Penguin poster Christmas present?

Looking for the perfect gift for the children in your life (or your penguin-loving self)?

How about this gorgeous poster of all the penguins of the world? It’s printed from original artwork by award-winning wildlife artist Nicholas Burness Pike.


The 130 x 32 cm poster is printed on high quality glossy stock and is yours for $15 in a mailing tube plus postage and handling ($18 overseas; $10 in Australia). Order 4 posters and they are $12 each.

Order now to be sure of delivery before Christmas.

Penguins of the World

I’ve been working with wildlife artist Nicholas Burness Pike to produce his Penguins of the World poster as a high-quality print – and we’ve done it!


The 130 x 32 cm poster is now available through the Penneshaw Penguin Centre website, and we hope soon at centres across southern Australia. Prices start at $6 each for 100 posters wholesale; and retail price is $15 for one poster – all plus postage and handling (free on Kangaroo Island).

Let’s talk about the weather

The  Tammar wallabies are practically breaking down the fences to get to some moderately green feed in my garden.

Who can blame them?

The rainfall chart for 2015 does not look pretty – the total for my eastern Penneshaw block is 396.5 mL, that’s more than 21% less than the long-term average (503 mL from 1911 until official records for the town stopped in 1998; 541 mL since 2008 for my block).

Since 10 September, a mere 55 mL has fallen, 27.5 mL (exactly half) in one episode in early November.

Dust puffs up with each footstep, the ants are into everything in their thirst for water and the drooping she-oaks (Allocasuarina verticillata) that surround my house are dropping leaves in big piles.

The piles of casuarina leaves and cones are more than 20cm deep in places
The piles of casuarina leaves and cones are more than 20cm deep in places

The she-oak cones are the sole food of the Endangered Glossy Black-cockatoo (Calyptorynchus lathami halmaturinus). If young healthy trees are dropping leaves in December to protect their roots from drying out, will they survive to the end of summer?


And my dilemma is that they pose a fire hazard but I don’t want to stress the trees further by cleaning them up, just in case a fire comes my way.

New flight on Dudley Peninsula

Adult Glossy Black-cockatoo female feeding on sheoak cone
Adult Glossy Black-cockatoo female feeding on sheoak cone. Photo: Mike Barth

It’s a landmark breeding season for the endangered South Australian Glossy Black-cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami halmaturinus), now found only on Kangaroo Island. For the first time in living memory a chick has been born and fledged on Dudley Peninsula, the ‘head’ of the island.

Glossy chick, 4 or 5 weeks old in hollow on Dudley Peninsula
Glossy chick, 4 or 5 weeks old in eucalypt hollow on Dudley Peninsula. Photo: Mike Barth

The Dudley nest has been closely monitored for the past few months. Senior Ranger Anthony Maguire observed a large nestling at the hollow entrance ready to fledge last week, and parents and fledgling have now left the nesting area.

We have a fledged nestling on the Dudley after more than 20 years of recovery work.

The Glossy Black-cockatoo recovery program of Natural Resources Kangaroo Island, has had remarkable success since threat abatement measures began in 1995, when the number of individuals was estimated at 195. Those measures focused on restoring feeding trees (Drooping Sheoak, Allocasuarina verticillata)  and habitat, and on protecting nesting trees (large hollow-bearing eucalypts).

Dudley Peninsula, which has been largely cleared for farming, has relatively few of large old eucalypts but substantial areas of sheoak have been planted there in the past 15 years.

The number of glossy visitors has been gradually increasing on the Dudley, mainly subadult males from the American River population that aren’t yet up to playing their part in reviving the species.

As well as improving and protecting habitat, the program is keeping nest predators at bay – corrugated iron skirts around tree trucks to keep possums from nest hollows and insecticide strips to ward off feral honeybees.

A glossy peeks out from an artificial nest
A female glossy surveys the scene from an artificial nest. Photo: Mike Barth

However, the rate of nest failures is still high. Program manager Karleah Berris and project officer Mike Barth keep a close eye on the chicks and assess factors that may contribute to nest failures. They check all nests, both natural and artificial,  and at some of them install motion activated cameras that record everything that comes near the nest.

The preliminary pictures are showing Little Corellas and Galahs interfering with nests and nestlings. Karleah and Mike are working to develop management actions to keep them out.

