetlands have disappeared from much of their former range on the mainland.
The Melaleuca Wetlands are on the edge of an east-facing beach, and we were rewarded on our very first night by a beautiful moonrise.
The Melaleuca Wetlands are on the edge of an east-facing beach, and we were rewarded on our very first night by a beautiful moonrise.

Results will not be public until completion of the survey, but here are a few photos from our visit, which included live trapping and release, walking the trails day and night and setting motion-sensing cameras.

Bearded dragon eating one of the thousands of cicadas that were calling during the survey.
Bearded dragon eating one of the thousands of cicadas that were calling during the survey.

 

Striped marshfrogs were plentiful at night.
Striped marshfrogs were plentiful at night.
A net-casting spider. Instead of sitting in a large web they make a small one to throw over their prey.
A net-casting spider. Instead of sitting in a large web they make a small one to throw over their prey.

Australia’s third conference on wildife tourism

WTA Logo newcoloursNext week, as current chair of Wildlife Tourism Australia Inc., I head to Melbourne to meet some of  the local organising committee for Australia’s third conference on wildlife tourism,  plus representatives from Tourism Victoria (our major sponsor), Zoos Victoria and Parks Victoria.  I’ll also visit the two venues we are deciding between for the conference, and we should make the final decision by the end of the week.

corp_dom_cmyk

Wildlife Tourism: a Force for Biodiversity Conservation and Local Economies?

Geelong, Victoria 29 Sep – 2 Oct 2015
http://www.wildlifetourism.org.au/blog/wildlife-tourism-conference-2015/

This will be an exciting conference, with keynote speakers from Malaysia, Indonesia,USA and Australia speaking on important themes, and with plenty of opportunity for round table discussion.

 

From the WTA website:

Tuesday: welcome to delegates, registration

Wednesday: international aspects

How do other countries asses the value of, promote and manage wildlife tourism? What problems have they faced and what solutions have they found?
Which associations perform a similar role to Wildlife Tourism Australia in other countries, and what are their goals and activities?
What is new in wildlife tourism in our our nearest neighbours (New Zealand, New Guinea, Southeast Asia, Antarctica), and could there be more cross-promotion of wildlife travel between our countries, and promotion of our general region to the rest of the world?

Thursday: contributions of tourism to conservation

How are tour operations currently contributing to conservation of wildlife and their habitats (including monetary contributions, habitat restoration, public education, conservation breeding, citizen science etc.)?
What is the potential for increased contribution by wildlife tourism and the tourism industry in general to conservation of wildlife and habitats?

Friday: the value of wildlife tourism to local economies

What do we already know of the contributions of wildlife tourism to local and regional economies?
What kinds of wildlife tourism can encourage tourists to visit less-traveled regions, spend an extra night , or make repeat visits?
What obstacles are faced by small businesses and NGOs trying to stay afloat while offering high-quality wildlife experiences and interpretation to visitors?

Who should attend?

Wildlife tour operators (including birding tours, whale-watching, reef-diving etc.)
Managers and other staff of ecolodges, rural B&Bs, farmstays etc. who offer bird-watching or other wildlife experiences
general tour operators and guides who include wildlife-watching amongst their activities
Zoos, wildlife parks and museums
Researchers and students of wildlife tourism, ecotourism, nature tourism, nature interpretation/education and related topics
Conservation managers
Travel agents and tourism organizations
Local and state government bodies
Others with an interest in tourism which involves wildlife