Cockatoos and other cool photos

Australia doesn't have woodpeckers, or anything obvious that occupies that niche. There's a nuthatch-like creature called a Varied Sittella (see below), but they don't really drill into trees the way woodpeckers do in North America.  Isn't that odd? Well I thought so. That is, until I found a Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo foraging for grubs on a eucalyptus tree! Check it out, these guys could go through nearly anything with their monstrous beaks (turn up your volume and you can hear it rip the bark off the tree). See the other picture below for scale. When they fly it's like a flock of pterodactyls going over. Their flight seems effortless, gliding with long wings and a tail that stretches far behind them. Not to mention their flight calls, which are in the running for one of the best animal sounds ever. Check out this link from the Macaulay Library at Cornell to listen to them: 

https://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/128374

Varied Sittella

Varied Sittella

Cody with the Cockatoo tree for scale. 

Cody with the Cockatoo tree for scale. 

Byron Bay, we saw whales from here! Humpback whales migrate North up the coast to their calving grounds in the warmer water every year around this time. Multiple whales were breaching off in the distance as they made their way North. 

Byron Bay, we saw whales from here! Humpback whales migrate North up the coast to their calving grounds in the warmer water every year around this time. Multiple whales were breaching off in the distance as they made their way North. 

Exploring.

Exploring.

Still Alive and Kicking

Been awhile, friends. Sorry about that! No crocodiles have gotten me and I haven't been kidnapped by kangaroos yet. Research is going great so far, we've caught a ton of birds and are seeing some really neat animals. A week or two ago I was sitting on the porch of the cottage where we're staying, eating my lunch in peace, when all of the sudden the forest canopy about 30 meters directly in front of me erupted with giant gray flying torpedos. They were coming straight at me. Technically they're called Topknot Pigeons, see the picture below from my birding app, but in that moment they were giant gray blurs about the size of a crow, moving at incredible speeds. I let out a garbled "LOOK BEHIND YOU!" to my tech, Cody, who was on the porch next to me, and he whipped around just in time to have them streak past a couple meters from his head. It turned out there were probably 40 pigeons in all, they just kept materializing out the foliage. By the time they had all passed we were left with mouths wide open, completely astonished such a rotund bird could move with such speed and agility through a forest of infinite obstacles. Oh to be a bird, that would be pretty cool. 

Topknot Pigeon.

Topknot Pigeon.


Science:

Each of the birds on our site gets three color bands when we catch it. That way when we see it in a tree or bush we can re-sight it through our binoculars and read the color bands to figure out which individual we're looking at. We have 10 colors to work with and they all have acronyms: G (light green), I (ivy), B (dark blue), L (light blue), R (royal purple), H (hot pink), Y (yellow), W (white), Z (purple/white split band), and V (black/white split band). Any three can be combined in any order, if they haven't been used already, and sometimes we come up with fun names for our birds, like LRG (Large), or BLZ (Blaze). Since the males have the bright red patch on their back you try to reserve the name Blaze for a guy, but in that instance the current BLZ bird turned out to be a she. Other times you get it right, and you name a bird after one of your friends and the sex matches! Take GRG (Greg) below for instance. I banded him when he had just a couple bright feathers last year and this year he's looking fly in his bright plumage (just like the real Greg Fedorchak of course). Also, we read the bands starting on the bird's left leg, your right, and we don't include the silver numbered band on the foot side of the left leg. 

GRG.jpg

Other fun stories: 

The koala living on our property is very tame. One night we drove up the driveway and found it sitting happily on the side of the drive eating leaves from a small eucalyptus tree.  It didn't care that we were there at all, allowing each of us to get an up close and personal encounter, it was pretty cool! Usually they're not nearly this tame, we think it may have been rehabilitated at one point and that may be why it doesn't mind humans. 

The koala living on our property is very tame. One night we drove up the driveway and found it sitting happily on the side of the drive eating leaves from a small eucalyptus tree.  It didn't care that we were there at all, allowing each of us to get an up close and personal encounter, it was pretty cool! Usually they're not nearly this tame, we think it may have been rehabilitated at one point and that may be why it doesn't mind humans. 

The mark of a field biologist - a couple of us explored a massive ravine near our property last week. There were no trails, loads of thorny trees, and very thick undergrowth. At one point I lost my footing on a slope and jumped across a dry creekbed to a flatter patch and nearly put my face right through this lady's web (females are the big ones, males are pretty tiny). When my techs jumped down right behind me we all had the same reaction - a giant bout of guttural laughter at the proposition of running straight into this thing. We had escaped an uncomfortable moment and the only thing to do was to laugh at the possibility of one of us tearing off through the underbrush or tumbling down a hill when we saw one of these poke its head over the brim of our hat.  They're not supposed to be very venomous by the way. If you google Golden Orb Weaver you'll find pictures of people holding them. We chose not to partake in that endeavor. 

