Built for the birds – Welcome Swallows and the Mungo Woolshed.

Built for the birds – Welcome Swallows and the Mungo Woolshed.

Mungo in late November is hot. By 11.30am walking outside is unattractive, no matter how captivating the big mob of Emus look in the heat shimmer. The historic rough-sawn bulk of the Mungo Woolshed promises relief, so I duck inside.

Emus at Mungo National Park

Just above my head, a Welcome Swallow dismisses me with a glance. Elegant and haughty, swallows are creatures of the air, not of the land. Humans, it seems, are nothing more to them than builders of convenient eaves for swallow nest sites.

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I scan the large room. No wonder the swallow seemed calm. The woolshed is full of swallows. I see thirty on the ceiling braces of one alcove. Each rafter holds a swallow, and every few minutes a soft blue blur reveals another swallow entering.

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Welcome Swallows are high speed aerial acrobats. They fly endlessly without tiring, sometimes completing figures-of-eight around your legs as you walk across a park. Mostly when you see them flying they are hunting – the small insects they prey on are invisible to our eyes, but the swallow’s acrobatic manoevres are the hunter in pursuit.

But the middle of the day in The Outback is hot. Even the insects seek shade (have you ever walked into an Outback dunny* on a hot day to find it full of flies? They get hot too!) Perhaps the swallows find it hard to hunt in very high temperatures and take a siesta in the woolshed.

The Mungo Woolshed may have been built for humans to make money from wool, but it has another purpose now. Its the Mungo Swallow-shed.

Visit the wildlife and heritage of Mungo National Park with us on our 3 day Mungo Outback Journey

 

*dunny: an outhouse toilet.

5 Amazing Facts about Koala Joeys

1. Baby koalas are called Joeys. All marsupial babies are called joeys – kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, tasmanian devils, possums & bilbys. The meaning/origin is unknown – it’s possibly just a diminutive used at that time for any small animal. Joey as a baby marsupial was first recorded in use in 1839.

The use of the word joey may have started with the word being applied for a British fourpenny coin. Politician Joseph Hume promoted the use of the fourpenny, thus the coin developed the slang name joey after him.

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2. The first time you see a koala joey it is already 6 months old. Koala joeys are born as tiny naked creatures that don’t look anything like a koala. They move straight into the pouch, and remain unseen until they emerge at around 6 months old.

Actual emergence takes time. The joey first pokes his head out of the pouch at 5.5 months, and fully emerges at 6 to 7 months. By 8 to 9 months the joey becomes too large to get into the pouch, and spends all his time on his mother’s belly or back.

3. Koalas invented pro-biotics. Koala joeys eat ‘pap’ – a special substance produced by their mother that looks like poo and acts like a probiotic. It contains gut flora that the joey needs to process eucalyptus leaves. The mother koala produces it from her caecum (a special chamber in her large intestine) and delivers it from her cloaca, so though it looks a bit like poo, its not.

Pap is absolutely essential to a koala’s health. Wildlife Carers with orphaned koala joeys will frequently ask the wildlife care community for a postal delivery of pap from a koala mother – any koala mother will do, the closer the better but any is better than none. Imagine receiving that package of squishy green slurry in the mail!

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4. Koala joeys are born out of their mother’s central vagina. Female koalas have three vaginas.

Why? Its complicated, and deserves a complete blog on the subject. Suffice to say that the two lateral (side) vaginae are for the passage of sperm to the uteri, and the median (central) vagina is for birth.

5. Koala joeys are born high in a tree. There is no danger of them falling to the ground – they are so tiny they get trapped in their mother’s fur. At birth a koala joey weighs only 1 gram – as much as a single sultana/raisin – and is only 2cm long.

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It’s Koala Joey Season in the state of Victoria right now. All over the state wild koalas can be seen with joeys – hotspots are The You Yangs near Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road and Raymond Island, East Gippsland.

Echidna Walkabout runs the following tours to see koalas in the wild – with a high chance of seeing koala joeys each year from September to November:

Wildlife Journey 4 days

Great Ocean Road 3 days

Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD 1 day

For more information contact:

Janine Duffy

janine@echidnawalkabout.com.au

T: +61 (0)3 9646 8249

Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours & Koala Clancy Foundation

http://www.echidnawalkabout.com.au http://koalaclancyfoundation.org.au

Once seen, never forgotten. Koala of the Month: Cruiz

Its easy to assume that wild koalas have small, reliable home ranges. After all, you don’t see them moving about much do you?CRUIZ260913mrWMlowrestext

If we’ve learnt one thing over 17 years of wild koala research, its that koalas move! A lot!

