Category Archives: Fauna other than birds

The landscape view

How far can a Peregrine see?

This pair, high up in a massive Grey Box, would certainly have a commanding view of the landscape.

From ground level I can only look on … and wonder.

Peregrine Falcon (female), Newstead area, 28th June 2022

Peregrine Falcon (male)

Grey Kangaroos

Rakali encounter

This was quite a memorable encounter.

It was the hour before dusk and as I stood quietly beside Muckleford Creek a familiar shape could be discerned moving along the margin between the water and the bank, occasionally pausing. Its identity soon became apparent.

A Rakali, otherwise known as the Water Rat Hydromys chrysogaster, spent the next hour with me as I watched on, fascinated. It was foraging both along the shoreline and in the water, diving numerous times around clumps of Water Ribbons in search of a meal. Feeding on invertebrates such as yabbies and mussels, they will also take small juvenile birds and eggs if the opportunity presents.

Rakali are a reasonably common inhabitant of the Loddon River and its tributaries, also occurring in Cairn Curran Reservoir. They can also apparently be found in bush dams but I’ve never observed one locally in this habitat.

They breed in late winter and spring and produce a litter of one to seven (usually four or five) offspring. Some females may breed multiple times over this period. The denning behaviour of Rakali is little known, but they are known to build a burrow close to water, often under an overhanging bank. This individual disappeared into the same spot on three occasions when it returned from foraging. The last image in this series shows the location of what I suspect is the den.

Rakali are native rodents, one of roughly 60 species recorded across Australia, of which around ten are now extinct. Sadly, many of these unique animals have been lost to the dual depredations of habitat loss and feral pests. Rakali is a survivor … not so species such as the evocatively named White footed Rabbit-rat which once inhabited the woodlands and stream systems of central Victoria.

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Rakali, Muckleford Creek, 28th June 2022

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Rakali can often be found by looking out for their ‘feeding tables’, such as a suitable log or rock, where they consume their meals and deposit the remnants. The ‘feeding table’ pictured below lacks the usual crustacean skeletons or mollusc shells … a little baffling.

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Rakali feeding station

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Rakali at den entrance

Easily distracted

It takes something a little more than the ordinary to distract me from watching Sacred Kingfishers.

This Yellow-footed Antechinus did the trick as I watched its athletic foraging antics. This species is equally adept on the ground – clinging to a near vertical earthen bank, as it is when searching for prey amongst the branches of a Grey Box.

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Yellow-footed Antechinus, Newstead area, 5th January 2021

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Skink’s end

A gentle, repetitive thudding sound distracted me from watching a pair of Australasian Grebes milling about on the dam.

Looking upwards the originator of the noise was revealed – a Sacred Kingfisher, banging its catch against a tree branch. The unfortunate victim was a Bougainville’s Skink Lerista bougainvillii, a common reptile across the box-ironbark country. This small skink feeds during the day amongst leaf litter, generally under cover, but this one clearly aroused the interest of the kingfisher and met its demise.

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Sacred Kingfisher with Bougainville’s Skink, South German Track, 3rd December 2021

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It’s not every day …

… that you get a chance to spend some time with a family of Tuans Phascogale tapoatafa.

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to observe a family of these remarkable animals, also known as Brush-tailed Phascogales, near Green Gully Creek – a small tributary of the Loddon River to the west of Newstead.

Tuans are Dasyurids, a unique family of marsupial carnivores that includes species such as the Tasmanian Devil, Spot-tailed Quoll and a local favourite, the Yellow-footed Antechinus. Tuans are ‘rat-sized’ with a pointy snout, sharp teeth and a distinctive ‘bottle-brush’ tail which is almost the same length as the rest of the body. They are widespread throughout the box-ironbark country, but rarely seen  – this is only the second time I’ve ever been able to photograph one outside a nest box. Tuans are classified as vulnerable in Victoria.

On this occasion we observed at least three individuals – I suspect an adult female and two immature individuals – emerging from a den at the base of a large eucalypt. A well-placed nest box higher in the tree is also being used by the animals. For more than an hour we watched on in awe as they foraged actively around the den – on the trunk and branches of the gum and also on a nearby Blackwood Wattle.

