Banksias: The no. 1 plant for attracting wildlife

I have a Coastal Banksia (Banksia integrefolia) in my backyard and it has attracting some awesome bird species to my garden over the years. Just a month ago I was surprised to find a female Bowerbird stopping over in this tree. While I don’t think it was feeding off it, it certainly used the wiry branches of the Banksia as protection from aggressive birds such as minas. Its remarkable as the nearest bush is still a few blocks away. Another avian highlight was a few years ago when I discovered a Scaly-breasted Lorrikeet pair feeding off the Banksia pollen. At the stage I was quite new to birds and was confused as to why a Rainbow Lorikeet was all green. I took photos and later discovered to my amazement that we had just had a pair of the rarer Scaly-breasted Lorikeets visiting.

Scaley-breasted Lorikeet (Trichoglossus chlorolepidopus) feeding off my backyard Banksia | Copyright Chad Beraneki 2013)

Scaley-breasted Lorikeet (Trichoglossus chlorolepidopus) feeding off my backyard Banksia | Copyright Chad Beraneki 2013)

Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haemotodus) feeding off the same Banksia | Copright Chad Beranek 2016

Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haemotodus) feeding off the same Banksia | Copright Chad Beranek 2016

While the obvious candidates to be attracted to Banksias are animals that feed off the nectar and use the plant for protection, there are even more potential species which can be attracted by these plants. The other night I was marveling and some of the ‘flow-on’ attracting powers it has. And what I mean by flow-on is how attracting one animal species might attract another. We have had lots of Grey-headed Flying Foxes visiting lately which have been enjoying the last remains of the Banksia nectar for this season. Their presence attracted a very large and menacing backyard resident which has not been recorded in my garden yet…

An adorable Grey-headed Flying Fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) having a Banksia pollen feed | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

An adorable Grey-headed Flying Fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) having a Banksia pollen feed | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016


The resident they attracted was the local Powerful Owl who has a few roosting sites and nesting hollows scattered around Sutherland Shire (sometimes you can catch them at Camelia Gardens). I was actually coming home late from a party that night and heard the flying foxes make their usual playful chatter among the foliage of our Banksia. But then I caught a glance of the silhouette of a large bird sitting on my neighbors aerial. Straight away I knew that the only bird it could be is a Powerful Owl, due to the size. I stayed up late observing him eyeing off the flying foxes, waiting for them to make one wrong move. Fortunately they didn’t cross paths with the owl and didn’t seem to even notice it.

Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua) sitting on my neighbours aerial eyeing off flying foxes | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua) sitting on my neighbours aerial eyeing off flying foxes | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

This is just one example of some flow-on attracting powers the Banksia has. There are plenty more animals that can potentially be attracting by this plant which cover all animal groups. Some old school naturalists back in the day have stated that Perons Tree Frogs will sleep in the bark and small hollows of Banksia so they are even good for attracting local hylid tree frogs. The amount of animals that will be attracted to Banksias increases ten-fold if you are close to bushland, with rather critters likely to make an appearance, including Pigmy Possums, Feathertailed Gliders, Antechinus, Sugar Gliders and countless nectar feeding birds. You might get lucky and attract some really rare nectar feeding birds.

Brush-tailed Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) climbing the nearby Paperbark after having a Banksia feed | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Brush-tailed Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) climbing the nearby Paperbark after having a Banksia feed | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

 

 

Comment below if you have a Banksia in the backyard and have noticed any Australian animals using the Banksia for food or habitat!

 

Manly Vale Public School upgrade threatens local extinction of endangered species

The cover image is copyright of Stephen Mahony and this article is written by Chad Beranek

 

Manly Vale Public school is praised as being an innovative pioneer in regards to teaching their students the importance of the environment and sustainability. One of the reasons this school is able to to achieve such success in this area is because of its location. The school is located next to well kept remnant bushland which forms a linkage to Manly Dam Reserve which has further linkages that reach Garigal National Park and beyond. This unique setting allows students of Manly Vale Public School to immerse with the Australian wilderness and learn about the plants and animals which dwell there. This is a crucially important experience for children to have during their development. This enables them to form an early respect and understanding of the natural heritage of Australia, as well as a toolkit for survival and an early embodiment of adventure and joy of the wilderness.

