Wildlife Guide: Martin Maderthaner Areas visited: Orbost, Marlo, Lakes Entrance, Lake Tyers Beach, Raymond Island, Cape Conran Coastal Park, Cabbage Tree Palms Reserve, Lake Tyers Forest, Snowy River National Park, Buchan Caves Reserve, Croajingolong National Park, The Lakes National Park.
Highlights of this journey to far East Gippsland: Reptiles: Goanna (Lace Monitor Varanus varius), Jacky Lizard (Amphibolurus muricatus), Gippsland Water Dragon (Intellagama lesueurii howittii) Copper-tailed Skink (Ctenotus taeniolatus) and Red-bellied Black Snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus). Mammals: Australian Fur Seal (Arctocephalus pusillus), Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus), Grey-headed Flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus), Red-necked Wallaby (Notamacropus rufogriseus), Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) and Swamp Wallaby (Wallabia bicolor). Birds: Peaceful Dove (Geopelia placida), Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua), Hooded Plover (Thinornis cucullatus), Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax), White-bellied Sea-eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster), Nankeen Night-heron (Nycticorax caledonicus), Little Tern (Sternula albifrons), Spotted Quail-thrush (Cinclosoma punctatum), Australasian Gannet, Mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum) and Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae).
Wildlife Guide: Janine Duffy Areas visited: Orbost, Marlo, Lakes Entrance, Lake Tyers Beach, Raymond Island, Cape Conran Coastal Park, Cabbage Tree Palms Reserve, Lake Tyers Forest, Snowy River National Park, Buchan Caves Reserve, Croajingolong National Park, The Lakes National Park.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Big animals impress. But what are ‘big animals’ – elephants, rhinos, moose? How about kangaroos, emus, wedge-tailed eagles and goannas?
Australia has its share of megafauna, but we Aussies sometimes make the mistake of overlooking our big natives.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
Wombats are impressive. Wombats are powerful. Wombats are highly intelligent. They are good-looking, yes, but cute is far too diminutive a word for Australia’s most powerful native.
One night at Cape Conran in far East Gippsland, Victoria, I travelled out alone in search of a satisfying method of watching wild wombats. Most wild wombat experiences are of the disappearing, and disappointing, bottom of a wombat. I was hoping to find a better way.
Wombats are plentiful at Cape Conran, but nervous of humans and difficult to see. The country is thickly wooded with coastal scrub, leaving the only possible wombat-viewing along the slashed roadside verge and in the grassy areas around the picnic ground.
On previous research visits I had come to these conclusions:
Wombats are dignified creatures who resent bright lights and noise.
Wombats will sometimes stick around in the open if you stop your vehicle the moment you see them and turn your headlights down.
Wombats will occasionally tolerate a slow, quiet approach on foot as long as you don’t shine a bright light in their face.
On this night I rounded a corner to find a female Bare-nosed (Common) Wombat grazing ahead on the roadside. I stopped immediately, turned headlights down, but it wasn’t soon enough – she dashed into the bushes. Pity, she was such a big healthy girl, I would have loved to have spent some time with her. I was so disappointed that I just sat there for a minute in the cabin of the Landrover, wondering what on earth I was doing out here alone in the cold.
I noticed that the crashing sound wombats make in the undergrowth had stopped quite quickly. She hadn’t gone far. I couldn’t see her, but I wondered – is she just waiting for me to leave?
So I stayed and waited, freezing cold with the car windows open, but not willing to make a sound. It was ten minutes before she reappeared, hesitantly poking her intelligent eyes out of the bush. I didn’t move, for fear of ruining this beautiful moment.
Finally she emerged, her sleek chocolate brown body in full sight. I felt triumphant – it worked! For the next ten minutes I watched her while she grazed on the short grass by the road.
But this was a research trip, so I needed to find out if she had re-emerged because she accepted my presence, or if she simply didn’t realise I was still there. So I cleared my throat, softly. She dashed into the scrub. Damn! But then she stopped, head in the bushes, body still exposed. She waited. I waited. She turned around and returned to her grassy verge. Woo hoo!
Now I was really curious. Had she partly accepted me, on the condition that I behave; or does the level of noise/disturbance govern her reaction?
After a few more minutes I cleared my throat again. She stopped grazing for a moment, looked in my direction, but then resumed her feast. A few minutes later I did it again, louder. This time no reaction. Now I knew the answer to my question: She knew I was there and had accepted it.
Over the next half hour she grazed, I watched, making as much noise as I liked – coughing, talking to her softly, moving around in my seat, eating. I wasn’t rowdy, but I was making the sort of noises that groups of people can’t help making. And she was fine with it.
Eventually I had to leave – we humans have trouble staying awake in the full dark! By this time she was so accustomed to me that even the horrendously loud starting of the Landrover engine wasn’t enough to rouse her.
To experience wombats in the wild you need to travel to south-eastern Australia. The cool forests of Victoria (east of Melbourne) and New South Wales (in the hills west of Sydney) are home to wombats, but they are best (only?) seen on cool nights. Tasmania is by far the best place to see them – the cooler temperatures year round allow for wombat viewing even in the daytime.
