Remember that amazing, exciting, blood-tingling feeling of anticipation when, as a child, you opened carefully-wrapped birthday or Christmas presents? Well that’s how I felt recently, when I downloaded thousands of images from remote-sensing camera-traps recently retrieved from the field at Hamelin Station Reserve.
I helped Western Rangelands Healthy Landscapes Manager Lis McLellan collect the camera traps – there are 40 of them located around the 202,644 hectare reserve – after they had been set-up out there to monitor fauna activity over the winter season.
Unfortunately we couldn’t retrieve all of the cameras, as some of the tracks into the far north-east of the reserve were cut-off by giant birridas (inundated clay pans) which had filled-up with the much-needed winter rains that had fallen on the reserve this year.
The rainy winter was well recorded by the camera traps, with frequent images of flooded tracks, mid-track puddles, and overcast and windy conditions, which in-turn resulted in lots of vigorous plant growth, lots of wildflowers, and lots of ‘critters’ on the move.
The explosion of wildflowers proved to be a bit of problem for at least one site – where tall, yellow Pom-Pom Everlastings (Cephalipterum drummondii) burst into life, surged-up into camera range, and triggered off more than 60,000 images as they waved and danced in the wind. They looked lovely, and happy, but they weren’t what we were looking for!
I was looking for wildlife, and scrutinised every day- and night-time image to see what had triggered the remote sensor, capturing a slice of time and place and life at Hamelin.
Some of the images were triggered by a particularly windy bush, or something shooting past so fast that the camera just got a picture of the tail of a Kangaroo, or Euro/Wallaroo (Macropus robustus), or the tail-feathers of an Emu. But others provided brilliant images, and records, of some of the fauna inhabiting the reserve.
Occasionally, one of the animals – usually a big, old Roo – would take a liking to the camera, or the post that it was mounted-on, and use it as a place to stop and have a good old scratch – resulting in perhaps a hundred or more photos of its backside, or armpit, or other part of its anatomy.
At other times, an inquisitive feral cat (and there were a few of them captured on camera unfortunately) would nosey up to the camera under the cover of darkness and trigger-off 10 or 20 photos as it tried to figure-out what this trackside contraption was up to.
Feral cats – and their numbers and movements – will be just one of the many bits of data that Hamelin ecologist Ben Parkhurst (who will also pore his way through the images), will analyse from the camera trap data.
But of more interest to Ben, and Lis, and me, were the records of wildlife. You can imagine my excitement looking through the images and discovering the reserve’s first-ever record of Malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata) under the relatively-recently implemented remote-sensor camera trap program. I know that this one image was immediately shared-around among staff – excited by the discovery, and its implications for conservation management.
They already suspected there were Malleefowl on the property (mostly from tracks), but this was the first photographic confirmation.
Another species that got me excited when it showed-up on one of the night-time images was a Bush Stone-curlew (Burhinus grallarius) – partly because they're just such gorgeous and quirky birds, but partly because their presence means the feral cats and foxes are not having it all their own way out in the bush.
A couple of images of a Spinifex Hopping-mouse (Notomys alexis) also got me excited – for much the same reasons as the Malleefowl and Bush Stone-curlews – and they’re just not a species that you get to see on a day-to-day basis when you’re driving around the reserve.
Other species which made a cameo appearance included Echidnas, Mulga Parrots, Bronzewing Pigeons, Emus, Kangaroos, Euros, Ravens, Willie Wagtails, Crested Pigeons, Galahs, and a Crimson Chat. Unfortunately there were also quite a few feral goats, and we hope these photos will become rarer as we continue to destock the property.
I’ll be leaving all of this information and images with Ben – to further analyse and plan – but already can’t wait to help put the camera-traps back out, to see what they reveal about the spring season of wildlife activity on Hamelin.
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