Have you ever watched a pair of Rainbow Lorikeets snuggling together on a branch? They nuzzle each other, their whole bodies touching even in hot weather. The one being groomed closes their eyes with a look of pure contentment.
When you know that this is a pair that has been together for many years, and that they do this several times a day, you know it’s more than just “grooming”. This is an activity they indulge in as often as they can, always with their partner. They are a married couple.
When they have children, they look after them with affection. They snuggle with their young, and groom them too. But there’s something special about the interaction between a mated pair.
Sometimes love is felt most keenly when one of the pair dies. Rainbow Lorikeets, along with many parrots, will stand beside the body of their mate killed on the road, some for hours. They don’t seem to know what to do – they refuse to leave their side, often in danger themselves from passing cars. We don’t see all the manifestations of grief – most of that would happen quietly in the trees. We do see this though.
If that’s not love, what is it?
We believe that it’s best to assume that every single wild animal on this earth is loved by another of their own kind. Some species make it obvious – like Rainbows. Some are more subtle. We’ve seen signs of Koala love, love between Kangaroos, magpies, ravens, flying-foxes. We don’t know whether insects, spiders or fish feel it, but how would we know? Even if they don’t, isn’t it best to respect all life?
Which animals have you seen loving each other?
There are many reasons to save the planet from human-induced climate change. This is just one of them. Every single Rainbow Lorikeet that dies of heat stress, starvation, fatigue or bushfire leaves behind another Rainbow Lorikeet who grieves for them.
Start 2014 off in a positive, rewarding way by helping a great Aussie character – a wild koala!
Volunteer a few hours of your time on a weekend, create habitat for a wild koala, learn about koalas from an experienced Koala Researcher and meet some of Melbourne’s world-famous wild koalas.
Click this link to see how & when:
Which do you need more: food for the soul, or food for the stomach? On our last trip to the Top End we had to choose.
One of the strange joys of a Darwin trip is the sparrow’s fart arrival. Planes come into Darwin at odd times. So we always find ourselves at Darwin International Airport as the sun is rising, or well after it has set. It’s a fine welcome – night is possibly the best part of a day in the tropics. The warmth is pleasant, the smells are enhanced, there is softness in the air that contrasts strongly with the eye-blinding, walk-into-a-pizza-oven heat of a Darwin dry-season day.
Brown Honeyeaters and Red-collared Lorikeets called as we picked up our hire car. We drove away from the dawn. Hours to kill before hotel check in, but East Point always provides entertainment before late breakfast at Fannie Bay.
Darwin is a west-facing city. It is a city of sunsets, not sunrises. West of the Darwin peninsula is the sea: beaches, parks, markets, places to eat. East of Darwin is a vast swathe of flatness, all the way to the Arnhem Land escarpment 300km away.
Darwin’s most fascinating large park is East Point Reserve. In true Top End fashion, you drive north, then west to get to it. It’s a peninsula poking out into Beagle Gulf. The name takes you back to another time, when cities and land transport were not the focus – the sea was. East Point marks the eastern beacon of one of the few safe harbours of the wild Top End, from a sailors point of view. Imagine the relief they would have felt seeing that promontory during a tropical storm, or after a long sea journey where supplies ran low.
That morning, as the eastern headland woke up we listened to Bar-shouldered and Peaceful Doves, Olive-backed & Yellow Orioles & Figbirds, Trillers, Brown, Rufous-banded and White-gaped Honeyeaters, Forest & Sacred Kingfishers. Orange-footed Scrubfowls scratched in the undergrowth, dolphins played in the shallows and a group of Grey-tailed Tattlers rested on a rock. But it was someone else that gave us the soul-food we will remember always.
Some silhouettes are unmistakeable. The Beach Stone-curlew is one of those. Elegant – no. Delicate – certainly not. Comic – yes, that’s getting closer. A bird embarrassed by its huge, unwieldly beak, further complicated by unfortunate splotches of yellow. Even never having seen one before, we knew it immediately. And it was BEAUTIFUL!
