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Fauna monitoring on Charles Darwin

Richard McLellan (volunteer)
Published 16 Nov 2018 by Richard McLellan (volunteer)

One thing I can say about volunteering with Bush Heritage Australia is that it’s never boring. And I’ve just had the most action-packed week that I’ve had for a long time – teaming-up with ecologist Ben Parkhurst, reserve manager Will Hansen, and fellow volunteers Corin Desmond and Ian Hamilton, to help with this year’s fauna monitoring surveys on Charles Darwin Reserve in midwest Australia.

I had a permanent grin on my face throughout the entire week as we opened, monitored, and closed the approximately 200 pitfall traps located at strategic sites across the reserve.

Every morning we rose at about 4:30, and headed out into the dense mallee and acacia shrublands to check the sites, and to record all of the vertebrate species that had made their way into our trapping lines. Each site had two 40-metre trap-lines (about 20 metres apart), with six pitfall traps located at six metre intervals along their length.

You can imagine our excitement of finding something in a trap – especially if it was new, or interesting in some extraordinary way or another. One can never tire of finding and handling a Hopping Mouse or a Dunnart, or any of the magnificent reptiles that we encountered – geckoes, skinks and dragons.

We also came across some amazing spiders and insects – which we merely retrieved from the traps and immediately set free again back into the bush. That was an ‘easy-peasy’ process for the beetles, spiders and other assorted crawly critters, but not so easy for the ferocious-looking orange and red and black-striped centipedes, which looked and acted like they just wanted to get their pincers into me.

But back to the vertebrates, we were happy to get good results every morning during the survey, recording 110 animals across 23 different species – including the first record of a Mulga Dragon (Diporiphora amphiboluroides) for the reserve.

Ben, who’s been leading these surveys since they were initiated in 2015, said he was buoyed by the results, with better numbers of animals and species recorded than the previous year – when the reserve was suffering from the impacts of drought.

Ben is now busy analysing all of the survey results to integrate the data into ongoing reserve management planning – aimed at further enhancing the conservation of both the reserve landscape and its native inhabitants.

As if venturing into the bush every morning, and approaching monitoring trap-lines with anticipation of finding something new and exciting wasn’t enough, the weather also made a couple of its own contributions to our ‘action-packed’ agenda.

One entry was in the form of a mid-afternoon summer thunderstorm that delivered lots of thunder and lightning from its angry, rolling layer of dense, dark-black clouds, but no rain.

One of the lightning strikes hit a tree not far from the reserve homestead.

Everyone dropped what they were doing and raced over there with the reserve’s fire-fighting unit to make sure the flames didn’t go any further across the dried-out landscape.

A couple of days later, the stormy weather returned with a vengeance – as another thunderstorm tore across the 68,600 hectare reserve, filling the air with crashing thunder and bolts of lightning, and this time, dumping torrential rainfall like a passing waterfall. Once again the team sprang into action and, in a losing race against time and nature, we returned to all of the monitoring sites to close-up the traps to ensure no fauna would fall into flooded pits.

Needless to say, no animals were stupid enough to venture out in those conditions – just we four members of the survey team – who all got absolutely soaked and covered in mud for our efforts. But, after much bailing and mopping (and rolling around in the mud), the traps were all cleaned-out, sealed, and covered-over – ready to go again in 2019.

Someone remarked that it looked like I was enjoying a ‘boys own adventure’, and that was probably a pretty apt description.

I haven’t had so much fun for ages, and was lucky to do it in the company some fantastic and passionate fellow Bush Heritage staff and volunteers – who helped make the week such an enjoyable and interesting experience. Thanks again to Ben, Will, Corin, and Ian.

Richard is a Bush Heritage volunteer (and member of our Volunteer Advisory Committee), and regular contributor to the ‘Bushie Blog’. You can follow Richard on Twitter: @RichardMcLellan

Ecologist Ben Parkhurst with a Mulga Ants’ nest entrance. Ecologist Ben Parkhurst with a Mulga Ants’ nest entrance.
Did you know scorpions fluoresce under ultraviolet light? This specimen was found during the fauna survey. Did you know scorpions fluoresce under ultraviolet light? This specimen was found during the fauna survey.
This one is a Gilbert’s Dunnart (Sminthopsis gilbertii) - endemic to Western Australia. This one is a Gilbert’s Dunnart (Sminthopsis gilbertii) - endemic to Western Australia.
Mitchell’s Hopping Mouse (Notomys Mitchellii). Photo Will Hansen. Mitchell’s Hopping Mouse (Notomys Mitchellii). Photo Will Hansen.
We got off to an interesting start when these two beauties caught in the same trap. Photo Will Hansen. We got off to an interesting start when these two beauties caught in the same trap. Photo Will Hansen.
Volunteering at Bush Heritage Australia: “I do it, ‘cos I love it”. Volunteering at Bush Heritage Australia: “I do it, ‘cos I love it”.
Who says cockroaches are are ugly. Mitchell’s diurnal cockroach (Polyzosteria mitchelli). Also called the ‘Mardi Gras Cockroach. Photo Ben Parkhurst. Who says cockroaches are are ugly. Mitchell’s diurnal cockroach (Polyzosteria mitchelli). Also called the ‘Mardi Gras Cockroach. Photo Ben Parkhurst.
A beautiful monk snake (Parasuta monachus). Photo Ben Parkhurst. A beautiful monk snake (Parasuta monachus). Photo Ben Parkhurst.
 A Mulga Dragon (Diporiphora amphiboluroides). A Mulga Dragon (Diporiphora amphiboluroides).
Posing while we confirm the ID: a Mulga Dragon (Diporiphora amphiboluroides) - on the right page of Harold Cogger’s “Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia” Posing while we confirm the ID: a Mulga Dragon (Diporiphora amphiboluroides) - on the right page of Harold Cogger’s “Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia”
Southern Shovel-nosed Snake (Brachyurophis semifasciatus). This gorgeous snake burrows through sand and eats the eggs of other reptiles. Photo Ben Parkhurst. Southern Shovel-nosed Snake (Brachyurophis semifasciatus). This gorgeous snake burrows through sand and eats the eggs of other reptiles. Photo Ben Parkhurst.
That’s a wrap! After being nearly washed away by a torrential downpour in a thunderstorm, the team has closed the traps on this year’s fauna monitoring survey. That’s a wrap! After being nearly washed away by a torrential downpour in a thunderstorm, the team has closed the traps on this year’s fauna monitoring survey.
It was fabulous to see a Rufous Treecreeper (Climacteris rufus) at Charles Darwin. It was fabulous to see a Rufous Treecreeper (Climacteris rufus) at Charles Darwin.

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