Spotlight on Species Wombat Forest Night Walk

Last night we went on a spotlight walk in an area that is an island of forest to the north of the Wombat forest, as part of the Spotlight on Species walks a partnership between the Upper Campaspe Landcare Network and the Macedon Ranges Shire Council Environment department. It was a well attended walk and while we did not spot any powerful owls or greater gliders we did see plenty of interesting things and it was a lovely wander.

Night Spotlighting
A night wander

I love being in the forest a night. The thump of a wallaby as it hops off into the darkness, the sounds of sugar gliders chattering in the trees and the quiet crunching of parrots nibbling eucalypt seeds in the canopy. It is amazing how using a spotlight can focus your searching, not just in the trees but also on the ground. You see bugs and beetles you would just never see in daylight and plants so easy to walk past in daylight just pop out into focus.

My highlight of the night was a Southern Boobook Owl, it is not often one sits long enough to get some photos.

Southern Boobook
Southern Boobook.
Ninox novaeseelandiae
Southern Boobook
Hello

Another night walk in the Wombat Forest

Another night walking a transect, doing a spotlight survey in the Wombat State forest looking for endangered species.
Tonight’s star of the show was Powerful Owl.
These are such awesome birds. They are Australia’s largest Owl growing up to 65cm length with a wing span up to 1.3m. They are seriously large predators. From the track only its head could be seen.

After letting it get used to our presence we were able to move and change angle so we could see it front on.

So now we know why it stayed while we moved. It’s dinner in it’s claw, an adult ring-tailed possum looks small as compared to the owl. I would guess it will share its meal with its mate who we could hear but not see in the surrounding darkness. What a great find and despite not seeing any Greater Gliders, who are also food for the Powerful Owl, it was such a great night to be out.

If you get the chance a walk at night in a forest or even your backyard in Australia with a good torch is a great way to see what is out and about at night. Thanks to Upper Campaspe Landcare Network for organising this walk.

A Walk in the Wombat Forest

Greater Glider
A young Greater Glider in the Wombat forest.
Tonight we went on a spotlighting survey in the Wombat State forest. Until a couple of months ago I had not seen a Greater Glider in the wild before. But tonight took the cake, 8 Greater Gliders spotted on a single transect. Perfect night for it, a little moon and no wind and given it is the middle of winter here it was not too cold either.
Greater Glider
Who is watching who?
I am yet to see one glide but they are quite slow moving and seem not at all fussed by the attention. They are quite happy to sit and watch the humans as they wander around with torches hunting for eye shine to find them.

The Greater Glider is the largest gliding possum in Australia. They range from North Queensland to the Wombat Forest in Victoria and are an endangered species. They are surprisingly large looking but their fur cost is long and think making them look bigger than they actually are. Adults weight up to 1.6 kg in our area. Body length is up to 43cm and the tail is up to 53cm. So the whole package comes in at around one metre for a full sized adult. They eat Eucalyptus leaves like Koalas and are often found in the tops of trees feeding. They need many large hollows in their home ranges as they are slow moving and shift home frequently as they feed from tree to tree.

Greater Glider
Whats happening over there.

So pleased to have found such a relatively large population doing well so close to home. The survey we attended was promoted by the Upper Campaspe Landcare Network.

Chasing Aurora

Last Friday night, 20th April I received an Aurora Alert. Given that we are surrounded by trees I went out to the closest spot that gave me an unhindered view of the southern horizon. I could only see a smudge by eye, it was drowned out the glow of Melbourne I thought, but on closer inspection it was there on the right hand side of frame, just below the horizon but the distinct trace of the Aurora Australis.

Melbourne to the left and Aurora Australis to the right.
With Mt Macedon to the left and the white glow of Woodend in front of the mountain with the white glow in the woodsmoke. Melbourne lights up the whole left hand sky, the orange glow of Gisborne below the dotted trail of the plane but to the right behind the trees the soft glow of the Aurora Australis. Click the image of a larger view.

