Dryandra woodland in a night!

Our good friend Karen was visiting from South Africa and she expressed interest in seeing some Australian wildlife. I don’t need much encouragement so we planned a quick evening trip to Dryandra Woodland. It’s a little over 2 hrs from Perth and it was my first time spotlighting there without my usual mammal watching buddy Jimmy!

I was keen to return to try and find Western pygmy possum that I have blogged about before – so we spotlighted on our way to that location and came across a few possums.

Brushtail possum @ Dryandra Woodland

We spent quite a lot of time looking in the flowering vegetation but again I lucked out on Pygmy possum – one day 🙂 I was hopeful that I had seen something with a bright eye reflection but on closer examination of the photo it was a spider way up in a tree!

We spotted a few Woylies in the region but they were fairly skittish – Karen had a close encounter with one I had spooked and it bounded her way!

We headed down to the sandalwood plantation to look for more Woylies and also possibly find Red-tailed phascogale as we had found them before. We only found more possums but got a good shot of Karen with a possum in the tree above.

Karen with a possum in the sandalwood plantation.

Later we found a beautiful Tawny frogmouth that let us get very close.

Tawny frogmouth @ Dryandra

And something I don’t often sight, a possum on the ground. I know from seeing camera trap footage that they are often on the ground there, but I usually see them up trees as they feel safer. We then took a little video once it headed up a tree.

Possum on the ground @ Dryandra
Possum @ Dryandra

We finished off the night going past a couple of spots that had been good for Chuditch previously, but no luck tonight. We saw our last possum and then headed out of the woodland. All in all a very enjoyable evening.

Brushtail possum @ Dryandra
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Tammar wallabies of Garden Island

For a long time I have been wanting to visit Garden Island (HMAS Stirling) which is just off Rockingham, South of Perth. It’s a working naval base and as such access is restricted. Like Rottnest Island there is a remnant wallaby population surviving on the introduced predator-free island, with a large population of Tammar wallaby (Notamacropus eugenii). They can be found on the mainland but are quite timid and not often seen. I think both being a island and the restricted access due to naval operations has allowed fauna to flourish and much of the vegetation is as it was Pre-European settlement.

My friend Russell offered to arrange a trip as a birthday gift – asking a mutual friend Dan who is in the navy to facilitate access. They both gladly gave up a Saturday evening. Public access to the island is usually only available during daylight hours via boat – so this was a special treat. Russ and I met Dan just at the start of the causeway as you can drive onto the island. We went through the security checks and drove further into the island into some of the navy residential areas. Just as we were about to park we saw our first Tammar. I was very excited and then we just kept seeing them!

Tammar wallaby @ Garden Island

The wallabies were everywhere. They are taller than a Quokka but smaller than a kangaroo and beautifully marked. They seem quite unfazed by human presence but would dash away into thick vegetation if you go too close.


Tammar wallaby @ Garden Island

I really enjoyed photographing them – they had quite varied colouration – possibly age and gender related or perhaps just natural variation.

We saw so many wallabies and I took a lot of photos – it was pretty hard which ones to choose so there is a fair amount posted here!


Tammar wallaby @ Garden Island

I captured this short video as it allowed me to get very close.

Tammar wallaby @ Garden Island

As we completed our loop we came onto a grassed area with thick bordering vegetation and we saw more wallabies than ever.

This video (sorry its a little shaky) gives an idea of how many there are in some locations and also how they blend into the vegetation.


Tammar wallabies @ Garden Island

As we completed the loop more were seen in amongst paths and car parks.

Our last couple were sitting in the car park for some reason near a motorbike!

It was a great evening with many, many Tammars seen. It’s wonderful to know there is a good sized population of this wonderful macropod on a protected island which is much less known than its famous Quokka cousin.

Canning dam herping

The weather forecast was indicating a promising herping night was coming up – a really hot day with a possibility of some humidity/storm in the evening. Jimmy wasn’t able to make this trip but I decided to go it alone to Canning Dam as it seemed like a good evening to maybe find a Death adder (Acanthophis antarcticus)! Their common name is the Common death adder but they are anything but – sometimes found in the valleys around the Canning dam area, they are a stealth predator.

I got out quite late after helping to get the kids to sleep and drove very slowly along McNess Drive looking for anything on the road – ever hopeful for herps! I parked up near the southern service entrance and walked through the gate. See here for my previous visit and map below. It looks like the picnic area is closed for refurbishment and its closed of an evening anyway.

