Nature Notes Australia.

February 2007.

(All photographs taken with a Canon Power Shot S3 1S)
















The end of January 2007 signalled our second (and probably last) great adventure. We were off “Down Under”. The strangeness of the place was apparent almost at once, as, being driven into Sydney we passed a park and I realised that the birds feeding there were actually Ibises, and Plumbago bushes were growing like weeds out of the pavements, (as it did all over Australia.) I found out later that what I had taken for huge Magnolia trees, were in fact Australian Fig trees, much beloved by parrots. There were Indian Mynah birds everywhere singing beautifully, and investigating the trash cans at the same time!


We visited the newly opened Sydney Wildlife centre at Darling harbour and I listened to a fascinating conversation between a mother and small daughter, which ran something like this,” now those little spiders are called Redbacked spiders. They are very nasty especially the mummy ones, so if you see any, don’t touch and come and tell me at once, and the next one (a very hairy spider about three or four inches across and sitting in a burrow) is a burrowing spider. If you see any holes in the garden, don’t touch and come and tell me at once” At which point I seriously thought about getting the next available flight home, especially when we turned a corner and found ourselves in the snake area. I’m sure you will want to know that of 30 venomous snakes in the world, Oz has 12. What’s more they are protected species so you aren’t allowed to harm or kill them. If you get bitten you should take a photo of the snake (to get the correct anti-venom) and get to medical help within 30 minutes.




From Sydney we went on to Ayers Rock. Here we encountered the prettiest doves I have ever seen. They are Crested doves and look as though they should be in a cabaret,

although this was the first time we saw them, they are fairly common across the continent. There were Magpies as well but their songs were very flute like and their plumage varied from black with white to white with black and all variations between, most of them with white beaks. Willy Wagtails were countrywide, but I found it fascinating that although “our” wagtails wag up and down, the Antipodean’s tails wag from side to side, although they were equally as bossy as our birds. The Robins have black heads and scarlet fronts, very smart.




Going to bed one night, Clive brought my attention to a lizard, fully 10 inches long, against the skirting board. He took a photo then tried to pick it up to evict it, whereupon it shot out of the room under the door. My thinking then went thus: if it could get out, it could come back in, and if It could do that, what else could? Needless to say no trips were made to the bathroom till daylight! (We saw several lizards after that in various places around Oz and all of them were huge).  Clive also got some good photos of spiders and their webs over the loungers by the swimming pool. The pools are used as watering holes,  by honeybees, and what we think were Potter wasps. The chlorine doesn’t seem to trouble them in any way whatsoever, we just wondered what the nests smelt like! There was also a very busy population of dragonflies on each pool.. Ayers Rock brought our first encounters with parrots in the form of Galahs. These silver-grey and rose- pink birds are almost as common as pigeons are in Britain. They have a wicked sense of humour, dropping twigs and leaves on the heads of unwary bystanders. The flocks in one of our relatives property near Perth, where we stayed next, had discovered that the foot long, rock hard cones of the Banskia trees made a lovely booming noise when dropped on their roof top water tank. Needless to say they weren’t especially popular. Clive was very wary having suffered arial bombardments from pigeons in Venice, years ago. Perth also brought us into contact with our second type of parrot, the Australian Ring-neck, more commonly known as 28s. This puzzled us for a while till we were told that if you listened, that was what their call sounded like. (We’re still not totally convinced)



Having got used to the aggressiveness of doves in this country we were surprised to see a flock of them amicably sharing a very small tree with no squabbling. They turned out to be Common Bronzewings (more about which later on.) The Australian Raven has the weirdest call we have ever heard. It sounds something like a fretful child saying Aaah in ascending tones followed by a long descending Aaaaah at the end. I’m afraid that Clive and I quickly got into the habit of mimicking them. Still it kept strangers at bay! The most common gulls were Silver gulls, much smaller and neater looking, than our Herring gulls, with the ones under a year old having black beaks. They are just as much a nuisance as ours however, hanging about the waterside cafes and raiding food left on tables, much to the fury of the staff.



