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Getting ecological at Edgy

Published 07 Apr 2020 by Jasmin Bourne

Having never been this far north-west before I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first visit out to Edgbaston Reserve in Central Queensland. I had made the long journey from Brisbane in order to help Bush Heritage's Dr Pippa Kern (Freshwater Ecologist) and Dr Alex Kutt (Senior Ecologist) with the biannual ecological survey, along with a crew of two Lake Eyre Basin Rangers, Jeremy and Leeroy, and Demi-Rose who is another keen under-grad volunteer like myself.

Our first day consisted of setting up the survey sites across the range of ecosystems present on the reserve. I have to say I was very glad that the pitfall traps had already been dug out, because I heard it was a hard slog! However, we still had work to do digging out the lids, setting drift fences, camera and funnel traps, and pacing out a quadrat of 20 Elliot traps for 12 sites – no joke in the hard spinifex! I’m still getting the prickles out of my legs…

A typical day after that consisted of waking early, splitting into teams and going to check the sites at sunrise before heading out again in the afternoon to open the traps for the evening. Bird and vegetation surveys were also carried out by Pippa and Alex. Due to recent heavy rains and flooding it was uncertain what fauna we might capture, and I'm happy to report that there was a very diverse range represented in the traps over the survey, although there was a notable absence of dunnarts and other small mammals.

Overall, there were 56 species recorded during trapping and spotlighting, and 82 species of birds recorded during bird surveys.

We got skinks of many sizes, geckos, legless lizards, tiny feisty planigales, desert mice, a Gibber earless dragon (captured on the first night and a first record for the reserve!) and enough snakes to keep the herpophiles happy. These included Stimson’s Pythons, an Australian Coral Snake and a Black-headed Python. However, no-one was very interested in taking a closer look at two angry Brown Snakes. Frogs were on the move too with the wetter conditions, with 37 Ornate Burrowing Frogs caught in pitfall traps at one site overnight! Another exciting capture was a very alert baby Black Headed Monitor.

I discovered a new appreciation for skinks. The Leopard Ctenotus with their beautiful glossy leopard spots and bright eyes, and the Eastern Barred Wedge-snout Ctenotus with their bold patterning were my favourites.

The most exciting moments I had were when a skink and a planigale saw my arm as a bid for freedom and ran up the inside of my sleeve as I was attempting to remove them from pitfall buckets. Not from the same bucket thankfully! With some gentle shaking of my arm and only a little bit of swearing they were released into bags for ID checks. We also captured many crickets and spiders of all shapes and sizes, and a plethora of the largest centipedes I've ever seen that also had to be removed from the pitfalls…

Spotlighting was done in the evening and it was very special to see all the little critters in their natural habitat – especially the little arboreal geckos like the Eastern Tree Dtella.

There was also interesting birdlife with the brolgas, bustards and emus most easily spotted, as well as lots of other wildlife observed around the reserve.

But it wasn’t all work. We had plenty of time during the middle of the day to relax and explore, or take a closer look at the daily captures. On Sunday after a sweaty morning of dismantling sites, we all packed into cars and headed off to Lake Dunn, a large shallow freshwater lake to the north, where we had a lovely afternoon swimming in the muddy waters and relaxing under the shade of the River Red Gums and Coolibah trees.

Another night we took chairs to ‘Big Spring’, a permanent spring on the reserve fed by the Great Artesian Basin, and sat in the water watching the sun paint the sky an amazing array of pinks, oranges and lilacs. We even got to meet one of the spring’s endemic snails.

We took some time to visit the permanent spring that is the last stronghold of Australia’s rarest fish – the Red-finned Blue-eye – under threat by predatory Mosquito-fish. They were a lot smaller than I expected (less than 3cm when fully grown!) but the males with their red fins were easy to spot darting around. The springs on Edgbaston support an amazing variety of endemic species, with some specific to just one spring.

All in all, my time out at Edgy was hard but very rewarding work with some great people, and combined with the mind-boggling diversity of landscapes, ecosystems and sunsets it was an unforgettable experience. Until next time!

Dr Pippa Kern shows me (Jasmin) and volunteer Demi-Rose the black-headed python that was captured in a funnel trap. Photo Alex Kutt.

Gidgee (Acacia cambagei) woodland, a common ecological community in semi-arid landscapes and across the reserve. Photo Jasmin Bourne
Checking pitfall traps Checking pitfall traps
Jeremy (LEB Ranger) checking traps in the morning. You can see the drift fence that runs across the bucket openings to guide critters in. There is also a funnel trap in the background. Photo Pippa Kern

Australian Coral Snake Brachyurophis australis with its beautiful coral colour and banding perfectly matching the red soil. Photo Jasmin Bourne.

Dr Pippa Kern with a Stimson’s Python (Antaresia stimsoni). Photo Jasmin Bourne.

This little guy caused some excitement – meet the Prickly knob-tailed Gecko (Nephrurus asper). Photo Jasmin Bourne.

A tiny Narrow Nosed Planigale (Planigale tenuirostris) in a pitfall bucket. Photo Jasmin Bourne.

The stunning Leopard Skink (Ctenotus pantherinus). Photo Jasmin Bourne.

Mitchell Grass (Astrebla sp.) downs with its dizzying array of grasses, herbs and forbs. Photo Jasmin Bourne.

Female bearded dragon spotted digging a nest. Photo Jasmin Bourne.

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