The Quokkas of Rottnest and early European encounters with marsupials

18 km offshore from Perth, SWA, lies an island called Rottnest. It has rocky coasts with beautiful sandy bays. It also famously has quokkas and, as I am just starting to get to know this part of the world, I was keen to see some of these local marsupials. I spent a lazy day wandering around the island on Saturday 2nd September 2017.

Rottnest, just offshore Perth. Notice the spectacular submarine canyon further offshore.

The sandy beaches and rocky coastline of Rottnest.

Disembarking from the ferry, I went for a walk in a nearby forest to look for quokkas. It didn't take long before I encountered the far-from-active specimen shown below.

My first encounter with a quokka, a sleepy individual in a small forest

A sweet and docile couple

A friendly face

The first Europeans known to have landed on the Rottnest were 13 Dutch sailors from the Waeckende Boey who touched ground near Bathurst Point on 19 March 1658 while their ship was careened nearby. The ship had sailed from Batavia (later…

Primate Paradise of Gunung Leuser, Sumatra

Gunung Leuser National Park is not very far from Kuala Lumpur as the crow flies. A hop over the Makasar Strait and a journey of around 120 km from the metropolis of Medan up to the forested hills.

In practice, the journey takes much of a day, including an hour in the air and four to five hours to cover the ground betwen Medan and Bukit Lawang. We made the journey last weekend for a couple of days of trekking and wildlife watching.

A short hike from the friendly village of Bukit Lawang, over one of the bridges suspended across the river, past rubber trees in a small plantation, takes you to the entrance of the Gunung Leuser National Park.

A short while later we met the first of three new (to me) primate species, the North Sumatra leaf monkey (Presbytis thomasi), charming with their crests and impish faces.

Alfred Russel visited Sumatra from November 1861 to January 1862, but further south, where he also encountered Presbytis monkeys (presumably the mitred leaf monkey).

"In Sumatr…

The Spectacular Great Argus

In "Into the Heart of Borneo," Redmond O'Hanlon describes hearing a loud call in the Borneo rainforest and being convinced that it was made by gibbons. I too have heard this call, in the forests of Batang Ai, Sarawak, and it sounds like this.

Last weekend, hiking through the forest of Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra we heard the call several times again, our guide saying that it was coming from a couple of kilometres away.

After a long hike involving some very steep descents and ascents we heard the call again, but closer. Then, walking on, a large elongate form in a dense thicket became visible. As I walked around, I found a small gap in the leaves and took the following photograph of the brilliant blue head of the originator of the call, a male Great Argus pheasant.

We watched for a while and then backed off as he moved out into a more open area where we could appreciate the spectacular form and design of the bird - and it's astonishing size.

Argusianus argu…

Marvelous Malaysian Peacock-pheasant at Taman Negara

Living in Kuala Lumpur, there's some fascinating wildlife to be seen in the town, but an excursion to the rainforest-covered hills to the northeast opens up the possibilities for encountering some very vivid and unusual wild creatures.

Last Saturday (23rd September 2017), we visited Taman Negara for the first time, a vast rainforest reserve roughly in the centre of peninsular Malaysia.

After a boat ride across the river to the park head quarters we went for a wander on the boardwalks through the forest. At the Tahan hide, an elevated observation structure built next to a clearing, we looked out and saw movement in the long grass. A number of grey-brown backs were visible. One came towards us and revealed a face - a Eurasian wild pig (Sus scrofa).

Looking in the opposite direction from the open grassy area, there was a small gap in the forest and this was soon to be the site of a much more spectacular wildlife display.

A male Malaysian peacock-pheasant appeared, followed a little …

Kangaroos, Cockatoos, Pinnacles and Dunes: 1770 and 2017

Last weekend, 17th June 2017, I saw my first wild kangaroos, in the Nambung National Park of Western Australia.

On 22 June 1770, 247 years ago, crew members from Cook's ship Endeavour had their first encounters with kangaroos.

The diary entries of Joseph Banks, the onboard naturalist, record the sequence of events:

Joseph Banks Journal, 22nd June 1770:
"In the morn I saw her leak which was very large: in the middle was a hole large enough to have sunk a ship with twice our pumps but here providence had most visibly workd in our favour, for it was in great measure pluggd up by a stone which was as big as a mans fist: round the Edges of this stone had all the water come in which had so near overcome us, and here we found the wool and oakum or fothering which had releivd us in so unexpected a manner. The effects of the Coral rock upon her bottom is dificult to describe but more to beleive; it had cut through her plank and deep into one of her timbers, smoothing the gashes still…

Alfred Russel Wallace (1869) on Rainbirds, Trogons and Barbets - and a visit to Bukit Fraser in the Present

Living in Southeast Asia, it is always enjoyable to walk in the footsteps of Alfred Russel Wallace as described in his "The Malay Archipelago" (first published in 1869).

After an excursion to Bukit Fraser, Malaysia, yesterday, I dipped into the Malay Peninsula portion of the book and found the following:

"The very first time I fired my gun I brought down one of the most curious and beautiful of the Malacca birds, the blue-billed gaper (Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchus), called by the Malays the 'Rainbird.' It is about the size of a starling, black and rich claret colour with white shoulder stripes, and a very large and broad bill of the most pure cobalt blue above and orange below, while the iris is emerald green. As the skins dry the bill turns dull black, but even then the bird is handsome. When fresh killed, the contrast of the vivid blue with the rich colours of the plumage is remarkably striking and beautiful. The lovely Eastern trogons, with their rich-brown b…

Urban Civets of Kuala Lumpur

I derive great pleasure from encountering wildlife in the wilds, but also enjoy observing wild creatures in urban settings, such as along the bayou that wanders through Houston, Texas.

I was delighted to find that in one of the world's most spectacular urban environments, the surroundings of the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, there is some fascinating wildlife to be observed with a little patience and awareness. I had seen tree shrews, squirrels and bats on morning walks in the park, but first came across the civets ("toddy cats") that live there on evening runs on the track that circles the park. From about 9:30 pm onwards as people leave the central part of the park, the civets make a start on their night time activities, sometimes alone, sometimes with a youngster or two. This is the Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), nocturnal omnivore, active both on the ground and in the trees.

Petronas twin towers at night. The KLCC park in front of the towers …