The 2014 annual Kangaroo Island Glossy Black census estimated the population at 350. This year’s census runs each afternoon of 25 September (Middle River area), 26 September (Stokes Bay area) and 27 September (American River and Penneshaw areas). If you’d like to join in to help monitor how well the population is recovering (and get a good look at these lovable birds), contact the Glossy Black-cockatoo recovery team to register. For those who’d like to help year round, the Friends of the Glossies group would welcome you.

And if you see glossy flocks over the next three weeks please also report them.

Grand landscapes

‘Middle River’ is not a name that inspires much but the Middle River area on Kangaroo Island is truly inspirational. It’s an area of rolling hills, distant ocean views, tall eucalypts and shining yaccas.

Yaccas above a creek
Yaccas and eucalypts above a creek in Middle River catchment

Like many of the other prosaic names visited on the island’s geographic features, this river name possibly reflects a lack of appreciation of our own gorgeous natural resources. Or is it just that Kangaroo Islanders are naturally reticent about blowing their own trumpet? That surely can’t be it.

Nevertheless, don’t be fooled by the lack of ingenuity in the names such as East West Road AND East West Highway (One and Two!). Mother nature has donated all the ecological and geological imagination necessary to make Kangaroo Island an environmental wonderland.

The dominant vegetation is impressive at any time of year but with spring just a few weeks away the flowers are beginning to display their beauty. Here are a few from the Middle River area. There’ll be more!

Where I live on the north coast of the Dudley Peninsula (the eastern head of the island) the dominant vegetation is drooping she-oak (Allocasuarina verticillata – whose seeds are the sole food item of the endangered glossy black-cockatoo) and narrow-leaved mallee (Eucalyptus cneorifolia – a plant community listed as nationally threatened). The listings reflect the high level of clearance for agriculture on the northern Dudley, to an extent more in line with the nearby mainland than the rest of Kangaroo Island.

However, I still have a view treasure from my window, and it’s pretty cool to have the grand landscapes of north-western Kangaroo Island to visit nearby. Here’s a last peek.

Hillside in Middle River catchment
Hillside in Middle River catchment


Me and my favourite bird

Wedge-tailed Eagles are my favourite bird and I’ve now been able to tell one, close up.

Yes I'm happy happy but she's taking Nellie away from me
Yes I’m happy happy but she’s taking Nellie away from me

They are found across the Australian continent outside urban areas, and on Kangaroo Island they are quite common and often seen. I should be getting blasé about them but I doubt that will ever happen.

I’ve had two close encounters before, one on Kangaroo Island when my friend Mark and I were driving along the two-wheeled track named Jump Off Road out west on the north coast. We didn’t see the eagle which must have been feeding on the side of the track. And it can’t have noticed us until the last minute. It flew up over the bonnet and its body and wings covered the windscreen for an instant – and left a lasting impression.

At the Palmer Sculpture Biennial, west of Adelaide, up near the highest point an eagle hovered only about 2 or 3 metres above us possibly on the updrafts from the nearby cliffs. It was close enough to see the feathers and the patterns on the underwings.

I’ve scared off eagles feasting on road-kill carcasses on Kangaroo Island and avoided them as they lumber away with a full belly. But I’ve never been able to just get a good look close up. So when Raptor Domain offered me the chance to hold the adolescent Nellie for a mere 10 bucks, I was there.

Wedgies get darker as they age. Old bird are practically black. Nellie is about 18 months old. I was captivated by her fabulous array of neck feathers. What an experience. Thanks Raptor Domain – it’s always a fabulous show. And thanks Sue Carson for the photos.

Tourism Australia has a beautiful video of a Wedge-tailed Eagle pair with indescribably gorgeous chick (thanks Janine Mackintosh for the link). Have a look!

D’Estrees stroll

I’m recovering today after our planned 3-4 hour walk along D’Estrees Bay turned into an 8-hour marathon.

Kathie living life close to the edge
Kathie living life close to the edge. Photo: Scott Hartshorne

But what a glorious day – calm weather, blue seas, humpback whales, crazy rock formations, peregrine falcons and plenty of other birds, no weeds, and, quite scarily, far too many species of plants flowering (e.g. Correa, Leucopogon, Scaevola, Goodenia, Olearia, a yellow daisy) at the start of winter.