The extraordinary breeding cycle of the Tuan will be well-known to many folks … the adults mate in late autumn and early winter, then all the males die! The gestation period lasts about a month, with litters of 6-8 youngsters rapidly replenishing the population until the cycle repeats itself again the following year. Some females apparently survive for up to 3 years. Tuans are voracious hunters – they feed mainly on insects but will also eat bird eggs, nestlings and nectar. Backyard poultry can also fall victim to a hungry Tuan!

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Tuan (Brush-tailed Phascogale), Green Gully Creek Newstead, 22nd November 2021

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The train passes through Strangways

Although they’re quite common at our place at Strangways, it’s always a special delight to encounter an Echidna. So an Echidna train is a real (and much rarer) treat. On Sunday, three of these gorgeous animals trooped past our front yard in an amorous promenade.

An echidna train on the move. The female is the middle of the three at this point.

Echidnas have a very particular mating protocol, as one would expect for such a prickly animal. When a female is ready to mate, she is followed by a number of males in what biologists call a train. Trains usually consist of 3-5 animals, but up to eleven have been recorded.

The lady leads. She seems to have some damaged bristles on her back.

The males become very focused as they follow the female to whatever place she decides is the safest for mating to occur. The female checked out quite a few logs and old stumps before she moved on. One of the males would periodically sniff at her tail on the way.

On of the males sniffing the female’s tail.

He would also occasionally roll onto his side behind her and push his tail into hers, apparently trying to get in early, but with little interest from the female. Typically, mating waits until the train is in a safe place and the male has to dig his way under her to get access with his tail under hers. During copulation, his penis will grow to 1/3 of his body length.

One of the boys makes a move.
Stopping for a quick scratch during the pursuit. I’d never thought about how an Echidna scratches himself.
One of the boys getting a little left behind.

The train wended around our place until the female found the fence for our chook yard. This aroused the curiosity of our resident White-winged Choughs.

The chook yard beckon and no fence will stop this lady.
Concerned White-winged Choughs look on.

Eventually, the female decided that underneath our chooks’ house was the place. The trio made their way under it, spent the night there and were gone in the morning.

Australian Geographic has an easy-to-read and enjoyable article on Echidna trains at https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/wildlife/2021/08/echidna-trains-explained/

I wonder …

… how often, if ever, a Peaceful Dove falls victim to a Yellow-footed Antechinus?

Last week in the Rise and Shine I was intrigued to see a flock of six foraging doves within a few metres of an actively hunting antechinus.

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Peaceful Dove, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 9th May 2021

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‘Ante’ antics

I never tire of watching Yellow-footed Antechinus as they go about their business. These tiny, fearless carnivores are always on the move, in search of insects, small reptiles, birds eggs and even nestlings if they get the chance. I encounter them on most visits to the Rise and Shine, one of a number of local hot-spots for the species.

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Yellow-footed Antechinus, Rise & Shine Bushland Reserve, 8th March 2021

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Frogs on the menu

While this is not exactly the famous kingfisher shot that many nature photographers crave, it might be the best I ever get!

This Sacred Kingfisher has been coming in to a nice perch above a small bush dam on South German Track … a perfect vantage point from which to spy a frog for its nestlings. The images below are in sequence … moments after I took the first shot the kingfisher swallowed the frog and then plunged in after another.

While I’m pretty confident on the bird ID I’d be happy for any suggestions specific to the unlucky amphibian!

Sacred Kingfisher with amphibian prey, South German Track, 2nd January 2020

Another sortie #1

No success this time!

Lace Monitor in Newstead

by Frances Cincotta

This terrific article reports on the recent local sighting of a Lace Monitor by Newstead local Darryl O’Bryan.

When I came along the road a 2m long Lace Monitor (Tree Goanna) Varanus varius darted across in front of my car and ran up a Grey Box where it is was well-camouflaged. In my 40+ years in Newstead it’s only the second sighting of this species. Good info on them is available in “Frogs and Reptiles of the Bendigo District” available from Newstead Natives Nursery.

According to Darryl … the previous time was possibly in the late seventies I think. This time I noticed quite a lot of bird disturbance and have since observed what may be a magpie nest destroyed in the vicinity.

Varanus varius, Newstead, 3rd December 2020

Footnote from Geoff Park – This species has always eluded me in the Newstead district. I’ve had a few reports over the years of both this species and also the Sand Goanna Varanus gouldii but have never been fortunate enough to encounter one in the flesh.

Postscript: Many thanks to respondents for their comments on this post. As suspected both V.varius and V.gouldii are ‘about’ locally … you just have to be in the right place at the right time!