The mammals of Victoria, Australia

The mammals of Victoria, Australia

Full List of Mammals of Victoria, Australia

Victoria has 103 native extant (living) mammal species.  They represent 28 families in 8 orders.  Victoria comprises only 3% of Australia’s total area, but is home to nearly 30% of her mammals.  Most of the major types of Australian mammals are present in this state: 2 of the 2 monotreme families; 11 of the 17 living marsupial families; 6 of the 8 bat families; 1 of the 1 family of native rodents and 8 of the 10 families of marine mammals.

Conservation Status in Victoria is noted beside each species thus: CR: Critically Endangered EN: Endangered VU: Vulnerable NT: Near Threatened DD: Data Deficient

MONOTREMES: Order Monotremata  (2)

Family: Ornithorhynchidae (1)

Ornithorhynchus anatinus (Platypus)

Family: Tachyglossidae (1) 

Tachyglossus aculeatus (Short-beaked Echidna)

MARSUPIALS: Infraclass Marsupialia (38)

Order: Diprotodontia (24)
Kangaroos, wallabies:  Suborder Macropodiformes (9)
Family: Macropodidae (7)

Macropus fuliginosus (Western Grey Kangaroo)

Macropus giganteus (Eastern Grey Kangaroo)

Macropus robustus (Eastern Wallaroo) EN

Macropus rufogriseus (Red-necked Wallaby)

Macropus rufus (Red Kangaroo)

Petrogale penicillata (Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby) CR

Wallabia bicolor (Swamp Wallaby)

Family: Potoroidae (2)

Potorous longipes (Long-footed Potoroo) EN

Potorous tridactylus (Long-nosed Potoroo) EN

Koala & wombat: Suborder Vombatiformes (2)
Family: Phascolarctidae (1)

Phascolarctos cinereus (Koala)

Family: Vombatidae (1)

Vombatus ursinus (Common Wombat)

Possums & Gliders: Suborder Phalangeriformes (13)
Family: Acrobatidae (1)

Acrobates pygmaeus (Feathertail Glider)

Family: Burramyidae (5)

Burramys parvus (Mountain Pygmy Possum) CR

Cercartetus concinnus (Southwestern Pygmy Possum) NT

Cercartetus lepidus (Tasmanian Pygmy Possum) NT

Cercartetus nanus (Eastern Pygmy Possum) NT

Gymnobelideus leadbeateri (Leadbeater’s Possum) CR

Family: Pseudocheiridae (2)

Petauroides volans (Greater Glider)

Pseudocheirus peregrinus (Common Ringtail Possum)

Family: Petauridae (3)

Petaurus australis (Yellow-bellied Glider)

Petaurus breviceps (Sugar Glider)

Petaurus norfolcensis (Squirrel Glider) EN

Family: Phalangeridae (2)

Trichosurus caninus (Mountain Brushtail Possum/Bobuck)

Trichosurus vulpecula (Common Brushtail Possum)

Bandicoots: Order Peramelemorphia (3) 
Family: Peramelidae (3)

Isoodon obesulus (Southern Brown Bandicoot)

Perameles gunnii gunnii (Eastern Barred Bandicoot) CR

Perameles nasuta (Long-nosed Bandicoot)

Dasyurids (carnivorous mammals): Order Dasyuromorphia (11) 
Family: Dasyuridae (11)

Antechinus agilis (Agile Antechinus)

Agile Antechinus
prob. Agile Antechinus

Antechinus flavipes (Yellow-footed Antechinus)

Antechinus minimus (Swamp Antechinus)

Antechinus swainsonii (Dusky Antechinus)

Dasyurus maculatus (Tiger/Spot-tailed Quoll) EN

Ningaui yvonneae (Southern Ningaui) NT

Phascogale tapoatafa (Brush-tailed Phascogale) VU

Planigale gilesi (Giles/Paucident Planigale) NT

Sminthopsis crassicaudata (Fat-tailed Dunnart) NT

Sminthopsis leucopus (White-footed Dunnart) NT

Sminthopsis murina (Slender-tailed/Common Dunnart) VU

PLACENTALS/EUTHERIANS: Infraclass Placentalia (63)

Order: Carnivora (8)
Suborder: Caniformia (8)
Family: Canidae (1)

Canis dingo (Dingo) DD

MARINE MAMMALS: (33 in two orders)
Seals: (7)
Family Otariidae (4)

