Roo Confusion

The trouble with identifying kangaroos around here is mostly that whenever I see one, I’m so surprised that I forget to figure out what species it is. You’d think it would be obvious, like one is big and red (right, the big red kind, Macropus rufus) and one is little and gray (Macropus robustus), but some of the big red ones are just small because they’re young, and some of the wallaroos, also known as Euros, are actually sort of reddish and can get to a decent size.

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(This is a big red)

As far as I can tell, in photos where I don’t get a lot of scale and can’t necessarily recall the roo’s relative size to my own (reds get 6 feet tall and up to 200 lbs, while common wallaroos only get 5 feet tall and 150 lbs maximum), I can separate the two by bulk (reds seem to have larger, more muscular arms relative to their bodies, but also generally heftier bodies compared to their heads) and comparative ear size (though that’s just conjecture, since ear size might have more to do with age or individual variation*).

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(This is a Euro. I think.)

Kangaroos tend to live in larger “mobs,” somewhere around ten usually but in poor conditions can gang up into the hundreds. Wallaroos are mostly solitary, according to the internets. This information is not really supported by my own observations, but let’s be real- I mostly see these guys while either I’m running or they’re running, so I can’t say that any of my surveying has been at all scientific.

Mostly I’d say the main difference between a kangaroo and a wallaroo is that turning a corner and finding myself too close to a wallaroo is adorable, and doing the same with a kangaroo is just a little bit terrifying. Imagine a rabbit the size of your dad, and then give it muscley arms (the rabbit, not your dad).

…Have fun with that one. Here’s a reminder that macropods can also be really cute:

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Sleep with dreams of fuzzy baby ‘roos and try to get that image of your rabbit-dad out of your head. Oh, too late. Sorry.

*Did you know that human ears and noses keep growing forever? Like through your whole life (I’m assuming if you’re reading this you’re human, but to any intelligent dolphins or aliens reading this: um hi please email me) your ears will get bigger and bigger. If you could live forever maybe you could learn to fly Dumbo-style. Or at least swim like a manta ray. It’s all cartilage, right?

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About a Wallaby

I think the profession of dentistry must be one of the most-maligned and most-feared in popular media- think of the gleeful sadism of The Dentist from Little Shop of Horrors or the revulsion with which Hermey the Elf is met in Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Jennifer Aniston in Horrible Bosses, several horror movies from the 90’s, that uncomfortably pathetic guy from The Hangover… but any list of my favorite horrible dentists must include Mr. P. Sherman, of 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney.

All of this was a tangential way to reference Finding Nemo’s Dr. Sherman’s mid-operation declaration that he needs to “go see a man about a wallaby” as he adjusts his pants and heads for the loo. It’s been a recurring internal joke for me during my time Down Under, anytime anyone needs a bathroom or mentions wallabies- maybe I watch too many kids’ movies? Anyways, as a northern hemisphere-girl I’m fascinated both by the native marsupials and the turns of phrase here in Oz. So we went down to Yardie Creek to see a man named “Boxy” about a wallaby, not in a bathroom kind of way but in a photographic opportunity kind of way.

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The Black-Footed Rock-Wallaby lives in the caves and crannies along the side of Yardie Creek. Though it’s not actually apparently called that (the black-sided wallaby, perhaps?) and doesn’t apparently live in this area, according to Wikipedia… I can attest that they do exist. Scooting out of caves and grooming themselves in the morning sun, squinting into the light and down at the boat passing underneath, these fuzzy little marsupials seemed perfectly at home along the steep rock walls high above the water.

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Yep, perfectly at home. Just letting it all hang out. Right on out there.

I don’t know a lot about marsupial anatomy but I’m pretty sure that is not a lady wallaby. No pouch, no joey (DID YOU KNOW THAT AUSTRALIAN CUB SCOUTS ARE CALLED JOEYS?) and no little pink bow…

Must be a dentist.

Best Looking Birds

As we chatted with the tour operator at Yardie Creek, a group of elderly travelers disembarked around us. Wives helped husbands with canes out of the low seats, and their cheery organizer/guide asked for a vote on whether or not to walk up the trail a bit (it seemed like nobody was that enthused). One khaki-clad man, seemingly alone, paused as he passed us three Team Sousa members.

“Best-looking birds I’ve seen all trip,” he grumbled in our general direction before stomping up the few steps to the dock.

My first (innocent) thought: I wonder where they’ve been, and if they’re all on a bird-watching trip?

My second thought: …gross.

Crusty old Australians aside, Yardie Creek (Yardi means “creek” in one of the many Aboriginal languages of Australia, so really all of us immigrants and tourists are referring to the briny tidal waters as the “creek creek”) did in fact host some lovely birds. Ospreys seem to be a theme around here:

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It feels like everywhere we go, someone points out an osprey nest to us. Doesn’t make them less awesome, though- this one has reportedly been occupied nearly continuously for 80 years at least. It may not always have contained chicks, but the past few years have been productive for local ospreys, evidenced by the juveniles and new nests we’ve seen around the area. They’re very fun to watch from the boat, as they dive for fish and flap, low and slow above the waves, with their struggling prizes.

Corellas, with their cockatoo head plumes and raucous screeches, followed us from the trees of Exmouth to the cliffs of Yardie and the Cape Range. They’re not the only things sheltering in the little caves worn into the rock faces (more on their other occupants in a later post), but they certainly make an impression. They flash white feathers over ledges and splay their wingtips to impress their companions and warn away hovering birds of prey, and peer down at the boat below with heads cocked.

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A kestrel of some kind, with a tiny bit of snake in her mouth, landed just shy of these two youngsters who were tucked away in an overhang. They shuffled out to peer at us as we peered at them, wide-eyed and wobbly.

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Among the other lovely long-legged locals, this white-faced heron gave us a good show. Best-looking birds, indeed, random old guy. Best-looking birds, indeed.

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