It was pretty quiet and I was a little unnerved being on my own but wanted to make the best of a good night. It wasn’t far along the path that I came across this roadkilled snake – it is a Carpet python (Morelia spilota ssp. imbricata) – I needed help with the ID but the wonderful community on iNat were able to help – I thought it was a dugite at first – see here. Seems a shame as its a service road without public access so the staff should know better.

I then quickly saw my first gecko of the evening – a Barking gecko (Underwoodisaurus milii) but it didn’t pose for a photo. I had a few that were pretty skittish and this was the first two that I got an average photo of. They are beautifully marked and if provoked can put on quite a bluff show & vocalised hence their common name.

I saw a few more geckos and then headed back. I had another spot I wanted to try tonight that was close to the dam. I had read a paper where they had trapped mainland Quokka (Setonix brachyurus) which is one of my most wanted species. Unknown to most people about half of all quokkas live on Rottnest, the rest live in relative obscurity.


Barking gecko @ Canning Dam

I headed a little way south and located the access track to the site. At this stage I won’t divulge anymore about the location. I drove in a little ways but was not comfortable as noone knew exactly where I was and it was an isolated spot. I had a quick spotlight from inside the car and will be back at some point with a buddy to explore more carefully. The habitat looked good with low wetland shrubs but it will be a challenge to spot any animals.

So all in all a nice evening to be out but with only 2 species of reptile and one of them dead. 🙂

Numbat survey at Boyagin Nature Reserve with Project Numbat

My buddy Jimmy had been talking for a while about the annual numbat surveys he helped with, for Project Numbat and Parks & Wildlife Service (part of DBCA).  I had been interested for a while but with little kids it’s a huge ask to leave my wife with the kids all weekend, this year the ever gracious Mel was happy for me to join the team.

Jimmy had been instrumental in my first sighting of numbat and it wasn’t an ordinary quick glimpse but an extended viewing of a pair just before mating.  It was my 4th time trying to see them which gives an idea of the rarity and how difficult they can be to find.

Project Numbat survey both Boyagin Nature Reserve and Dryandra Woodland once a year.  Project Numbat are a not for profit group with a focus on community awareness and conservation of the numbat.  The type of survey we would be conducting was a digging survey as just visual surveys can miss animals and they leave distinctive markings when they forage for termites which persist.

Jimmy and I headed down once I had the kids mostly ready for bed.  We would be staying at the lovely Lions Dryandra Woodland Village and travelling to Boyagin daily which is about 30 minutes away.  We got there after dark and couldn’t help but go for a spotlight – we were hopeful for Pygmy possum that Jimmy had seen in some flowering bushes a year earlier and also after a couple of trips Jimmy had made earlier in the week.  Unfortunately it wasn’t the evening for Pygmy’s but we found a couple of lovely Woylie (Bettongia penicillata) in the area.

We headed back to Lions Village to get some sleep as we had a full day of surveying the next day.

We got up and had breakfast with the other volunteers.  Also joining us was Dr Tony Friend from Parks & Wildlife – Mr Numbat himself!  We had six of us in total and split into 2 parties and headed out to Boyagin to make a start for the day.  My group comprised of Tamara (President of Project Numbat) and Jimmy. 

First task of the day was to practice in identifying numbat diggings – they are quite small, not too deep, discrete diggings without a mound of dirt.  These are left after exposing termites in their galleries just beneath the surface and licking them with their long tongues – they are also often grouped in a run as the numbat follows the food in the galleries – see below photo.  Other diggings that need to be ruled out are the following:

  • Woylie (deeper v shaped hunting for underground truffles) – often earth left mounded
  • Quenda (funnel shaped)
  • Rabbits (often with scat present)
  • Echidna (messy often covering a large area)

The survey consisted of driving to pre-defined locations and then the group surveying an area of 100m radius for a period of 10 mins.  If diggings were found others confirmed or disagreed.  Once located, a quick search was also made for numbat scat – hard, quite heavy black with shiny bits of termite exoskeleton inside.   The locations are spread out throughout the blocks of Boyagin and allow year-to-year comparisons of numbats.  Records were kept on Project Numbat Toughbooks in a GIS application.

It was rewarding to find evidence of numbat foraging and also noting how you can tell if a site habitat was more ‘numbatty’ depending on the vegetation and fallen trees present.

