Back to the Prom

A Wilson’s Promontory Hillside at Sunset

It has been a while since I’ve shared some photos from Wilson’s Promontory National Park, along the southern coast of Victoria, Australia. This is definitely one of my favorite places I have ever visited and today I want to tell an ecology story of a special plant that I had no idea existed until making this trip in December, 2017.

Sawtooth Banksia (Banksia serrata)

The Banksia are a highly adapted plant that are found along a number of coastal habitats surrounding Australia. Wilson’s Promontory has four recorded species, two small to medium tree type forms, Banksia serrata and B. integrifolia and two smaller brush/shrub forms, B. marginata, and B. spinalosa (1). The most abundant species on the Prom and the only one I had sense in taking photographs of is the sawbank banksia, B. serrata. 

Current (sides) and past (center-back) year’s inflorescence of Banksia serrata

Banksia are easily identified by their bottlebrush-shaped spike inflorescence, which can contain hundred to thousands of of tiny flowers. Typically, only a few flowers will produce a hard and woody follicle that may hold the seed enclosed on the inflorescence “cone” within the canopy for as many as ten years. Although hard fires will cause the death of established Banksia, it is a necessity for most Banksia to remain stable in their habitat. Wild fire causes the woody follicles to dry and allows the opening of the hinges that releases the seeds within and promotes their germination (2).

A Banksia serrata loaded with years of “cones”

The photo below shows a very old “cone” that is still being held on the plant despite the seed having been released due to fire-induced desiccation.

Banksia serrata “cone” that has released its seed

The Banksia are well-adapted to fire as the next photo attests. Collin and I found this recent cut along a trail access. The thick and furrowed bark helps to keep fire from destroying living cells underneath.

Banksia serrata limb crosscut

There is a great case for describing Banksia as mutualist keystone species. Nectar produced at the base of the flowers was used by original native peoples, the Gunna and the Boonwurrung, to sweeten their water. This nectar also feeds a wide variety of important insect and bird pollinators during the day and mammals, like the eastern pygmy possum, at night. Birds such as Spinebills, Wattlebirds and Lorikeets have tongues adapted with brush-like tips that helps them specialize in feeding primarily on nectar and pollen (2). The photo below shows a Rainbow Lorikeet that I was able to capture in the act of feeding.

Rainbow Lorikeet, Trichoglossus moluccanus, feeding on Banksia serrata flower nectar

Only the largest of seed-eating birds, like the Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, can use their strong curved beaks to break into the woody seed pods of Banksia to feed on the seeds within.

Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funereus) are one of only a few potential bird species that can prey on Banksia seed on the Prom

B. serrata and B. integrifolia are among the tallest of trees in heathlands and similar habitats where they are found in the Prom. Because of this, they are important architecture for perching and nesting birds as well as providing shelter for small mammals. This male Fan-tailed Cuckoo is one of a few birds we found using the Banksia.

Fan-tailed Cuckoo (Cacomantis flabelliformis) – One of many birds that “nest” on the Prom

Until next time, have a good day, mate.

 

 

 

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Australia 2018 – An unexpected treat

Little Black Cormorant and…

Being a herper from days long ago I was certainly aware of the potential for finding special squamates in the land of spectacular and dangerous reptiles. But, with little time in the right habitats, I did not get my hopes up for finding much. As Collin and I were making our way south, we stopped at a bridge that crossed a stream that drained the tropical rainforest we were driving through into the Tasman Sea. As I watched and photographed a cooperative Little Black Cormorant, I picked up some motion on the other side of the stream.

Lace Monitor

Out of the vegetation lumbered this huge varanid, a lace monitor! The lace monitor is the second largest monitor in Australia and this individual was a full-sized adult. I estimate its size at 4.5 – 5.5 feet in length.

Lace Monitor (Varanus varius)

I’m sure the monitor could have made a nice meal of the cormorants, but none of the few birds that were within viewing distance appeared to be too concerned. The lizard took a small drink and then continued downstream before being lost in the vegetation. What a treat!

Birds of Australia – Masked Lapwing

Masked Lapwing

I had come across Lapwing species in Brazil. These are pretty interesting birds – often colorful, loud, large and not too off-put by human activity. They are classified in the family Charadriidae that includes the plovers and they always remind me of our Killdeer.  Most birds in this group use alarm calls and maybe injury feigning to protect themselves and their nests and offspring. These guys have similar tools, but look closely at the next image. Can you see their special weapons?

Masked Lapwing

Yes, these guys pack a little something extra in those wings. Also known as the Spur-winged Plover, the Masked Lapwing uses those spurs in territorial conflicts with one another as well as against potential predators that may be after their nests and developing chicks. Humans have been known to be struck by these not-so helpless birds.

