Sunday, November 24, 2013

Snake-neck Turtle

Yesterday, Mrs Gouldiae brought to my attention a Snake-necked Turtle behaving oddly beside the driveway.

It soon become apparent it was a female digging her nest hole, something I’d not seen before.

She let me sit nearby for some time and record her endeavours. Eventually she had the hole as deep as her rear excavating legs would reach.

Next she maneuvered her cloaca above the hole and began laying. I watched as she deposited six eggs into the hole. After each one she reached down with one hind foot seemingly to check that the egg had dropped completely down the hole.

I saw six eggs drop into the hole but like all things ‘toirtesey’ it was a slow process and I retired for some relief for a short while so I’m not certain of the final number.

I then watched her fill the hole back in with some amazing maneuvers. Deftly she used each hind paw separately to scrape some soil back over the hole and then she used both paws in a cupping manner to drag the remainder into place.

I was then astounded to watch her for quite some time as she tamped the raised surface back down to ground level by lifting her body off the ground by extending one or both hind legs then dropping back down onto the ground.

The end result was that the nest site was practically unrecognizable, (bottom right hand corner in the picture below).

Satisfied with her efforts she ‘hurried’ off back to her favourite ‘watering hole’.

It would be nice to see the complete cycle and to observe the hatchlings in 130 to 160 days – I’ve made a note in the diary.

(Birds of course are not the only fauna to be threatened by our expanding urbanization – so too are the freshwater turtles and various groups are researching this.)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Gluepot 2013 #11

Probably the single greatest threat to the habitat of Gluepot is fire. Land clearing, grazing and predation are being addressed. In 2006, fire destroyed about 8000 hectares and monitoring sites were quickly established to assess the effects on flora and fauna. Research projects studying the effects of fire mosaics are continuing. It has been determined that the Striated Grasswren will return to their favourite triodia habitat as little as 3 to 5 years after a burn. Malleefowl and Black-eared Miners however require habitat that has been unburnt for something like 40 years!

Southern Whiteface
This bird has a stubby little bill like a grassfinch and it thrives on a similar diet – primarily small seeds and some insects.

A bit like our Buff-rumped Thornbill, the Southern Whiteface has a preference for habitat with lots of dead trees, logs on the ground, stumps, etc. They use small hollows in dead timber in which to build their nests.

Although they occur widely in inland dry regions their numbers are thought to be in decline. Their shy nature has meant not a lot of information is known about the habits and movements of this bird. I was lucky to get one to pose in such an exposed position for a couple of very quick shots.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Gluepot 2013 #10

Gluepot has won numerous awards in the areas of biodiversity conservation, management, scientific research, ecotourism and volunteerism. Numerous Australian and overseas institutions conduct on-going research projects in a variety of fields. 

There are 95 permanent biodiversity sites that are monitored annually. Bird banding, mammal, reptile and vegetation studies are conducted continually. Plus, it’s a great place to see birds!

Crested Bellbird
The Crested Bellbird is widespread and endemic to the arid and semi-arid interior of Australia. Despite their familiar call – perhaps the iconic birdcall of Gluepot – they keep a very low profile and are certainly heard far more often than they are seen.

Crested Bellbirds feed mostly on the ground or in the low bushes and usually are solitary. The ventriloqual(?) effect of their call has caused me to spend plenty of time trying to track down a calling bird only to find, that when I’m standing under the very tree in which I’m certain I last heard the bird, it begins calling again from about 100metres away!

They seldom raise their crest, and THAT view of a male calling with crest raised is just another reason to return.

White-browed Treecreeper
The White-browed Treecreeper is mostly a solitary and unobtrusive bird, calling far less often than its treecreeper relatives.

It ‘operates’ just as other treecreepers do and we found that at one particular hide there was a couple mallee eucs that seemed to be a favourite with this bird, with a continuous column of small ants stretched up and down the trunks and branches.

White-browed Treecreepers occupy the arid interior zone and in some states are listed as threatened.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Gluepot 2013 #9

Camping at Gluepot is quite basic. Campers must take all their requirements – food, water, fuel, etc – as the only amenity provided is a long drop toilet. Generators and wood fires are not permitted. Suits me. My camping formula –KISS = ‘keep it small and simple’ – works well under these conditions.
Kitchen in the back of the ute, bathroom under a tree, bed in the tent!

It’s worth remembering that mobility is important, as many of the best birding spots can be many kilometers apart. Having to pack up a ‘campervan’ each time you headed off somewhere could get tiring.

Chestnut Quail-thrush
This ground dwelling bird can be hard to spot sometimes. Jim’s great eye spotted a nest at the base of a mallee euc and we stood quietly nearby for a bit. The female walked up with food in her mouth and detected us when she was just a few metres from the nest. We stood as still and quiet as we could for well over half an hour – and so did she, most of the time on one leg!

A little later the male came in too. He was less circumspect than she and went straight to the nest with a morsel in his bill.

As he left, he came very close to us even though it seemed to me he was keeping an eye on us all the time.

When they’d both left to gather more tucker for the nestlings we crept to within 10metres or so and quickly snapped a couple of balls of fur then left quickly in the opposite direction to the parents.
Camouflage! Nest is against the tree left foreground. Female centre background.

The Chestnut Quail-thrush enjoys the mallee habitat where they forage on the ground amongst the spinifex, chenopods, etc for a wide range of invertebrates. Again, this is another species thought to be in decline due to such threats as loss and fragmentation of habitat, predation by foxes, inappropriate grazing and fire regimes, etc.

A most enjoyable experience.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Gluepot 2013 #8

We sometimes had discussions about the ethics of bird watching from a hide. The elevated hides at Gluepot are placed in front of elevated water troughs. Some birds would fly in directly and without as much as a glance in the direction of the hide proceed to drink or bathe. Others would approach with considerable caution, taking ages to hop one branch at a time closer to the water. 

Many of the birds we ticked from inside the hides were not seen elsewhere ‘in the wild’ and we would not have otherwise seen them. A quick check through a bird list just now indicates I saw at least 22 species from the hides at Gluepot this year. I enjoy ‘stalking’ birds in the bush immensely. I also had some of the best views of some stunning birds from sitting inside a comfortable hide.

The common or garden Galah always provided entertainment and colour. They would come in to drink in small mobs and compete with one another to be first at the water.

Major Mitchell Cockatoo
This endangered bird came to the water troughs in ones and twos.

Unlike the Galah and some other cockatoos, the Major Mitchell has not adapted well to man made changes to their habitat. They don’t take well to our crops, much preferring seeds and fruit of native pine and acacia species.

Nothing unethical about observing birds from hides in my book!