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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Learning From Experience; wattlebird and banksia

A feature of our small yard is a magnificent big Silver Banksia tree (Banksia marginata), planted just outside the fence but leaning strongly over it. A local species (the only local Banksia) it flowers profusely from autumn through winter. 

The honeyeaters love it, and the big aggressive Red Wattlebirds move in and vigorously stake an exclusive claim to it. (These are not red, and don't live in wattle trees... Rather, they have red wattles, like a chook - that's a hen in Australia!)
Red Wattlebird; the red wattle can be seen just below the white cheek patch.
By now however the flowers have finished, leaving only drying spikes bereft of nectar and pollen. As we sat out on the balcony the other evening, we noticed that a young wattlebird - not long fledged - hadn't realised that the bounty had finished and was determined that a bit more effort would produce the reward that it had obviously learnt to expect.
Young Red Wattlebird; the pink gape behind the beak, the lack of wattles and big white cheek triangle,
the grey (not yellow) belly, seen below, and the general 'fluffy' appearance are giveaways.
And it did put a lot of effort in, though it couldn't have been getting anything in return.

Finally, as dusk was falling, it gave up. However it must have been watching when an adult flew in for a quick probe, as it came back for another try; unlike the experienced elder it again persisted for a while. It seems that previous experiences were so good that their memory outweighed its current frustration. 

I've not seen it since, so presumably the lesson has finally been learnt.



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