We first met Cruiz in November 2008 in the Turntable region of the You Yangs. He looked big, strong and healthy. We assumed he was mature – at least 4 or 5 years old. It was exciting to have a new male on the block.

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But then he disappeared. Sadly, we filed his photos and nose pattern diagram under the “Koalas once seen, never to be seen again” file.

You should never give up on a koala, though. Out of the blue in December 2011 he re-appeared in the turntable area. He’s back, we thought. “Don’t be hasty” he thought.

We didn’t see Cruiz once in 2012. Not once. Back into The File he went.

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Cruiz in 2013

So when he showed up three times in 2013 and three times in 2014, we had learnt our lesson. We didn’t get excited. Maybe he’s a nomad. Maybe he’s in protracted negotiations with dominant male Anzac, and other residents Vincent, Zack, Kenny and Rocky.

But 2015 was a good year for Cruiz. Already we have seen him 12 times. He’s been all over the place – turntable, branding yard 2 km to the east, Branch Rd. If we simply join the dots of all his locations this year, his home range would be around 117 hectares!

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Interestingly, too, he isn’t migrating steadily from one area to another – he is regularly traversing that entire area. One day he’ll be in Branding Yard, a week later he’ll be back in Turntable.

He’s not young either – we estimate he is at least 12 years old. That’s a really good age for a wild male these days.

Every single wild koala is different. Cruiz is a special fellow.

If you come on our Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD one day tour, or our 3 day Great Ocean Road tour, you might meet him!

Where does the King-Parrot get his name?

 

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Bird names are a bit like the English language – a lumpy soup of broken rules, throwbacks, dialects and slang. Some birds are named for their appearance: Tawny Frogmouth, White-throated Needletail; for their behaviour: Plains Wanderer, Bee-eater; for their similarity to other birds: Quail-thrush, Cuckooshrike, Fairywren; some for their calls: Laughing Kookaburra, Clinking Currawong and some for the region and habitat they live in: Atherton Scrubwren, Australian Reed-warbler.

Others are named for a combination of features, and some for reasons so twisted and mangled that they are nearly untraceable: Pitta, Cockatoo and the hilarious Drongo.

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So when you look at a large, elegant, vermillion and emerald-green parrot, the name King-Parrot seems sensible. The plumage of the adult male is reminiscent of expensive velvet cloaks with shimmering satin linings. A flash of turquoise on the wing sparkles like a diamond bracelet.

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Obviously King-Parrots are named for their appearance?   Well, no.

Watch this elegant parrot for a while and you will see that they are special. They inhabit the cool, wet forests of eastern Australia. They are sensitive to heat and dryness. High in the mighty eucalyptus forests of East Gippsland you will hear their ringing call, but they are elusive and sometimes difficult to see. The ground level of us mere mortals is a long way beneath them.

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male (lower) & female King-Parrots

If you own a bird feeder, as Sue & Glenn Herbert of Snowy River Homestead in Orbost do, you will meet many glorious Rainbow Lorikeets, Galahs, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Crimson Rosellas, who crowd and squabble over seed treats.

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Rainbow Lorikeets (top), Galahs (pink & grey) and 4 King-Parrots (ground) at a feeder

Rarely, though, will you see a King-Parrot. They will wait until the others have gorged and then calmly appear. They will not squabble. They will not debase themselves. Somehow they know that you have saved a little seed for the most regal of visitors.

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Okay, then King-Parrots must named for their behaviour?  No, afraid not.

There is another way to name a bird. A name can honour a person. American naturalist Thomas Horsfield has a bronze-cuckoo and a bushlark named after him, artist John Lewin has a rail and a honeyeater, ornithologist John Gould has a finch and a petrel, and royalty are well represented by (Queen) Victoria’s Riflebird and Princess (Alexandra’s) Parrot.

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Politicians and heads of state also get their share of bird-names-in-honour. Barack Obama, Indira Gandhi and Nelson Mandela all have birds named for them.  But this is not just a recent phenomenon.

Philip Gidley King, Governor of New South Wales from 1800-1806 is the King-Parrot’s name source.

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adult male (left) and female Australian King-Parrots

According to “Australian Bird Names: A Complete Guide” by Jeannie Gray & Ian Fraser, the name King’s Parrot was proposed by George Caley to honour Governor King. Whether King ever saw or appreciated his namesake is not known. The poor fellow died in 1808, only 2 years after resigning his post as governor and returning to England.

Watch out next week, its #AustralianFurSeal week!

What do jabirus do for fun?