Bugs, Birds and Blessed rain

It has been a long couple of weeks in so many ways, but were are back again. A bit of a catch up this week, so some highlights for the last month to catch you all up.
I really love the Sweet Bursaria, Bursaria spinosa , it brings back childhood memories from the family farm. It flowers here in early autumn most years which is later that in many other areas. I really have no idea why that is, but for the insects it is a great resource. It has lots of fine, needle sharp spines which offer great protection for small birds as a refuge from predators. It is one of those tough native plants that never seems to need water and it seems to love harsh places where other plants struggle. One of my favorites really.

After a really long dry spell we finally had some real rain. It was as if the bush was just hanging on waiting for the moisture. In the end we got 60mm for the rain event. The rains triggered a mayfly emergence, millions of these small insects emerged and in the late afternoons for a few days formed wonderful swirling clouds as they sought out a mate. I find the swirling insect clouds mesmerizing, the way they swirl and twist, dissipate and reform is like an aerial ballet, engaging and relaxing to watch. It is such a short lived event but one I really love to see every season. I hope you also enjoy seeing it as much as I did.

Finally apologies for being offline for a while, we struggled with the technology here for, computers and internet were just not happy, but this all seems to be fixed now so will look forward to getting your weekly updates back on track. So let us know what you think and I will see you again next week with more of my insights on nature.

Update and Apologies

We are having some technical issues here getting our videos uploaded to youtube. I was away working for a while and so missed a week but since getting back I have tried to upload clips but our internet keeps falling over. I hope to get this sorted out this week and catch up on what has happened in the last month. Mark

Nature, perfect one day, unpredictable the next

The great joy of my job is that Nature is so unpredictable. Its not just us humans that get it wrong but sometimes animals and insects are in the wrong place at the right time or the right place at the wrong time too. Robert Burns poem To A Mouse puts it so well.
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

The Koala, these gum leaf munching machines are pretty laid back normally. They tend to be seen napping the days away comfortable in the fork of a tree. Not a lot happens in a average Koala’s day, but then life in the trees can have its moments. The poor male in this weeks clip was trying to nap, as Koala’s do and the sudden arrival of the strong winds certainly took him by surprise. He was suddenly in a forest washing machine, lashed by branches and foliage, even as his limb shook and swayed in the gale. He certainly had a tight grip with those sharp long claws.

I was keen to record the Lunar Eclipse. After all they are not that common and I had great plans for how I was going to show it. Well dense cloud put paid to that, I stayed up ever hopeful, after all if you don’t do the time, you will never get the shots you want. It was freezing cold, windy to boot and oh so much cloud. In the end I admit I gave up at about 3am having not seen the moon for about 4hrs and it had well passed totality. Next time perhaps.

I did get all excited about the ants. If you have never seen Alates swarm it is a pretty amazing process, they erupt into the air from their holes in spectacular fashion, almost as if they were being flushed out of their holes by a leaf blower. I must admit I was pretty excited to see the build up to this happening and had all the gear ready to go. But they came, they tested the air and returned to their holes. Perhaps I will see it happen, I am certainly keeping watch on the ants in the evenings. Fingers crossed.

And then dumb luck, I find a Large Phasmatid, or stick insect. This is one big bug, she is a whopper, 200mm body length, and then all legs. I am trying to identify her but it is not easy. I am certain she is a she, females have short wings and cannot fly. There is no way this girl could fly with the wings she has. I found it really interesting that she only moved when the wind was blowing and the tree moving. In still conditions she just sat still, smart defense, only move when the other sicks are moving. It sure makes it hard to film as she does nothing when the tree is still, not even feeding.

Hope you enjoy this week, remember to subscribe to this blog if you want notification whenever I post. Remember this is a work in progress and I would appreciate any feedback you care to give, lets make this as good a site as we can. Cheers for this week.

A Day from Above

Something a little different this week. A Day from Above is a birds eye view of a summers day at my place in the central highlands of Victoria, Australia.

Starting with a misty foggy dawn moving through the heat of the day to sunset the flying camera explores my place and gives you an overview of the surrounding area. Shot over several days to give a representative overview of a typical summers day. From a misty foggy dawn, it soon heats up to the mid 30’s and inside the forest all is still and quiet. Late afternoon it starts to cool then ending after sunset where even in mid summer it can get quite cold in the evenings.

