Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Best Wildlife Encounters of 2016

Another year, another set of memories created with some of the most interesting wildlife on the planet, right here on Brisbane's doorstep. Among my twelve favourite wildlife sightings of the year, you'll notice more invertebrates this time around compared to previous lists; thank the array of amazing entomological field guides that are finally being published and are piquing my interest in this area. Without further ado, here are twelve fascinating animals I met this year:

1. Black-necked Stork, Cooroibah.
Black-necked storks are an uncommon bird in South-east Queensland.
My hands-down favourite wildlife encounter for 2016 was also one of my first—a January morning spent with a black-necked stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus) near Noosa! I had driven up to Lake Cooroibah in the darkness, ready to enjoy a beautiful sunrise in its entirety, when I noticed a majestic bird wading in the distance. Over the next hour, it came closer and closer until our paths met along the shore and I was bestowed with the best view one could possibly have of this stately being. The jabiru (as I was raised to call them) has been my favourite bird ever since my Dad showed me the pair that used to nest alongside the highway at Bald Hills when I was a child.

2. Tiger Beetle, Wellington Point.
Tiger beetles live in a variety of habitats, with this species preferring seashores and saltmarsh.
I have learned that it always pays to take a closer look when out in the wild. On a windy, overcast day on King Island earlier this year, the tiny ‘flies’ swarming along the seaweed-strewn beach turned out to be tiger beetles (Cicindela semicincta). These otherworldly super-predators are one of the fastest creatures on the planet for their size, running at a speed that sends them temporarily blind!

3. Blue Ant, Woorim.
Female blue ants lay their eggs on and paralyse mole crickets.
As my admiration and understanding of invertebrates has grown, I’ve come to enjoy how even the smallest of creatures have their own distinct personalities. When I discovered a stunning, metallic blue ant (Diamma bicolor) on a sandy track on Bribie Island this year for example, I quickly realised that I was dealing with one furious, intelligent, regal lady! After reading around about this species of wingless wasp, I believe that along with a sighting on the Sunshine Coast, this is one of the most northern occurrence records for this creature.

4. Pale-vented Bush-hen, Keperra.
Pale-vented bush-hen photo by Greg Roberts at Sunshine Coast Birds.
Birdwatching was my first love as far as nature is concerned, and I still appreciate how it can surprise and entertain me after all these years. ‘Surprise’ was certainly what I felt when I saw my first-ever bush hens (Amaurornis molucca) sneaking around a grassy track in dry sclerophyll forest in March.

5. Common Tree Snake, Springbrook.
While they are non-venomous, tree snakes defend themselves 'skunk style' with a foul-smelling odour.
Smart, curious and always colourful, the common tree snake (Dendrelaphis punctulata) is a beautiful creature. To my mind, they seem slightly more communal than our other local snakes, so I wasn’t surprised to see several of them along a short stretch of track in Springbrook National Park this year.

6. Giant Bulldog Ant, Maroochy River.
Giant bulldog ant photo by Teddy Fotiou at Epoch Catcher.
My eyes were opened up to the wonderful world of ants this year, after I purchased a local field guide from the Queensland Museum. Nothing prepared me for an encounter with the giant bulldog ant (Myrmecia brevinoda) however; the eyes of this ancient ant ‘granddaddy’ held an amount of sentient awareness I am not accustomed to from an insect!

7. Keelback, Meldale.
The keelback is the sole representative in Australia of a primarily South-east Asian genus of snakes.
One of many innocent snakes feared by the public as a ‘brown snake’, the keelback (Tropidonophis mairii) is, in fact, an ecological superstar in Australia, because it can eat small cane toads and ‘toadpoles’ without ill effect. The beautiful individual I found in a drain earlier this year had a broader diet to choose from however, being surrounded by a paperbark forest full of frogs.

8. Tawny Frogmouth, Albany Creek.
Frogmouths are 'perch and pounce' hunters like kookaburras, except they are nocturnal.
Tawny frogmouths (Podargus strigoides) are more common than most people realise, but that doesn’t stop me from getting a huge thrill anytime my eyes suddenly lock onto their statuesque features in the bush! Whether I saw them during bushcare activities or on quiet walks through the forest on other days, Dawn Road Reserve was my ‘frogmouth spot’ this year.

9. Old Wife, Coolangatta.
The old wife is found around the southern coastline of Australia.
Excuse the misogynistic name of this fish, named after the ‘nagging’ teeth-grinding noise it makes when caught by a fisherman. In its underwater habitat, the bold patterns, sharp body angles and even sharper fin spines of the old wife (Enoplosus armatus) make for a mesmerising sight, as I found out while snorkelling in a rockpool around Easter.

10. Caper White, all suburbs and locations.
Caper whites are found across Australia, South-east Asia and on some Pacific islands.
The population explosion and subsequent migration of the caper white (Belenois java) butterfly was a South-east Queensland wildlife encounter that everyone (and I mean everyone!) got to experience this year.

11. Wedding Bush, Woorim.
The wedding bush is found only in coastal wallum heathland.
Transforming Bribie Island at the end of winter with masses of white, cartoonish flowers, the wedding bush (Ricinocarpos pinifolius) was by far and away my botanical highlight of 2016.

12. Koala, Lawnton.
Koalas sick with chlamydia have a 'wet bottom' and should be reported to a local wildlife care organisation.
Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) numbers in the Pine Rivers area have reduced by half over the past twenty years, so the sighting of one in a small suburban reserve there earlier this year was both beautiful and bittersweet.


  1. Hello Christian, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your list. Most partial to the Tiger Beetle - interesting to read about the penalty for running fast!
    All your photos are stunning, the Tawny Frogmouth, at my first look, had me fooled into thinking there was only one... clever fellows aren't they.
    Thanks for your great post and all the research invested in it. Cheers now, enjoy the remainder of 2016 and have a great new year. Sue :D)

    1. Hi Sue, glad you were entertained by the list, and thank you for the kind compliments RE: photos (but note that the bush-hen and bulldog ant photos aren't mine). The tiger beetle vision issue explain why they run in a 'stop/start' motion - fascinating! Hope you have a great 2017 as well! :)

  2. Great read and pics Christian. That tiger beetle is a stunner! Your blog has opened my eyes to the less well known creatures and plants that share our part of the world. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi John, you'll have to keep an eye out for the beetles up your way, there'd be plenty on the sandy shores! Thanks for the kind words :)

  3. Amazing creatures and plants.

    1. Thanks Diane, we certainly live in an amazing part of the world!