The mark of a field biologist - a couple of us explored a massive ravine near our property last week. There were no trails, loads of thorny trees, and very thick undergrowth. At one point I lost my footing on a slope and jumped across a dry creekbed to a flatter patch and nearly put my face right through this lady's web (females are the big ones, males are pretty tiny). When my techs jumped down right behind me we all had the same reaction - a giant bout of guttural laughter at the proposition of running straight into this thing. We had escaped an uncomfortable moment and the only thing to do was to laugh at the possibility of one of us tearing off through the underbrush or tumbling down a hill when we saw one of these poke its head over the brim of our hat. 

They're not supposed to be very venomous by the way. If you google Golden Orb Weaver you'll find pictures of people holding them. We chose not to partake in that endeavor. 

Until next time! I'll try to be better about posting. Hope you're all well in your various reaches of the world. 

Joe

Catch of the day! And a few more photos from down under

JoeandCodypython.jpg

We caught a carpet python! This is one of Australia's non-venomous snakes and none of the venomous snakes look like this (that one's for you, Mom). She was a beauty, only the second one I've ever seen. According to one of our bird bander friends these guys should begin hibernating soon. June 1st marks the 1st day of winter over here but it doesn't feel like it yet. It's in the 60s!

Carpet Python. Check out that eye! 

Carpet Python. Check out that eye! 

Off day. And the trusty field truck. 

Off day. And the trusty field truck. 

Rufous Fantail. These guys are normally a higher elevation rainforest species but during the winter they come down to lower elevations, like where our study site is at. 

Rufous Fantail. These guys are normally a higher elevation rainforest species but during the winter they come down to lower elevations, like where our study site is at. 

Found this koala on our study site! Took the photo through my binoculars with my phone since I didn't have my camera with me. 

Found this koala on our study site! Took the photo through my binoculars with my phone since I didn't have my camera with me. 

How much cute can you take?

Check out this group of Red-backed Fairy-wrens. These are the little guys I study. Allopreening or allogrooming likely serves multiple functions - the removal of parasites and the strengthening of the relationships with the group. There's a good chance these guys are related. The one with the single light blue band managed to break off it's two other color bands but I think it's the mother from the previous breeding season. The two unbanded birds are likely her offspring. Watch the female grab a caterpillar from the branch next to them about 3/4 of the way through the video. 

Welcome to Australia

Made it to Australia! I was greeted by a few friends when I arrived. The first one below was in our closet when we arrived. Nice surprise! Our landlord probably stuck him there. We carefully moved him outside then proceeded to take pictures. Normally Huntsman spiders are extremely fast but this one was pretty docile and didn't mind being moved around. 

The mantis below was a bit more appealing. He ended up on my shirt sleeve when we were marking out the trails on our field site. 

Yes, it's alive.

How to Have Fun in Graduate School

Do you know how to have fun in grad school? Maybe you’re asking yourself: “is that even possible?” Well I’m here to tell you it is. For the past two years the equipment manager in the Neurobiology and Behavior department at Cornell University has put on a gorilla suit at Halloween and paraded through the building disrupting classrooms and research alike. Last year we had fun with him by dangling a banana in front of his face from a catwalk, but that was mere child’s play.

This year we knew what was coming and came prepared. Through a little bit of peer pressure (ok maybe a lot) 12 of us graduate students purchased banana costumes. But prior to Halloween we had to be sure the gorilla would appear, so four days before that fateful Friday we plastered bait around the building so good that no gorilla could pass up:

            When Friday came around we snuck down to the atrium, the gorilla made his appearance, and we had the best 30-minute study break of our graduate school career. At this point you may be thinking, that’s nice, but MY department would NEVER do anything like that. Well why not? Why haven’t you tried? This is a call to arms people! Get out of your desk chair, close down that R-script for a moment and assemble the required goods with a few simple steps:

1.     Find someone or a group of people who can take a surprise

2.     Convince or pressure your fellow graduate students to join in. They’ll thank you when it’s all over

3.     Lay the bait, ambiguous signs claiming free materials (especially free food) have been found to work well to draw a crowd of observers

4.     Carefully plan the presentation, the first 10 seconds are key for setting the mood but from then on out let collective behavior take over. The more spontaneous the ideas the better

5.     Remember Murphy’s Law. Things will go wrong, be ready to adapt!

So there you have it, go pull a prank that will make even the stodgiest of the stodgy professors crack a smile. 

Ever Seen A Cassowary Poop?

Ever seen a Cassowary poop? I don't have a facebook but decided this needed to make it's way to the internet somehow. Taken in January of 2014 in Northern Australia. 

On a side note these guys are really cool because they are the single remaining disperser of the seeds of many ancient tree species in Northern Australia. They live in one of the oldest rain forests in the world and many of the fruits they eat are huge, with seeds too big for other animals to eat. When a cassowary eats the fruit then poops it out in a different location away from the source tree, it's dispersing those seeds to a location where they will not have to compete with the parent tree for sunlight and nutrients. 

In the case of this video the seeds on the pavement have very little chance of germinating but if this bird were to pass it's next meal in the forest those seeds may have a chance at making it.