We saw plenty of Gould’s sand goannas (Varanus gouldii) crossing the tracks and also got a glimpse of a black-headed monitor (Varanus tristis) but it didn’t stay for photos!

We came together for morning tea & lunch and it was nice to hear how the other group were getting on.  They, like us, had some sites with repeat records of numbats from previous years, some had new records where they hadn’t been found before, and some sites that previously had diggings but didn’t this time.  Such is the way of scientific survey.

We finished off the day’s surveys feeling like we had made great progress – setting ourselves up well for the next day. Tamara cooked an amazing green chicken curry with rice which went down a treat after all the work of the day. Just before dinner one of the team mentioned they had seen a Gould’s goanna just outside our cottage.

That night the rest of the team were going to settle in for a relaxing night and enjoy some well earned beverages, but Jimmy & I we wanted to see more wildlife. We headed out as it got dark going back again to our Pygmy possum spot – with still no luck! We had a very nice viewing of a Tawny frogmouth that just stayed put. We also saw the usual collection of Woylies, Brushtail possums and Western grey kangaroos. We also spotted a nice Western spotted frog. Highlights were spotting a couple of Chuditch – in a couple of hotspots that seem to have animals every visit – no photos as the animals were skittish that night.

We headed to the sandalwood plantation previously mentioned to see if we might see Red-tailed phascogale, and it’s always good for Woylie. Many woylie were seen and Jimmy saw an Echidna that I didn’t see. Hitting the carpark I found this beautifully marked Wheatbelt stone gecko (Diplodactylus granariensis) – a new species for me. We headed back knowing we had another full on day tomorrow.

The second day Jimmy & I were with Tony Friend (numbat guru). We changed plan this day deciding not to meet for morning tea but would meet for lunch at one of the dams. Discussions with Tony were great and I learnt lots about many topics!

At one point we were just heading for a corner where two tracks met and Tony calls “Numbat! and I would like to catch it”! It bolted, as did Jimmy, who hadn’t seen it from the back seat but was doing his best to find it… Unfortunately it was too fast and this was our only sighting of the weekend. Tony will sometimes attach radio collars or make an assessment of the general condition of the animal, so not just catching for fun.

I learnt heaps from chats with Tony and totally enjoyed the day. We caught up for lunch and learnt that the other team had seen a carpet python which Jimmy had been dying to see – but no luck for him this weekend! We headed out after lunch completing the last few sites before finishing for the day around 2pm. We took some team photos before we headed back to Perth. A great weekend all round – I learnt heaps, met amazing new people and had lots of time in the bush!  

Humpback whale watching

As a result of the boat dramas we had with the Blue whale watching tour (which I had organised for the WA Nats), I was offered a free Humpback tour and they also said I could bring my wife Mel along. I was also able to include my 4 year old son Liam.  I can’t recommend Whale Watch Western Australia highly enough!  This was my third trip with them.  They are a highly professional, passionate family business who really care about showing the beauty of whales and increasing knowledge in the general public.

They have a custom built 25m catamaran with multiple viewing decks – the commentary is also really enlightening and they always upload a trip report onto their website at the end of the day which includes high quality images for you to download after your trip – see ours.

Liam and I in front of MV Steep Point @ Freo Sardine Jetty

Liam was very excited – really hoping to see dolphins as well as whales.

Liam looking for whales and not with his parents!

We headed out past the shipping lanes to a region just in front of Rottnest where the whales pass, heading South this time of year.  They haven’t eaten for many months in the North as its the time for calving.

We soon found a pair of male humpbacks (Megaptera novaeangliae).  Liam was very excited to see his first ever whale.  We missed a single dolphin that was in the wake for a short time and ended up being the only dolphin seen.

We had wonderful views of the whales who were very comfortable approaching the boat as the crew are skilled in setting the whales at ease – keeping the required distance away and allowing the animals to come closer should they want to.  Whales are intelligent mammals and as a result do have a curiosity about the world around them.

We spent a long time with the whales – at one time another commercial jetboat approached and the whales seemed to come closer to us to get away from that vessel.

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Thompson Bay, Rottnest visible from boat in the whale zone

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Tail flukes

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Whale blow

Just as the two hour tour was at an end we headed for home and I saw a pair of Australasian gannets on the way in.

