Welcome to the News section of the iNSiGHT Ornithology website (
www.simoncherriman.com). This blog contains updates about various things I've been up to, interesting environmental issues and observations I make regularly while going about my day. It is designed to be fun AND educational, and inspire you about our wonderful natural world. Happy reading!

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

U3A Armadale


Today I volunteered some time to give one of my 'standard' Wedge-tailed Eagle talks at the meeting of University of the Third Age (U3A) group in Armadale. While talking at the Armadale Library last August, I was pleased to receive a letter from one of the group's members, Keith, kindly inviting me to present at a U3A meeting in 2018. The time went quickly and suddenly today had arrived!

With lots of fieldwork under my belt from the 2018 season there were many updates to share, especially from our recently satellite-tagged eagle Kwidi and her family, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting some new people and answering their questions. I also really enjoyed the cake and fruit offered for morning tea, and the nice bottle of wine I received as a thank-you for presenting! If you are interested in keeping your mind active, please visit the group's website for more information. Thanks to Keith for setting this occasion up, to all who attended for showing such interest in my research, and especially to Annie taking photos and for her very kind words about my work!

Sunday, 14 January 2018

New Year Nestboxing


I've just returned from a beautiful piece of bushland not far from Margaret River in WA's south-west, where I spent a couple of days with my partner Dani installing nest-boxes designed for a variety of wildlife. Putting a new pulley and new hand ascender (Christmas presents!) straight into action for the first tree-climbing job of the new year helped us install the thirteen boxes more efficiently, with the pulley being a welcome addition to the normal hauling rig used to hoist my large vertical Black Cockatoo boxes (of which there were five) into place.


The picture at the top of this post shows how the 3-1 pulley system is set up on one of the cockatoo boxes, which was positioned in a very tall, old, but hollow-lacking Marri tree. And above is a slightly wider shot of the same box (and the two tiny ants installing it!), taken by the property owners Karen and Rob, whose wonderful enthusiasm to help her local fauna I had to thank for being here in the first place. One of the most rewarding things about my job is getting to meet the growing number of people going out of their way to engage with and provide support to native wildlife, a truly positive edge to our currently testing environmental times. As with all my nest-boxes, these hollow-homes will be closely monitored to help gather information about how effective they are, particularly in helping threatened species like Black Cockatoos, which have been very successful in my large vertical boxes. I can't wait to hear about the first occupants in this latest batch of boxes!

Room with a view: one of the cockatoo boxes overlooking a scenic lake near Margaret River.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Kwidi


If you've been following my Instagram feed, you've probably seen the range of photos captured from the tree hide I constructed last month to observe a late-hatching Wailitj / Wedge-tailed Eagle chick in the Perth Hills, whose nest is pictured above. My first glimpse of this eaglet, which I would later find out was a female, was in November when she was a month old and her flight feathers had only just emerged.


When I did my first hide stint a few weeks later, the eaglet had made a rapid transformation from almost entirely white to about half chocolate-brown. Eaglets are normally very vocal at the sight of their parents, and virtually mute at other times, but even when her parents were absent (which, at the age of six weeks, was often), this girl called almost incessantly, her loud, two-noted yelps filling my eardrums. It was wonderful to observe her mother feeding her small pieces of Yoorn / Bobtail Skink (Tiliqua rugosa) that the male delivered early one morning, and I was very happy to obtain some video footage that will be useful for my next documentary.



Today's mission, however, was to ascend to this nest, remove the eaglet (who was now 10 weeks old) for a brief period to weigh, measure, colour-ring and satellite-tag her, then place her back as she was found. I was slightly nervous as I scaled a climbing rope high into the canopy to reach the eyrie, which was about 25 m above the forest floor. The juvenile eagle greeted me in the way that most do: with a 'threat display' that includes spread out wings and a gaping, sometimes drooling mouth, an expression that says: "I'm going to kill you, so stay back!"

"Welcome to my eyrie... now I keeeeel you!"

I was lucky to be joined on this 'eagle day' by a variety of helpers and onlookers, one of whom was my old friend and expert photographer Judy Dunlop, who managed to captured some great memories of how the afternoon unfolded, including this eye-level canopy shot of the 'capture moment'...