What do children do if they don’t have toys? They make them!  Baby animals are just the same as human children in some respects. They play with what they have.

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Three Jabiru chicks were walking with their parent across a Top End, Northern Territory floodplain on a hot September day. We were lucky enough to be driving past, and did a quick U turn to watch.

Their cautious parent took them into the bushes upon seeing us, but after a few minutes the kids lost interest in hiding and started looking for some fun. A small tree on the open floodplain was calling them: “Come and pull me apart, why don’t you?” The temptation was too much.

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Adult male Jabiru flying

Out they marched, one chick the ringleader. She ambled up to the small tree and grabbed hold of a dangly bit of branch and pulled. Her brother and sister looked on, uncertainly. The ringleader pulled and twisted until finally, the branch broke free. What fun! Brother and sister decided to try some for themselves.

All three chicks gave the tree hell for several minutes. It was so funny to watch.  They pulled, they prodded, they grabbed high and low.  Of course, when siblings play it often ends up in a squabble. “You stole my branch, bro! Give it back, or I’ll peck you!  Ooooh, you’re asking for it…Give it back NOW”

Watch the video here:  Baby animals play youtube video

 

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Adult male Jabiru (Black-necked Stork)

But there’s a serious side to play. Baby animals play in ways that teach them how to use their bodies for serious adult life. Jabirus use their beaks for catching, killing and eating fish and carrion. So of course they must learn to use their beaks as babies. That sounds easy, doesn’t it? But think of how long it takes human infants to learn to use their hands to eat, or write! Motor skills take time to develop.

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Adult male Jabiru – note the large, strong beak

Watch this kind of animal play on our Wild Top End trip – every August!

Australia still has megafauna!

Big animals impress. But what are ‘big animals’ – elephants, rhinos, moose? How about kangaroos, emus, wedge-tailed eagles and goannas?

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Australia has its share of megafauna, but we Aussies sometimes make the mistake of overlooking our big natives.

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On a steamy, sizzling hot January day in far East Gippsland I took a mixed group of nature photography & wildlife biology students walking in Croajingolong National Park, near Mallacoota. It was funny trying to keep them together – the wildlife students would stand for ten minutes identifying every small bird and lizard we came across, while the photography students yawned and fiddled with their camera settings. Minutes later, the photography students would be in raptures over a rock formation, snapping from strange positions, then comparing histograms – while the wildlife students wandered off in search of obscure insects.

But one sight kept them all fascinated for twenty minutes. It was a goanna (Lace Monitor), and a big one – 2 metres long.

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Single-minded, she swaggered out of the mat rush, crossing our path with only a glance in our direction. From her straight path and speed we could tell she was on a scent and getting close. None of us could smell anything, but a human’s sense of smell is embarassingly poor and anyway, we don’t have Jacobson’s organs*.

She was close to her quarry, and seized it moments later. It didn’t fight back. In fact, it hadn’t moved for weeks. A very large, long-dead, dessicated Flathead fish was her dinner and our highlight of the day.

Monitor Lizards, of which the eastern Australian goanna, or Lace Monitor, is a member, can eat anything. If its meat and its immobile, a goanna will eat it. If its meat and can be caught, a goanna will eat it. If you’re an egg, or a baby bird unable to fly, just hope that no goannas come by. You can’t hide from an indestructible, patient predator with a sense of smell that makes every bloodhound look like they have a head cold.

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Our goanna wrapped her jaws around the flathead and tossed it around until she could get a good angle. Head first she started to swallow it whole. Gulp, gulp, slowly, almost painfully she eased the stiff old fish into her throat, like a sword-swallower. You could see the outline of the fish inside her chest. Ouch!

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The photographers went wild! The shutter-clicks were like distant machine gun fire. The wildlife students watched in awe, no binoculars necessary for this close encounter with megafauna. You can hear their hushed excitement on this video: (video to come)

After swallowing her meal, she climbed slowly onto a fallen tree, eased her belly down, relaxed her legs, laid her chin on the tree and snoozed. Not even a hammock and a cocktail could have made her happier. She was one blissful reptile.

Goanna/Lace Monitor

Keep an eye out for the megafauna in the wilder parts of Australia – goannas live everywhere in Australia except for the cities and built-up areas (and the island of Tasmania). They are most active when temperatures are warm but not too hot (20C – 30C). We often see them on our 4 day Wildlife Journey to East Gippsland (where this story occurred) and occasionally on our Mungo Outback Journey and Wild Top End trips.

*Jacobson’s Organ – an odour-tasting organ in the mouth of monitor lizards and snakes