Where to have lunch with Mareeba Rock Wallabies

The Mareeba Rock Wallaby is a small species of macropod which are only found in a small area west of Cairns and centralised around Mareeba. These adorable wallabies spend their lives foraging and frolicking around the large smoothed granite boulders which characterise this area known as Granite Gorge.

Mareeba Rock Wallaby (Petrogale mareeba)

If you have friends or family recently travel up to Cairns, its likely that you have seen them with pictures of the Mareeba Rock Wallaby. If you are wondering where you would be able to get such photos, you must look no further than the Granite Gorge Nature Park in Mareeba. For $12, you can spend the day in the nature park and even have lunch with the rock wallabies. Special pellets are given out so you can feed them, but be cautious, the wallabies can be quite crafty and mischievous! This park provides active conservation of the rock wallaby and also provides funding to further protect and enhance the habitat within the park.

Mareeba Rock Wallaby -Mother with joey | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Mareeba Rock Wallaby -Mother with joey | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

There are also other interesting sites and species to enjoy. The park has beautiful examples of the granite rock outcrops of the Granite Gorge. It is also host to a suite of different bird species and reptiles. Below are some critters we found on the day. Follow the link at the end of this post to the official website.

Tommy Roundhead (Diporiphora australis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Tommy Roundhead (Diporiphora australis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Yellow Honeyeater (Stomioptera flavus)




Squatter Pigeon (Geophaps scripta)

 

Click this link for the website of Granite Gorge Nature Reserve.

 

 

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!

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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.

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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!

Secretive Snakes – The Rare and Illusive Hoplocephalus

In Australia, most venomous front fanged (Elapid) snakes are ground dwelling. When one thinks about Australian snakes, its most often the formidable terrestrial snakes come to mind, such as the Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilus) or the elegant and streamlined Red-bellied Black Snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus). However there is an arboreal (tree-climbing) group of elapid snakes present in the Australia bush which are less well known, and much less seen. These snakes are collectively in the Hoplocephalus genus and have been the focus of scientific intrigue, due to their individualistic ecological habits. There are three of these peculiar but fascinating serpents; Broad-headed Snake, Pale-headed Snake and Stephen’s Banded Snake. In this article we shall briefly go over each species peculiarities.

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The Broad-headed Snake (Hoplocephalus bungaroides)

The Broad-headed Snake is considered the king of Sydney sandstone rock escarpments. Found in open woodland on west facing slopes, this snake species feeds primarily on geckos and skinks which cohabitant the same craggy sand rock shelves. This snake primarily has been the focus of much research coming out of the University of Sydney, which has uncovered a very fascinating life history. It appears that during winter this snake will take shelter under rocks and in cliff crevices, and in summer it will pursue a life climbing trees. It chooses western facing rock slopes when sheltering preferentially due to its nocturnal nature. This is because western facing rock slopes will get sun light as the sun is setting which will warm up the Broad-headed Snake and give it energy before it goes forth that night hunting.

Broad-headed Snake (Hoplocephalus bungaroides) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Broad-headed Snake (Hoplocephalus bungaroides) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Broad-headed Snakes have anecdotally been confused for baby Diamond Python in the past. This is a deadly mistake to make. Thus far there has been a reported fatality from a Broad-headed Snake bite which was likely due to allergy to the venom. Broad-headed Snake venom can cause local pain, swelling, and severe drops in blood pressure causing dizziness and fainting.  This risks possible death. If you see a Broad-head out at night do not pick it up. They are a very agile and defensive snake species which is hard to contain.

One of the Broad-headed Snakes main food items: Lesueur's Velvet Gecko (Amalosia lesueurii) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

One of the Broad-headed Snakes main food items: Lesueur’s Velvet Gecko (Amalosia lesueurii) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

The Pale-headed Snake (Hoplocephalus bitorquatus)

The Pale-headed Snake is a tree dwelling assassin which spends much of its time living within the canopy, nestled in tree hollows and under bark exfoliation of River Red Gums and Coolabahs. Their distribution extends from NNSW right into QLD where their preferred habitat trees are most prevalent. They are rarely found far from a water course as their primary food is frogs, whom they ambush at night with silent stealthy strikes. Due to being found in areas which are most often far away from human habitance, this is the least known Hoplocephalus.

Pale-headed Snake (Hoplocephalus bitorquatus) | Copyright Stephen Mahony 2015

Pale-headed Snake (Hoplocephalus bitorquatus) | Copyright Stephen Mahony 2015

Stephen’s Banded Snake (Hoplocephalus stephensii)

Stephen’s Banded Snakes are considered more of a rainforest dweller out of the trio. This snake prefers its own company and will shelter in solitude in tree hollows high up in the moist canopy for extended periods of time. After lying in wait they descend to the forest floor and can travel over a hundred meters in search of prey and mates. They will explore alternative tree hollows in hopes of finding a nesting mammal such as a Pigmy Possum, Feather-tailed Glider or a Bush Rat. If the resident is home, the snake will strike immediately, if not, the snake will lie in wait of the resident to return home and then strike. In either scenario the unwelcome guest will devour the occupant and sleep in the occupants nest while the occupant digests.

