Egg laying mammals? Are you kidding?

October 25

Bowerbirding is hard work, even if I am not getting paid a dime. After hanging out with some new Australian contacts who have a beautiful bower on their property, we headed off into the bush for some serious work. Two days before, we had replaced our blue straws at the different deployment stations with blue tape stuck to bamboo skewers thinking that since hardly any blue straws had been stolen, that maybe bowerbirds don’t like that kind of blue. And to our delight we discovered that there were many instances in which the blue tape decorations had been taken. Not only that, but at three of the stations where we’d left the little radio transmitters, two were missing! Turns out one of the transmitters showed up in a known bower about 100 meters away so we didn’t even get to unpack and deploy the antennae system for tracking it down. We just walked over there, checked, and picked it up!

The second transmitter seemed to have gone “dark”. Couldn’t pick up a signal along the main footpath of the nature reserve. We had a sneaking suspicion that the bowerbird that took it was the same bird that took one a few weeks back and flew way up a side canyon and 100 feet up a steep jungle hillside. I was loath to go back in there! But since I am still in good health I took the receiver unit, headed up the side canyon, and told Sara that I’d meet her at the car after she took care of a couple other bowerbird errands in the rainforest. Sure enough, after I’d hiked in a bit, I picked up the signal and knew that it was probably the same bird.

Following protocol is important so as planned, I hiked out to the car and we had a bit of lunch. On the way out though, I encountered an echidna, one of Australian strange egg laying mammals. They are covered with coarse spines that are not sharp as you can see in the photo. At the car we grabbed a few pieces of photographic equipment and headed back in together to track down the missing radio; tromp, tromp, tromp, tapping with our scare away snake sticks as we went. At some point we turned on the receiver and finished up the hillside scramble by following the strongest signal. Indeed, we found the very same bower that we’d found before and he had the radio in his possession. He also had some of the blue tape decorations which we left for all his hard work!

The other exciting news of the day was that earlier I’d noticed that all the blue tape decorations from a particular plate had gone missing. Shortly thereafter, as I was walking along the main trail, I heard a bowerbird’s “falling call” which we equate with “I’m pretty close to my bower”. So I turned on my heels, followed the sounds, and very quickly found a new bower. Of course it had lots of our deployed decorations.

It is always exciting to find a bower that you feel pretty certain no human has ever seen before. This one had a bit of junk plastic, but since it is pretty deep in the bush, it didn’t have loads. Besides blue, bowerbirds also like to collect yellowish things such as the exoskeleton of a cicada, yellowish leaves and flowers, and some kinds of yellow twigs. We also sometimes see a bleached white snail shell or other insect parts. In the bower we looked at today in a person’s back yard there was even the white skull of a tiny mammal! We heard about a bowerbird that had a five dollar bill and I think that’s a good note to end on :-)



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