Wednesday, 30 October 2013

October Wildlife Report

Julian Rocks

Wary in the Water, Surprised in the Rainforest!


Wildlife spotting turned a little extreme for me this month! I spent the past weekend in Byron Bay, two hours south of Brisbane in the neighbouring state of New South Wales. The plan was to take my 16-year old niece on her very first snorkelling trip there, with a professional dive company that runs trips out to Julian Rocks. The plan unravelled fairly quickly, with a faulty outboard motor on our boat delaying our group by an hour or so. By the time we had crossed the two-and-a-half kilometre stretch of sea to the island, the previously calm conditions had deteriorated into big swells and a strong current. I was reluctant to get into the dark, swirling depths below, and was equally wary of the waves breaking on the rocky island edge. Amazingly, the tour guide instructed my two teenage companions to get in first, and they were caught in the current almost instantly. My sister and I dismissed all prospects of snorkelling and quickly swam to the girls once we entered
the water, with the four of us then continuing to drift while we tried to wave down the boat. We were eventually picked up just as we were sucked around the bottom end of the island, almost out of view of the boat.

My sister and I were furious, but we kept our anger concealed so as not to make things unpleasant on the boat, asking for (and receiving) a refund back on shore afterwards. The rest of the tour group were divers and even they didn't last too long in the water, with two men returning to the boat in a matter of minutes. While waiting for the more masochistic divers, we saw a huge Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta) surface nearby. The photo below also gives an indication of the conditions we were dealing with.

Loggerhead Turtle with Crested Terns, Julian Rocks Marine Reserve

Snapper, Julian Rocks Marine Reserve

The divers that did remain in the water saw the turtle from below, as well as the resident Grey Nurse Sharks (Carcharias taurus). Circling the boat was a large and inquisitive Snapper (Pagrus auratus), protected from being fished by the Marine Park zoning. A Short-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus tenuirostris) also swam up to us for a closer look. Several of these birds were seen back on the mainland coastline, all flying south on the last stretch of an incredible journey. Breeding in colonies off Australia's southern coastline, these ocean-lovers are harvested for food and oil and are known locally as 'Muttonbirds'. They avoid rough winter conditions by migrating each year across the Pacific Ocean in its entirety, flying all the way to Alaska's Aleutian Island chain via Japan and Kamchatka.

Short-tailed Shearwater, Julian Rocks Marine Reserve; Photo by Lana Perrin

Short-tailed Shearwaters, 
North Stradbroke Island

The return journey can be particularly brutal for these birds. Their migration route takes them around the ocean in a loop, flying down to California and then Australia, with few stops along the way. Though they are usually aided by the prevailing winds, they get blown off course or struggle to find enough food in some years. Unfortunately, 2013 has been one of those occasions, and the entire southeast coast of Australia has seen staggering numbers of these birds perish in our waters and on our beaches. The bodies of approximately 3500 shearwaters have recently been counted on the beaches of North Stradbroke Island alone. A happier sight there this month was a Crested Tern (Thalasseus bergii) enjoying the ocean breezes on Flinders Beach.

Crested Tern, North Stradbroke Island

Beaches in Australia don't always just feature seabirds. Earlier in October, I was surprised to find an Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis) on Mooloolaba Spit Beach. Considered the second most venomous land snake in the world, it was given plenty of respectful distance by all observers and continued into the dunes undisturbed.

Eastern Brown Snake, Mooloolaba

Other animals reported from unexpected locations this month include a family of Brush-tailed Phascogales (Phascogale tapoatafa) inside the roof of a house in Samford. These insectivorous marsupials have suffered greatly from the urbanisation of Brisbane, so it's encouraging to see that they are still surviving in the outskirts of the city.

Brush-tailed Phascogale, Samford; Photo by Roger McNeill

Short-eared Possum, Canungra;
Photo by Anne-Marie Lacaze

Another human/marsupial interaction occurred last week in Canungra, when a Short-eared Possum (Trichosurus caninus) was rescued after it was presumably struck by a car. A local wildlife-lover noticed a "little black shadow on the road" and checked up on it to find the injured creature. Kept overnight in the rescuer's house, it was sent to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary for rehabilitation the next day, via a quick check at the Veterinary Clinic. It can be a good idea to examine marsupials that have even been killed on the road, as they can have surviving offspring tucked away inside their pouches.

