Well my Aurora alarm went off so I thought I would have another go. It was looking good as online I was seeing some great shots coming in from New Zealand. Looking outside from home it was looking pretty clear so I set off to a spot I had found a few months ago while out looking for Greater Gliders.
It was a good place, high on the top of the divide with a great view of the southern horizon, its only issue was light pollution from Melbourne and quite a bit of cloud but it was worth a go. So I set up and took a few frames but could see nothing, but i decided to wait and see if anything happened. As it turned out I was too late, the Aurora had finished but I steadfastly hung in and changed the plan. I would do some timelapse and listen to the cricket on the radio while I waited. When the last wicket fell and Australia won the first test match against England I called it quits and headed home. You just never know what you will happen doing this job, sometimes nature plays the game and sometimes you just make the best of what you get.
In a recent night spotlight on species night survey we were in luck. We found another Greater Glider in the Wombat State Forest. This time rather then just taking stills I was interested to see if I could video the Greater Glider. Normally when lit by spotlights the Greater Gliders end up pretty well blinded by the light and tend to just sit still. While this is great for photos, a glider just sitting in a tree in the light is not great for video.
So when trying to film anything a night in situ with natural behavior there is no point using a light so bright as to stop that behavior. We know most nocturnal animals seem happy to move about in moonlight so this time with the Great Glider I tried a light that was only just a little brighter than a full moon. It worked, the glider was not interested in me and my light and it kept watching the people with the spot lights as they moved on. I was finally able to capture a bit of clambering about before the spotlights returned but it gives me great hope that it will be possible to film this magnificent endangered species in the wild. All in all it was a very good test result.
The clip starts with a brushtail possum, it was my test critter, while it was interested it did not seem to be worried by my light. I then got some shots of the Great Glider under the spotlights from the survey team, it did as others have done in the past and just sat. As the team moved on I stayed, you can see the glider as the spot lights go off and a red head torch is used to light it. It still stares at the people and red light, I turn my light on and off a couple of times, it does not seem to notice and is much more interested in looking at the spot-lighters. Once they move on we see the Greater Glider just under my light. When it quietens down the Great Glider changed position just before the spotlight team returned. It was very encouraging to see the Glider being unconcerned under the filming light.
For the technically interested the material was shot with a Sigma 150-600 mm lens, using a Sony A7S2 Camera in 4k at 25 fr/sec. It was about 30m away from the camera and did not seem to mind my quiet presence.
What an exciting and amazing night spotlight walk lead by Brad Blake, Upper Campaspe Landcare Network Threatened Species officer. We found 9 greater gliders on the 1km transect and numerous other possums and birds. It was just an amazing and exciting night as we saw so much. The terrain was very steep and somewhat challenging but the rewards were high. So many possums in the area, ringtails and brushtails. We saw so many it was a really good night for possum spotting. Of course the highlight of the night was the number of Greater Gliders we saw. Some were high up in the canopy but others sat and posed to have their picture taken.
It was so exciting to see the gliders so well.
Finally on the way back to the cars we found a giant (by local standards) Eastern Pobblebonk frog just sitting on the forest floor. There must be rain on the way as it has only just emerged from under the ground so fingers crossed we get some rain in the next few days. They certainly seem to know when it is about to rain.
Until next time, keep your eyes and ear open and see what you can find in your local area at night with the aid of a spotlight.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A brief respite in the summer heat and a few drops of rain raised spirits and gave the whole environment a chance to draw breath.
There is nothing like the smell of summer rain in the Australian bush. It is a heady smell of freshness and eucalyptus unique to the Australian bush, hard to describe but it raises the spirits and the whole environment seems to heave a collective sigh of relief. Although we only had some brief showers the light rain refreshed everything, humans, plants and animals alike.
We had a visit from one of our local male Koalas. His territory overlaps our place here and he is a regular visitor. Koalas can be very hard to see and find which is surprising given their size. But tucked in against a tree trunk or when they get up in the canopy they are so hard to spot. It is nice to be able to show him being so active, during the day they tend to just sit, especially in the heat of summer. At different times of the year they feed on different trees. Over the last few months I have noted they were feeding on Messmate stringybark, Eucalyptus obliqua. The Manna Gums, Eucalyptus viminalis have just started putting on new growth and so I guess he is after the fresh green foliage so this likely accounts for the shift in diet. I enjoy seeing and noting changes like this as it gives you a understanding of how all the environment is connected together, a sum of lots and lots of smaller parts and actions.
This male was nice and close to the house so was spotted as he moved about, otherwise finding a Koala is a lot like looking for a needle in a haystack, too many trees and very few animals. As far as I can tell the population here, while small, is pretty stable and sustainable. If you live in the Central Victoria there is an active monitoring project where you can log a Koala sighting and I encourage you all to do so. Macedon Ranges Koala Project It is a great way of monitoring our populations and participating in citizen science and the sight contains a wealth of local Koala information.
Finally to the stars. We had a run of clear nights here and I needed no excuse to timelapse our wonderful night skies. Each shot essentially runs for an entire night so while time consuming the results I think are spectacular. The Milky Way and Magellanic Clouds are spectacular at the moment and make it worthwhile going outside and just looking up once the sun sets on clear nights. Our altitude here, 600m (just under 2000ft) means we are often get clearer skies and great views of the stars. So enjoy our night skies of January. Until next week.