‘Spur-winged Plovers’

 

Birds of Australia – White-bellied Sea Eagle

White-bellied Sea Eagle at Wilson’s Promontory NP, Victoria Australia

The first place we explored during our single day at Wilson’s Promontory National Park was Miller’s Landing and it’s associated trails. Miller’s Landing is a north-facing beach that leads to a healthy and productive inlet and marine sanctuary. The chances for finding all sorts of birds and other wildlife were high. We just needed to get lucky. After a few minutes of walking along the coastal mangrove marsh at low tide, Collin and I got a show that I’ll never forget. I only wish we had a spotting scope to see it better. After passing nearly overhead in a horrible back-lit situation, we watched this impressive White-bellied Sea Eagle fly off shore and into the inlet. We thought that would be the end – watching it fly until we couldn’t see it any longer. But this bird was on the hunt.

White-bellied Sea Eagle – on the hunt

I’m not sure of the species, but for the next several minutes we watched this eagle hunt and eventually capture a duck. Without stopping to rest, this eagle hover-hunted, trying time and time again to capture a duck that was diving and putting up a fight. I couldn’t believe this large bird had the stamina to continuously try at capturing this bird without rest.

White-bellied Sea Eagle – the struggle continues

Collin and I were the only humans on the beach and the only ones fortunate enough to observe this struggle. Although difficult to see in detail from our position, we could tell the duck was trying its best. It lasted at least 5 minutes and perhaps as long as ten. Eventually, the eagle won its prey, perhaps taking it to a nest nearby.

White-bellied Sea Eagle – the conclusion

Birds of Australia – The Fairy Wrens

Superb Fairy Wren

Among the most well known and sought after of Australia’s passerines are the Fairy Wrens and probably none is more popular than the Superb Fairy Wren that is found in New South Wales and Victoria in southeast Australia.

Superb Fairy Wren

Confident and brash, these guys have the personality of a chickadee on a mood-altering substance. On a couple of occasions, Collin and I found ourselves face to face with these guys at an arm’s length, being the apparent subjects of their songs and scoldings.

Superb Fairy Wren

The Fairy Wrens are sexually dimorphic, with males having an eclipse phase in the off-season where they molt to an appearance similar to the females. These birds tend to be found in family groups of 5 – 10 birds.

Variegated Fairy Wren

I found this Variegated Fairy Wren foraging among some low trees in a parking lot for Sawn Rocks at Mount Kaputar, NSW.

Ozark Bill Goes Down Under!?!?

Wilson’s Promontory National Park. The hills in the Prom peak at about 550 meters (~1640 feet).

The Australia trip is over and I’m finally getting back to a normal sleep schedule. Our flight miles added up to nearly 21,500 miles and Collin and I drove approximately 3,400 miles in country. I have been spending lots of hours during the past few days going over the nearly 6,000 photos I took during the trip and have roughly finalized my bird list – 89 species, with a couple yet to ID from photos. Not nearly enough to match my dreams, but getting to see a bit over 10% of the continent’s birds (~850 species) while on a work trip is nothing to complain about, I guess.

Here is a good look at tea tree scrub and heath habitats that cover much of the Prom.

On our last day in country we visited Wilson’s Promontory National Park. What an impact this place had on me. Take something like our Yosemite NP and surround it by ocean on three sides, fill it with unique habitats, exotic birds and marsupials and you have an idea of what the ‘Prom’ is like. Of course, one day was only enough to wet my appetite. Two weeks would have been better.

This is looking upstream of Tidal River, the largest river in the park. Birds and wombats were plentiful.

Entry fees for national parks in Australia vary by state. In Victoria, all NP’s are free to enter and all other states charge a very affordable rate. This makes me wonder why the cost of our parks are going through the roof and why so many state parks (not in MO) charge an entry fee. Priorities, I guess.

A higher elevation look at Tidal River. On this short hike we we chorused by Laughing Kookaburra and saw a number of parrots.

Here are a few of my favorite landscapes from the Prom that should give an idea of the diversity of habitats this place offers. All of these were taken less than three miles from the few roads that lie within the park.

A pano showing the meanderings of Tidal River.

 

The coastlines of the Prom were magnificent. If it weren’t for the 40-50 mph steady winds, coming in from the ocean, Collin and I would have loved to explore these areas more. Silver Gulls were the predominant bird species along these western-facing beaches.

 

Another look at the coastline. The interesting plant in the foreground is Euphorbia paralias (sea spurge). I found out later that, unfortunately, this is an exotic invasive from Europe that is causing problems along the coast of southern Australia and Tasmania. I wish I’d have known. I would have spent a few minutes pulling.