Despite boasting being one of the few school in Sydney lucky enough to be surrounded by pristine Sydney sandstone woodland and being the forefront in primary education of sustainability, the department of education have decided to expand the school in a very unsustainable manner. Much of the  4.37 hectares of bushland proposed for “removal” will be on Department of Education land including the schools own “nature area”- used to teach generations of children about the environment. Clearing for the Asset Protection Zone requires compulsory acquisition of land into  Condover and Manly Dam Reserves. The latter being a living memorial to those who served in two world wars.

Now lets make this clear, I’m not against the expansion. I want this school to expand so it’s environmental education can reach more students. However, it can expand it’s facilities in a much more sustainable way. In this article I will describe what animals and plants of interest call this bushland-to-be-developed home and the inherent threats these species face.

The threatened Red-crowned Toadlet (Pseudophryne australis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

The threatened Red-crowned Toadlet (Pseudophryne australis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

The threatened Red-crowned Toadlet is the first in line to be completely wiped out from this area if this development proceeds. As I have described in the Backyard Conservation Fact Sheet for this species, the Red-crowned Toadlet is vulnerable to development which occurs on the ridge top above where they live. This is because Red-crowned Toadlets are always found on sandstone slopes in trickling tributaries and soaks. Development which occurs on the ridge top causes altered storm water regimes which always causes surplus of water discharges down these trickles and soaks which end up washing away the nests of these rare frogs.

Red-crowned Toadlets are usually only found in large reserves and national parks, so the fact that they are occurring in this comparatively small tract of bush next to Manly Vale Public School is a testament to how healthy and biodiverse this bush patch is. The proposed expansion of the school sees buildings to be constructed on the ridge above the known Red-crowned Toadlets populations and alarmingly close. These population will unfortunately be entirely extirpated from this bushland if the proposed development proceeds.

Eastern Pigmy Possum (Cercartetus nanus)

As with the Red-crowned Toadlets, the Eastern Pygmy Possum also faces local extinction if the current proposal is allowed to go through. The Eastern Pygmy Possum (the one depicted in the cover photo) is one of the smallest possums in the world and is just an adorable animal. Unfortunately often comes out second best in the face of urban expansion. In the case of Manly Vale, the remnant bushland next to the school appears to contain one of the most urban situated populations, which just further highlights how valuable and diverse this relatively small strip of bushland is. Experts have said that this population appears to be the remnant stronghold for pygmy possums in Manly Vale. Any further encroachment can and will eliminate pygmy possums from this area and surrounding areas.

Powerful Owl chick

Powerful Owl chick. These birds threatened and naturally rare. They are very picky in choosing their nesting hollow. Cutting down a chosen nesting tree will eliminate them from the surrounding landscape.

There are many more animals at threat  from the proposed expansion, including Bandicoots, Edichnas and Wallabies, but I have just touched on the threatened rare species. There has even been Powerful Owls found nesting on site. In addition to the threatened animals that face local extinction, there are also potential for threatened plants occurring on this site which also face annihilation. The plants include the Sunshine Wattle (Acacia terminalis spp. terminalis), Pimelea curviflora var. curviflora, Seaforth Mintbush (Prostanthera marifolia), and  Tetratheca glandulosa. This surprisingly diverse little bush hosts a wide array of many other  plants which once again highlight just how biodiverse it is. Thanks can be given to the hard working bush regeneration volunteers of this area which have labored thousands of hours keeping this bush clean and weed free. Unfortunately the proposed development would see all this work undone.

Sunshine Wattle (Acacia terminalis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2014

Sunshine Wattle (Acacia terminalis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2014

The fact is that there is enough space on school grounds which don’t contain bush to start development there. The proposed bush smashing can be undone with a smarter, more sustainable and less fragmenting development design. Any decrease in the destruction of Sydney sandstone woodland is huge in conserving the nature in Sydney as this biome is constantly under threat because it is situated in the most urbanised area of Australia. This is a very similar to a case to the Spring Gully threat. Both of these land clearances are proposed to be occurring within Sydney sandstone woodland, and in both instances we need to realise that we cannot negotiate the already limited pristine bushland within the Sydney region. There are always smarter and more sustainable ways of achieving development.

Pimelea curvifolia var. glabrata, a close and more common relative of Pimelea curviflora var. curviflora | Copyright Chad Beranek 2014

Pimelea curvifolia var. glabrata, a close and more common relative of Pimelea curviflora var. curviflora | Copyright Chad Beranek 2014

 

Overall we need to understand that we live in an age with an ever expanding population and thus very limited resources. Our strength is being the most intelligent species in the world. We need to use this intelligence and realise that unsustainable destruction of nature will only have negative compounding influences in the future. If the directors of the expansion of Manly Vale Public School can’t wake up and see just how unsustainable and unproductive the proposed development is, they will undo all the good work this school has been striving to achieve in the fronts of sustainability, the environment and the very future of the next generation of innovators and pioneers.