As if ashamed by his appearance, the male* appeared to be hiding, standing in plain sight on the beach. In fact, his camouflage was so excellent that we could easily have missed him on the featureless sand. He watched us, we watched him, thrilled with our discovery.
Unsatisfied with our view, we tried another angle back down the track. Relocating him was tricky – he was even harder to see with the light in our eyes. There he was, higher up on the sand amongst the rocks and driftwood. He’d moved. Or had he? Moments later another Beach Stone-curlew flew in from the sea and landed where the male had been earlier! Whatever, now we had two. It’s incredibly special to have your first sighting of a species, a lifer, and have two of them in view for extended moments.
Some lifers are unforgettable. You just want to stare at them forever, drinking in every tiny detail. Its like you need to imprint them on your brain so that the creature is a part of you. Our eyes grew strained from peering through the binoculars. For relief, I took bad photo after bad photo knowing I had a big delete session coming on but doing it anyway.
The staring marathon paid off – a chick emerged from the detritus! Playfully he walked towards his parent, who was carrying something. The chick’s beak was smaller, almost like a normal bird’s, and he lacked the bold yellow, black & white patterning around the head. After feeding, the chick sat down amongst a pile of sticks and then it was an effort to locate him after each blink.
One parent (let’s say the mother, though there’s no way we could tell) walked up the beach a little out of our view. The ‘father’ flew back out to sea. Left alone, the chick got up and started to play with the debris around his hiding spot. He pulled out a whippy stick – the stick fought back! An hilarious tussle ensued. Each time the stick caught on the sand the chick would subdue it and wrestle it back into submission, when of course the stick would rise again! Birds can be very funny. Finally he walked up the beach to his mum and disappeared from our view.
Lucky for us. Our souls were well fed, but our stomachs were rumbling! Breakfast at Fannie Bay was hours overdue, and if that baby Beach Stone-curlew had kept playing we might have starved happily watching him!
Postscript: Beach Stone-curlews have a small population – only around 6,000 worldwide. Most of these are along Australia’s north coast. They are threatened by beach disturbance – people walking along beaches especially with dogs, residential development along the coast, increased feral predators that come with humans, entanglement in fishing line and nets left by human activities. They only have one chick per year, so each baby is precious. For more go to BirdLife Australia: http://www.birdlife.org.au/bird-profile/beach-stone-curlew and see their listing on the IUCN Red List: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22728621/0
*there seems to be no way of telling Beach Stone-curlew sexes apart, so this is just for the sake of the story
Seeing one wild Echidna is special. Seeing five in one day is extraordinary!
Echidnas are one of the world’s oldest mammals. They lay eggs, but yes, they are still mammals because they have hair and feed their young on milk. With the Platypus, echidnas are the only mammals of their type – Monotremes – a group only found in Australia & New Guinea. They are ancient, and have survived massive changes in their world since they evolved 15 million years ago.
East Gippsland, the south-eastern corner of the continent of Australia, is one of their strongholds. There are few people, roads and cars over there, and the natural environment is in good shape. Echidnas eat insects, and need a flourishing, diverse insect population. Invertebrates are a sign of good health in an ecosystem – so echidnas are abundant where the environment is healthy.
This day we were on Raymond Island looking out across the ‘lake’, part of the great estuary of the LaTrobe River. One guest wasn’t looking at the water though – his attention was caught by a movement in the grass. He had absolutely no idea what it was. Brown and gold, like a boulder but spiky, and moving! It was our first echidna!
She was happily foraging, and paid little attention to us. In hushed, frantic whispers I got everyone together downwind and gave them an ‘Echidna Briefing’: stay still, stay quiet, reduce vibrations on the ground (that’s the first thing an echidna notices) and if the echidna approaches DO NOT MOVE YOUR FEET.
She came towards us. We all froze. She stopped, rushed over to a log. She came out, came towards us again. By this time we were barely breathing. She approached, closer, closer, then to our amazement, brushed by one man’s foot. Wow!!