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A great trip that Liam really enjoyed and was very comfortable on the boat.  As he is only 4 he found it hard to just watch for whales, but he was able to go inside and play, plus he made a few new friends at the same time.  Perhaps next time we will bring our daughter – but she is only just 2 and still too young for this type of activity on a boat.

Beavers whale watching!

 

Alfred Cove Birding

It was school holidays and I had taken some time off to celebrate my daughter Sienna’s second birthday, as well as look after my 4 year old son Liam on the days that my wife Mel was working.

I had a free morning that Mel had a play date arranged but didn’t have many great ideas for seeing some wildlife.  Alfred Cove Nature Reserve was close to the play date venue and I thought I could see some nice birds there.  It is located on the Southern Swan river with mudflats and inter-tidal vegetation which attract bird life.  It can host more than 140 species of birds – some from as far away as Mongolia and Siberia!  It’s an easy site to get to – just off Canning Hwy, with convenient parking at Troy Park. 

I parked the car and walked to view the mudflats which can be accessed across the park.  I choose not to go over any of the fences at the reserve – to respect the birds habitat – though it can be tempting for closer views. 
I saw this amazing exposed feral bee hive hanging off one of the trees! 

Feral bee hive @ Alfred Cove NR

From the parkland and across some of the samphire I saw a number of birds often seen around Perth as below.

This Black-faced cuckoo-shrike let me get very close which is unusual.

Black-faced cuckoo-shrike 
@ Alfred Cove NR

Once I reached the mudflats I saw a Grey plover in what I think is breeding plumage as they often look pretty plain.

Grey plover 
@ Alfred Cove NR

Other lovely water birds were seen such as the Common (not so common for me!) greenshank and the elegant long-legged Pied stilt.  There were many others but I have limited my photos of the standard birds for this post.

I saw a number more birds whilst walking anticlockwise down Burke Drive onto some of the boardwalks to the other side of the cove.  The sighting of the morning was a Pallid cuckoo.

Bat box hung from one of the trees. These can attract microbats which can roost in them for daylight hours before heading out in the evening to feed. 
@ Alfred Cove NR

It was a lovely walk with many bird species seen but unfortunately the normally resident Eastern osprey were not present.

Swanview Tunnel & John Forrest National Park

It was the end of school third term and I took the holidays off to spend time with the family.  My wife Mel works & daughter Sienna goes to daycare respectively 2 days a week so Liam & I dropped the girls off and then headed for the hills!

Our first idea was to look for bats in the Swanview tunnel that can be found in John Forrest National Park.  We brought our torches and a packed morning tea.  The parking can be found here.  See below for the map of the tunnel site.  The tunnel opened in 1896 and the track has been preserved as a John Forrest heritage trail.

We headed for the tunnel taking the old railpath which is used by walkers, mountain bikers and lots of mums with prams & bubs! There was some water in the tunnel but the torches kept us of of trouble.  Unfortunately no bats were seen.

Once through the tunnel we walked past the site of an old train crash in 1896 – see below pic for the story.

We really enjoyed our snacks after working up quite an appetite.

Food time

Lots of birds were seen on our walk as below.

We enjoyed some close views of Carnaby’s cockatoos eating gumnuts.

We then headed back through the tunnel once more checking out the water.

 

After the tunnel we saw a distant rainbow bee-eater harassing a Little eagle!

We had had a lovely morning walk and recommend this walk – lovely for kids and the tunnel is something very different.

View towards from the hills.

Stroll through Kings Park

My beautiful wife and I try to get some date time each fortnight.  This fortnight Mel had the brilliant idea to drop the kids off with their Grandies and go for a walk in Kings Park next to Perth CBD.  Kings Park is Perth’s botanical gardens, combined with lovely parks, play areas and two thirds of it bush in a 400 hectare reserve very close to the CBD.

It was feeling like spring weather and we headed to the park planning to walk through the botanical gardens which should be full of flowers this time of year.  I also wanted to walk down “Law walk” as I had heard on facebook that someone had seen 12 Quenda (Isoodon fusciventer) during the daytime on a walk recently.  It’s surmised that an unauthorised release of Quenda occurred in the park as their genetics indicate they come from the Bibra lake region and the staff both love and detest them – they are digging away, do what bandicoots do, but can’t read the signs to keep out of the immaculately tended botanic gardens full of rare plants!

It was really busy and we found it tough to get a park but immediately felt at peace once we started walking through the gardens.