Back on terra firma, my partner Danielle did a wonderful job of calmly holding the eagle as I took measurements. It was a thrill to have Trish Fleming, one of my PhD supervisors, with me to help fit her with colour-rings. So much effort goes into planning and supervising doctoral research, so sharing moments in the field with those people who give monumental 'behind the scenes' support is especially rewarding.

Trish holds the colour-ring closed as I prepare to fix it with a pop-rivet.


Another person whose presence was a special blessing was Noongar woman Alison Murphy, who came along to meet the eagle and give her a Noongar name. Alison's father Noel Nannup named one of our 2016 birds 'Yirrabiddi', who is still flying around inland Western Australia, so it was great to introduce another member of the Nannup family to another member of the Wailitj one!

Alison Murphy attaches the final rivet to the eagle's colour-ring while Dani holds her.


Once we had finished taking measurements and fitting the colour-rings, it was time to accomplish the main aim of the mission and attach the satellite transmitter. If you've read other posts on this intricate procedure, you'll know it is done using a cardboard template which holds the Telfon harness straps in place while they are stitched. Dani continued her expert handling and seemed to give off soft, calming vibes that cast a spell on our subject, which made the tagging process straightforward and stress-free.


After observing the eagle's calm and placid behaviour during the ringing and tagging process, Alison decided the Noongar word 'kwidi', which means patiently waiting, would make a fitting name. Having spent so much time patiently waiting in my tree hide to observe her behaviour over the past few weeks, I agreed wholeheartedly! With the stitching on her transmitter harness complete, Kwidi was gently placed back in the handling bag and hoisted home.

Kwidi would be the 22nd and final juvenile eagle I had fitted with a transmitter for this current research project. What an amazing feeling to have completed a huge part of my PhD fieldwork! I plan to return soon after Christmas to make more hide observations, and spend more time in the canopy, patiently waiting.

It is always wonderful to be accompanied in the field by a bunch of great people.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Patiently Waiting


This beautiful Wailitj / Wedge-tailed Eagle is quite young (only 2-3 years old), and as most eagles do not enter the breeding population until they are about six, it is relatively unusual to observe a male of his age at a nest. I snapped the above photo from the top of a tree that I had scaled to see into his nest and age the chick, and by chance he suddenly landed on the nest for a brief moment, just long enough for a portrait. It was only seconds before he saw me and departed swiftly.

His mate had landed in a nearby tree and responded to my presence in completely the opposite way to her younger 'boyfriend,' perching in the sun and showing no apparent shyness. This is only the second time in over 15 years I have encountered a female Wedge-tail who is so bold; Aquila eagles are normally very shy indeed and fly away before you can get within 500 m of them!

 

The male's suspicious expression was a giveaway that I'd been 'sprung', and although the female seemed to tolerate me, I knew that to capture perfectly natural behaviour would require a much more hidden approach.


It only took a few hours to erect a platform in the canopy of a Marri sapling close to the nest, made by fastening two solid planks to the upright limbs and using a small tent as a hide. This was completed last week, then I left the eagles alone for a while to adjust to the new addition to their arboreal environment.


Last week I entered the hide and made my first attempt at photography. The first two days were super exciting, with the eagles having accepted the hide and carrying on with their amazing nesting activities right in front of me. There were very long periods of waiting, however, and on some occasions I suffered pretty severe back pain. Being 6'8" isn't very helpful for being folded into a tent that is less than 1 m2 in area! You will have noticed from my Instagram posts though that the hide stints yielded some great moments. This photo of the juvenile eagle licking her beak in anticipation of being fed half a Karda / Gould's Goanna (Varanus gouldii) was by far one of my hiding highlights!


This afternoon's session, which began about 5 am and ended well after sunset, gave me some particularly big challenges. Strong winds have been present all week but the gusts that rose up after about 9 am today seemed to be intent on shaking all the trees off the hillside. At times I thought the whole tree might blow over! As the Marri leaves behind the nest began to glow brighter with back-light from the sinking sun, however, the wind slowly lost its breath. And just before sunset, the gorgeous male arrived at the nest with the hind-quarters of yet another Karda. It was beautiful to see a bird whom I knew was super shy feeding his fast-growing daughter, knowing he had no idea the same lens that focused on his youth not long ago was still present. I'm looking forward to more hide stints soon, and eventually to satellite-tagging this eaglet before she takes to the air.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Another Carnaby's Chick


It was a thrill today to see another Gnolyenok / Carnaby's Cockatoo chick peering up at me from inside one of the cockatoo boxes in a local reserve in Mundaring, the third of its kind to be successfully raised in the past three years. These endangered birds were first recorded breeding in 2015, when the Shire of Mundaring supported the installation of a suite of nest-boxes for a post-bushfire recovery program.