Arctocephalus forsteri (New Zealand Fur Seal) VU

Arctocephalus pusillus (Cape/Australian Fur Seal)

Arctocephalus tropicalis (Subantarctic Fur Seal)

Neophoca cinerea (Australian Sea Lion)

Family: Phocidae (3)

Hydrurga leptonyx (Leopard Seal)

Lobodon carcinophaga (Crabeater Seal)

Mirounga leonina (Southern Elephant Seal)

Whales & Dolphins (Cetaceans):  Order Cetacea (26)
Suborder: Mysticeti (8)
Family: Balaenidae (1)

Eubalaena australis (Southern Right Whale) CR

Family: Balaenopteridae (6)

Balaenoptera acutorostrata (Minke Whale)

Balaenoptera borealis (Sei Whale) DD

Balaenoptera edeni (Bryde’s Whale) DD

Balaenoptera musculus (Blue Whale)

Balaenoptera physalus (Fin Whale) DD

Megaptera novaeangliae (Humpback Whale) VU

Family: Cetotheriidae (1)

Caperea marginata (Pygmy Right Whale)

Suborder: Odontoceti (18)
Family: Delphinidae (8)

Delphinus delphis (Short-beaked Common Dolphin)

Globicephala melas (Long-finned Pilot Whale)

Grampus griseus (Risso’s Dolphin)

Lagenodelphis hosei (Fraser’s Dolphin)

Orcinus orca (Orca)

Pseudorca crassidens (False Killer Whale)

Tursiops australis (Burrunan Dolphin) EN

Tursiops truncatus (Bottlenose Dolphin)

Family: Physeteridae (2)

Kogia breviceps (Pygmy Sperm Whale)

Physeter macrocephalus (Sperm Whale)

Family: Ziphiidae (8)

Hyperoodon planifrons (Bottlenose Whale)

Mesoplodon bowdoini (Andrews’ Beaked Whale)

Mesoplodon densirostris (Blainville’s Beaked Whale)

Mesoplodon ginkgodens (Ginkgo-toothed Beaked Whale)

Mesoplodon grayi (Gray’s Beaked Whale)

Mesoplodon layardii (Layard’s Beaked Whale)

Mesoplodon mirus (True’s Beaked Whale)

Ziphius cavirostris (Cuvier’s Beaked Whale)

Bats, Fruit Bats, Flying foxes: Order Chiroptera (20) 
Flying Foxes: Suborder Megachiroptera (2)
Family: Pteropodidae (2)

Pteropus poliocephalus (Grey-headed Flying-fox) VU

Grey Headed Flying Fox
Grey Headed Flying Fox

Pteropus scapulatus (Little Red Flying-fox)

Micro-bats:
Suborder Microchiroptera (17)
Family: Emballonuridae (1)

Saccolaimus flaviventris (Yellow-bellied Pouched Bat)

Family: Molossidae (2)

Mormopterus planiceps (Southern Free-tailed Bat)

Tadarida australis (White-striped Free-tailed Bat)

Family: Vespertilionidae (14) 

Chalinolobus gouldii (Gould’s Wattled Bat)

Goulds Wattled Bat
Goulds Wattled Bat

Chalinolobus morio (Chocolate Wattled Bat)

Falsistrellus tasmaniensis (Eastern False Pipistrelle)

Miniopterus schreibersii (Common Bentwing Bat) EN

Myotis macropus (Large-footed Bat)

Nyctophilus geoffroyi (Lesser Long-eared Bat)

Nyctophilus gouldi (Gould’s Long-eared Bat)

Nyctophilus timoriensis (Greater Long-eared Bat) VU

Scotorepens balstoni (Inland Broad-nosed Bat)

Scotorepens orion (Eastern Broad-nosed Bat)

Vespadelus baverstocki (Inland Forest Bat)

Vespadelus darlingtoni (Large Forest Bat)

Vespadelus regulus (Southern Forest Bat)

Vespadelus vulturnus (Little Forest Bat)

Suborder: Yinpterochiroptera (1)
Family: Rhinolophidae (1)

Rhinolophus megaphyllus (Smaller Horseshoe Bat) VU

Native rats and mice:  Order Rodentia (9)
Family: Muridae (9)

Hydromys chrysogaster (Water Rat)