Once we headed down to Law walk I saw what I think were possibly bandicoot diggings but didn’t see an actual Quenda.

As we headed down the path a little further we saw a bounce of a bird that was unmistakably a Fairy-wren.  It settled on the fence and we could see the blue of an eclipse non-dominant male.

Purple-backed fairy-wren @ Kings Park

We then caught a glimpse of a brilliantly coloured bird with a couple of other drab cross the path in front of us.

It was the dominant male and I had a suspicion it was a Variegated fairy-wren (there are many species in the wider Perth region).  I checked with the brains trust (WA Birds fb group) and they confirmed it was this species but also advised it had been recently split from the widely distributed Variegated fairy-wren and now was known as the Purple-backed fairy-wren! (Malurus assimilis).  It is also possible to determine which species the female belongs to with this imaginative titled Birdlife Australia article ‘50 shades of brown!‘ see a photo of a female below.

We followed the flock and I saw one other new species for me – a Varied sittella (Daphoenositta chrysoptera).  Not a great shot but was able to tell the species from underneath.

Varied sittella @ Kings Park

A lovely walk with great company (wife without kids!) on a beautiful Spring day – the warmer weather is coming!

 

Ringtails in Dalyellup

Liam, my 4 year old son and I, went to stay with my good old friend Daz & family – mostly to see them but also to look for Western ringtail possums (Pseudocheirus occidentalis) they have in their garden and the adjacent remnant Tuart (Eucalyptus gomphocephala) forest in Dalyellup, just south of Bunbury.

The Western ringtail possum has been classified as critically endangered in 2018.  Some sobering reading in this article – the Western ringtail has a 25% chance of extinction in the next 20 years and has the somewhat dubious honour of being in position 11 of the Top 20 Mammals at risk in Australia.  While I have to trust the experts – it seems a little strange for something I can find fairly easily and have blogged about in a couple of other locations (follow the possum category below to find them).

It’s a 2 hour drive south from Perth and Liam handled the drive very well.  We settled in and then Daz took us with his son to the Bunbury wildlife park.  It is a council run park with mainly native animals and encourages animal interaction with suitable species – its a great place to take the kids if you are in the area.

Liam loved feeding the birds and kangaroos.

They have a really nice selection of natives including tammar wallaby as below, quokka, wombat, red & grey kangaroos, potoroo, dingo and a small selection of reptiles & frogs.

That evening we geared up, dressed warmly and headed out to find some possums just after the sun had gone down – Liam was super excited!  Our first possum was sighted in the front yard of the house!

Western ringtail possum @ Dalyellup

We then headed into the Tuart forest which is mixed with Peppermints (Agonis flexuosa) & Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) trees.

All up we saw approx 6 possums in a small section walking for under an hour – I had been hoping for other species as Daz has previously seen a Brush-tailed phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa) in the area, but no luck this time.  Liam was pretty tired by about 8pm (an hour past normal bedtime!) so we headed for home and bed.

The next morning we went down to The Lakes also in Dalyellup for a walk and see some birds.

It was a lovely sunny morning and we could hear plenty of Rattling frogs (Crinia glauerti) and Banjo frogs (Limnodynastes dorsalis). I made a recording on my phone and submitted it to the great citizen science project FrogID.  I encourage everyone to download the app on your smartphone and record frogs wherever you hear them!  We saw some nice birds.

Just as we were on the other side we noticed a possum drey (they make a nest of leaves to sleep during the day).  Daz has noticed that the openings generally face North-West which we surmised why that might be.  He has experimented making one out of 2 hanging baskets joined together filled with coconut fibre and peppermint leaves – and had an inhabitant for a period in his garden!

We then went for a quick look in the tuart forest looking for herps under the leaf litter using a rake.  We also lifted rocks, bark and wood – always being careful to put it back where we found it.  No herps found but we did find a nice centipede that I didn’t get a photo of.

Liam and I then headed back home to Perth to see my wife Mel & daughter Sienna.  We had an awesome weekend and Liam loved Daz’s son and especially his Lego and treehouse!

Rottnest Is. – Quokkas, birds and fur seals

For the winter school holidays we took a family trip to Rottnest for a week.  It’s a great place to stay – very relaxing with tourists getting about on foot, bikes or the bus – there are only service cars on the island.  We stayed in a heritage cottage in Thompsons Bay built around 1840!