The coastal heath Leucopogon parviflorus is still mercifully abundant on Kangaroo Island but has all but disappeared from the Adelaide coastline
Petrified trees roots emerge from the cliffs on D'Estrees Bay
Petrified trees roots emerge from the cliffs on D’Estrees Bay

24 twitching hours

Last year, Nick, Janine, Scott and I (The Stickybeaks) spent 24 hours trying to see as many of Kangaroo Island’s 260 bird species, and do better than the 21 other teams in the inaugural Kangaroo Island Twitchathon.

Covering all the angles on D'Estrees Bay beach. Photo Scott Hartshorne
Covering all the angles on D’Estrees Bay beach. Photo Scott Hartshorne

This year we are determined to get on the podium and beat our fifth place of last year. And we are determined to have just as much fun doing it.

The 2015 Twitchathon, to be held from 10am Saturday March 28 to 10am Sunday March 29, has something for everyone, from the beginner (contact if you need help finding a team) to the serious twitcher.

Even teams that don’t win a thing should have a fun-filled and adventurous 24 hours – and learn a thing or two about Kangaroo Island’s rich birdlife.

During a twitchathon members of teams spot as many bird species as they can during the 24 hours. Teams are asked to note any rare or vagrant birds. Birds can be seen or heard, but more than half the members of a team have to confirm the record.

Nankeen Night Heron at American River. Photo Scott Hartshorne
Nankeen Night Heron at American River. Photo Scott Hartshorne

You’ll need at least two members in your team and all members must stay in direct voice contact throughout the Twitchathon.

Just as hard as the bird spotting is thinking up a catchy name for your team. There’s a prize for the best name as well as the winning team. Prizes are awarded at Duck Lagoon when the Twitchathon finishes with a BBQ brunch at 11am on Sunday.

To register, pick up a registration form at Natural Resources KI, 37 Dauncey Street Kingscote or email them at

And we’ll see you out there.

All glossied up

I live with a group of teenagers who come and go, and make plenty of noise and fuss in the morning and evening. They never come in the house though they often fly over and around.

They start the day with a good dose of hooning in a nearby gully, then hanging out on the wire before they park themselves to eat all day until they are ready for more hooning in the evening.

Glossies on the powerline above drooping sheoak trees
Glossies on the powerline above drooping sheoak trees

They are Glossy Black-Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus lathami halmaturinus)endangered under the Australian Government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

It’s no wonder they are in danger. The seeds of the drooping sheoak (Allocasuarina verticillata) are the full extent of their diet.

They pick off the sheoak cone with one claw, almost always the left. Then they pull it apart with their massive beak and whip the seeds out with their dexterous tongue. The ‘chewings’ or chewed up remains of the cone, they drop wherever they feed are an indicator of their feeding places.

The group that moves around Penneshaw are mostly sub-adult males, though there’ll be the occasional female and adult male.

Glossy Black-Cockatoo sculpture at Penneshaw School by Dave Clarke
Glossy Black-Cockatoo sculpture at Penneshaw School by Dave Clarke

They have been fostered out from the breeding colony at American River, about 18 kilometres away as the glossy flies. American River still has large gums with hollows as nesting places for the breeding colony; Penneshaw doesn’t. But at American River there’s not enough food for everyone and if you can’t make it in the breeding stakes, you can make yourself scarce.

Another contributor to the endangered status is the bird’s low breeding rate. At best, one young is fledged a year per pair and about half of those survive their first year. The glossy lifespan isn’t yet known.

And as if the species hadn’t boxed itself into enough of an ecological corner, possums were gobbling up eggs and young chicks, large areas of drooping sheoak land were cleared for farming, and feral honeybees were filling hollows with hives.

When the Kangaroo Island Glossy Black-Cockatoo Recovery program began in 1995 the population was estimated at 200 individuals and declining.

Now nesting hollows, including about 100 artificial nest boxes installed across the island, are protected from possums by corrugated iron chastity belts around the trunks of big old trees with nests. And the honeybees are being kept out.

In the latest annual census, helped by 47 volunteers in September this year, many from the Friend of the Glossies group, the number sighted was 356, and there may well be more. It’s the highest number yet.

At least 26 of them hang out around my place, much of the time. They seem to have the odd habit of going back home to American River at Christmas time.

They are a big, lumping, stupid (cf diet regime) bird; as inelegant a flier as you can see. But they are remarkably endearing and it’s a pleasure to have them around.