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Barn Owls on the Savannah (1227 views)

During the Dusk Open Vehicle Adventures over the past two weeks Keeper Laura Harbridge discovered that our resident barn owl family were back in the lower savannah. This is the only time of year that we really traverse that area after dark so we took the opportunity to get some photos before locking up for the night.

Barn Owls may be nomadic or they may stay put in one location depending on rodent numbers. Judging by the number of young owls it seems we have quite a few mice around – there were at least seven chicks!

Barn owls lay 3 – 9 eggs staggered at intervals so that they do not all hatch together. Given that each egg takes a little over a month to hatch followed by a three month fledgling period it is safe to say that the parent owls have been very busy… Two mice were delivered just in the 15 – 20 minutes that we observed them!

We have also noticed that Nankeen Kestrels are hanging around this tree during the day. It’s highly likely that they are waiting to use the same tree if not the same nest hollow as the owls. This high rise hot demand only highlights the importance of these old trees for wildlife homes. I guess we might need to provide some artificial hollows to ensure there’s enough supply for demands in the future.

Farewell Timi the Tree Kangaroo (1304 views)

Today we said goodbye to one of Melbourne Zoo’s most loved animals, a treasured Zoo ambassador, Timika, better known as Timi, the Goodfellow’s Tree-Kangaroo.

Since Timi was born at Melbourne Zoo in 2000, he has touched the hearts of many and given them an opportunity to learn about a species most people have never heard of and inspire them to make a difference.

Target training Timi

I have been fortunate to work with Timi throughout his life. He has given me such joy as one of his keepers with his captivating personality; unlike many tree kangaroos he was not as shy and elusive as they can be. Interestingly enough as one of the top breeding males, he never displayed all the usual  behavioral traits that they can exhibit, not being very territorial at all, making it easy for us when training him for husbandry and veterinary procedures and close encounters.

Timi has been a media superstar, appearing many times throughout various media channels, tv, magazines and newspaper stories. He has encountered many personalities and VIPs from the film and television industry, sporting greats from the tennis, grand prix, and golf, to name a few.

I have never seen another tree kangaroo quite like Timi. It was a great honor and privilege to work with him, and learn from him, and I thank him for being such a huge part of my career.

It is through Timi and his offspring that at Melbourne Zoo we were able to be the first with the developmental studies for his species,  recording detailed measurements of his joeys while they were still in the pouch, and become leaders within the breeding program for this endangered species. I will miss him dearly.

Going Cuckoo (2425 views)

We’ve heard a few cuckoos calling around Werribee Open Range Zoo lately…

A Shining Bronze Cuckoo. Photo Paul Rushworth

These very crafty birds are considered parasites as they will lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and allow the unwitting foster parents to raise their chicks for them.

A Fan-tailed Cuckoo. Photo Paul Rushworth

The targets of our local cuckoos here are the beautiful Superb Fairy Wrens and Scrub Wrens (they will also target other dome nest building birds).

The eggs of the host are sneakily kicked out by the Cuckoo and replaced with her own egg. The unsuspecting Wren parents then raise the baby cuckoo as their own even though the youngster ends up growing much bigger than itself!!

A juvenile Fan-tailed Cuckoo being fed by White-browed Scrub Wren host. Photo Paul Rushworth

I wonder what those hard working parents think when they look up at their babies towering over them?

Looking for Leadbeaters- day 4 (2819 views)

Two Leadbeater’s Possum (LBP) territories surveyed today – Q4 and O2A (my favourite part of the reserve). Hoped to find 10 LBPs here…

The thicker the vegetation, the easier it is for Leadbeater’s Possums to run through the forest. They rarely (and reluctantly) descend to the ground to move between trees, so rely on continuous forest cover.

A blue mushroom!

Alas, none found, despite the vegetation in both territories being in good condition. Both LBP families are probably still present and denning in natural tree hollows rather than nest boxes. Need to confirm that these territories are still active using a secondary survey method – either call imitation or camera traps. It would be surprising and a serious setback if these territories have been abandoned by the resident LBP families.

Agile Antechinus are voracious predators of insects. As insects are easy to digest, the antichinus have a very fast gut passage rate. This means they just can’t hang on all day and scats (poo) are a telltale sign that antechinus have been using a nest box.