Rottnest is a small island about 20kms off Fremantle and is about 7kms long.  Its name comes from dutch explorers who named it Eyland’t Rottenest (“Rats’ Nest Island”) after mistaking the marsupial Quokka (Setonix brachyurus) for a large rat in 1696!  Its original indigenous name of the island is Wadjemup, used by the local Noongar people.  The island has a mixed history as it was used as an indigenous prison for a time and now it is a tourist haven and important wildlife sanctuary.

The kids loved the Quokkas which are everywhere and very tame in the main tourist areas.  My almost 2 yr old daughter Sienna grasped straight away that they like green leaves and we had to help her find leaves for the whole week.  Rottnest is a mainstay of the Quokka population – it’s not well known that there are isolated populations throughout the southwest of WA.

In researching the animals that could be found on Rottnest I found there is a colony of New Zealand Fur Seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) on Cathedral rocks on the western end of the island and with a newly constructed boardwalk.  I have previously seen Australian Sea Lions (Neophoca cinerea) but the fur seal was a new species for me.  My 4 year old son Liam, my wife Mel and I, chose a clear day and headed out on the bus that does loops round the island.  It was a 30 min bus ride out and was cold and windy on this exposed part of the island.

I took this pano of the rocks.  You can’t make it out in the picture but seals could be seen hauled on the rocks and also frolicking in the water.  To see better you needed binoculars or a telephoto camera.

Pano of Cathedral Rocks, Rottnest Is

Seals hauled out on the rocks.

Seals in the water.

You can see how many seals are on the rocks if you look carefully.

We then headed to West end where we saw a soaring Osprey and a huge built up nest on a rock just offshore.

We then headed to catch the bus back and on the side of the road found this weird spider which has since been identified as one of the mouse spiders (Missulena granulosa).

On another day I took a walk to check out some of the salt lakes for birds and found my first ever Banded stilts (Cladorhynchus leucocephalus).

I saw a few other birds (photos below) – I was really pleased with the swallow picture flying into the wind on the golf course but not actually making any headway as the wind was so strong!  There used to be a population of breeding Indian peafowl on the island – but they are managed now to just 5. Common pheasant (introduced) can also be found on the island but I didn’t see any.

Welcome swallow @ Rottnest Is

I finished off with a collection of Quokka shots.  The below is one drinking open fresh water which is quite difficult to find on the island, so this one was taking advantage of a large puddle as it had been quite wet!

In the below right is one sleeping on its tail and getting some sun!

We had a great holiday – even though a few days were wet.  The kids loved the island and Sienna is still talking about Quokkas! Their Granny bought them each a fluffy toy one on the island which is in bed with them each night.

Sullivan Rock Herping

I have been wanting to go out herping in the colder weather for a while now.  It’s a good time when reptiles can be found brumating (the reptile version of hibernating) and can be quite sluggish giving good views up close.

Jimmy was again game to join me with my 4 year old son and we managed to pick a beautiful clear winters day, but with some rain looming in the evening.  We headed out at midday with Liam enjoying the car trip.

Liam enjoying an audio book on the trip out

We headed to Sullivan Rock on Albany Hwy in Mt Cooke – it’s where the Bibbulmun  track crosses the highway and there is a good sized car park.  We crossed the road following the track where it crosses Sullivan Rock.

As we got to the rock we headed East to get to some areas where we thought less people would visit.  Along the way we lifted rocks looking for reptiles – always carefully placing the rock back in exactly the same spot to minimise disturbance.  Many rocky outcrops in the Perth Hills have been damaged with people taking rocks for their gardens, rock cairns being built, vehicles driven on the rocks damaging habitat and rocks just generally being moved.  Many living things use the rocks as habitat – so they must be treated with care.

The first reptile we found was a Barking gecko (Underwoodisaurus milii).  This is a pretty cool gecko that, when threatened, will raise its whole body up on its legs and ‘bark’ like a small dog.  This one was pretty sluggish and ambled off underneath another rock.

Barking gecko @ Sullivan Rock

The next thing we found was a scorpion under a rock – Liam was very keen to touch but we had to insist it was a bad idea!

We enjoyed a picnic lunch on the rock and then kept looking.  There was quite a lot of water seeping down the rock but we didn’t find any frogs under the wet rocks or in some of the rock pools.

We found a couple of small skinks that moved off too quickly to ID or photograph.

We then found a family of Ornate crevice dragons (Ctenophorus ornatus) – there was one larger with three smaller.  Three of them dashed off to another rock but one just sat there, pretty much motionless.

