Friday, August 27, 2010

The Waters Around Rottnest Island - Snorkeling Little Salmon Bay

Little Salmon Bay is such a fantastic little gem hidden on the south side of Rottnest Island. The beach is tiny, which might be the reason for the relative modest number of visitors you will encounter when you go there. You are quite well protected at the beach with rock structures surrounding the sandy beach and extending out into the water creating a little lagoon. As you have probably already guessed, it is not the sand that is the reason why you go to Little Salmon Bay, but rather the water, or more specifically what is under the water!

Little Salmon Bay delivers some of the easiest and best snorkeling I have done in Australia. A shallow sandy entry into crystal clear water and you have a bathtub the size of a cricket ground full of fish, corals and rich water. As long as you stay inside the lagoon you will be well protected by the rocky structures and maximum dept is not much more than 5m, with 80% of the area at less than 3 meters.

Rottnest should geographically be too far south to support corals and many of the exotic fish we saw. However, similar to how the Gulf stream warms western Europe, the Leeuwin current brings down warm tropical water from the north keeping winter water temperatures at Rottnest significantly higher than what you can expect just 18km east at the mainland, typically 19°C versus 15°C. Along with the warm water comes a variety of tropical marine larvae of which the pink corals have established a foothold in Little Salmon Bay.

Lots of exciting fish! I think the one above is a Yellow Moon Wrasse and the little green fish below is Pretty Polly Dotalabrus aurantiacus, it was pure luck that I managed to spot it in the middle of some green algae. Afterwards it was very easy getting the photo, since the PP was so confident in its camouflage that it did not flee when I came in for a closer look. We also saw numerous Western King Wrasse - there should be a photo in the Picasa album.

Great stuff! Every time I visit Perth and Rottnest I use a bit of time standing in Sydney looking at my suitcase considering if it is really worth bringing snorkel, mask and flippers - it is quite an extra load to transport 4200km west and on your back while biking around the island, however, as soon as you get your head under the surface you know it is all worth the extra hassle! :-) Driving back towards the ferry we managed to get another quick little dip around The Basin before heading back towards Perth.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rottnest Island - The Non-Feathered Land Critters

There is a good selection of land based non-feathered critters on Rottnest. The Quokka is probably the most famous inhabitant being directly responsible for the naming of the island. Dutch captain Willem de Vlamingh thought the quokkas looked like rats - I guess you did not need any biology degree to be put in charge of a flotilla in those days .. probably not today either(?) - Well, Vlamingh named the island "Rattenest" which is Dutch for "rat's nest" and over the years the name transformed into Rottnest.

The selection of reptiles on Rottnest is good, more importantly though is that your chance of seeing reptiles is excellent! The lack of dogs, cats and foxes and probably the fact that there is next to no traffic on the island has made the crawling inhabitants feel very safe. Particular in the afternoon they will happily present themselves out in the open, trying to suck the last bit of heat out of the tarmac road. So choosing to do a afternoon ride on your bike around the island can be most rewarding. Do not drive to close to the edge of the road and bring your camera :-)

Once again we managed to spot the local Bobtail subspecies called Tiliqua rugosa konowi, which is endemic to Rottnest Island. Also King's Skink Egernia kingii is a sure spot, I have never pulled out the lunch box at Cape Vlamingh (West End) without a specimen showing immediately afterwards :-)

We did not see any snakes this time around, but a great surprise was a line of Processionary Caterpillar, Ochrogaster lunifer, making their way across the road. Great way to prove that size matters :-) obviously they try to imitate a larger creature by forming a gap-less line, similar to how starlings seek protection in large flocks, "sort sol" and how striped catfish forms dense schools.

Excellent weather, some food heavy backpacks and time off - what more can you hope for? Out at Cape Vlamingh we were treated not only with the views of the Osprey family, but also with some hair raising performance by a couple of surfers in combo with helpers on two jet skis.

