This is #KoalaOfTheMonth: Bungaleenee. Whilst koalas are excellent at playing Hide and Seek, Bungaleenee is not playing that game here. He is sitting on the ground hugging the tree in an attempt to cool down. The tree trunk can keep his body temperature down by up to 7 degrees.
Some people comment that Bungaleenee’s name sounds Italian (although not usually a comment made by Italians). In fact Bungaleenee is the name of an Aboriginal Man from the Gippsland area.
It’s a well known fact that girl koalas are cuter than boy koalas (sorry guys). However if ever there was a big male who was a little better looking than others it would have to be Koala of the Month Bungaleenee!
These beautiful little marsupials live in the You Yangs and can occasionally be seen by day, if you are lucky or know where to look! Their main roost is a drey – a circular nest made of sticks – that they construct themselves. But though dreys are easy to find, they are tightly woven, so it is difficult to see possums inside them. We do often find some possums, like these ones, sheltering in bushy shrubs.
Did you know that Common Ringtail Possums live in family groups? Mum, Dad, new joeys and last year’s immature young all snuggle together in the same drey by day and emerge to feed at night.
So when we see a little darling alone, like this one, it makes us wonder where the rest of the family is hiding! Or possibly, its a young animal, newly independent, that hasn’t found his/her own home yet.
Common Ringtail Possum gestation is 20 – 26 days. Ringtails usually have two babies at a time, anytime from May to December. After leaving the pouch at 4 months, ringtail joeys ride on their parents backs for a few months. Both ringtail parents take turns caring for and carrying their babies.
Ringtail Possum joeys are weaned at about 6 months, but will stay with their parents until maturity at about 13 months.
As ringtails build their own nest, they can live in young eucalyptus forest with few natural hollows. Young forest suits them – they prefer the young foliage of eucalyptus trees, and mostly eat mature leaves when young leaves are not available.
In one study near Melbourne, Victoria, ringtails were found to prefer to eat (in order): Swamp Gum (E. ovata), Spotted Gum (E. maculatus), River Red Gum (E. camaldulensis), Forest Red Gum (E. tereticornis). Ringtails do eat the leaves of several shrubs, including Leptospermum (tea-tree) and Acacia (wattle) especially if their preferred young eucalyptus is not available (1).
Ringtails have a very special, clever adaptation to their nutrient-poor diet: they reingest the contents of their caecum to get more nutrition from their food. Basically, they produce 2 different types of poo: hard ‘normal’ faeces at night which is not eaten, & soft caecum faeces in the day, which they eat. Its a bit like koala pap. Eating the soft ‘cecotrope’is similar to cattle chewing their cud – the only difference is that the food passes almost all the way through the digestive system, extracting a maximum of nutrients, before being expelled. Other animals do it too, particularly rabbits and hares.
Common Ringtails really are quite beautiful little animals. They have a soft, bird-like twittering song that often goes unnoticed unless you are listening for it. If you love them and have them in your backyard, you can help them by planting eucalyptus trees, by keeping your cat & dog inside at night, and by allowing branches of trees to interconnect so that the possums don’t have to run along the powerline.
Pahl, L “Diet preference, diet composition and population density of the ringtail possum in several plant communities in southern Victoria” pages 253-60 in POSSUMS and GLIDERS ed by A P Smith and I D Hume, Australian Mammal Society, Sydney 1984
25th August 2015 Wildlife Guide Scott’s Whats App message came through to Echidna Walkabout tours base: “K1 (Koala sighting 1) is Misty. K4 is her joey. Both high in a Yellow Gum. Joey is laying across her front”
It was followed by a torrent of whoops, woohoos and thumbs up as our whole Koala Research and Wildlife Guiding team celebrated.
Every year we see koala joeys, so why was this one so special? To explain we have to go back to January 2014, to a week of terrible heat. Four consecutive days over 41C (105.8F). By January 18th, the fourth day, koalas were suffering.
