Hamelin bio-blitzing – DAY 4 – Soft trappings & drones

on 20 Oct 2016 
Bio-blitzers in the spinifex: volunteer Ernie Skippings (Bush Heritage); conservation student Heather Bentink (Geraldton TAFE); conservation graduate Corin Desmond (Geraldton TAFE); and ecologist Ben Parkhurst (Bush Heritage).
An energetic Hairy-footed Dunnart (Sminthopsis hirtipes).
Volunteer Ernie Skippings taking a break from locating critters.

A sunrise start, to live and work like bio-blitzers do, means opening the shutters on our shearing shed quarters at sparrows. Anticipation builds as we convoy half our team out of Hamelin Station Stay and across the south-east of the reserve. The other half take the more arid of sites, where they’ll be looking for reptiles. 

We’re expected to find the 'softer' critters. Mammals, if you will. Although at Site 1 and Site 2 we aren’t so lucky. Site 3, however, is our first taste of success. The team locates a Sandy Inland Mouse (Pseudomys hermannsburgensis) and our first Spinifex Hopping-mouse (Notomys alexis) inside one of the pitfall traps.

Processing the fauna back at the car and out of the direct sun, ecologist Ben Parkhurst takes weight, PES and head size measurements. Finding a shady spot back in the scrub, and away from the traps, the natives are then released and bound off. 

Long-term volunteer Ernie Skippings demonstrates how to check a reptile trap; making sure to look in the corners of the bright green mesh where sun-soaking critters are likely to hide. But we’re all out of reptile luck, as Site 4 is still on the softer yield. 

Another three Spinifex Hopping-mice – two juveniles and one adult – are found here. And catching juveniles proves to be a touch easier than dealing with their aged-counterparts who, as they get older, tend to have more experience and strength in outwitting foes. Their jump has enough vivacity and speed to rival even the flashiest of camera shutters.

Our last check at Site 5 unveils a Hairy-footed Dunnart (Sminthopsis hirtipes). This honey, caramel and white-haired native has a lot of energy and bite. The quickest of measurements are taken before this heart-melting marsupial is released back into its habitat. 

It’s edging to 10am and we’re all pretty glad to be back on the road to the Station Stay. We even have a chance to take in Hamelin Station Reserve’s landscape, which changes from sparse scrub-dappled red sands to water-swept spinifex, and finally, to mallee plains where Red-tailed Black Cockatoos screech from the top of the canopy, lured there by one of the old water troughs.

Being right on the cusp of the semi-arid rangelands’ biodiversity hotspot transition zone, this differing habitat increases our likelihood of finding both mammal and reptile species. And it’s on this trek back that Brad Maryan (Vice President of the WA Society of Amateur Herpetologists / Technical Officer, WA Museum) and his troupe have time to wander into the scrub and find a slender Sand Goanna.

We can thank the head of our convoy who got a flat when an unassuming wooden stick found its way from the soft, red sands into a front tyre. While Ben and Ernie figured out the jack, this gave Brad a chance to stick his hand into a nearby fallen log. 

A basking beauty, also known as a Racehorse Rider, was recorded and soon after released. These goannas have been known to sprint, with heads flung back on hind-legs only. A little bit too much scrub, rocks and fallen branches were about for cover but she showed us a glimpse nonetheless. 

We napped for the remainder of the day, until waking later to put our location scouting from Day 1 to use, and convoy guests west to the Stromatolites. Here drones were released and hummed overhead as we savoured soft sunset hues and soft circular cheeses. Looking across Shark Bay’s Hamelin Pool area is once again a spectacular sight.

It’s a 40 minute drive back to the Station Stay, so we kept a steady pace for fear of meeting any of the witching hour roos. Safely back at camp, Jackie Mahood didn't disappoint with the feast she and worker Denise had laid out for the blitzers. For dessert we step out into the darkness where the Milky Way is a feast for the eyes. Not an ounce of cloud cover and just a whisper of a moon made it the perfect nightcap to a long blitz of a day.

An energetic Hairy-footed Dunnart (Sminthopsis hirtipes).
Volunteer Ernie Skippings taking a break from locating critters.