I have always though that it was cheating having a friend on a jet ski setting you up for the wave, but watching the battle against those waves at West End, I must admit that there was nothing looking like cheating there! Underwater reefs, massive surf and razor sharp rocks all along the coast - if it was me, I would have like a support vessel or two as well :-D

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Birding Rottnest Island

As usual, a Perth trip (nearly) always include a trip across the water out to Rottnest Island and in similar consistent fashion it never disappoint. Well to be absolutely honest, I would have been happy to finally bag a Rock Parrot, but following the usual logic it would be sad to deplete such a nice area and bring into question the need to visit it again. ;-)

I have seen Common Pheasant (top photo) in Australia before - at least 3 times - but every sighting have been brief and on Rottnest, this time I managed to get a photo which qualified for the blog. This introduced bird has, very much like the Mute Swan in Northam, only managed to establish a foothold in a few select places - all of them islands.

Another old Rottnest friend is the White-fronted Chat. Last time I managed to get a less than impressive photo of a WFT darting across the path, this time we were truly in for a treat with a little family of not less than 10 feeding at the salt lakes in the middle of the island.

The salt lakes are normally a fantastic bird spot, but this time - end of April - there was very little to see, apart from the White-fronted Chats we only managed to see a couple of other waders; Red-necked Avocet and Red-capped Plover above.

Guess there is a season for everything, no Banded Stilts at the salt lakes this time, but instead we were treated with a little Osprey family living in one of the gigantic nests placed on reefs just of the coast. Every year there are 2 to 4 Osprey families nesting around Rottnest, instead of starting from scratch they will reuse one of the up to 70 year old nest "towers" which through generations have grown to abnormal size. Those of you that know the size of an Osprey - 50 to 65cm - will be able to judge the magnitude of the construction in the photo above.

All good! Rottnest was firing on all cylinders. No new ticks, unless one of my tern-knowledgeable readers can create a bit of excitement by naming the tern in the picture below, I would not mind if someone told me that it was a Common Tern race hirundo? But if someone insist on it being a young-but-not-juvenile Antarctic Tern, then it would be very exciting! ;-) These were the bird, but I will return shortly with a underwater and probably a miscellaneous report.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wungong Gorge and Bungendore Park - Place of Gum Blossom

Next and last destination of the day was Wungong Gorge and Bungendore Park just south-east of Armadale. The park supports large areas of Jarrah-Marri woodlands, including some good quality old growth which supply a varied selection of parrots with vital nesting holes.

The Jarrah trees have in an immensely impressive way adapted to the conditions of the southern end of WA. With a root system reaching down as much as 40 meters they are capably of surviving through the toughest of droughts and in the case of a devastating bush fire, the trees will be able to regrow from a underground lignotuber similar to how Mallee and Banksia survive the burning inferno. The quality of the wood has put great pressure on the Jarrah in WA, huge areas of old growth forest have been logged. Its success(?) as a building material being fueled by inbuilt termite- and rot-resistant, but application range from road fill to musical instruments.

The Jarrah and the similar but taller (and rarer) Karri are inhabitants that the tree-knowledgeable people of the region are very proud of and rightly so - get a WA tree-lover (not to be confused with tree-hugger) talking about the quality of these giants and you will be entertained for hours ;-)

Such specific habitat obviously support very specific wildlife, including some sought after Western Australian endemics - actually nearly all of the ones you can hope to find in the south! So no surprise that we found ourselves in the woods a warm warm WA day. We had taken advice from Frank O'Conner's site, it is an excellent resource for those who would like some suggestions on where to go birding in WA. His Wungong Gorge & Bungendore Park section points out that best time for a visit is early morning. Unfortunately that had not been an option for us, which we bird-wise was probably punished for. However, nothing wrong with a walk in some great forest :-)

Well you cannot really complain when you get the chance to stand and observe a group of Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo foraging the trees around you. I manged to get decent pictures of one of the females - the sex can be determined by the presence of yellow barring on the chest, the male is more deep black and has no yellow stripes. The other birds of this blog post are: Australian Ringneck, Western Wattlebird and a rubbish picture of a Varied Sittella.