To help out and stay informed please visit, like this page and voice your opinion. Every voice counts, with enough of us we can call out ill-informed bad practices like this and ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for all. You can find out more information on the Wild About blog.

The video below provides more information on this bushland:

Bird Behaviour Breakdown – Double-eyed Fig-parrots

Birds have one of the most evolved and complex behavioral systems of any animal group. This is due to the extra dynamics birds face living in the skies in comparison to terrestrial animals. Birds need to keep a high metabolism, with higher body temperatures than most terrestrial animals, to upkeep their insatiably high activity rates. Birds also need to keep their feathers in the utmost perfect conditions to ensure that their are no problems during flight. If a bird has damaged wing feathers and attempts to fly, it can cost them their lives.

However during my travels I have observed quite interesting and less obvious behaviors of birds, which often left me scratching my head with confusion until I researched it a bit. The first odd and memorable behavior  I witnessed was that from a Double-eyed Fig-parrot (Cyclopsitta ) I was taking photos of at Gordonvale just south of Cairns.
Cyclopsitta diophthalma race macleayana - Double-eyed Fig-Parrot

At first I though this fig-parrot was eating something growing on the branch of this rainforest tree. I thought it was most likely the lichen. But even from the limited knowledge I knew of Double-eyed Fig-parrots, I knew this could not be the case. Fig-parrots like other parrots, are mainly granivores, meaning they mostly eat seeds.

IMG_0698As I went through the photos it became apparent that the parrot was chewing on the wooden structures of the branch and not actually consuming anything. This is actually a behavior that most bird keepers would know well. In captivity, bird keepers are required to include a cuddle-bone shell for their bird to sharpen their beak on. Wild birds however do not have access to a cuddle-bone and prefer to sharpen their beaks on branches.

IMG_0697This behavior I observed of the Double-eyed Fig-parrots is completely normal for wild birds and not as bizarre as I initially suspected. This parrot was prepping his beak ready to crack some rainforest plant seed shells. Which rainforest plant seed does this parrot species prefer? Figs ofcourse! This is where the Double-eyed Fig-parrot gets its common name from.

There is one other explanation of this behavior, which is more exciting! Fig parrots actually chew holes in trees to make their nests. Instead of waiting for fungi and termites to erode away a tree hollow they take it upon themselves to masterfully excavate their own tree hollow. This fig parrot could have been testing the branch to find dampened weak spots to dig a tree hollow in.

Based of the fact this parrot was gnawing on on both the branch and the twig jutting out from the branch, I’d say we were observing the first behavior. It’s still exciting to decipher and ponder this rarely seen behavior in wild birds!

Double-eyed Fig-Parrot (Cyclopsitta diophthalma)

To find out the next strange behavior I encountered, follow the link at the end of this post.




Click here for the next bird behavior breakdown!

Bird Behaviour Breakdown – Blue-faced Honeyeaters

Social structures of different bird species can be arranged anywhere from flocks of thousands to lone individuals. Blue-faced Honeyeaters (Entomyzon cyanotis) range somewhere in the middle. They make small bands of up to seven birds to dominate feeding areas in attempts to exclude other bird species. While travelling in northern Queensland recently, I got to observe just how dominant and pesky this small bands of Blue-faced Honeyeaters can be!

IMG_0996

I was taking photos of a lone kookaburra siting high in a tree. I was using this bird as a means to adjust the camera settings to take a good photo given the overcast weather of the day. As I peered through my lens for the final adjustment I saw a small flock of three Blue-faced Honeyeaters menacingly eyeing the placid Kookaburra off.

IMG_1011

I was amazed to witness the band of three start to harass the kookaburra for no apparent reason. While these antics were quite humorous to watch, I did feel the Kookaburra was hard done by as it was just minding its own business sitting on a branch of an old gum tree.




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So why did the Blue-faced Honeyeaters set upon the docile Kookaburra? I think the answer comes down to competition for resources. The Kookaburra is prime competition for Blue-faced Honeyeaters, as they both eat similar food. If they allowed the Kookaburra to sit on a tree in their foraging territory, they risk it consuming food that they could’ve consumed. All in all this apparent pesky behavior is actually a way the Blue-faced Honeyeaters are protecting their assets.

