Sunday, 21 September 2014


Double-pink sitting quietly in her roost 
Double-pink, a female Tawny Frogmouth that has been breeding within my frogmouth study area in Canberra now for three years. She was released by the RSPCA after a road accident and subsequent treatment, and it was they who put the two pink colour-rings/bands on her legs. These are obviously not having any effect on her as she and her partner reared two chicks two years ago, then another last year.

Now she is back in the same home range and the pair again have eggs in their nest.

One of her pink rings - she has one on each leg
The eggs were probably laid last week, and incubation takes about a month. So it might be a while before I post any updates on their progress, but keep in touch. Last time I posted on their breeding there were lots of viewers.

Her partner sits on the nest all day

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Buff-rumped Thornbill fledglings

A brrood of three fledglings is typical of Buff-rumped thornbills.
It is always worth paying attention to the numerous calls of the bush, as they all mean something to someone, and they can lead to a little bit of wildlife action. Yesterday, I heard a busy series of thin squeaking coming from an acacia shrub. It could have been almost any small bird creating a fuss at my approach, but I stopped and listening more closely. Then with experience of bird calls gathered over my lifetime, I knew that it was a begging call, although more complicated. A bit more time soon broke the calls into the same type from more than one individual, and I could also now make out an alarm call, so that clinched it. There was a brood of small young birds close by, and after a minute or so watching for movement, I found a brood of Buff-rumped Thornbills Acanthiza reguloides.

There were three fledglings huddled together on a branch making begging calls for their parents to feed them. I stepped back a few metres and soon an adult bird came in and fed them. They were quick, I barely saw a flick in the back of the shrub, then a bird was popping food down into a chick's throat. And then it was gone. The whole procedure only took seconds. Then the other parent came in and repeated the process. I took some optimistic shots and managed to capture a couple of food passes by holding the camera with the chicks in frame and focus. I watched their behaviour and when I saw them become excited and focused on something out of frame I pressed the shutter release which was set on high speed continuous shooting  mode.

The adults were soon foraging farther for food and the impatient chicks began to fidget and eventually could not wait any longer. They jumped from their perch and followed their parents into the next clump of foliage. In a few minutes they were well away as the family worked their way through the wood. Only their calls told they were there.

A parent bird thrusts food down into a fledgling's throat

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Cockatoo Sunset

I was out yesterday sunset watching the sun go down over the Brindabellas, our local hill range, when I saw this pair of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos Cacatua galerita come in to display and call in an old dead tree. Dusk is a wonderful time of day, with so much wildlife activity going on. And these birds certainly drew one's attention with their raucous calls - they don't sing too well.

They looked so splendid with their crests erect against the pink sky - terrific birds. I like them despite their reputation for wanton vandalism and noisy neighbourly behaviour.

And now, if you have a song in your head click here and sing along ........

Friday, 5 September 2014


Echidna spines - quills - there is a layer of soft fur between the quills for insulation
The warming weather has brought out all sorts of animals and this echidna was busy grubbing for food yesterday. She was a big one, about 4-5 kilos and probably hungry after the lean months in the cold Canberra winter when she would likely have spent much of the time in torpor hidden in a burrow. I found her by following up the alarm calls from an Eastern Rosella and a mob of Noisy Miners, not that she was a threat to them.

She was slowly working her through the undergrowth
I could see that she was busy with her head down and a she was walking in my direction I knelt down to lean the camera on a fallen branch, then watched as she came closer and closer, to a few metres away, still quite undisturbed by my presence.

Echidnas spend spend much of their time tearing open old fallen branches in search of termites
It was such a treat to be able to watch this echidna from front on, so often they see or hear us first and either scuttle away offering a rear-view, or they quickly dig themselves down into the ground, curl up and hide. I could see just how powerful those limbs are as she dug around. The limbs are shortened for more strength and the bones in the feet are fused into tight pads. Only the extreme digital bones protrude and they are sheathed in thick claws - pretty tough finger nails.