We then headed for home – pleased we had found 3-4 species of reptiles and really giving Liam a good nature experience.  He loved his time and had been so good clambering over the rocks.  He was pretty tired after this and got a few Zzz’s in the car on the way home!

Blue whales of Perth Canyon

Its been quite some time since I discovered that Blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) visit Perth Canyon in Apr-May.  Perth canyon is approx 22kms off the coast of Fremantle and has depths of 700m-4kms!  It’s similar dimensions to the Grand canyon but of course you can’t see the scale with all that ocean on top.  The whales are coming to the canyon feeding on aggregations of krill – tiny marine shrimp, that feed a whale that can get up to 25m long!

I have always had an interest in Blue whales ever since seeing the 24m long skeleton in pride of place in the WA museum.  I have not been able to show my kids yet – but I’m excited that come 2020, it will be featured in the new building.

I volunteered to organise a WA Naturalists excursion utilising the family business Whale Watch Western Australia – the only company that visit the canyon for whale watching.  As part of my planning I checked out the company previously on a Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) tour in October off Fremantle.  I had been to the canyon once before on a pelagic bird watching tour where we had an amazing sighting of Orca (Orcinus orca).

We had planned to go a month before, but one day before the trip the boat hit a floating semi-submerged boat wreck and sheared off one of the blades on one of the props!  We had over 20 people signed up – so lots of communication as we all had to reschedule once they were able to get a replacement prop built from scratch and installed.

 

We boarded MV Steep Point just before 8am with 44 on board – 4 of us WA Nats members plus some family members.  The above photos are from my previous trip as I forgot to take new ones.  The day was perfect, not a cloud in the sky, with light easterly winds which were going to drop, no swell to talk off, and sunny & mild (~27ºC).

Leaving Fremantle

Rottnest to the East – not a common view!

We were surprised by a pair of humpbacks – an adult with a yearling calf – they were just west off Rottnest migrating North and the earliest of the season.

I saw a couple of Great crested terns (Thalasseus bergii) and then a pair of fisherman in a pretty small boat for how far out they were!

As we came to the canyon and started looking for whales we sighted some splashing a long way off, which turned out to be a few hundred Striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba).  The pod was hugely energetic with many launching into the air.  Really spectacular and a new species of mammal for me.

We then headed on to the northern most part of the canyon looking for Blue whales – they tend to be found on the walls as it is thought they herd the krill using the structure.  For some time we didn’t see any whales and I must confess I thought we might be too late in the season.  But then a misty blow was seen perhaps more than a km off and we headed towards it, seeing a few more blows on the way.

Blue whale blow @ Perth canyon

We then saw the blue whales – approx 25m long – which is the same length as our boat carrying 50 people!  Another lifer species for me – two in one day!

Blue whale @ Perth Canyon

The name blue whale was first referenced in the book Moby Dick and refers to the aqua blue colour of their skin when underwater (see the aqua strip in the image below – out of the water they are a mottled grey colour.

Submerged Blue whale @ Perth Canyon

We saw 4 individual whales ranging from the 25m adult above to a yearling approx 14m long (see darker grey image bottom right below) – which is the same length as the adult humpback we saw earlier!

One interesting fact is the mottled colouration on the whales can come from healed scars from cookie-cutter sharks.  They have circular sucker mouths and teeth that take a plug of flesh – the below image shows the whale just below the dorsal fin and then a close up where you can see the wounds from the shark.

After spending a good few hours with the blues we headed for home – the sun on the water was amazing.

Just heading out of the canyon we came across another (or maybe the same) pod of striped dolphin – these were launching into the air!

We also saw a few Australasian gannets (Morus serrator) on the way back.

I highly recommend the tour company Whale Watch Western Australia – they are a family run business and really care passionately for the whales and their customers.  The day tour included all meals, drinks and also beer, cider & champagne celebrating our sightings!  Fingers crossed I might be able to arrange an Orca trip out of Bremer Bay next April – I did say they might need to include child care in their packages!

Below are some photos from the boat to give an idea of the viewing.  On the shorter tours the captains cabin is only accessible with a higher level package.

The WA Nats crew for our expedition – a shame we couldn’t get everyone on the same tour.

All in all this was a trip of a lifetime – I am already planning to take my wife and 4 year old son to see the Humpbacks come September!