I hope you enjoy the overview of my place in the world and now have a better idea of a sense of place when viewing this clips from week to week.

For those interested, all the material was shot from a DJI Marvic Pro drone in 4k (thanks Micheal). I am a big fan of small drones and while they do have some limitations they are wonderfully able little devices and allow you to fly under the canopy and closer to the ground if you wish.

After much thought I decided to go with no commentary and just let the pictures talk, I hope you like it and let me know what you think.

Apologies for the delay in getting this out. We have had some tech issues that held things up but we are all sorted now.

A White Kookaburra and Cockatoos

What an exciting week it has been and it just goes to prove no matter how long you work with wildlife there are always some massive surprises to be had. That the nature world still astounds me is why I so love what I do.

I was so excited to see Snowy the White Laughing Kookaburra, even as I write I am still in awe of coming across such an amazing bird. My initial thought was that Snowy was an Albino. But after some fairly careful research and having a good look at the shots and zooming in on the eyes they look just like adult Kookaburra eyes, in that they are quite dark and they are not pink or light colored. So I think Snowy is not a Albino but has Leucism. Something I had no idea about until I looked into how Snowy is white.

So what is the difference between Albinism and Leucism?
When a bird is a true Albino, a genetic disorder causes the bird to not have the amino acid tyrosinase present in its system and so its body does not produce melanin pigments at all.
In the case of Leucism, the amino acid tyrosinase is present and so are the melanin pigments but in this inherited disorder the deposition of these pigments is blocked and so color is not transferred to the feathers, beak and skin scales in extreme cases.
So leucistic birds always have colored eyes which distinguishes them from albinos, as in the case of Snowy.

My source for this information is found at Not every white bird is an albino: sense and nonsense about colour aberrations in birds a paper by Hein van Grouw. Thank goodness for Google Scholar.

I do hope the white Laughing Kookaburra (AKA Snowy) does well and survives. Being such a standout creature will likely make its life hard and logic tells me without camouflage it will be a sitting duck for predators. Snowy lives on private land and without disturbance hopefully will live a long successful life, but only time will tell.

It is worth remembering that every animal is a individual, they all have their own personalities and characteristics. Some have obvious differences, like Snowy but anyone who has owned pets, (dogs, cats, birds or reptiles) knows that each one has its personality and is different and unique in its own way. This blog is a lot about celebrating the animal characters that live and pass though my life here. I look forward to your comments and subscribe to get reminders for every new post.

A white Kookaburra, you just never know what you will find in the natural world, do you.

Ethics and Film Making, My Rules

For all aspiring film makers and also for viewers of our content here is my guide to the ethics of filming wildlife. These are my rules and how I operate I think they are reasonable and will gladly hold to them for all my filming for this Blog.

1. Remember it is only a movie/photo, it is not ethical to make any creature miserable just to get your shots. So keep your distance, take your time and be aware of your effect and presence on the creature. I have a simple rule of thumb here, a happy animal does their own thing and that is often what you want to film/photograph.
2. If you film in controlled circumstances and by that I mean a set, tank, a zoo, a wildlife park etc say so. For some things we will work in controlled environments but we will always say so and tell you why it is necessary. (More about set filming later)
3. Do not create unreal scenarios or scenes that would not happen in nature. For example a polar bear eating penguins. (Think about it).
4. Leave nothing but footprints and take noting but images. That is do not destroy or damage the environment you are working in. No litter, no gaffa tape, when you leave, leave no trace of your visit.
5. Do it right, get all permissions and permits before you film/photograph. To conduct any commercial operation, that means to take video or photograph you might sell, in a National Park or reserve you need a permit from the relevant authority. Permits come with conditions that need to be read and understood and kept to. On private land make sure you have the approval of the land holder. Remember in all cases, you never know when you may need to come back so ensure you keep to the rules. (If you are just a tourist and capture something amazing you might be able to sell, most authorities will be understanding and look to issue a permit after the event if your honest and upfront. Plus they will probably be excited to see what you have done too)
6. I always remember taking movies or photographs in nature is a privilege not a right. I think it is the best job in the world but it does come with responsibilities to your subject and the environment they live in. Respect everything and keep yourself real and have fun.