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Click here for another bird behavior breakdown!

Duckling Rescue – Lend a Helping Hand to Animals Caught in a Storm

By Chad Beranek and Rodney Hunter

Storms are a natural part of life and essential for breaking down atmospheric nitrogen, to biologically available forms. Sometimes they rapidly escalate and wreak havoc upon human altered landscapes and Mother Earths ecosystems. Storms can form swiftly and forcefully, especially along the meteorologically erratic eastern coast of Australia.

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Urban areas are challenging enough for wildlife, before storms emerge and surge and endanger ducklings in drains near a road verge. I was driving home from a south coast adventure, when I noticed a distressed mother Pacific Black Duck anxiously patrolling a storm water drain. Curiosity compelled me to take a closer look.  Where I come from, ducks use residential swimming pools as crash pads. They’re everywhere in other words, however this one was unusually distressed.

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I emerged from my car with head torches to guide me and the eyes I came into the world with a quarter of a century ago. My vehicle travels with the care of a womb, not the recklessness of a tomb, it’s the mother ship. The environmental situation was more fixable 25 years ago, than it is today.

Tweeting ducklings alerted me to their presence in the storm water pipe. They must’ve been washed down with the recent rising surge. I drove home, in search of reinforcements (my mum and sister) and wasted no time returning.

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The mother duck was as paranoid and aggressive as a bipolar victim surrounded by peace time thugs. It didn’t know we came in peace. I detached the grating of the drain and handed the captured ducklings to my mother and sister, who gently placed them in a spare Tupperware container. Some of those fluffy little darlings hid deeper and deeper in the hostile drainage pipe murkiness. Eventually I managed to locate all of them, including the paranoia victims.

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We were astonished to find the mother duck had eleven offspring! Persistent in our efforts to capture her, we cut off the ring so to speak, in other words lured it into a tight spot, without making overly dramatic movements; for its own good. Not that she had any means of realising that though. Ultimately she was too swift and cunning. I feared she’d be squashed under the unforgiving wheels of a passing land rover. It was a close call.

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7Rather than continue the chase, we soundlessly emulated the march of the pied piper, by beckoning the Mother Duck to follow an offspring crate to my place. The ducklings tweeted the directions to their mother. Just as I was contemplating comics of cute baby ducks literally using the internet to find help, I was swooped by a shadowy sky being. I wondered if the shadowy sky being was one of those wingsuit inspiring sugar gliders. Well I would’ve if there were any in the area.

At that point it could’ve been Mothman for all I knew. Baffled, I scanned my surroundings. Nearby movement, in a dimly lit footpath shrub revealed the culprit. Quickly, I illuminated the dark silent figure. I marveled over the discovery, the shadow assassin, as I ultimately called it, was in fact a Southern Boobook, a species of owl to be vague. That swooping ninja must’ve recognized duckling distress calls and imagined a feast awaited it.

Southern Boobook

Evading the silent aerial ninga, the formerly panicking parent followed me and the duckling crate into the kitchen. She seemed too calm to be having nightmarish visions about what wasn’t on the menu, but would’ve been at some people’s places. My sister stashed the ducklings in a shower cubicle, in the hope their mother would fall for the benevolent trap, instead of risking injury by roaming around my spacious booby trapped headquarters. I don’t want Greg Hunt, the minister for environmental vandalism, to wander in unannounced do I.

Once again we failed to set our well meaning trap effectively. The mother duck seemed intent on doing laps of the hallway, as though she thought she was a Roman Colosseum chariot hero.

As the mother duck wandered into the lounge room Dad began to wonder what I might’ve blended with his lager saga. Eventually the unlikely vision reminiscent creature sought it’s sons and daughters, and found itself safely locked in the bathroom. The following day, the Pacific Black Duck family were happily released, in Caringbah’s painstakingly picturesque Camelia Gardens, a great venue for weddings

In summary, always be on the lookout to help distressed wildlife in storms. Below is a checklist of what to look out for:

  • Animals around storm drains
  • Animals gathered around fallen trees
  • Don’t be surprised if an animal takes up residence in your house to shelter from the storm! Warning to all those arachnophobics, Huntsmans seem to seek out shelter in houses during heavy storms!

Comment below, if you have been involved in any interesting wildlife rescue situations!