The echidna ambled off into the bush, giving us several more pictures and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Satisfied, we walked back towards our vehicle. Rainbow Lorikeets screeched, koalas bellowed, Bronzewings ‘oooommmed’, pelicans circled low over our heads. A pair of Eastern Rosellas were found feeding in the grass. They weren’t the only creatures in that grass – there was another Echidna!!
The second one was larger than the first, and he was out in the open on a lawn. Completely unconcerned. Cameras snapping madly, we approached a little and then waited in formation to see what this echidna would do. Sure enough, he approached the same man who had been touched by the first echidna. We were starting to wonder about this man’s aftershave – was it echidna pheromone perhaps? Echidna 2 went right up to his feet, sniffed at his shoes, and then went on his way. Amazing!!
Before we could high 5, another echidna was spotted! In the bush on the edge of the lawn. A huge one! For the next 10 minutes we just couldn’t leave. It was so entertaining.
Echidnas are fun to watch. They have a distinctive short-legged waddle that is impossibly cute. They will go over, under or through any obstacle like a mini tractor – nothing is too difficult! Check out the video on YouTube
We drove onto the Raymond Island ferry for the short trip to dinner at Lake Tyers Beach. But the Echidnas of East Gippsland hadn’t finished with us yet. We saw two more on the roadside along the way!
A five Echidna day!
We can’t promise that this will happen all the time, but something amazing happens on every Wildlife Conservation Journey. Join us, anytime from September to May…
Koalas have tough granular skin on the palms and soles of their hands and feet that gives them very good grip.
Their hands and feet are very muscular and strong. Their digits are quite long, with large rounded pads at the tip of each finger/toe. They have two opposable thumbs on each hand, which gives them a more powerful hold around a branch.
Like us, koalas are large mammals that spend a lot of their time upright. They live primarily in trees (as we once did, and most of our primate relatives still do) , but unlike monkeys and possums, they lack a tail and are relatively heavy and solid in their body shape. So their means of getting around in a tree is very like a primate’s – they climb using power and intelligence, rather than lightness and agility, to get to where they need to be. Their hands and feet, like ours, have developed due to their lifestyle.
It is interesting to watch a koala handling a branch full of leaves. They grab in exactly the way we do. Having dextrous hands gives them a very human aspect (which might explain why we find them so appealing!)
Interesting, too – koalas have individual fingerprints. Once thought to be a primate attribute, this is another thing that koalas share with us!
Koalas have very long, very sharp claws. Both hands and feet have claws on every digit, except the big toe!
The claws of the hands are particularly sharp and strong. Several times I’ve seen a koala slip and almost fall off a branch. But if even one claw has good contact with the tree, the koala can usually haul itself back up.
The sharpness of the claws helps a koala to climb big trees. If the tree is larger than the koala’s arm reach, they have to use the claws like crampons on ice – they dig in to the surface and haul themselves up using brute arm strength. Sharp claws also aid in staying on slippery bark – many of the trees koalas prefer have smooth bark that becomes slippery after rain.
Compared to other large arboreal (tree-dwelling) animals, koalas claws are particularly long and sharp for their size. Orangutans, the world’s largest tree climbing mammal, have flat nails rather than sharp claws. See here: orangutan nails (picture credit Borneo Orangutan Survival Australia.)
Large monkeys, like the Black Howler Monkey of South America, also have nails: howler monkey nails
Sloths have long curved claws that are not as sharp as koala’s, and not as dextrous. See here: sloth claws on a tree
Koala claws have the greatest similarities with their distant relatives – the Australian possums. Koalas and possums, though not closely related, are all diprotodonts (with the kangaroos, wallabies & gliders) so have similar basic anatomy. Koalas and possums share an arboreal existence, and both eat foliage, so both have to deal with similar conditions.
The first thing one learns if one ever has to capture a koala is how very strong their grip is. If a koala gets a good hold on a branch or cage, it takes a lot of effort to disengage them. Those claws can also be used in self defence. Never underestimate koalas! They have a very sweet, gentle demeanour until they are messed with, and then… look out!