This year I was lucky enough to be accepted as a volunteer for the annual fauna trapping on Bon Bon Station Reserve. I'm a member of the 'Newcastle cluster' of Bush Heritage supporters – a small but keen group prepared to travel great distances to volunteer. So it was with great excitement that we set off on the long trek to Bon Bon in November.
I have to admit, at first Bon Bon surprised me. The access road to the homestead passes through a large expanse of chenopod shrublands – vast, flat, sparsely scattered with low trees, and interspersed with rocky gibber flats and the aptly named 'buckshot plains' (a type of very fine black gravel).
“What fauna will we be trapping here?" I wondered. And when we reached the homestead and cottages (which are all well-fitted out and comfortable) I couldn't help noticing the complete absence of lawn!
However, it doesn't take long for the magic of Bon Bon to start unfolding. The elevated water trough near the homestead is a magnet for birdlife, and we were delighted by the orderly procession of evening and morning visitors.
In the evening the Galahs drink first, followed by the Blue Bonnets and Mulga Parrots, then the Common Bronzewing Pigeons, and finally just after dark the lovely little Bourke's Parrots. In the morning the order is reversed.
On another evening we sat enjoying the sight of a pair of Spotted Nightjars hawking back and forth for insects just near the homestead back gate.
Clint and Kate Taylor are the managers of Bon Bon, and both have a wealth of knowledge. They explained that when Bon Bon was acquired by Bush Heritage, all the artificial watering points (like stock watering troughs) were shut down. This is an important part of conservation as it is creating a natural functioning ecosystem. Artificial watering points encourage kangaroos to breed to numbers above the carrying capacity of the landscape, resulting in overgrazing, erosion, and ecosystem degradation.
Our toughest day of fauna trapping was ‘Day 1’, when we needed to "open the traps". This involved removing the caps on a series of pre-dug pitfall traps and setting up the netting fence-lines that would guide our critters into the traps. After this it was a matter of checking the traps both morning and evening within 2 hours of sunrise/sunset, placing our captives into calico bags, and bringing them back to the homestead office for identification and processing. All animals were released the very next trip back to their home range and point of capture.
I soon had an answer to my question “What fauna will we trap here?” as the marvellous finds from the pitfall traps rolled in each day. In total we caught and identified 158 individuals comprising 33 species (27 species of reptiles and 6 species of mammals).
The mammals included 3 species of dunnart, one species of planigale, and 2 species of native rodents. The reptiles were very diverse and included skinks, tiny Leristas or 'sand sliders', beautiful geckos such as the Knob-tailed Gecko, legless lizards, blind snakes, dragons such as the Crested and Central Netted Dragon, and snakes such as the gorgeous Jan's Banded Snake.
The dunnarts proved particularly tricky to identify into their correct species. You'd think the Fat-tailed Dunnart would be easy, wouldn't you? After all, surely, he has a ‘fat tail’? But this may not be so evident in dry times, when he's used up the fat he normally stores in his tail! What about the Stripe-faced Dunnart? Doesn't he have a ‘striped face’? Well, not always……And so it boils down to close scrutiny of the tiny pads of their tiny feet…prompting this off-the-cuff limerick by Graeme Finlayson:
These Dunnart I.D’s, they’re quite tough
With their foot pads all smooth….or quite rough?
But I’ll give you the mail
With a short, fattened tail
I tell you, enough is enough!
The highlight for many of us was the capture of two Thorny Devils. These scary-looking little guys are very rarely seen, so there was great excitement in the camp. Despite their fearsome appearance (and even more fearsome name – Moloch horridus) they're completely harmless and live entirely on little black ants. We speculated that they were a pair and hoped for many more little Molochs in the future.
Another highlight of the week was the creative input of all the volunteers at our final gathering. Some collected junk from the tip to create an ingenious interactive sculpture, others welded a unique sign for Bon Bon, and many were inspired to write a verse or two.
The following poem celebrates the under-appreciated Lerista. A very small sand swimming skink, Lerista’s have no fore-limbs and their hind limbs are very small (not very visible). Lerista labialis is the Two-toed Sand-slider and if you look closely, you can see it has in fact, got 2 tiny toes.
It was a fairly common finding in our pitfall traps… and they can take a bit of practice to safely remove without having them dropping their tail. After much discussion and thoughts on the origin of its latin name, volunteer extraordinaire, Meredith Geyer wrote this great poem.
Lerista Barista, slid through hot sand
she was the lead singer, of her rock'n'roll band.
Lerista Barista was late for her gig,
they had a top booking, a chance to make big.
Lerista Barista took a short cut,
fell into a bucket and went off her nut.
Lerista Barista was no easy catch,
she ducked and she dived 'til bagged, labelled, and batched.
Lerista Barista put back on the dune,
but with a dropped tail, she sang out of tune.
Lerista Barista, the band gave her the sack,
she pouted her lips and yelled ‘I’ll be back!’
Bon-Bon has had below average rainfall for 2 years, and in November the rainfall to date for 2019 had been around one-third of the annual average. We wondered what effect this prolonged dry would have on the numbers and condition of the fauna trapped. However, most captures were in really good condition.
We also processed many geckoes that were pregnant (you could see the two large eggs they were carrying beneath the pale skin of their bellies), and a very rotund Central Netted Dragon that was very heavy with eggs.
We trapped a considerable number of juvenile animals which also means breeding is happening. The great surprise was, even though the country is dry and there has not been much rain, the number of species captured was only slightly lower than last year. Perhaps this is a testament to the resilience of this ecosystem and the species that live within it, especially when managed for conservation.
By the end of my visit to Bon Bon I had a much greater understanding and respect for this truly beautiful place. Contrary to my first impression, Bon Bon is alive with species and has a diverse landscape of shrublands, sand dunes, ephemeral wetlands, salt lakes, and even a couple of small 'mountains'. It would really be something to see it after big rain.
A wonderful experience and thanks so much to on-site staff Kate, Clint, Sam, and Graeme (and also Georgie from Arid Recovery) for sharing it with us!