Saturday, 30 August 2014

Sign of Spring

A male Shingleback follows a female - slowly

Yesterday I came across this pair of Shinglebacks Tiliqua rugosa in the local bush. They are considered to pair, as they remain in the same partnership for years. They can live for over ten years and they probably share overlapping home ranges, which in turn probably leads them to more likely mate together in spring, rather than with individuals from farther afield. I have only ever seen them this close together in spring when they are about to mate. So, are they a pair or simply in a loose partnership.

The female was longer, and had a fatter tail - probably important for her to be in good breeding condition

The male was creeping along behind the female, following her scent, which contains pheromones, signalling that she will soon be ready to mate. The male would want to be close by all that time to ensure that he is there when she is ready and to ward off any intruding males in the meantime.

The male was following in her tracks, tracing her scent trail

Most skinks are quick to run off as soon as approached and we seldom have time for a decent look at them. Shinglebacks however remain still and rely on that to conceal them - they just look like sticks lying in the shadows, and they are usually under grasses or shrubs.

The scales or scutes of a reptile's skin are perfectly arranged with exquisite detail around the mouth, nose and eyes

I took these photographs from less than two metres, more than close enough to capture the detail of their scale patterns without making them feel insecure and want to run (shuffle) off as a last minute defense.

Shinglebacks are quiet and unobtrusive, they allow  close approach, but I never pick them up - that would be obtrusive

Monday, 25 August 2014

Footprints in the snow

A snow-covered track through the forest
It is now Spring down on the plains and winter seems long ago. Yet it was only a week or so since I was up monitoring Superb Lyrebirds on the high slopes of the Brindabella range west of Canberra, and it was snowing. Fresh snow always adds another dimension to a day out and also a quick and easy method of determining what animals are about as any that walk must leave prints behind.

Lyrebird footprints on the left, fox on the right
Unfortunately the first species I found tracks of was Red Fox, an introduced pest species. I am familiar with these from years spent in Scotland where I have seen countless such tracks while exploring the Highlands in winter. Fox prints are easily recognised by the straight line followed, often along a track as with most predators which patrol large areas in search of prey. They like us, probably use these routes for quick direct access to and from their dens. Local foxes would be familiar with all such features in their territories. The prints are small prints, with four pointed toes tightly set and the hind paws fall neatly into the mark of the front paws, leaving only a single set of paw marks per stride.

Fox prints fall on top of one another when trotting like this one was
There were a few prints from unidentifiable small birds, but none from any other mammals or marsupials. The next obvious trail I found was of a lyrebird. Again, set in a straight line as it had walked along the road, but not for far. The fox had walked for over a kilometre along the path, the lyrebird only for several metres as it had stepped out of the thick scrub on one side of the track, along the line, then down into the scrub on the other side.

Lyrebirds take long strides when walking quickly
The lyrebird's stride was short initially as it left the cover, it lengthened as it entered open ground, then its steps shortened as it pecked for food on the edge before disappearing into thick cover again. As a bird of dense forest it would likely feel exposed and vulnerable to predators while in the open, so was likely in a hurry to regain shelter from the thick scrub.

Prints tell more than just who made them.

The distinctive outline of a lyrebird footprint - three long toes forward, one backward