This photo was taken 18th January 2014 and shows the first time we met Misty. She was not a happy koala.
This poor young girl was sitting miserably in a waterhole. And she wasn’t the only one – six other koalas were on the ground over those four days, and another six were sitting in the lower third of their trees. This is an unusually high incidence of ground and low roosting.
Misty was found at 9.45am that day, sitting with her feet in the waterhole. She was checked five times over the next five hours and she barely moved. I came past at 2pm with a lovely group of people on a Koala Conservation Day for Locals. I was shocked by her look of hopelessness.
On this occasion I did something I would not normally do: I asked my volunteers to wait in the car, and I approached Misty with a water spray. I was hoping that my approach would make her spark up and climb a tree. It didn’t, and that’s when I really knew she was in deep trouble.
A wild koala does not welcome a close approach by a human unless they are severely injured or so heat-stressed they are in danger of dying. Basically, their knowledge of impending death is so great that their fear of humans is cancelled out. So when you see that beautiful photo of Sam the koala being given water by the firefighter – don’t see an appreciative wild animal being helped by a person. See a dying animal that has no choice.
I sprayed the full bottle of water on her, standing back as far as I could and all she did was put her head up. I called Donna Cameron, Koala Researcher and Wildlife Shelter operator and asked if she could take her into care.
My beautiful volunteers were absolutely quiet and didn’t leave the car all this time. I bet the iPhones and cameras were working overtime!
Misty stayed in care with Donna for 10 days. In that time she was weighed, thoroughly vet checked, and assessed to have nothing wrong with her. I was surprised – could a healthy young koala really be brought so low by a heatwave? Other, older koalas were still alive through this heatwave, without our help. But, interestingly, one joey was looking a bit flat too – maybe it is hard on the young?
She was released to the place she was found, healthy and well, late on 28th January 2014.
Throughout 2014 and 2015 we have seen Misty on and off. At first, she stayed near the little waterhole. Later she was seen moving close to Nova and Elizabeth’s home area. We were thrilled that she was staying around and looking so well!
Then suddenly, in August this year, we got that beautiful message from Wildlife Guide Scott:
“K1 is Misty. K4 is her joey. Both high in a Yellow Gum. Joey is laying across her front”
Not only has Misty survived her ordeal, she has thrived. She has done the greatest thing of all for koala conservation – she has produced the next generation. And we’ve been part of that.
This dear little lady has been a friend since 29th March 2006 – can you believe that? 9.5 years! Emma has been delighting international travellers for nearly 10 years. Aren’t we lucky to know her?
We are not sure exactly how old she is, but in 2006 we thought she looked around 3-4 years old. That would make her at least 12 or 13 years old now.
Emma has always been a small female, and has never been seen with a joey. Though that sounds surprising, its not. A high proportion of our wild females never raise a joey. Of eleven females currently living in our main research area, only three have ever been seen with joeys. A few of those females are new, so may produce young, but this has been the pattern over all of our 17 years of koala research, both in the You Yangs and Brisbane Ranges.
We are not sure of the reason, but we can’t just assume its chlamydia. Though the You Yangs & Brisbane Ranges populations are Chlamydia-positive, the disease rarely manifests in any way we can see. Chlamydia could be the cause, but it could be something else. Or it could be normal for koalas to have a low birth rate in these habitats.
It doesn’t matter to us whether she is a mother or not – she is a valuable member of the koala community and we love her!
In the Top End there’s a bird made of shadows and stardust.
He is Doddorok*, the Chestnut-quilled Rock-Pigeon. He is one of those people that you remember, but you don’t know why. Every glimpse of his subtle form is burned into my mind, even eclipsing the equally momentous Sandstone Shrike-thrush and White-lined Honeyeater seen nearby. Its like the stars that have sprinkled his plumage have also gifted him with touch of cool magic.
As a long-time lover of pigeons and doves, I wanted to meet him so badly.