Our 4 day Wildlife Journey to far East Gippsland is great for wombat viewing in the cooler months of September, October, November, April and May. In fact, it was research for this tour that gave me this experience.
Wombats are known to be the most intelligent of marsupials. They are also very large when full grown – up to one metre in length and 40kg in weight. Few native creatures are strong enough to challenge them, only humans are a real threat, so wombats have become the elephants of Australia: authoritative, stubborn, dignified. They move away from us only because they hate fuss. They’re not scared of us, they just don’t like our noisy, intrusive blundering.
Can you see why I can’t see a wombat as simply ‘cute’?
Watch out for next week: #GoannaWeek
Note: all the pictures in this post (except the one beside the road) are of baby/young wombats in care. Getting good photographs of wild adult wombats is really difficult – my photography skills and equipment are just not up to the task.
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.
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.
Read about the wildlife wonders we see all around Australia here.
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.
Every continent has it’s biodiversity hotspots. One of ours is East Gippsland – the far eastern corner of Victoria, in south-eastern Australia. On this corner of the mainland the warm South Pacific Ocean meets the cold Southern Ocean, ocean currents collide and marine life abounds. The warm easterly winds of Australia’s east coast meet the cold south-westerlies of the south coast, so weather patterns are a mish-mash of both systems.
Australia’s highest mountains brush the edge of East Gippsland, and two of Australia’s “big” rivers – the Murray and the Snowy, start in the Kosciusko highlands just to the north. The Snowy runs through East Gippsland, first through dry rainshadow woodland, and then onto a fertile swampy floodplain.
In this region there is a bit of everything: warm and cool-temperate rainforest, wildflower-filled coastal heaths, 600 year old tall eucalyptus forest, stunted dry woodland, alpine meadows and some of Australia’s most beautiful beaches. 340+ species of birds, most of our large iconic mammals, reptiles, butterflies and a host of frogs live or have been recorded here.
Red-necked and Swamp Wallabies
Strangely, all this has been found in a region barely known to science, birdwatchers or naturalists. Many parts of East Gippsland are rarely visited. We’ve just scratched the surface of this incredible hotspot. There’s more there just waiting to be found!
Stay tuned for more articles about this fascinating region!
For a Guide, some trips last in the memory with a smile. Early February’s bright sunny Wildlife Journey was one of those. I shared it with 4 wonderful people who brought the best of their cultures with them: 2 enthusiastic, warm, open-hearted Americans, and 2 funny, subtle, gentle Brits. They approached every adventure with williingness, and enjoyed every bird, butterfly and lizard as much as the koalas, kangaroos and wallabies (or almost, anyway!)
Our 4 day Wildlife Journey travels to East Gippsland – one of Australia’s wildlife hotspots. The Snowy River forms a rough western border, the Pacific Ocean on the east, the Southern Ocean to the south and the New South Wales highlands to the north. In a region that makes up only 4% of Victoria’s land live nearly half Australia’s bird species, 60% of our large mammals and a stack of reptiles, frogs and butterflies.
The highlights were the wild koalas and kangaroos on the first day at Raymond Island, a small island in The Lakes National Park near Paynesville. It’s a fantastic spot for wildlife generally, partly due to the attitude of the few human residents of the island – they are a very pro-wildlife lot!
For me, the great highlight was a pair of White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes on the Mooresford Track in the Snowy River National Park on the second day. I hadn’t seen a White-bellied since Darwin, NT in 2011 and that’s a very long way away from East Gippsland. White-bellieds are occasional visitors to Victoria, particularly to the dry forests of the north. One bird was the very distinctive and beautiful dark morph, which I had only seen once before.
A very cheeky Goanna (Lace Monitor) made our lunchtime very entertaining by prowling around our table hoping for a tidbit. They are magnificent creatures. Big ones get to 2.5metres, but they’re not dangerous to people. This one was smaller, maybe 1.5m.
As a finale to a great trip, we enjoyed sundowners and dinner while the sun set over the Southern Ocean.
Imagine a rowdy party. Shrill squawks and sudden laughter, bright colours, lots of movement. That is the scene we stepped into on the Wildlife Conservation Journey last week. It wasn’t people having the party, it was the lorikeets!
Why the party? The huge Banksia flowers were full of sweet nectar, and the Rainbow Lorikeets eat nothing but. Banksia flowers are, to them, like chocolate fountains to us – impossible to resist.
Of course, if you eat too much sugar there’s always one consequence – hyperactivity! Lorikeets eat and fly and squeal, eat and fly and squeal at a decibel limit that is almost painful, just because they can. They are full of life and energy. It is infectious. Watching them makes one want to run and jump for joy. Watch them here: http://youtu.be/QbTNWhdAaXc
Rainbows are the biggest and noisiest of our lorikeets. Australia has many others too, smaller, but similarly hyper. Despite their brilliant colours, they can be hard to see in the eucalyptus leaves. For some reason (I think it’s because of the very clean white light of Australia) a full colour palate disguises our treetop birds. Splashes of red, yellow and blue ripple through the leaves and branchlets of gum-trees, concealing the bright little birds feedling within.