The thick strong claws and highly adapted snout
Their eyesight is not poor, but not much more than adequate for detecting potential predators or recognising their way around their home range. They do have a wonderful nose though, with finely tuned touch, smell and electrical receptors. The whole modified mouth parts including the nose are covered in a leathery skin and I watched as she poked this snout into the soil, surprisingly firmly for such a delicate organ. Every now and then i caught a glimpse of her long sticky tongue which whipped in and out to catch termites or any other insect which I could not see as they were all out of view down in the holes.

The hind claws point backwards with long curling outer claws.
These are used for grooming between those long quills
With so many quills and as they use the evasive action of curling into a ball for protection, any large external ears structure would be a disadvantage. So echidnas have simple ear-holes hidden within the fur and quills. I had good views of these as this one stretched and bent at my feet. They hear most people approach, as people are generally noisy, and they go quiet and still til the threat passes. Yet, I can recognise the distinctive shuffling sounds which echidnas make, and I turn the tables to stop still and watch them. That is usually from a distance, though, not as close as with this one.

The echidna's ear is hidden below  the quills
After about twenty minutes of undisturbed behaviour watching, I shuffled off myself. The echidna stopped still as I stood up, but I was gone before she felt any need to dig for safety. She then walked off unconcerned.

 An undisturbed echidna carries on with its own business

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

A Bzzzy Spring day

Apricot blossom in full flower
Today is the the first calendar day of Spring and Canberra is full of blossom-bearing trees; almond, cherry, plum and apricot. These images are of apricot blossom in our orchard and while I was taking a few photographs of the spectacle I thought I would try to capture some shots of the honey bees that were busy collecting their nectar.

The flowers have a cluster of stamens and a single style with a stigma at the tip. One can be clearly distinguished
 in the right-hand flower as a grey stem with a simple round stigma at the tip, compared
 with the white stems and double head on the anthers,
Honey bees are feral animals in Australia and can cause harm to native species by such action as taking over tree cavities which denies other animals shelter and nest sites. However, they are here and are considered economically important for their pollination of flowers which leads to fruit, nut and seed production. Last year, our blossom flowered during a cold period and there were very few bees or other insects flying. The result was very few fruits on our trees. This year, the blossom is out during a warm sunny spell and insect life is busy around the trees, but mostly honey bees and a few hoverflies.

A honey bee approaches a cluster of apricot flowers
I was using a 60mm macro lens on my camera for the blossom shots and when I turned this towards the bees in flight I met a considerable challenge to freeze them in flight. Most of these shots were taken at about 1/8000th of a second at F9. This was fast enough to grab detail in the insects' body, but not enough to freeze their wings. Honey bees only travel at about 15 miles per hour, but when close up, only centimetres away, they are in and out of frame in no time at all. To catch a bee in frame was difficult, to catch one in focus more so. I took over three hundred shots and only came a away with about twenty good ones. My camera was a Nikon D700 set at 4000 iso, on high speed continuous shooting, and the battery ran down pretty quickly. I don't use flash for wildlife shots.

This bee's hind legs hang low under the weight of nectar stored in her nectar pouches.
Honey bees flap their wings at 240 beats per second and twist /rotate them for directional control.

They really are very maneuverable; hovering, flitting and zooming about from one flower to the next
I sat at the base of a tree and waited for the bees to come within range as any sudden movement would alarm them and they would fly off to the far side of the tree, or another tree nearby. Once I had determined what film speed to use, all I needed was patience, and quick reflexes when one did come into frame. But just sitting amongst the blossom was an experience itself as the scent was amazing. I wonder how its smells to a bee.

The blossom is well adapted for pollination by hairy-bodied bees.
Once they bees landed on a flower they had to clamber through the tangle of stamens to reach deep into the heart of the flower where the nectar is stored in a receptacle around the base of the style. In doing so, they become covered in pollen and when they fly to another flower they offload pollen onto that plant's stigma, and pollination ensues.

The bees have to reach deep into the flower to reach the nectar.
I could see what was happening at the time, but it was only when I downloaded and catalogued the images that I could see and appreciate the detail of such everyday animal behaviour.

And when they leave the flower, their face, eyes, legs and body are all coated with sticky pollen.