Saturday, 20 July 2013

Platypus and cormorant feeding together - Eungella Queensland

From Rockhampton we travelled north to Mackay where we restocked our food, wine and fuel supplies before heading about 80km due west to Eungella. This is a small hamlet at 860m elevation surrounded by sub tropical rainforest and the Eungella National Park, in the Clarke Range at the head of the Pioneer River valley. The valley is mostly taken up with sugar cane growing and the drive takes you past a large sugar refinery. The last 7km or so is a very steep ascent on a narrow road.
In the birding world Eungella is famous for the Eungella Honeyeater, a relatively new species which was split from the Bridled Honeyeater in 1983. Anyone wishing to see this bird must come to this area as it is confined to the rainforest around Eungella and the adjacent Crediton State Forest.
I am hoping to see and photograph this bird however it is reported as “wary” and not easy to find, so my chance of success is low.
By the time we arrived at the small caravan park in Eungella it was nearly dark and the mountaintop was shrouded in fog. Over night it rained and was still raining on and off during the morning. Midmorning we set off in thick fog to drive 5km south to the Broken River site in Eungella National Park where platypus can be reliably seen in the Broken River.
We found two couples from Europe on holidays in Australia watching a platypus in the river. As we watched the platypus feeding it quickly became obvious that a Little Pied Cormorant was also feeding with the platypus and was in fact using the platypus to assist it to find its food. As we watched these two very different animals the extent of the interaction became even more apparent as the Cormorant was forcing the platypus to dive for food by pecking it. When the platypus dived so did the cormorant.
This action by the cormorant appeared to be very effective as the cormorant often surfaced with a food item, which it then swallowed. When the platypus surfaced again the cormorant joined it and once again encouraged it to dive.
It seemed to me that the relationship was a master servant one with all of the benefit going to the cormorant. It may be that the platypus derived some benefit from the relationship however it was not possible to say from what we saw. I even felt a little sorry for the platypus as it was being harassed by the cormorant however I would have to say the platypus did not look distressed in any way and made no attempt to avoid the cormorant.
However we need to be very careful interpreting animal behavior - it is all too easy for us to put our human and emotional spin on what we see.
We wondered how unique this interaction was and so when we returned to the van for lunch I Googled “platypus and cormorant feeding together” and to my surprise found a number of sites with information and even some videos. The following link will take you to a good video showing a Little Pied Cormorant doing what we witnessed.
The following photos show the cormorant and platypus together. I have also included a couple of close up shots of the platypus. According to a Park Ranger at Broken River the local population of platypus are relatively small. We noticed the size difference compared with ones we have seen in Victoria.
Broken River Eungella National Park - this is where the cormorant and platypus were observed feeding together.
The cormorant and platypus - feeding companions.
The cormorant approaching the platypus.
The cormorant is about to peck the platypus to make it dive for food.
The peck delivered, the pair dive together.
The cormorant's assistant. Was there any benefit in this food foraging arrangement for the platypus?
Close up of the bill, the term used to describe this part of the platypus anatomy which clearly has no connection with bills as we understand them in birds.


1 comment:

  1. G'day J&P,
    Great series, what a sight to see! Thanks for the video link - amazing. I would have believed the two species were hardly competing - cormorant/fish, Platypus/invertebrates?
    Gives a new meaning to bird term 'mixed species feeding group'.