Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Winging the Western Treatment Plant (WTP)

Australian Pelican over the moon rise

An area that most people would rather not think about is that place where the sewerage ends up! This is not the case for well over 250 different types of birds however as for them it provides rich feeding grounds. If you love birds and are an adventurous sort then you may want to consider a very reasonable bird watching permit fee from Melbourne Water, which will allow you to drive on designated routes.

Australian Pelican

WTP is protected under RAMSAR (Convention for wetland habitat protection – signed in Ramsar, Iran in 1971)

'Wader Cloud'

Many northern hemisphere waders can be seen here in summer. The site also provides over wintering habitat for birds from the south as well as the resident species. I will cover some of these in the posts that follow.

White-breasted Sea Eagle

Bird Hide at Little River Mouth

There is a bird hide and many spectacular views with Port Phillip to the South and the You Yangs Regional Park to the North.

Tracks at low tide

The only short fall (for some) is the lack of ablution facilities. I guess one has to put things in perspective!

Australian Pelican at sunset

Saturday, 14 March 2015


This is Nanki the serval , one of my best friends at the zoo!

I've had the privilege of raising her from a three month old kitten. She is sharp witted, has a great personality and you can meet her at the Werribee Open Range Zoo.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Tall Tales and Small Tails

Australia boasts some 828 species of birds ranging from rather plain to very colourful. There is also a large range in size however, where the largest Emu can reach a total length of 2m and the smallest Weebill is as small as 8cm!

I recently caught up with both of these birds…



Sunday, 8 February 2015

Lifers from Lamington

* Regent Bowerbird
During late August/early September of 2014 I was fortunate to be able to visit Queensland's Lamington National Park on two separate occasions with two separate friends. One a childhood friend Ben, who fixes helicopters and the other a Facebook friend Trevor, turned trusted friend. Both are extremely kind  and generous people and both took it upon themselves to take me to O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat.

The first visit with Ben was full of reminiscing about what our Dads achieved in the Wild Life Service of old Rhodesia and their pioneering work in the environmental education field, not to mention the mischief that we got up to. When we reached the retreat we were impacted by the views and variety of bird life . By far the most striking was the Regent Bowerbird, a 'lifer' (or first time sighting) for me and not the first!
* Regent Bowerbirds

They were bold and fearless birds, happy to alight on various parts or extensions of our body such as camera lenses. A few even joined me for a short lesson from my Birds of Australia app  on my phone!  An Instagram friend had mentioned the probable whereabouts of another species I'd been wanting to see my entire birding life and sure enough after some patient waiting and observation we found ourselves within a few metres of  a beautiful Noisy Pitta.

Noisy Pitta

Ben also kindly sent me along to the bird of prey presentation at the centre. Representing various Australian raptors, it was a professional affair. A visit to the restaurant satisfied our  hungry appetites before returning down the mountain.

Black Kite
Trevor is an extremely talented and experience photographer but also an unselfish gentleman. He gave me a day I shall not forget, leaving all of his own camera gear behind and bringing his expertise and willingness to share some of his secret gems. Whilst following his favourite footpaths and fording streams he showed me footprints, fungi, buttress roots and bird nests and you guessed it, a few more 'lifers'. Among these, the Paradise Riflebird and Australian Logrunner.

Australian Logrunner (Orange throated female)
During our Queensland visit I saw ten new bird species (or 'lifers') but Lamington left me with longing sense of return and I would strongly recommend a visit if you are ever in a position to do so - bird enthusiast or not.
Paradise Riflebird

Enjoy your birding

* Thank you to Ben for taking the photo's of me and the Regent Bowerbird

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Today's technology and tracking

My Dad was a tracking instructor and he taught me many interesting things about wildlife and how to find it. Today however, things are a little different; just last week and ex-work colleague sent me a set of co-ordinates pin pointing the whereabouts of a family of Southern Boobook owls in the You Yangs Regional Park just west of Melbourne. The owls were no longer in the nest so there was no guarantee that they would still be there.

Having a glimmer of hope and time on my hands I set off armed with camera, smart phone and GPS. As my technological prowess is a little less advanced than some, I ambled around in circles for a while but before long aligned the dots on my screen and found myself under the very tree that my friend had been under just three days before. To my excitement when I looked up there were three little faces looking down at me, the modern day intruder armed with binoculars and camera, and yes, my tracking technology!

In addition to the owls my excursion got me into the bush where I could appreciate the beauty of creation and many other species. Some of these included Australia's smallest bird the Weebill, the largest, and the smallest Eagles in Australia: the Wedge-tailed and Little eagles. Take the time to get out. You never know what you might find! 

Until next time

Monday, 14 October 2013

Serval or "Cerval" - The Deer-like cat (Leptailurus serval)

Speaking of Servals it is time that I introduced you to three big eared, long legged, spotty awesome animals that have crept into my heart (and the hearts of many others) over the past four and a half years. I have been in the very fortunate position to be charged with the honor and privilege of hand raising and training them for their role at the Werribee Zoo.
They are the tallest of the African small cats and are found throughout Africa in grassland habitats. They are reliant on water and a predominantly rodent diet that they locate with their exceptional hearing ability. They are also the longest legged cat in the world and can jump three vertical meters to catch a bird in flight.
They were three months old when they arrived from Mogo Zoo in New South Wales. They were specifically bred there for their role with us and got their first human contact from two weeks of age.