On our first visit to Kakadu we had underestimated the Swedish sauna heat of a September day and had started the Gubara Pools walk late – around 10am. Its only 6km. Allow 3 hours, ‘they’ say. 3 hours!!?? Is everyone a birder up here? Well, ‘they’ were right – by the time we reached the thin monsoon forest strip where the Gubara Pools hide we were knackered and all our water was gone.
But the pools were peaceful, shady andfair dinkumit had to be 10 degrees cooler beside them. So we loafed there for several hours, letting our bodies renew and the heat subside.
After an hour or so we started exploring – shady spots only! At one point Roger came rushing back from high in the rocks, waving and shushing me – he had found a pool, and a resident big dark pigeon. He thought it might be Doddorok but, good man that he is, he came to get me so we could make the discovery together. We had to go quietly he said, and hope that the bird hadn’t been disturbed.
You’ve never seen two people climb so furtively as we did. Step, look around, step again, like an overacted old movie. Doddorok would have been chuckling: “look at these two southerner idiots. They think I can’t hear them!”
Eons later (it seemed) we reached the pool. We sat. We waited, looking up at the shady shelf where Roger had first seen him. Doddorok tested our patience a little. Did we respect him? Had we paid our ‘ top end time tax’ to the spirits of Gubara? Eventually we passed the test and a dark head appeared and looked at us.
Don’t be fooled by pictures showing a drab, dark bird. This pigeon has the loveliness of a tropical night. His dark head and neck is splashed with stars. Bluish eyelids close over dark eyes as he enjoys the silence in his shady enclave. A splash of the red rocks of his escarpment home shows in his wings when he flies.
The second time we saw him was powerful again. We had discovered that Nanguluwur, a short walk to a rarely-visited art site near Nourlangie, could be accessed very early. The walk is charming. Tropical savannah grasslands with pandanus and fern-leaved grevillea forest are visited by yabbering Grey-crowned Babblers, wisps of finches and red-backed fairywrens, singing Pied Butcherbirds and the occasional Diamond Dove. The forest rings with the maniacal calls of friarbirds and lorikeets.
On reaching the art site, the birds went quiet. I developed itchy feet, so on a whim, took off my shoes and made the final climb barefooted. It was like walking into a cathedral and removing one’s hat.
We whispered, pointing out the ancient and post-contact art on the overhang, not wanting to damage our tender connection with history. There’s something about being alone at an Aboriginal Rock Art site – the very silence makes you realise you’re not alone at all. We were being watched by at least one being. On an outcrop above our heads he sat, framed by red ochre paintings. He wasn’t disturbed. This is his place. Doddorok – the pigeon of the rock.
Each time we go we look at every faded splash of red ochre and every diamond-spattered rock hoping to see him again. We can imagine his dark calm eyes watching, through a curtain of stars.
Chestnut-quilled Rock-Pigeons Petrophassa rufipennis live in the sandstone country of Kakadu and Arnhemland in the Northern Territory’s Top End. The population size is not known, but they appear to be stable in their preferred habitat, much of which is protected.
July Koala of the Month is Bermborok!! Bermborok is the Watharurong* word for sister, and is probably the origin of the name ‘Beremboke’ – the town in the Brisbane Ranges where Roger’s mum and dad lived, and our good friend Marilyn Blankley runs a wildlife shelter.
Koala Researcher Melinda King, a member of the Wathaurong Aboriginal Community, suggested the name for her. We like to promote the use of the original languages of Australia, and this is a great way of remembering them.
Bermborok is a beautiful little lady living just near Koala Clancy. This month we’ll tell you a bit about her.
We first met July koala of the month Bermborok in December 2012. At first it was hard to get a decent photograph – this one was the best we could manage. Why? Like a lot of unhabituated wild koalas, she was nervous. She would hide in the leaves at the very top of the tree.
If koalas have had no experience of humans they see us as a danger. So we are patient – we stay quiet, move little and stay well back from the tree. See our Koala Rules to learn how to do it. It works! In the next photo we’ll show you how relaxed Bermborok has become.