Mastacomys fuscus (Broad-toothed Mouse) DD

Notomys mitchellii (Mitchell’s Hopping Mouse) NT

Pseudomys apodemoides (Silky Mouse) NT

Pseudomys fumeus (Smoky Mouse) CR

Pseudomys novaehollandiae (New Holland Mouse) VU

Pseudomys shortridgei (Heath Mouse) NT

Rattus fuscipes (Bush Rat)

Rattus lutreolus (Australian Swamp Rat)

This list has been compiled from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mammals_of_Victoria and The Museum of Victoria: http://museumvictoria.com.au/bioinformatics/mammals and the Atlas of Living Australia:  http://www.ala.org.au

If any mammals are missing, please contact janine@echidnawalkabout.com.au

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What’s in The Bush? An overview of Aussie & New Zealand wildlife. Part 1: Mammals

So what’s wrong with this view?  Or rather, what’s right with it?

WhatsInTheBush

Now you’re Downunder, everything is upside down.

Our mammals lay eggs, our reptiles care for their babies, birds are flightless but mammals fly, and Orion does a headstand in the starry sky.

You’ll meet our mammals, birds and reptiles.  You’ll see how many of them live in female-dominated and matriarchal societies.  Many of them breed communally too.  Its all part of living Downunder!

So to begin – The continents in red & orange on the map above are our sisters.  We are the “Gondwana continents” and we are special.

The ‘Gondwana sisters’ have nearly all the special mammal families of the world.  These animals are found nowhere else.

Aussie has some of the biggest and most charismatic of them – kangaroos, koala, wombat, Tassie Devil, gliding possums, platypus, echidna, bilby, numbat and others.  Seriously, these animals, in fact their whole families, are found nowhere else on earth.  You have to go upside down to see them in the wild….

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This is a male Eastern Grey Kangaroo – the world’s largest marsupial.  They can grow to 7ft tall and weigh 90kg (200 pounds).  But don’t be fooled by his size and power.  It’s the girls who rule here.

These animals discovered the extended female-dominated family.  They were doing it long before humans came up with the idea.   To watch a mob of roos interact – the female majority all interested in each other’s welfare, getting along nicely most of the time with the occasional disagreement quickly solved by a slap.  In the background some males fight over breeding rights, but the females ignore them.

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Here’s a kangaroo family.  Two males (left and back) but don’t worry about them, as I said they don’t count.  It’s the two females in the centre that matter.

The girl in the middle, carrying a big pouch-baby – she is a Kangaroo Queen. She is the daughter, and grandaughter of Queens too.

One way a mob starts is this: a female is born who is super-intelligent, strong, adventurous and has a talent for mothering.  Her name is “Sunshine”

Sunshine, for whatever reason, strikes out to find a land of her own.  A male finds her and 35 days later she has her first child.  A daughter.  Its always a daughter.  She made sure of that.  (Yes, kangaroos can determine the sex of their offspring)

Sunshine teaches her daughter everything she knows, and that’s a lot – remember she’s the daughter of a Queen.  Her daughter stays close to her mum, because that’s what most kangaroo females do, for their whole lives. Sunshine has other daughters (there’s one in her pouch now), and her daughters have daughters.  They all stay together, loving and close – most of the time.

When Sunshine has a big enough family to keep watch for danger, and provide her with company when she’s old, she finally has a son.  Why does she wait so long?  Because her son will leave, and kangaroo mothers hate losing their children.  He has to leave.  He leaves when he gets to breeding age because there’s no sex here – all the females in his mob are his aunties, sisters & close cousins!!   And kangaroos just don’t do that!

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Also in the You Yangs mountains near Melbourne live these guys. This is Clancy, and you can read about him on his Facebook page.

Koalas are more cute than words can describe.  But like a lot of really cute people, appearances are deceiving.

You are looking at one of the toughest creatures on the planet.

I’d like to see any human tough guy climb a slippery gum tree, all the way to the top – 30m/100 ft in the air.  Then balancing with his feet only, reach out to grab leaves on branchlets far too fine to carry his weight.  Then eat them – yuk.  Fair dinkum, those leaves taste awful!  They’re the equivalent of the Atkins Diet without the protein… or fat.. or vegies….  There’s no such thing as a fat koala!!

So after Mr Tough Guy has eaten his Atkins leaves he has to sit there and digest.  It takes hours.  He’d like a sip of water, but he can’t have it. Meanwhile the sun has risen, and from a pleasant night-time temperature of 8 degrees C, the temperature rises to a sweltering 42 Celsius.    In one day.      He can’t come down from his tree – it’s unsafe on the ground, and he hasn’t got the energy.  So he has to sit it out.