Earlier this week I was fortunate to visit the reserve with the WA Musuem, local Friends Group coordinator Ron Coloquhoun, Mundaring Shire Environmental Officer Jolene Wallington, and other community volunteers, to see this precious creature fitted with an ABBBS leg-band. This harmless tag will help researchers identify it in the future, maybe even when it is feeding its own offspring in a local nest-box! Fingers crossed we have many more moments like this to look forward to in the future!

Jolene holds the Carnaby's Cockatoo nestling during banding, while her daughter Emma watches on.

Friday, 1 December 2017

PorongurUpdate


It's hard to believe that 10 years have passed since I installed my first Black Cockatoo nesting box on my friend Jeff's block in the Porongurup Range! Today Jeff and I celebrated this anniversary by paying a quick visit to the block and checking this box, as well as the five others that have been installed at the property since 2010, all of which have been part of increasingly successful breeding. by Gnolyenok / Carnaby's Cockatoo. We were thrilled to find Carnaby's Cockatoos in every box! The two most recently installed boxes, which went up in May this year as part of a Birdlife WA and South Coast NRM educational workshop, both had heavily chewed entrances, tell-tale signs of prospecting (and usually occupancy) by Black Cockatoos.

A large vertical box installed in May with a newly hatched Carnaby's Cockatoo chick.

These findings give me such a thrill because they prove the design of my large vertical nest-boxes is effective, and also that newly installed boxes can become occupied so readily when placed at known breeding sites.

Three cockatoo chicks were banded as part of an ongoing WA Museum study on their movements and survival, an exciting addition to the study that Jeff and I have been carrying out on the breeding of Carnaby's Cockatoo in the Porongurup range. It was amazing to see these birds so close, and heartwarming to think of the beautiful moment when they will make their first flight into the Karri canopy and beyond!

This Threatened cockatoo chick hatched inside a nest-box made from rubbish!

Monday, 27 November 2017

Djoorabiddi & The Project


Last month I had the privilege of taking a small group of people to visit a beautiful eagle eyrie in a remote part of the Perth Hills. This included Jo Manning from Murdoch University's public relations department, and Thom and Darrell from Channel 10's 'The Project', who (very excitingly!) were tagging along (pardon the pun!) to film some of my fieldwork to fit a GPS/Satellite transmitter to a juvenile Wailitj / Wedge-tailed Eagle. The bird I managed to catch on his nest was a very calm, placid young boy, who was given the name 'Djoorabiddi' by Noongar lady Alison Murphy. This word is derived from 'djoorab' = good natured/happy, & means 'go foward happily'. Alison's father Noel last year named my beautiful Parkerville eagle 'Yirrabiddi' (path/journey in the sky), so it was truly magic to have a journey theme connecting these two Nannup-derived names!!

The story of how we fitted Djoorabiddi with a satellite transmitter was played last night on the Sunday Project, who kindly gave me the below copy to post here. Keep your eyes on the Wedge-tailed Eagle Tracking website for updates on Djoorabiddi's progress, and the movements of other juvenile Wedge-tails from the Perth Hills and further a field. Enjoy!



Friday, 24 November 2017

Sign of the Seasons

 
Today there was an official celebration of the completion of Sawyers Valley Primary School's Nature Play area, a project which has been coordinated and delivered by the school's Natural Resource Management team, thanks to a State NRM grant. I've been privileged to be part of this project and participated in recording local fauna, taking guided walks for students and parents, and contributing photographs for interpretive signs that emphasise the area's cultural and environmental values. It was great to see the above Noongar Seasons sign installed today (just in the nick of time before the project finished!), which featured a variety of photographs of Perth Hills wildlife from my photo gallery. Thanks to the NRM team for the invitation to be part of such a great environmental initiative.