The biggest surprise we had, was that in all the films of Australia, the most insistent sound is that of Kookaburras. However, in the month we were there, all we heard was about five seconds of chatter in the early morning and again at dusk. The actual birds were very elusive, we only saw one juvenile and one adult over that period. (Incidentally, Marie Pavey spotted their English cousin in Pettys Brook at the end of January)

As well as easily recognised Great Crested grebes fishing in the waters off of the western coast, there were what appeared at first sight to be penguins. Closer inspection showed these to actually be Pied cormorants, sharing the fishing with Black cormorants and Shags, (called Darters there now as their original name is no longer PC)


We were fortunate to actually see these birds in action when visiting an underwater viewing “pod” 10 metres down in the sea, and I can vouch for the fact that they move like greased lightning. Although a northerly wind had stirred the waters up we still managed to see quite a few fish including Australian herring, a big black fish called a Batfish and an even bigger predatory fish called a Sampson. We did see Nurse sharks (in an aquarium) but the only feral one we saw was a Bullshark that surfaced in front of me and tried (unsuccessfully) to take one of a pair of Australian Wood ducks that I was watching on the Swan River. (I wouldn’t advise paddling or falling in the Swan, it’s also riddled with Spotted jellyfish, very nasty).

Even further south we saw White faced Herons, very much smaller and neater looking than the Europeans. Then the “Big Guns” the Emus appeared. When I first saw them, I thought they were farmed, till one of them calmly stepped over the fence and kept walking! Most of the ‘Roos we saw were unfortunately victims of road kill, (there is an unwritten law that if you do hit a ‘Roo you must stop and if it’s a female, look in the pouch. Any viable Joeys to be taken to the nearest refuge.) But we did have one hop across the road in front of us, which made us giggle thinking how excited we usually got on seeing a deer. The road signs indicating Terrapins crossing amused us intensely.


Nearly everywhere we went the Marri trees were a froth of white bloom, the fruit of which is called a Honkey nut. These look something like a small hard Medlar, and the only bird that can break them open to eat them, is the Red capped parrot. Unfortunately we didn’t get a glimpse of them but we did see a pair of fairly rare Short-billed Black Cockatoos feasting on Banskia seeds in a patch of land that had recently been burnt. A lot of plants in Oz depend for their survival on being in bush-fires, as the heat brings some to flowering, bursts others cones and the ash left behind is a fertile bed ready for seeds to germinate in, the majority of Australia being made up of sand. The Bottle brushes were just beginning to bloom and at first I thought they were Chinese Lanterns, the flowers were so vividly red and round. People on the south coast actually had Agapanthus HEDGES!!! I was SO jealous. We were fascinated by a very vocal bird, which sounded a bit like a parrot. Again, after a bit of sleuthing I found that it was a Western Wattlebird. It was thrilling to actually see one after having read stories of Australia that mentioned them.







Moving south we began to see a lot more birds of prey, particularly Nankeen kestrels, easily identified by their light colouring, plus Little eagles, Red kites, and many more. We were thoroughly fooled into thinking there was an Owl in one site that we stayed on, until after much creeping about, I found that it was actually a Common Bronzewing dove making a deep fluting “whoom”.

Fishing is a major part of life in Australia, about 34% of the population is involved. Every seaside town has a jetty of varying lengths and provided with a gutting table. The Sea Lions and Fur seals at each place have quickly learnt that if they hang around they will be fed with all the unwanted pieces of fish. However they do have to fight it out with the gulls and Gannets.


 Driving along a dirt road Clive had to take evasive action to miss an animal sitting in the middle of it. W e stopped and walked back to where it was still sitting and found it was a Blue Tongued Skink, (a type of VERY big lizard) completely unfazed by it’s near brush with death. It took a lot of persuading, to move it to the verge, and it was quite aggressive, biting the (long) stick that Clive used. We also drove literally for miles, through a storm of Locusts and had to clean the radiator grill and engine out when we stopped. The New Holland Honeyeaters were quite amenable to varying their diets with the corpses, and we realised why the local vehicles all had pieces of mesh hanging down in front.


(Trachydosaurus Rugosus)



Returning to the West Coast for the last few days we saw Australian salmon and Stingrays in the Serpentine River. Apparently there is sufficient food for the rays to grow into quite substantial fish, at least six feet or more, although the ones we spotted were no bigger than a dinner plate Flocks of Long-billed corellas were vying with Pelicans for scraps from people’s picnics by the River. And our penultimate sighting was a flock of fairly rare Red-Tailed Black cockatoos in a garden on the outskirts of Freemantle. Moving back into Perth for the night before our return flight we found flocks of Short-billed corellas digging busily away at the grass roots in the park, they were so used to human company that you could walk right up to them before they would move. There were dozens of other birds, but unfortunately I only got a glimpse of them and couldn’t be sure of what I was seeing, infuriatingly I had left my binoculars behind in Britain. What an idiot!











Pictures by Clive, Words by Janet.  a 36 minute DVD exists for those who are still awake. Snippets below.

FISH               KANGAROO        28 PAROT     


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