Koalas and Polar Bears have the world’s most insulating fur.  The conditions they suffer are similar – koalas on the hot side, polar bears on the cold side.

I don’t think many humans would last long in Clancy’s shoes.

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Somehow, with all these challenges koalas have survived for 37 million years.

Once again, the ladies dominate.  She lives 1.5 times longer than him.  She chooses her mate.  She keeps her daughters close their whole lives, but her sons leave for other female-dominated communities.

But they face their biggest threat now – climate change is adding insult to the injury of habitat loss.  They are already the toughest, but there’s only so much a mammal can take.

Platypus
“Platypus” by Stefan Kraft – Selbst fotografiert am 20.9.2004 im Sydney Aquarium.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Platypus.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Platypus.jpg

Speaking of ancient mammals – this is one of the oldest in the whole world!!  Platypuses, and echidnas, come from a line that is 120 million years old!  That is older than some rocks I know!

Mating is initiated by the female, who swims alongside the male seductively until he gets the message.

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These spiny darlings – Echidnas – lay eggs, but they are still mammals.

Mammals have hair – even whales have some hair.  Mammals also feed their young on milk produced from glands.  So Echidna are still mammals, even though they lay eggs.

Their egg is leathery and hatches 10 days after laying. Mother echidna curls up in a ball and lays the egg straight into her pouch – amazing!

The baby, named a puggle, stays in the pouch after hatching, drinking milk from glands on the mothers belly.   But when he gets spines, he gets kicked out!  And fair enough too!

compilation

In Aussie we also have a dazzling array of wallabies, rock-wallabies, bettongs, potoroos, wombats, and the cutest possums in the whole world!

But its not all about marsupials and monotremes down here – we also have fabulous placental mammals!  I’ll explain more about what that means in the second presentation: Sex in the Bush!

NZ and Aussie have lots of beautiful Seals, Sea Lions, Dolphins and Whales.  I recommend that you include a visit to the coast when you’re in our countries.

Next week I’ll post part 2 of this presentation: Birds!

What’s in The Bush was first delivered to around 400 guests on Olivia Cruising Australia & New Zealand 2015, on Holland America’s Oosterdam Cruise Ship.  The presentation was one hour, including questions.  I am available to give this presentation for groups – please contact janine@echidnawalkabout.com.au

Tourism Businesses: Nine top tips to make your business more eco-friendly (and make your clients happier!)

  1. Plastic is nasty.  Almost every bit of plastic ever created is still in existence, much of it floating in the ocean.  It never breaks down.  Big bits of plastic end up in the bellies of baby Albatrosses and Dolphins, killing them through starvation.  Small bits (micro-plastic) remain floating in the ocean, or sink to the seafloor.  It is not known what effect these have, but marine scientists are concerned.  Recycling plastic doesn’t help much – after one or two recycles the plastic becomes unusable gunk that goes to landfill.  WHAT TO DO?  Replace plastic with glass, bamboo, cornstarch-alternatives, metal, paper, cardboard.  If you can’t find a plastic alternative that works for you, then reduce your plastic by using hard plastic reusable items.
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    toughened glass containers and reusable coffee mugs

    bamboo dish brush
    bamboo and natural bristle dish brushes
  2. Local is good. Local fruit & vegetables, anything bought from local-owned businesses, is much better for the planet than supporting a multi-national. You are making local jobs, usually reducing fuel from transport (both yours and theirs), and supporting your local community.  Smaller businesses are often more able and willing to make eco-friendly changes to their practices, especially if they value your business.
  3. Support markets and independent grocers. I know, the supermarket giants seem convenient, but sometimes a local grocer is actually easier.  South Melbourne Market is open every day except Monday, Tuesday & Thursday. They even have a sustainability and waste reduction policy.  Our local greengrocer delivers our fruit to our door. The quality and freshness of food from the market far exceeds that bought from the big supermarkets.  The fruit we buy from the market/greengrocer outlives the supermarket fruit by days – reducing waste and cost to the business. 
  4. Fruit is the best snack ever!  It comes in bio-degradable packaging all of its own.  It is classy, healthy, suits everyone, varies with the seasons and if local, is exotic and special to your guests.  People with food allergies can often eat fruit.  Fruit is kosher. Kids love fruit, especially strawberries, bananas, watermelon and grapes.  Of course, try not to buy it in a plastic bag or box – take your own ‘green bags’ to the market (see point 6) and your produce is packaged ready for storage and a long life.
  5. Disposable anything is wasteful and lacks class. I have felt offended when a ‘quality’ tour gives me lunch in a disposable plastic container with plastic cutlery.  That’s not quality.  That shows that a business is not prepared to wash dishes for the likes of you. On the flip side, we have so often been complimented by our guests for the proper crockery we serve our food on.  Washing dishes is not hard – most businesses have dishwashers!

