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Emma – Wild Koala of the month for August 2015!

August Koala of the month is Emma!

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

A bird of stardust: the Chestnut-quilled Rock-Pigeon of Australia’s Top End

In the Top End there’s a bird made of shadows and stardust.

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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.

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the walk into Gubara Pools

But the pools were peaceful, shady and fair dinkum it 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.

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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.

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a tiny Diamond Dove on the walk in to Nawurlandja

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.

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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.

*Doddorok is the Kunwinjku, Gundjeihmi and Kuninjku language name for the Chestnut-quilled Rock-Pigeon. To say the name go to this wonderful site of Bininj names of plants and animals: http://mayh-dja-kundulk.bininjgunwok.org.au/plant_or_animals/chestnut-quilled-rock-pigeon

About wild koala Bermborok – July 2015 Koala of the Month

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.

our lovely little brunette, Bermborok

our lovely little brunette, Bermborok

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.

Bermborok in the early days, nervously peeking at us

Bermborok in the early days, nervously peeking at us

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.

Bermborok, now curious

Bermborok, now curious

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.

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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.

The people of the sky – in the flight path of the Flying-foxes

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.

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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.

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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.

Join us in East Gippsland or Darwin/Kakadu sometime and see this wonder for yourself.

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.

How to Identify Koalas by Their Nose Patterns

Koalas can be easily and non-intrusively identified by the natural black and white markings inside their nostrils. These markings, ‘the nose pattern’ appear to stay the same throughout life, so can be a useful and reliable identifying feature. Over a 16 year study, monitoring 108 individual koalas in three locations, no two koala nose patterns have ever been seen to be identical, and no nose pattern has been seen to change substantially.

Step 1. Take a photograph of a koala’s nose. The best identification photos are taken from front-on and slightly below the koala. The focus should be on the nostrils, in good light (not too much shadow or contrast) and as close-up as possible.

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Koala Truganina

Step 2. Look at the white/pale pattern inside and around the nostrils. This is the ‘target area’ where the nose pattern exists. See the area inside the pink outline in the image below. Markings outside of the target area can vary throughout the life of the koala, so should be noted, but should not be relied upon for identification.

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Koala Truganina nose pattern target area

Step 3. Compare the first koala (Truganina) to this koala below (Pat). Look just at the target area – can you see the differences?

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Koala Pat nose pattern target area

Below is a comparison of the two koalas nose pattern target areas rotated to the same angle. Truganina on the left has a lot more white in her nose pattern. The white extends outside the nostril area in a few places, with a messy outline. Her lips have a lot of white too. There are black spots in the white. Pat, on right, has a simpler nose pattern. The white is almost totally confined inside the nostrils.  The pattern has a scalloped edge.

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Nose Pattern target areas – left: Truganina right: Pat

Step 4. Record the pattern.  There are three ways you can record nose patterns. Use just one, or two in combination, whatever works for you.  We use all three methods in tandem, and it works well.

METHOD 1: File the photograph in a folder on your computer for quick reference in future. Compare each new koala photograph to the existing photographs until you achieve a match by eye. These two photographs below are of the same koala, Truganina, 5 years apart. Can you see the match? This method works if you can see the match easily, and if there’s not a lot of koalas to choose from. It will help if you file carefully, and keep a record of each koala seen (see Tips below on how to do this)

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Koala Truganina 2013

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Koala Truganina 2009

METHOD 2: Trace the nose pattern with tracing paper over a printed photograph. This method is perfectly valid, quick and easy especially if you’re not computer savvy, or don’t have a lot of time. Take a photocopy or scan of your diagram, keep it handy in a binder to check against future photographs of the same koala. We still use this method as it is the quickest and handiest way to keep up to date.

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Koala Truganina photo with tracing overlay

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Koala Truganina photo and overlay tracing diagram

METHOD 3: Use a computer graphics program. This method is useful if there are several people using the method on the same koalas, or if you are not confident of making the comparison by eye. Simple graphics programs will do the job. Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro are fine – use the layers tools.

Powerful programs like GIMP are good too. The image below shows three nose pattern diagrams, created with GIMP, of the same koala nearly 5 years apart. Yellow layer = December 2013, pink layer = December 2013, blue layer = February 2009.  The similarity is astounding, particularly considering that the the nose is a soft tissue that changes shape.