I had really hoped for a Rufous Treecreaper and a Red-capped Parrot, but the good thing about dipping badly is that you have the best excuse ever for going again :-) Also, when you got the camera along, there is always something exciting around. I managed to do a bit of pseudo-macro shooting with the Bigma. The Wanderer Butterfly below always makes a good picture, by some it is considered the most beautiful insect in the world. It is another immigrant - not native to Australia, it only arrived in 1871, in north America it is called the Monarch. With those bright colorful wings it should not be a surprise that it is poisonous, it can actually be quite bad eating for even large birds. Weirdly enough it seems that a couple of true Aussie tough guys; Pied Currawong and Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike have (developed?) a stomach that can handle the poison - maybe the lesson being that if you survive years of Australian cuisine you can take on most of what mother nature throws at you :-D

Monday, August 9, 2010

Twitching Mute Swan in Northam

Well, when you find yourself standing there in the middle of Northam at the Avon River with the camera drawn and little G. running around with binoculars it is very very hard not to admit that you are actually on a proper twitch. I am not talking about a muscles uncontrollable contraction and relaxation, but rather about the journey a keen birdwatchers initiate to see a specific (rare) bird - a twitch.

That specific bird in Northam is the Mute Swan. It is the only place in Australia were you can be sure to see this species breeding in a "wild" environment. Mute (or White) Swans were brought to WA in 1896 by the British, probably to ease some severe cases of homesickness .. A Russian settler and the Major of Northam decided that Northam, with the Avon river going through would be perfect for the swans and the swans agreed - somehow the Mute Swan never really established a proper foothold anywhere in Australia and the imported animals died without giving giving life to new offspring, except for Northam where today a thriving group of ca. 80 individuals patrol the waters.

Quite funny to see a road sign giving direction to where the bird you are after resides :-D No doubt that the swans are a very popular inhabitants and that they are well looked after - in a wild way ;-)

Having once again fulfilled our goals during the very first few minuets at the location, we easily had time for a stroll along the Avon River and a walk across the suspension bridge. It is a beautiful quiet area up there ca. 100km inland and my guess is that Northam sports some seriously hot summer days. We were there end of April more specifically on ANZAC day and lets just say that it was toasty! - Sorry for being terribly behind with this blog, but I am trying!

All good, I managed to catch a few flying object with the camera; some metallic ones in honor of ANZAC day and a more conventional feathered Yellow-billed Spoonbill. Half the day was gone and the next target should prove to be a lot harder - we were heading for Rufous Treecreeper habitat.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Short-billed Black-Cockatoos in The Hills East of Perth

Short-billed (White-tailed) Black-Cockatoo aka Carnaby's Black-Cockatoo is one of the endemic birds of Western Australia. It is not as difficult to find as its very similar Long-billed cousin (aka Baudin's Black-Cockatoo) and every time I have seen them, there has been a good size flock of them. This early morning in the hills east of Perth I was particular lucky spotting in total more than 50 cockatoos foraging the tree tops in small groups, giving very little attention to the shutter pressing, big smiling Dane running around down on the ground - What a great bird!

Conditions were absolutely fantastic, cold crisp morning air and since the birds did not mind me, I was free to walk around under the trees getting the best angle for the photos. Great start to a big day.

It is a peaceful place up in the hills away from all the shenanigans of the city, so peaceful that even the birds are more relaxed. I have seen Common Bronzewing many times, but usually I find them very difficult to approach without scaring them away. The male above, however, allowed me in close - who is watching who?

I have to include a kangaroo once and a while - at least for my international readers :-D and to remind myself of how different it is down under. I have lived down here for nearly 5 years and once and a while it is good to remember some of the things that stunned you when you arrived. I can reveal that Moreton bay fig and Australian White Ibis are on the list for a fresh off the plane Dane walking the Sydney parks.

After some excellent birding I decided to change to the macro lens and take a closer look. I am quite happy with the insect in flight shot above - if just the bee had turned around! ;-)

All good, great morning - temperature had started rising and it was looking like another warm day in WA, we were heading further inland for one of the most quirky ticks around: Mute Swan in Northam.