    reusable crockery and cutlery
    tour lunch setup – not a disposable item in sight.
  6. ‘Green bags’ (Fresh Fruit Bags) extend the life of fruit & vegetables. They really, really do – we have a food technologist in the family and he’s confirmed it.  We put everything in them – they keep cut avocadoes green, cut watermelon & canteloupe stays fresh for days, broccoli and lettuce last weeks.  Yes, they are plastic, but we make an exception for these because they reduce food waste and are reusable many times. The pack says to use them three times only, but we wash and re-use them until they fall apart and we’ve seen no loss of quality.  You can buy them online here: http://www.gelpack.com.au/freshcrisp.html

    Fresh & Crisp Fruit Bags
    Keep your fruit and vegetables fresh for longer
  7. Compost!  If you’re using fruit and paper bags, it can all go into a compost bin.  95% of our tour waste goes into one 2litre compost bucket each day.  The compost is stored at our city office for a week, then is collected and transferred to our country property where it fertilises native plants.  If you don’t have a country place, look around for a community garden or group that could use your compost – they will probably collect it as well.  This organisation supplies compost units to restaurants in Melbourne – you can be part of it here: http://www.closedloop.com.au/closed-loop-organics
  8. Vehicle washing does not need to use massive amounts of water.  Buy one of the high-tech cleaning mitts (every supermarket and auto store has them, see pic) – you will be amazed at how well they work.  Half a mop-bucket of water and a high-tech cloth cleans a Hiace 12 seater van inside and out.  No need to rinse – once over with the mitt is all that’s needed.  It’s quicker and much cheaper than taking the vehicle to a carwash, and you can do it at your base without flooding the joint.  Think of the staff time (and money) you’ll save.

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    these car-cleaning cloths are excellent
  9. Publicise your eco-friendly initiatives – you will make others think, and give your competitors a reason to do it too. Write it all up on your website so your potential clients can see it.  Tweet, Facebook and Instagram it!  Get your Guides to show off your compost bucket on tours.  Put a sticker on your vehicles “I am washed with only half a bucket of water”.  Your clients will talk about it, and anything that gets travellers talking about us after the tour is good for business!

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    publicise your eco initiatives!  You deserve it!

This is not a post about how we are perfect – we are not.  There are still aspects of our business that are not as eco-friendly as they could be.  We are still learning.  Do you have any tips?  Please add them in the comments!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

To experience a story like this yourself, come on our 6 day Wild Top End tour!  http://www.echidnawalkabout.com.au/wildtopend

*there seems to be no way of telling Beach Stone-curlew sexes apart, so this is just for the sake of the story

A great day on Halicat Sydney Pelagic

The oceans of the world are vast, mostly dark and unknown, especially to land-lubbers like me.  I know they are full of life, but I know that in the same way I know the earth spins – it’s a cerebral thing, not something I can feel, touch and sense.  Well, if you’re like me, you should try this.

Halicat picks you up early on a beautiful Sydney morning. For the first half hour you enjoy the sights of Sydney Harbour – truly one of the most beautiful city views in the world.  Then a Little Penguin pops up, bobbing on the surface. They are so cute on the water!  The boat stops, and one of the great highlights of this trip happens – there is a rush of photographers, nature lovers and birdwatchers to the back of the boat to ooh and aah at the penguins.  The enthusiasm is exhilarating!

Passing through the heads and into the Pacific Ocean you watch as Sydney falls away behind you.

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Seabirds start to follow the boat at this point.  At first, Silver Gulls and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. Then more shearwaters – Flesh-footed and a few Short-tailed – and some Great-winged Petrels.  The shearwaters are true creatures of the ocean – long-winged, buoyant – they float on the air so easily that at times they outrun the boat and have to double back.  More and more join us until there are hundreds flying with us.  Where do they come from? How do they know?