Stephens Banded Snake (Hoplocephalus stephensii) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Stephens Banded Snake (Hoplocephalus stephensii) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

What is common with all these snakes? They all have curious habitat requirements which makes them all vulnerable to population declines. The Broad-headed Snake is often poached and have their habitat destroyed by reptile collectors, and much of their habitat has been built on as the of their core distribution lies in the Sydney region. The Pale-headed Snake is threatened by tree removal and habitat destruction in areas dominated by farm developments. Due to the large home range and tree hollow usage of the Stephen’s Banded Snake, this snake species cannot exist in fragmented landscapes and requires expansive tracts of forests. All of these snakes are almost entirely eliminated with development as they depend on trees. Trees are vitally important for a host of animals.




For ways you can help save trees, especially in Sydney, please visit: Saving Sydneys Trees

Nocturnal Wildlife of Mount Warning – Creatures that Border Byron Bay

Mount Warning can be seen when driving from Byron Bay to Tweed Heads and stands at a triumphant 1,156 m above sea level. Lying only an hour north west of Byron Bay, it is the domain for a host of incredibly fascinating rainforest dwelling creatures. The mountain itself is ancient and stands as a result of a prehistoric volcano that use to be active in this area. There are scenic bush walking tracks which are accessible off Mount Warning Road, which is a sealed road which takes you close to the very top of the Mount Warning summit.

Most travelers are content with doing the walk during the day time, however if you are gain enough to walk it at night you will be rewarded with many of natures secrets. This is because many creatures that dwell in the rainforest are only active at night time. Below is a list of the compelling rainforest citizens that were found in just one night of searching. As the sun is setting and the darkness is slowly consuming the rainforest, light ghastly laughs can be heard occasionally erupting from the leaf litter.

When the sun is completely consumed by the horizon, the mocking laughs can be heard from all over the rainforest floor. These laughs are actually the call of the tiny Marsupial Frog (Assa darlingtoni), which is the only frog in Australia to be featured on a David Attenborough film. The males of these amazing little frogs brood their young tadpoles in sacks on the sides of their legs. Each male establishes a small territory on the rainforest floor, where he lets out his call of laughter to try and attract a female.

Marsupial Frog (Assa darlingtoni) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Marsupial Frog (Assa darlingtoni) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 

While rustling bushes is often associated with frightful circumstances, in the rainforest it is often caused by an adorable critter. This Fawn-footed Melomys (Melomys cervinipes) is a rainforest rodent resident which uses its long tail as an extra limb when climbing through the thick tangle of vegetation found in subtropical forests.

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Fawn-footed Melomys (Melomys cervinipes) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Everything in rainforests grows to larger sizes due to the extra resources available in these biologically rich areas. The trees grow taller, the large pythons grow longer and even the snails grow larger. This large rainforest snail was found making its way up a buttress root of a canopy tree. I am unsure of this snail species identity. If you know what species it is please let me know! I am very curious about this incredible gastropod.

Large rainforest snail

 

When you start paying more attention to the canopy and tree trunks, you realise there is much more life up there than originally suspected. Due to the large trees and dense growth of canopy found in rainforests, many rainforest dwelling animals adapt an arboreal nature to utilise the resources found in the life vibrant heights of the canopy. This Southern Leaf-tailed Gecko (Saltuarius swaini) camouflages perfectly to the mossy patterns of the bark of trees, and lie waiting in ambush for an unsuspecting arthropod to cross their path.

Southern Leaf-tailed Gecko (Saltuarius swaini) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Southern Leaf-tailed Gecko (Saltuarius swaini) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 

As the night progress, more strange calls can be heard piercing through the loud hum of bladder cicadas. These noises resonate from the nearby creek. Tracking the calls down reveal that is it another frog species responsible for these sounds. The attractive Cascade Tree Frog (Litoria pearsoniana) is a rainforest stream specialist, and is only found in shadey ferny creeks deep within subtropical rainforest around the border of QLD and NSW.

Cascade Tree Frog (Litoria pearsoniana) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Cascade Tree Frog (Litoria pearsoniana) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 

On the way back out of the rainforest, another tropical denizen is found. This Brown Tree Snake (Boiga irregularis) was heading in the same direction as the calling frog. This snake species is a nocturnal hunting specialist and weaves quietly through the rainforest canopy taking its prey before its victim can react.

Brown Tree Snake (Boiga irregularis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Brown Tree Snake (Boiga irregularis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 

Comment below if you have ventured into the ancient rainforests of Mount Warning and let us know what rainforests dwellers you encountered!