Category Archives: Mammals

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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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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The raven and the echidna

Ravens, in my experience, a difficult birds to photograph. They are constantly alert and wary of humans, but are the most magnificent birds.

We have two local species, the Little Raven and the Australian Raven. It can be difficult to tell them apart. The Australian Raven is larger, with a more robust bill – the best way to separate the species is by call. Australian Ravens typically utter a slow, drawn out call aihh-aaah-aaah-aaaaaahhh … the last note dropping in pitch and intensity, while the Little Raven utters short rapid notes – ark-ark-ark … and yes, just to reiterate, we don’t have crows around here!

The bird pictured below is, I’m fairly sure, a juvenile Little Raven. It dropped, in a wheeling descent, from a passing flock of adults to drink in this small pool in the Rise and Shine. Yet to adopt the wariness of an adult raven it allowed me to capture a few images before it departed.

At the same time a Short-beaked Echidna moseyed straight past me … a nice finish to my stint at the pool.

Little Raven (juvenile), Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 1st December 2020

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Let the games begin

For much of the year these two species, the Yellow-footed Antechinus and the Rainbow Bee-eater, maintain a more than adequate social distance.

Rainbowbirds, of course, are in northern Australia from late March until early October. It’s only when they return to central Victoria to reoccupy their breeding tunnels – usually from mid November until about Xmas, that they resume contact with one of their arch enemies.

Yellow-footed Antechinus are restless hunters of insects, lizards and if they get the opportunity, eggs and nestling birds. At present Yellow-footed Antechinus have young – if you are lucky you might see a female playing ‘piggyback’ with its brood.

They will happily forage on the vertical faces of erosion gullies, typical sites for Rainbow Bee-eater nests. Each summer I watch the contest between these two amazing animals as the bee-eaters chase the antechinus away whenever they venture near an active nest.

In times past other predators would have also been a concern – Eastern Quoll (to roosting birds), dunnarts and other antechinus species – sadly all now locally extinct or rare. I imagine the Brush-tailed Phascogale may also pose a threat, but they are much less abundant than their smaller cousin … and I’m not sure they could squeeze into a bee-eater tunnel!

Rainbow Bee-eater, Sandon State Forest, 27th October 2020

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Yellow-footed Antechinus hunting

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Out of the woodwork

I visited the Rise and Shine yesterday morning in the hope of photographing some birds. Whilst I was waiting for an Eastern Yellow Robin to come close enough for some photos (which it didn’t) I noticed a Yellow-footed Antechinus Antechinus flavipes pop its beautiful head out of a hollow log.

Yellow-footed Antechinus

I was already alert to the possibility of seeing these cuties out and about in the fallen wood. They are known to be more active in the day than other Antechinus species. This one seemed very unconcerned by my presence and getting close wasn’t an issue, especially when it would pop onto the top of a log to check me out.

Checking out the human
Then hopping off to find some food

Many readers of this blog would know that if this is a male, he won’t have long to live. Mating season will start soon and all the males will die after a frenetic bout of mating that will leave them all exhausted and with depleted immune systems. Both males and females are formidable hunters with healthy appetites for invertebrates, eggs, nectar and sometimes small birds and mice. This one was getting a lot of invertebrates out of the leaf litter and the main challenge for photography was keeping up with it.

A bit of a rummage
A millipede on its way to becoming antechinus
Another tasty treat

Not surprisingly, research shows the strongest predictors of Antechinus numbers are leaf litter and cover in the form of dead wood and rocks. Although this little one seemingly felt no threat from me, humans pose a threat by removing dead wood. And also by changing the climate. Animals with the mating style of Antechinuses are very poorly adapted to changing temperatures.

One thing they are very well adapted to is a vertical surface. I love the way this one hangs on to a tree trunk as if it’s standing on a flat surface.

At ease at any angle