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A scan of the horizon with binoculars shows many more seabirds, singly and in small groups, out there in every direction.  Suddenly, the enormity of this ocean fills your senses.  We are a tiny speck of a boat in this vastness, and already we have attracted hundreds of creatures – at any point on this ocean the same would happen.  There must be millions of seabirds on the Pacific at any one time, but all out of view of our land eyes.

Image < Flesh-footed Shearwater. Pic by Hal Epstein, Halicat

Dolphins join us for a while, then leave.  An Albatross comes by.  The size and power of this creature has to be seen to be believed.  I have watched documentaries about albatrosses, and seen a few off in the distance, but to witness this enormous bird flying over the boat left me speechless.

Image <Shy Albatross. Pic by Hal Epstein, Halicat

We saw many more creatures this day, and shared a warm camaraderie with the many nature lovers on board.  But something about the trip changed me forever.  You know that feeling when something dramatic happens in your life, and from that time onwards you remember things as happening before or after that event.  There was life before Halicat, and now there’s a new and better life after Halicat.

Try it.  The oceans of the world need us to love them.

http://www.halicat.com.au/nature_watching.html

Tips: Halicat runs on the second Saturday of each month. It is weather dependent, but runs most of the scheduled dates.  Take a seasickness medication like Kwells if you get seasick, or if you’re unsure – being sick would ruin your day, and the Pacific is a powerful ocean.  My partner almost didn’t go because he was worried about seasickness, but with meds he was talked into it, and now he is so pleased he did.  Take lunch and some nut/granola bars with you.  The boat provides morning tea, but that disappears quickly.

The trip costs $120AUD per person.

The Friday Five: great outdoor things to do this week… 10 August 2012

1. The Savannah Walkabout – one day Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD guided tour!  This amazing tour showcases the icons of Australia – Koalas and Kangaroos in their natural habitats. At this time of year the roos are really active and breeding, so its pretty exciting.  It’s for small groups (2 to 8 passengers only) so it’s really interactive.  Great for kids, international visitors and locals.  Go to http://www.echidnawalkabout.com.au/en/tours/savannah for more details.

2. Westgate Park, just near the West Gate bridge. An easy walk from the Docklands along the Yarra River, this beautiful park is an example of what a dedicated group of volunteers can do with an old unloved quarry. You can now walk through River Red Gum woodlands, past lakes and wetlands, have a picnic, a run or a cycle and see some wonderful birds.  Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters are still in residence and fill the bush with their liquid notes.  Watch out for Great Egrets, tiny Black-fronted Dotterels and beautiful little diving Grebes – both Australasian and Hoary-headed.  You will usually find some volunteers working in the park and they are so helpful. Go to: http://www.westgatepark.org/

3. Raymond Island, East Gippsland.  Near Paynesville, in the Lakes National Park area, is a island sanctuary for wildlife. Koalas, Kangaroos, Wombats, Echidnas, Tawny Frogmouths, parrots and lots of other birds live wild on the island.  The human inhabitants love their wildlife, and the wildlife knows it – they don’t seem as scared of humans here as in other places. Winter is a great time to be here.  There’s very few people around, but everything is open.  My tip – stay 2 nights at one of the lovely accommodation options.  Take an early morning birdwatching walk, followed by a short trip on the ferry to Paynesville, a long, lazy breakfast, then back to Raymond for an afternoon nap! When you’re refreshed get out again to search for koalas and kangaroos in the late afternoon sunshine, but make sure you’re back near the ferry to watch out for dolphins as they come in at dusk.

4. Melbourne Sports Tours. Sport is just such a part of Melbourne.  I’m not a huge fan of TV sport, but even I get excited by the buzz around the MCG on a Footy night.  The crowds are fascinating, friendly and fun.  I love just driving or walking past it, and savouring the rivalry/camaraderie of it all.  Whether you’re a local or a visitor, you should check out these tours.  You’ll learn something, have a ball, and share the day or evening with a guide who is passionate about sport and Melbourne.  Go to: http://www.melbournesportstours.com.au/index.html

5. St Kilda Botanical Gardens.  This is my latest discovery.   A tip from a young birdwatcher sent me there in search of a rare little bird called a Pink Robin.  I found her, but I also enjoyed the whole park experience enormously.  They have patches of beautiful native bush, a tranquil rose garden, a pond.  There is a friendly and welcoming EcoCentre in one corner – walk in anytime from 9 to 5 to find information about the area, terrific books to buy, eco-friendly products.  Go to: http://www.foskbg.org.au/