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!

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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. 🙂

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!

 

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!

 

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!