Easter possums of Mandurah

As part of our annual Easter family tradition, we spent the Easter long weekend in Mandurah, along with family friends. We took the kids out spotlighting for the critically endangered Western ringtail possum ( Pseudocheirus occidentalis).

We headed down to Dawesville just south of Mandurah. It took some time initially but we were able to find some possums alongside the road in Peppermint trees (Agonis flexuosa). We mainly found ringtails but also found a few Common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula).

This was the first year my daughter joined as she was 2.5 years old. It was a little too much overall for the kids as they were all tired, but they enjoyed the spotlighting – the car trips there and back were challenging.

The spotlighting gang – Easter 2019

Russ and I went out another night (without the kids) to Warrungup Spring Reserve. We had been once before but I had information someone had seen a Brush-tailed phascogale, so I wanted to check it out.

We saw quite a few brushtail possums with the occasional ringtail and a lovely Tawny frogmouth. No phascogale and some distant views of Western grey kangaroo.

It’s really nice to see so many ringtail possums in a location just an hour south of the Perth CBD, but you still have to remind yourself that this species is not doing well.

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Searching for Quokka in Jarrahdale..

I have been looking for mainland Quokka (Setonix brachyurus) for sometime and saw information that people had found some in Jarrahdale. While they were careful not to disclose the exact location I saw some facebook chat about a location a little out of the main strip of Jarrahdale where people had seen Quokka in the mornings, so wanted to check it out.

I took my 4 year old son Liam for a drive hoping we might get lucky and find some Quokka’s enjoying breakfast. We took off a little later than planned but made good time to the location.


We crossed a bridge over a dried up river so the habitat seemed good with thick riparian vegetation but also with a fair few blackberry bushes. Once we found the spot (a gravel parking area fringed by forest) we parked up and waited for some movement.

We waited for some time (as long as a 4 year old can sit still!) and then jumped out of the car to take a closer look. We skirted the fringing vegetation and quickly found this likely looking scat. While I can’t rule it out as Western grey kangaroo it had the features of a Quokka scat – size 1-2cm, cuboid and slightly flattened. These were also fresher than the ones I had previously found in the Canning Dam region.

When walking through the fringing vegetation we found we had we had to be careful even with the small little seedlings on the ground as they were often Blackberries with nasty thorns.

We headed towards the bridge and we heard something mid-sized move suddenly in the vegetation but it was too thick to see properly. Given the likely scat I think this is my unconfirmed closest encounter with a mainland Quokka – but I will have to try again! 🙂

Heading back to the car we found this amazing bug – the wonderful iNaturalist & awesome bug ID app MyPestGuide Reporter – run by the Agriculture Department’s entomologists on the hunt for the next nasty pest! Through both avenues it was ID’d as a Red-banded seed eating bug (Melanerythrus mactans).

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Red-headed seed-eating bug @ Jarrahdale

Searching for Quokkas at Canning dam…

I am currently behind on my posts – so this is actually from January!

I decided to continue my hunt for mainland Quokka’s (Setonix brachyurus) in the greater Perth region. Despite what most people are aware of – they don’t only live on Rottnest Island where they are easy to find, they can also be found on the mainland, but are much rarer and cryptic. I have looked in the Canning dam area before as I found a paper and it listed
Midgegoroo National Park as one of the trapping sites where they had caught animals. My brother was down from Port Hedland and he was keen to join me as well for a late night spotlight.

We started off looking for herps in the Canning Dam proper – parking near the gate and walking up the road looking for eyeshine. It took some time walking around before we found our first Barking gecko (Underwoodisaurus milii).

Barking gecko @ Canning Dam

We then headed further down towards Albany Hwy to my Quokka spot – I was pleased to have company as it’s an isolated spot. On the way we found a freshly road-killed Carpet python (Morelia spilota) – such a shame. There must be a few around as this is the second dead specimen I have found and my friend Jimmy found one on a previous trip.

We drove down a gravel track and parked as close as to the location as we could. I have had information from a scientist that Quokka’s are found in West facing streams in riparian vegetation – which means it’s tough to get through. We spotted a couple of kangaroos in the distance and heard the yipping of a fox but didn’t see any Quokka – strike 2!

We found some scat that I can’t say is 100% Quokka but the size seems right and it was cubic and slightly flattened.

We also found some diggings and then scat which I believe is feral pig.

An interesting night in the correct habitat for Quokka’s but I think if any were around they would have disappeared as we came crashing through the thick scrub! Another observation was this cricket that I am hoping to get a proper ID on iNaturalist – currently thought to be one of the Raspy cricket family (Gryllacrididae).

We had a good night – perhaps a hint of a Quokka but I need to keep looking for a confirmed sighting and photo!

The critically endangered possums of Busselton…

Over Christmas we had a holiday with extended family plus friends and headed to Busselton for a camping holiday. It was the first time camping for my 2 year old daughter and both kids were excited to have cousins and friends with us. We were staying in the Siesta Park region.

From a wildlife perspective the camp caretaker told me he often sees Quenda (Isoodon fusciventer) in the sand dunes – especially crossing the track. This was new to me as I haven’t heard of them being in this area before. Unfortunately I didn’t see them during my stay.

Our first night, once getting the kids to bed, we heard a rustling in the trees as we were relaxing and having a chat. We shone a light and saw our first
Western ringtail possum (Pseudocheirus occidentalis). This turned out to be a nightly occurrence as we were in pretty good Peppermint tree habitat.

The Western ringtail possum are now critically endangered through a combination of habitat loss, predation by cats & foxes and car strike as they have to travel on the ground & cross roads due to loss of trees. While I don’t distrust the science, it is hard to get into your head that something you see somewhat easily in the right habitat, is actually struggling for survival. This species unfortunately makes 11th place onto the top 20 Australian mammal species likely to go extinct with a 25% chance of losing them forever.

Western ringtail possum @ Busselton

Another night a few of the blokes went to the Possum spotlighting trail leaving the kids asleep. It’s a 1.5 km walk set up especially for night time with reflective trail markers. I have blogged on this trail before.

We saw 30 odd ringtails, 15 Common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula), 5 or so Western Grey Kangaroos (Macropus fuliginosus) but no rarer species that have been seen here such as Bush rat or Brush-tail phascogale.

I used my Echo Meter Touch 2 bat detector but no bats were heard. I did however find this Moaning frog (Heleioporus eyrei) – picking it up with reflective eye shine.

Moaning frog @ Possum spotlighting trail, Busselton

We also spent time snorkeling along the beach near the campsite and had some fun with an underwater camera. Look at the top left picture – can you see the flounder? The same fish is in the image below while moving.

One of the last evenings we kept the kids up and took them spotlighting just as it got dark – all were excited especially my 2 year old Sienna who had never been before but heard stories from her big brother! There were 7 kids from our group but we collected a fair few other kids from around the campsite. We saw about 8 possums all up and the kids had a great time & learnt about wildlife!

All in all a lovely holiday with plenty of possums seen 🙂

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

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 Red-tailed black 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!