Agile Antechinuses were found in four different nest boxes. Sugar Gliders were found in one nest box. Common Ringtail Possums were found in two nest boxes, one where the lid had become detached and the other where the possum had chewed and enlarged the entrance hole. The entrance holes to the nest boxes are small and usually prevent the entry of Ringtail possums which are six times larger than LBPs. Birds such as rosellas and owlet nightjars also prefer larger entrance holes and so rarely utilize the nest boxes.

A Common Ringtail Possum has made its nest of fine tea tree twigs on top of an old Leadbeater’s Possum nest (which provides a nice soft base). The ringtail has had to chew open the small entrance hole in order to squeeze through and enter the nest box.

Ringtail Possums prefer to use tree hollows for denning, but where hollows are scarce they will construct dreys as shown high in this paperbark thicket. They dreys consist of fine tea tree and paperbark twigs woven into a tight ball.

Observed a Helmeted Honeyeater at Q4. This is significant, as the birds have made their way back to this site naturally. In the mid 1990s it was the stronghold for the species, and over five years during the drought, it was abandoned entirely, possibly due to reduced food production. A small number of birds have returned following the increased rainfall of the past three years. No sign of the Powerful Owls sighted here last year. But there was a trace of whitewash under a Blackwood indicating that they are still in the area.

Drier, more open woodland occurs on the slopes and ridges adjacent to the floodplain forest at Yellingbo. This vegetation supports large numbers of Sugar Gliders. Leadbeater’s Possums do not forage in this forest type.

Fresh excavations. A new wombat burrow.

The creation of a levee bank has resulted in sections of forest being permanently inundated at Yellingbo. This has led to severe vegetation dieback.

Looking for Leadbeaters- Day 3 (3160 views)

Sub-adult female from N1 family. She’s about a year old

Two Leadbeater’s Possum (LBP) territories surveyed today – those of the N3 and N1 families, respectively. And the result- Three LBPs in N3 and four LBPs in N1 (the same family sizes as that recorded here last year). Better news than we had for day 2!

The pouch of young females that are yet to breed are tight, clean and pale pink coloured

N3: Adult pair present plus one new possum- a young adult male weighing 121 g (possibly the pouch young detected last year). The adult female did not have any young in her pouch this year. Based on her pouch condition, there is no evidence of recent production of young here.

She was rather grumpy during her examination… but she is now at least 9 years of age (which is very old for a LBP – about 100 in human years). This is close to the record for a wild LBP so I’ll forgive her grumpiness.

New juvenile female in the N1 family. She is around 7 months old and will stay with her parents for at least another year.

N1: Breeding pair present plus two young! Both young were female which is great (males are more prevalent). One young was 109 g (subadult) and the other 86 g (juvenile). They were from successive litters. Tattoo black AX is still the breeding female and has a new male mate (Black 22). Far better breeding activity than at N3, just 200 m to the north. Is variation in breeding success driven more by territory habitat quality or parenting abilities of the resident breeding pair??? Will need to analyse the data to examine production of young per territory for different pairs over 10-15 years to answer this.

Thin, vertical tea tree and paperbark form dense thickets here at Yellingbo. These provide ideal movement highways for LBP’s that leap from stem to stem in a manner similar to Lemurs on Madagascar.

Bent-winged cuteness (3574 views)

Last week I got to meet two little Southern Bent-wing Bats that were rescued and are being hand-raised by bat expert Lindy Lumsden.

The two babies are now around 5 months old and may be fit for release in the coming weeks. It’s unknown exactly how long these micro bats live, but individuals have been recorded up to 22 years old!

They were rescued after falling to the floor of Starlight cave, near Warrnambool, one of only 2 remaining maternity caves for this bat species. The rest of the baby bats were huddled together on the ceiling 40 metres above so it wasn’t possible to put them back where they came from.

Southern Bent-wing Bat nursery. Photo: Steve Bourne

As a result of the very particular conditions required for a maternity cave (and that bats love a good mass-cuddle) the air temperature in the maternity cave can be more than 10 degrees warmer than outside!

Calling out for mealworms!

There has been a severe decline in recent decades for Southern Bent-wing Bats, but exact current numbers have been hard to gauge. State of the art missile tracking technology from the US is now being employed to provide more accurate estimates of bat numbers – cool eh?

I’ve attached a sound recording of one of the little fellas. (captured through a bat detector and recorded on a phone). Check it out:

SBWB-audio (MP3)

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Funded by the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.