The initial housing on arrival was a converted shipping container that was also to quarantine them before settling into their current home. Quarantine is necessary to eliminate the possibility of bringing any disease into the zoo's greater collection and constitutes testing the animals (blood and feces) then waiting for the effective incubation periods for any pathogens to pass before re-testing. This period can be any where from a month or more. Our girls stayed here for three months as their enclosure was not yet complete so they stayed beyond their actual quarantine period.
It was a critical time in their lives and we spent about four hours each day training, feeding and playing with them. Each one had their own box and they were placed in this box before every meal in order to stop any quarreling over food and to teach or condition them that to be in this confined space would have a positive outcome and even offer them some security. This particular conditioning has been done every day and for every meal and has had far reaching advantages in their day to day management  as we can weigh, medicate, separate, transport and examine an individual and they are completely at peace with this. In order to get their food they need to wait their turn to be let out of the box where after they must step onto a log or "station" before being given the food reward. This has happened since the first day they arrived and it began with their milk feed and progressed to the current training reward of a piece of diced meat.

I often liken this part of the training process to calling a family to the dinner table as we can relate to that. I also remember how the servals had to learn their manners by keeping their sharp little claws to themselves!
another critical part of their training.

The previous two images show an examination under anesthetic or what we simply refer to as an (EUA). It is much better to put an animal under anesthetic while invasive tests are being done. The image where a large needle is visible shows how the microchip is being implanted between the animal's shoulder blades. Microchip transponders are important so that the individuals and their records are not mixed up.

As they have grown there is one thing that has not changed and that is their personalities! The previous image shows how they were startled by a battery operated drill that I was using to mount a soap dispenser in the room. Nanki, the one in front has always been the leader and she was the first to investigate while her sisters Morili and Tula hid behind her and waited until she had solved the mystery by approaching the drill and killing it by stamping on it and punching it with her feet in true serval style. I hope to post a video that better illustrates this scenario.

Their names have significant meanings too; Nanki means undivided (Indian origin also from an Afrikaans poem), Morili means "women with a fiery tongue" although she only hisses when she is frightened and Tula means quiet.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Bird of Prey Identification Part 2/2

Falcons and Kestrel - in our local area (Wyndham, Victoria, Australia).

The Brown falcon     Falco berigora

The Brown falcon  (40 - 50 cm) is the most prolific falcon by far and is often visible when perched out on vantage points such as power poles, posts and dead trees. They have a distinctive "kek kek kek" call usually uttered in flight that can easily help to separate them from the previously mentioned Eagle, Kites and Harriers.
Falcons do not build their own nests and this species will commonly use old Raven nests to breed.
Their coloration is extremely variable from light to very dark. The following image shows the outline of a rather light form.

Black Falcon     Falco subniger

The Black Falcon may be encountered on rare occasions and it is possible to confuse this bird with a dark form of the previous species. It is almost black as the name suggests and old birds can become white around the throat. They are slightly larger (45 -55 cm), are much faster fliers and the shape of the wing (shown below) can be a great identification feature.

The Australian Hobby     Falco longipennis

The Australian Hobby is a little (30 - 35 cm) fast falcon that hunts mainly small passerines (perching birds - note half plucked honey-eater in talons!). Surprisingly it is happy to frequent suburbia but this is probably due to the available food source. It is often crepuscular, hunting around dusk and dawn and likes to keep to areas with large trees for cover. 

The Nankeen Kestrel      Falco cenchroides

The Nankeen Kestrel (30 -35 cm) is the only Kestrel species in Australia and is in effect a small falcon - just slower - and is often seen hovering whilst looking for it's mainly rodent diet. They have a much longer tail  than the Black-shouldered Kite which also hovers, and red brown coloration as well as pale yellow (or 'Nankeen' - a color so named because of a pale yellow cloth made at Nanjing in China from a yellow variety of cotton!) . Both photos show females. Males have a grey head and are smaller.

Black-shouldered Kite      Elanus notatus 

The Black-shouldered Kite smaller than the other two kites at (36 cm) - is the 'butterfly' among raptors. It is both dainty and colorful with it's red eyes and yellow feet contrasting with it's black and white coloration. Immature birds are brown with pale legs and eyes and can be confused with the previous species especially because they hover in much the same manner however they lack the falcon mask or hood. It is important to note that this Kite has a much shorter tail than the Kestrel and appears as a stockier bird.

Peregrine Falcon      Falco peregrinus

The Peregrine Falcon  (38 - 48 cm) - is a large falcon and the fastest of them all generally stooping at speeds of over 180 mph. (One is said to have been recorded at 242 mph or 389 km/h in 2005!). The name literally means 'wanderer' and they will sometimes migrate across the Bass Strait.
They are infrequently seen in the area and can be identified by their grey coloration, size and dark hood. Adults have horizontal barring across the chest and young have vertical streaks while some tend to have a light chest. The above rather poor illustration, was taken in North Queensland where this bird was attempting to hunt whistling ducks. Note the yellow around the eye.

Happy birding

Part 1 of 2