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Dirt track detectives at Goonderoo

Published 21 Jun 2016 by Tony Darlington

One of the delights of being a Bush Heritage volunteer is being offered a task out of the box, along with the promise of a spectacular location!

Such was the case when Vicki and I put our hands up to act as rolling caretakers at the Goonderoo Reserve and to do a bit of sand-pad monitoring.

We naturally jumped at the chance and then asked... "Um, what's sand-pad monitoring?"

You have to give it to the Regional Community Engagement Officers, they have tact, diplomacy and the ability to pass on good advice. Ours had us squared away in no time flat so the job was on! We'd already been given an induction so we soon found ourselves out and about confirming the locations of the 25-prospective sand pads.

Each sand pad was marked by a painted star picket. The ground around each was flattened out, all the grass removed and fine sand spread evenly over the area so when a critter walks, crawls or hops over the surface, a well-trained eye can hopefully determine what made the tracks.

We then returned armed with numerous racks, shovels and the all-important house broom and by the end of the day had spilt a bit of good honest sweat readying all the pads. Thankfully the posts were close to the track so we could use the track surface to give us a large pad. With all this hard work now behind us we could look forward to the really enjoyable bit – the daily checking for tracks!

The pads were separated by around 500m so we would drive up to the marker, get out and observe the pad from all angles as the direction of the sun really does help the critter tracks stand out. We'd then compare our observations and happily argue our differing interpretations until we reached a consensus as to what made the tracks then recorded the findings on the reserve's flash new bulletproof tablet. Then out would come the house broom and we'd sweep the sand-pad smooth before mounting up and heading off to the next marker to repeat the performance.

It all became very exciting when we found multiple tracks of differing macropods, birds, wild dogs, reptiles and feral cats all mixed in together!

Our best day saw us finding everything on the desired list as well as the tracks of a possum and a couple of snake slides.

We'd been asked to gather the pad information over five to eight days to get a good picture of the habits of the creatures making the tracks. We did discover that temperature played a very important part as the very active five warm days turned into a nearly barren period following two extremely cold days. It's not only humans that prefer to stay in bed when it gets cold!

Another challenge is trying to get a decent picture of any interesting track. That’s where we'd use the direction of the sun and a Polaroid filter to help the track definition stand out.

Thankfully the Goonderoo homestead is absolutely first class when it comes to home comforts and we thoroughly recommend the rolling volunteer caretaker offer that's available here. If you get the chance, have a crack at sand-pad monitoring and brush up (no pun intended) on your critter tracks.

Volunteer Vicki Darlington records tracks at a Goonderoo monitoring site. Volunteer Vicki Darlington records tracks at a Goonderoo monitoring site.
Macropod tracks. Could it be a Flashjack? Macropod tracks. Could it be a Flashjack?
One of the sand pad monitoring sites used to record native and feral animal activity on reserve. One of the sand pad monitoring sites used to record native and feral animal activity on reserve.
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