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Koala Truganina graphic diagram comparison over 5 years

TIPS:

  • It helps to come up with a photo file name protocol that you use the same way each time. You can name the image with the koalas name or number and date eg. K1female120515 (first female sighted on 12th May 2015).
  • If you regularly see koalas in a number of locations, it might be good to separate the nose pattern photographs from different locations, and by sex by folder. ie Nose Patterns – YouYangs – females.
  • Record keeping will help! Keep a record of when and where a koala was seen. You can do this in the image (EXIF) information on the photo, or in a simple (or detailed) datasheet – examples below:
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Basic koala observation datasheet

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Detailed koala observation datasheet

  • Side-on photographs, or photos from extreme angles can distort a nose pattern. If possible, wait or move to get a front-on view.  This image below is Truganina again, but at an angle.  You can still see her distinctive nose pattern in her right nostril, but the left pattern is obscured.

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    Koala Truganina side on

  • Deep shadows under the nostril ridge, or strong light, can hide the nose pattern. Photograph with several different settings on your camera when light is strong.  In the beautiful photo below, Cloud’s nose pattern is almost completely lost in shadow. Brightening the image on a computer graphics program may reveal the pattern.
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Koala Cloud in strong shadow

  • Flaring and closing of the nostrils can appear to change a nose pattern, but in a predictable way. Look closely at the nostril shape in your photograph to determine whether the nostril is flared or closed.

This method was discovered in 1998 and documented by Janine Duffy, President of the (brand new!) Koala Clancy Foundation and founder of Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours. We have more details if you need them, or if you have tips or observations to add please contact janine@echidnawalkabout.com.au.  We will credit you!

Tiny kangaroo joey cuddles and plays with mum

Snapshot 3 (12-07-2015 4-58 PM)

Yesterday as we watched a wild mob of Eastern Grey Kangaroos happily eating and socialising, we noticed a mother with a huge pouch.  Shortly after, this tiny joey tumbled out!

Snapshot 2 (12-07-2015 4-58 PM)

Eastern Grey Kangaroo joeys stay in their mothers pouch for 11 months, and in the last few months, as this video https://youtu.be/jnLXuVAre3c shows, the joey comes out of the pouch for increasingly longer periods and learns to balance, hop, groom, eat grass and socialise.

The bond between kangaroo mothers and joeys is strong and long-lasting.  The joey in the video is about 9-10 months old, and if she is female, she will probably live with her mother her entire life.

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This joey is a little older, probably about 12 months.  She still suckles from her mother’s pouch, and will do so until she is 18 months old.  While she suckles, her mother takes the opportunity to groom her.

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See them for yourself, on Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD, Great Ocean Road and Wildlife Journey tours!

Wildlife of the Top End, Northern Territory Australia

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Karndayh – female Antilopine Kangaroo

Here’s a full list of the mammals, reptiles and birds we’ve managed to see in our trips to the Top End since 2008. Most of these animals can be seen on our Wild Top End 6 day trip to Kakadu and Mary River National Parks:

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Badbong – Wilkins Rock Wallaby

MAMMALS

Dingo
Rock-wallaby – Wilkins (formerly Short-eared)
Wallaby – Agile
Kangaroo – Antilopine
Possum – Northern Brushtail
Flying-fox – Black
Flying-fox – Little Red

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Kornobolo – Agile Wallaby

REPTILES

Crocodile – Saltwater (Estuarine)
Crocodile – Freshwater
Python – Water
Snake – Slaty Grey
Snake – Common Tree
Dragon – Gilbert’s (Ta-ta Lizard)
Water Monitor – Mertens

Burarr - Mertens Water Monitor

Burarr – Mertens Water Monitor

Goanna – Gould’s

BIRDS

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Wandering & Manbarladjidji – Plumed Whistling-ducks and Manimunak – Magpie Geese

Goose – Magpie

Duck – Plumed Whistling-Duck

Manbarladjidji - Plumed Whistling-ducks

Manbarladjidji – Plumed Whistling-ducks

Duck – Wandering Whistling-Duck
Duck – Radjah Shelduck
Goose – Green Pygmy-goose
Duck – Pacific Black
Duck – Grey Teal
Duck – Pink-eared
Scrubfowl – Orange-footed
*Quail – Brown
Grebe – Australasian
Jabiru (Black-necked Stork)
Cormorant – Little Black
Cormorant – Pied
Cormorant – Little Pied
Darter
Pelican – Australian
Bittern – Black
Heron – White-necked (Pacific)
Egret – Great
Egret – Intermediate

Djakarna - Black-necked Stork (Jabiru)

Djakarna – Black-necked Stork (Jabiru)

Heron – White-faced
Egret – Little
Egret – Eastern Reef
Heron – Pied
Egret – Cattle
Heron – Striated
Heron – Nankeen Night
Ibis – Glossy
Ibis – Australian White
Ibis – Straw-necked
Spoonbill – Royal
Spoonbill – Yellow-billed
Osprey
Kite – Black-shouldered
Buzzard – Black-breasted
Eagle – Little
Eagle – Wedge-tailed
Harrier – Swamp