Now, 2.5 years after first meeting Bermborok, she is relaxed enough to look at us with curiosity. She no longer bolts for the top of the tree each time she hears us coming, she no longer feels she has to hide her lovely face in the leaves.
This is our reward for being gentle and patient with her. We feel better knowing she isn’t terrified. It also makes her easier to find! Nervous koalas can avoid people by hiding themselves in thick foliage when they hear you coming. So there’s another reason to be quiet, and stay well back from wild koalas – next time you visit you might be rewarded!
July koala of the month Bermborok has a chubby little face – can you see it? This suggests to us that she is quite young, perhaps just 4 or 5 years old.
Koalas age like we do – they start off with round “puppy fat” faces and over time become more angular. Its not a totally reliable method of aging a wild koala, but its the best we can do non-intrusively!
Learn more about our Wild Koala Research Project: http://www.echidnawalkabout.com.au/wildliferesearch
*Wathaurong is the language of the Aboriginal People of Geelong, Little River and the You Yangs.
We felt them before we saw them. I don’t know if it was a change in air pressure, or just that feeling that you are not alone, but we sensed something on a primeval level. Even after hundreds of generations of urban living, we are not disconnected from nature.
It was the fruit bats. Thousands of them. On a summer evening, in Mallacoota in far eastern Victoria, we were standing on the verandah enjoying the last shreds of the dying sun. Something made us look up, and for the next twenty minutes we couldn’t move. The sky was full of Grey-headed Flying-foxes. Full, seriously, full. Every part of the sky from horizon to horizon had a megabat in it. Sometimes there was a bat-length between them, sometimes less. Watch:
The magic of the experience was partly the silence. It was like every other creature held their breath out of respect for these magical beings. Watch: https://youtu.be/jLEpevbVX8c
In many ways, bats are like people. Many of them live in high-rise “cities” – crowded, noisy places with complaining neighbours. They commute long distances to “work”. They love mangoes and apricots (fruit-bats do anyway – the little ones love mosquitoes, which is an area in which they differ to us!) They have a highly advanced brain, that is quite similar to ours. Some scientists have suggested that they may have evolved from primates.
We had the same feeling coming down from sundowners on Nawurlandja, in Kakadu National Park, last August. It was a balmy still evening and we had stayed well past the sunset. As we came out of the rocks into the carpark we felt it again and looked up. This time it was Little Red Flying-foxes, with a few, larger, Black Flying-foxes amongst them. The Blacks were swirling around, but the Little Reds were on a mission – flying directly north in silent masses. Little Reds can congregate into camps of one million animals. We saw tens of thousands that night.
In Australia, you can see fruit-bats/flying-foxes in many places. We have them in Melbourne, Bairnsdale and Mallacoota in Victoria. They live in Sydney and Brisbane. They are most numerous in the warm tropical places like Cairns and Darwin. Listen for them in their daytime cities (roosts/camps) – they sound a bit like children laughing, squealing and crying all at once. At night, look up. If you are under their flight path you will enjoy a moment of pure wonder.
Please help! Join or follow the Australasian Bat Society: http://ausbats.org.au or FB: www.facebook.com/AustralasianBatSociety
Background: bats are some of the most threatened mammals on the planet. Grey-headed Flying-foxes, for example, have had most of their natural foraging habitat destroyed by farming, land clearing and housing. They hang on in patches of natural bushland, and sometimes have to resort to eating fruit from orchards. Unfortunately, this brings them into conflict with the farmers.
Bats also suffer from a public relations problem – some people are scared of them. Bats have been used to symbolize darkness and evil in books and movies. Nothing could be further from the truth. 99.98% of bats eat insects or fruit. They don’t, and can’t, drink blood. They are completely harmless to humans, and do their best to stay away from us. 3 species out of 1,240 do drink blood, but never enough to harm their prey.