Another visit to Narrandera Common

In my first attempt to keep my promise to you and myself to try and get out more in June – and to celebrate the end of the work assignment that kept me chained to my desk every waking moment of the past two weeks – I headed back to Narrandera Common yesterday for a walk along the canal bank.

I’m not counting this as an official monthly field visit, because I did one to Narrandera Common in February, so the official June Field Visit is yet to come. Maybe count this as in lieu of April or May – especially as I had intended to visit Narrandera Common in April, for the annual koala count, which unfortunately got rained out and cancelled, and I did see some koalas yesterday (scroll down for pics).

Instead of walking through the interior of the woodland, as I did in February, I decided to walk along the canal bank this time. The Main Canal comes off of Lake Talbot at Narrandera, right next to the Common/Wildlife Reserve, and goes on to feed the Murrumbidgee and Coleambally Irrigation Areas downstream. There is a lovely broad, flat walking path along the edge of the canal for several kilometres, from the gate into the Common down to the Rocky Waterholes Footbridge. This is a very popular place for walkers as it’s a lovely easy grade and you can set your own pace, there’s no vehicular access except occasionally for maintenance (or emergency) vehicles, and you have the great experience of walking along with river red gum woodland on one side, and the canal and Lake Talbot on the other. This gives a great cross-section of bush birds and waterbirds in one place, with a high probability of seeing a koala or several, and the rather lower but not impossible chance of coming across a turtle or water-rat. Something went very loudly ‘splosh’ right behind me yesterday as I was looking at birds in the trees, and I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to see what it was. The bank is also raised higher than the floodplain the trees grow in, so you’re at lower-branch level for many trees, which brings a lot of the more arboreal wildlife closer and easier to see.

As always: click on the photos to enlarge them.

River Red Gum Woodland Narrandera
Bush on one side.
Main Canal and Lake Talbot at Narrandera
Water on the other side. (Main Canal in foreground, Lake Talbot behind)

River Red Gum tree with burl
Burl on a River Red Gum tree (Eucalyptus camaldulensis)
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The burl up close.
River Red Gum buds
Flower buds forming on a River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis)
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Looking down the canal bank.
Azolla
Azolla along the edge of the canal.
Fungus on a River Red Gum
Interesting-looking fungus on tree branch.
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Western Silver Wattle (Acacia decora) with a profusion of unopened flower buds.

I was entertained by a small group of kookaburras for a while, but didn’t manage to get any good photos, and then I noticed some sort of small grey birds that I thought might be wrens flitting about in the leaves near me. I failed to get a good look at them, much less any good photos, but I believe they were actually grey fantails (Rhipidura albiscapa). While trying to get a good look at them I became aware of a great flurry of tiny yellow somethings also flitting about in the foliage, and hovering frantically for a few seconds at a time before darting off. Cue lots of frantic photo snapping to try and capture an image or two to aid future identification efforts. Below are the best pictures I managed to get, and after much web-searching and some asking around (I love knowing ecologists, they’re such useful people to have around) they have been tentatively identified as Weebills (Smicrornis brevirostris), popularly believed to be the smallest species of bird in Australia. Many thanks to Matt Herring from Murray Wildlife for his identification assistance.

Weebill (Smicrornis brevirostris)
Weebill (Smicrornis brevirostris)
Weebill (Smicrornis brevirostris)
Rear view of a Weebill (Smicrornis brevirostris)
Weebill (Smicrornis brevirostris)
Weebill peeking around a branch.
Weebill
A closer view of the weebill.
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Poor photo of a Grey Fantail and a Weebill on the same branch.

On the watery side of the path I saw several Australian Pelicans, two Masked Lapwings, a number of rails of assorted species, some Little Pied Cormorants and the following:

Australian Darter (Anhinga novaehollandiae)
Australian Darter (Anhinga novaehollandiae) on a branch.
Australian Darter (Anhinga novaehollandiae)
Another Australian Darter (Anhinga novaehollandiae) sunning itself on the canal bank
White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae)
White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae) in flight.
White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae)
The same White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae) after landing again.
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Intermediate Egret (Mesophoyx intermedia)
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Little Pied Cormorant (Microcarbo melanoleucos)
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Two Purple Swamphens (Porphyrio porphyrio)

And as I promised at the start of this post – I saw two koalas.

There are two ways to find wild koalas: by looking up or by looking down.

(Okay, there’s actually four ways, the other two being by accident and by having someone point them out to you, I’ve done both of those plenty of times)

Looking up is what most people do – searching the trees for that characteristic round solid lump. This can be a good way to find koalas but does rather hurt your neck and interfere with your walking. I generally prefer to watch where I’m putting my feet, especially out in the bush where dung, unexpected holes, fallen branches and assorted wildlife can suddenly show up underfoot, so I more frequently find koalas by looking down. And then looking up.

What I’m looking for is koala droppings. They look like this:

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Koala poo – with my feet for scale.

I look at the ground, and when I see koala poo I look up at the surrounding trees on the basis that koalas generally don’t move around too much, and if a koala was crapping here in the not-too-distant past it may well still be around. This doesn’t always pay off, but often it does. This is how I find most koalas I come across (well, that and having them pointed out to me by others, which isn’t really ‘finding’).

The above picture was taken yesterday and yielded no koala that I could see, but a little further down the path I found some more droppings and looked straight up at a furry koala butt.

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Koala butt. (Enlarge the photo to see better)

To illustrate how easy it is to walk right past a koala without seeing it, here are photos I took from about three paces either side – you could really only see this guy (or girl, I’m not sure which) from directly below.

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Three paces one side – spot the koala.
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Three paces the other side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I ended up walking down the canal bank to get a better angle for photos (and to remove myself from toilet range). Regrettably I made more noise than I’d intended to, and woke the poor thing up.

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Koala fingers!
Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)
Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) just woken up – sorry!
Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)
Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While I was watching the weebills a man in a bright yellow hi-vis shirt came walking past, and asked if I was looking for koalas. I told him I was looking at birds at the moment but that koalas were definitely on my list of things to look for, and he told me he’d sing out if he saw any. While I was taking photos of the koala above I heard someone halloooing loudly, and looked up to see a bright yellow figure standing on the path back the way I’d come. So I trotted back and lo – there was another koala, one I’d walked right past without having noticed. Click on the photo to enlarge and have a good look at the size of this koala vs the size of the branches being used to support it. Koalas are the lords of physics apparently.

Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)
Koala number two was up rather higher.
Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)
Sure, I’ll park this great big koala butt on these tiny little branches, where else would I choose to sleep?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then, well pleased with how I’d spent the last two hours, I headed home.

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