*Goshawk – Grey
Goshawk – Brown
Sparrowhawk – Collared
Kite – Black
Kite – Whistling
Kite – Brahminy
Sea-Eagle – White-bellied
Bustard – Australian
Rail – Buff-banded
Swamphen – Purple
Brolga

Ngalkordow - Brolgas

Ngalkordow – Brolgas

Stone-curlew – Bush
Stone-curlew – Beach
Stilt – Black-winged
Avocet – Red-necked
Oystercatcher – Australian Pied
Lapwing – Masked
Dotterel – Black-fronted
Dotterel – Red-kneed
Jacana – Comb-crested
Sandpiper – Common
Tattler – Grey-tailed
Greenshank – Common
Curlew – Eastern
Whimbrel
Plover – Pacific Golden
Grey Plover poss
Godwilt – Bar-tailed

Doddorok - Chestnut-quilled Rock Pigeon

Doddorok – Chestnut-quilled Rock Pigeon

Pratincole – Australian
Gull – Silver
Tern – Gull-billed
Tern – Caspian
Tern – Whiskered
Dove – Emerald
Pigeon – Crested
Pigeon – Partridge
Pigeon – Chestnut-quilled Rock-
Dove – Diamond
Dove – Peaceful
Dove – Bar-shouldered
Dove – Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove
Dove – Banded Fruit-Dove
Pigeon – Torresian Imperial
Cuckoo – Brush

Azure Kingfisher

Azure Kingfisher

Bronze-cuckoo – Little
Koel – Common
Cuckoo – Channel-billed
Coucal – Pheasant
Owl – Rufous
Owl – Barking
Boobook – Southern
Nightjar – Large-tailed
Kingfisher – Azure
Kingfisher – Little
Kookaburra – Blue-winged
Kingfisher – Forest
Kingfisher – Collared
Kingfisher – Sacred
Kingfisher – Collared
Bee-eater – Rainbow

Rainbow Bee-eater

Rainbow Bee-eater

Dollarbird
Kestrel – Nankeen
Hobby – Australian
Falcon – Brown
Falcon – Black
Black-cockatoo – Red-tailed
Galah
Corella – Little
Cockatoo – Sulphur-crested
Parrot – Red-winged
Rosella – Northern
Lorikeet – Red-collared (Rainbow)

Karnamarr - Red-tailed Black Cockatoo

Karnamarr – Red-tailed Black Cockatoo

Lorikeet – Varied
Pitta – Rainbow

Ngalelek - Little Corellas

Ngalelek – Little Corellas

Bowerbird – Great
Treecreeper – Black-tailed
Fairy-wren – Red-backed
Honeyeater – White-lined

Honeyeater – White-gaped
Miner – Yellow-throated
Honeyeater – Bar-breasted
Honeyeater – Rufous-banded
Honeyeater – Rufous-throated
Honeyeater – Dusky
Honeyeater – Red-headed
Honeyeater – Banded
Honeyeater – Brown
Honeyeater – White-throated
Honeyeater – Blue-faced
Friarbird – Little
Friarbird – Helmeted
Friarbird – Silver-crowned
Pardalote – Striated
Weebill
Gerygone – Green-backed
Gerygone – Large-billed
Gerygone – Mangrove
Babbler – Grey-crowned
Woodswallow – White-breasted
Woodswallow – Little
Butcherbird – Pied
Cuckoo-shrike – Black-faced
Cuckoo-shrike – White-bellied
Triller – White-winged
Triller – Varied
Shrike-thrush – Little
Shrike-thrush – Sandstone
Shrike-thrush – Grey
Whistler – Grey
Whistler – Rufous
Oriole – Olive-backed
Oriole – Yellow
Figbird

Australasian Figbird

Australasian Figbird

Drongo – Spangled
Fantail – Northern
Willie Wagtail
Fantail – Arafura (Rufous)
Mudlark (Magpie-lark)
Flycatcher – Leaden
Flycatcher – Broad-billed

Broad-billed Flycatcher

Broad-billed Flycatcher

Flycatcher – Paperbark
Flycatcher – Shining
Crow – Torresian
Flycatcher – Lemon-bellied
Martin – Tree
Reed-warbler – Australian
Grassbird – Tawny
Cisticola – Golden-headed
White-eye – Yellow
Mistletoebird
Finch – Crimson
Finch – Double-barred
Finch – Masked
Finch – Long-tailed
Mannikin – Chestnut-breasted

Contact Info

T: +61 3 9646 8249
web: www.echidnawalkabout.com.au

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