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 birdingki@gmail.com 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 kinrc@sa.gov.au.

And we’ll see you out there.

Art in nature

The natural world of Kangaroo Island seems to attract and inspire artists and they are complementing nature with outdoor art on display from west to east across the island.

The Platypus Holes Walk at Flinders Chase is a work of art in many ways. Head out from the visitor centre and café, cruise past the megafauna and venture into the lush vegetation regenerating from the fires of December 2007. The information panels are informative and interesting, and complemented by photographs and by intricate illustrations by local artist Nicholas Burness Pike.

Entry to a toilet at Stokes Bay
Entry to a toilet at Stokes Bay

Not quite outdoors is the coastal birdlife mural in the Stokes Bay toilets (men’s and women’s). This project by local artists Lara Tilbrook and Gay De Mather was funded by a Caring for our Country grant in a project designed to draw attention to the plight of beach nesting birds and the threats to them.

At Parndana, the ‘Heartland’ of the island, the entrance statements to the town, are works of art, in the stonework of Thomas Appleby and in the flora and fauna illustrations.

The Town Centres project that helped erect those structures has also left its mark at Kingscote, American River and Penneshaw. Deb Sleeman’s strong statements in wood and metal, with stonework by Thomas Appleby, mark the outer and inner entrances to the island’s main town, Kingscote.

Once in Kingscote, the brightest point is Deb Sleeman’s sculpture for 175th anniversary of South Australian settlement on the corner of Dauncey and Commercial streets.

Dave Clarke's Pelican at American River Wharf
Dave Clarke’s Pelican at American River Wharf

The entry statements and wharf seat with sentinel pelican at American River are the work of sculptor Dave Clarke. At Penneshaw, Dave’s limestone walls feature from the school near the entrance to the walls at the caravan park. His Glossy Black-cockatoos at the school and bronze eagle at the oval add life and colour

On the way to Penneshaw call in to Pennington Bay, where the signs on the vegetation, animal life and geology of the area were brought into being by Eco-action, and local artists and school students.

Artists Jenny Clapson, Nicholas Burness Pike and Maggie Welz with a Pennington Bay sign
Artists Jenny Clapson, Nicholas Burness Pike and Maggie Welz with a Pennington Bay sign
Deb Sleeman's Mary Beckwith memorial with Dave Clarke's Nicholas Baudin memorial in the background
Deb Sleeman’s Mary Beckwith memorial with Dave Clarke’s Nicholas Baudin memorial in the background

Next stop is Baudin Beach where Deb Sleeman (Mary Beckwith memorial) and Dave Clarke (Nicholas Baudin memorial) have been working at their creative best down near the wharf. And the octopus’s garden outside the Artwork Gallery is also Dave’s work.

The journey along Cape Willoughby Road is softened by places for rest and refreshment, which also hold vibrant art, and at Chapman River Cellar Door you are greeted by a Deb Sleeman dress opposite the carpark, which complements the indoor décor.

Wherever you are, I hope you are enjoying nature and art, and having a restful holiday season. See you in the new year.

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.