King Parrot, Mount Glorious
On a morning walk with a friend through the Maiala section of D'Aguilar National Park, I had an alarming encounter with another mammal species. My friend and I had been moving quietly along the boardwalk near Greenes Falls, trying to stealthily photograph some Red-legged Pademelons (Thylogale stigmatica), when the bushes immediately in front of us started to rustle and sway. To our great surprise and horror, a massive Feral Pig (Sus scrofa) suddenly appeared, snorting angrily at having been disturbed. It stopped to watch us through the undergrowth, and the sight of that beady little eye staring us down is not something I'll be able to forget soon. My friend started to raise her camera to get a photograph, but I thought it was best not to test the patience of a beast known for its bad temper, so we slowly backed away. The rainforest birds offered much more peaceful interactions, and we were pleased to have good views of King-Parrots (Alisterus scapularis), Brown Cuckoo-Doves (Macropygia amboinensis) and Logrunners (Orthonyx temminckii). Even the sight of a large Carpet Python (Morelia spilota) basking alongside the track was a comparatively serene experience compared to our earlier confrontation!

Carpet Python, Mount Glorious

On a sunny day out west in Warwick, I had the pleasure of attending a Christening for the baby of another friend. The after-celebration was held in a town park, where the chairs and picnic rugs were set up around a gnarled old tree. It can be hard for me to turn my 'wildlife-scouting' senses off, and it wasn't long before I noticed an insect swarm around the tree base. My friends had inadvertently set up their party around a Native Bee (Tetragonula carbonaria) hive, and I ended up with more photos of it than the newly-Baptised baby! Luckily for the guests, these cute little insects are stingless and kept to themselves.

Native Bees on honeycomb, Warwick

I must commend my friends and loved-ones for putting up with my 'animal madness' with such grace and patience. Living in a beautiful sub-tropical city like Brisbane means there's always something vying for my attention!

Bird's Nest Fern (Asplenium australasicum), Mount Glorious




14 comments:

  1. cute varmints - and pretty snakes, although venomous or dangerous are not my favorites. :) the terns are very cute. glad you got a refund on the snorkeling.

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    1. Nice to see someone who also appreciates the beauty of a snake! I gave the venomous one lots of space - your Rattlers in Texas would make me very nervous!

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  2. A varied and very interesting post Christian. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. No worries John, thanks for reading! :)

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  3. that wasn't a good experience on the boat for you. Sad story re the Shearwaters this year. Love the Crested Terns, they have a comical look to them somehow. Yes you don't expect to need to be vigilant re the snakes when on the beaches; we just think 'when walking the bushland' (or even our own backyards!). Quite an ecclectic post Christian; I always enjoy them.

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    1. Thanks Carole. My jaw dropped when I saw that Brown Snake on a busy beach! I think it may have been caught in a nearby river and then flushed out to sea, so it had to swim back in.

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  4. HI Christain What an exciting post to read but what a terrible experience you had on the boat although you still did see quite a lot of things. Sad about the Shearwaters. Love the Brush-tailed Phascogales. It has certainly got an big bushy tail for the size of him Don't like to think there are snakes on a beach!! Grat shot of the Crested Tern. All in all, I really enjoyed this post

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    1. Thanks Margaret, glad it interested you! The fact that I got a hassle-free refund for the snorkel trip means that I'd go out with that company again - the boat breaking down initially is what delayed us long enough for the conditions to change. And yes, nowhere in Australia can be guaranteed as 'snake free' haha!

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  5. What a great post. That Eastern Brown Snake looks so innocuous - I really wouldn't like to meet one, especially not on the beach!

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    1. Thanks Em! I was amazed at the personality difference between the Brown Snake and the Python. The former was quick and wary, whereas the latter was sluggish and trusting. And that's the second snake I've seen on the beach this summer - the first was a Common Tree Snake (harmless) on an island up north!

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  6. What a great read - so many experiences! I find myself fascinated to see / hear news of birds on their migration routes when we are expecting them down our way (Southern vic) - mostly settled in now I think at the rookeries I know of at Phillip Island.

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    1. Thanks Pete. Yes it was a big month wildlife-wise!

      Seeing the Shearwaters in their colonies would be a sight to see! There's a colony I've been to off Coffs Harbour, but it's for the Wedge-tailed Shearwater and that was pretty special.

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  7. You've certainly had a few hairy moments with that wealth of wildlife lately Christian. That water looks very choppy and not one I would like to go onto. The Eastern Brown Snake looks harmless enough but I guess living down there you all have to know the dangerous ones from an early age? Shearwaters are fascinating creatures and I have spent time with Manx Shearwaters on Bardsey Island, Wales whose shearwaters travel to South America. Can't imagine eating a shearwater especially with that musty, oily smell they have - to each his own!

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    1. Thanks for reading, Phil! We have many brown-coloured snakes here in Australia, but the deadly ones all seem to be large, fast and with an 'angry' look about them (the Taipan literally frowns all day!). Seeing the Shearwaters on their breeding grounds must be impressive. Take away our compasses and GPS systems and they are by far the superior navigators between us!

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