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Fauna surveys that rock your senses!

Published 09 Dec 2017 by Jennylee Taylor

Is there such a thing as having too much fun in conservation work? We don’t think so ...

We had it ALL last week during the reptile and small mammal survey event on Bon Bon Station Reserve. Flight delays from Sydney, malfunctions picking up our supplies for the week in Port Augusta, and extra stay overs on the way couldn’t deter us from our mission to participate and volunteer in the survey.

Kate Taylor (Bon Bon Field Officer and Survey Master extraordinaire) had obviously put in a lot of planning time in preparation for the event.

The week before our arrival we received a detailed daily schedule and map of the pitfall trap sites so we could familiarise ourselves with what was expected.

We arrived lunch time on Sunday, in time to sort equipment, mend trapping catch bags that had developed holes from past trapping events and received a detailed briefing of our individual roles for the week.

Kate runs a tight ship when it comes to ensuring the survey work goes smoothly, the data capture is accurate and the animals have the best of care in line with the conditions required by the ethics permit and Bush Heritage policies.

Volunteers June Uhrig, Sharyn Ryan-Hancock and I (Jennylee Taylor) comprised the North Loop Team led by Kate. Peter Matejcic and Chris Wulczynski, knowledgeable Bush Heritage volunteers and enthusiasts from the South Australian Field Naturalist Association and Community Ecologist, Cat Lynch from Department of Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR) were the South Loop Team led by Clint Taylor (Bon Bon Reserve Manager). Each team had six survey sites that were spread along a 70km loop in the North and 100km loop in the South.

In the North Team my role was to be the 'bag lady' whose job it was to have bags ready for any captured animals and then label the bags with site, trap number, date, session (AM or PM) and type of animal (gecko, dragon, mammal, or skink) along with checking the integrity of the fence and funnel traps each time we went out. 

June was responsible for scribing the field data and trialling a new field data sheet that Kate had developed for cross referencing purposes, and Sharyn was responsible for looking after the captured animals in the field and during transport.

We all took turns inscribing the data during the processing activity, which consisted of tail length, SVL (snout to vent length), sex, age, weight and any other significant comments. By the second day we were working like a well-oiled machine.

In preparation we'd set up a few sites on the Sunday to make it quicker on the first day of the trapping event and on Monday morning we completed the rest of the setup, digging 30m long pitfall trenches in the gibber to the north of the homestead and then opening all of the other pitfall traps. It seemed like by the time we got back from the AM run we barely had enough time for lunch before heading out again for the PM run at about 3pm.

This process continued all week with 5.30am starts to check and capture animals and release any caught the night before. Then back to the office to process all the AM caught animals. After lunch we went out again at 3pm to release them, check and capture the PM animals and back to the office for processing. 

This cycle meant early mornings and late dinners. It was steady work AND so much fun! We were all beaming with smiles like split watermelons and engrossed in the whole process.

Tuesday morning we hit the mother lode on sites #7 and #10 in the gibber country with a total haul of 48 animals including a frog at site #15 on a dune.

The total for the Tuesday AM run was 62 when another 14 animals from the south loop were brought in for processing.

The buzz was electric in the processing room as the animals were weighed, measured and identified. There was loads of discussion and debate between Kate, Cat, Peter, Chris and Clint as animals were keyed out and examined to accurately identify them.

Some examples from that morning included: Bolam’s mouse (Psudomys bolami), Central-netted dragons (Ctenophorus nucalis), Ooldea dunnart (Sminthopsis macroura), six species of geckos including the Legless hooded-scaly foot (Pygopus nigreceps), and, the Narrow-banded shovel-nosed snake (Brachyurophis fasciolatus). Very cool!

In anticipation of repeat numbers we restocked only to find a considerably smaller yet consistent capture rate of about 14 animals each survey period for the rest of the week, perhaps because of the weather.

It was interesting to observe how closely Clint and Kate kept an eye on the weather predictions. After a 39 degree day on Tuesday the weather predictions for Roxby Downs, Tarcoola and Coober Pedy showed around a 50% chance of 10mm-20mm rain, which doesn’t seem like much (coming from Newcastle where this can be common), yet it can greatly influence the ability to access sites and can potentially fill pitfall traps, compromising animals' welfare.

Heavy falls were predicted for Thursday so Kate made a call to do a final capture on Thursday morning and close all of the traps.

Just after we retired on Wednesday an unpredicted storm swept over the homestead with crashing thunder and lightning to drop about 10mm of rain in less than one hour! Kate was walking the halls of the homestead like a worried mother.

Thursday morning the weather had cleared. In the north there was a lot of water lying about and Kate and Clint decided to process all of the animals in the field to avoid having to drive on the roads more than necessary. This turned out to be perfect as we captured, processed, released and then closed traps and dismantled the survey sites as we went.

It was much cooler and by the time we finished up it was late morning and we had morning tea under a Western Myall (Acacia papyrocarpa) at site #15 overlooking the sandy drainage line within the Labyrinth land system and large expanses of blue green chenopods.

Being on country at Bon Bon is such a privilege. The land has been regularly nourished by rainfall over the past few years and with the work being done by Bush Heritage the vegetation is being restored to its former glory. A diversity of wildlife abounds even to the untrained eye, with a plethora of wildflowers in bloom including Eremophila, Senna and Grevillia drooping under the weight of the nectar filled blooms.

The Donondea and Senna at a couple of the survey sites were seeding so prolifically that the afternoon wind filled some pitfall traps up to 200mm deep. Birds called and chirped industriously much of the day, giving a musical background to the survey activities and large birds of prey and parrots soared and glided about their daily business.

Red kangaroos looked at us quizzically as we drove around the property with some huge burly males standing their ground between us and the females with joeys, looking like they had just done a workout at the gym, chest muscles twitching and bulging. 

Several male emus were sighted with their adolescent offspring in groups of up to 10 with their mounds of feathers bobbing up and down as they sprinted off into the distance.

The colours were striking and I could understand why this country is an inspiration for many an artist, with the rusty sand, flowers of all colours, native grasses with their lofty seeds swaying in the breeze, and different vegetation against an azure sky one moment and then storm clouds or late afternoon sun giving everything a different hue again at other times.

Such beauty we had no words as we sat and contemplated under the Western Myall, drinking in the surroundings and sipping tea made in an Eco billy.

Finishing up a day early gave us a chance to demobilise, clean and make ready all of the equipment for an easy mobilisation next time. We had a chance to do the homestead emu walk out to the airstrip in the early hours of Friday after another stormy night. Then we got sucked into the tip time vortex as we fossicked through all of the items left behind by past inhabitants of Bon Bon Station. There's always something to do on the station so Clint and I cleaned up the workshop, nutted out fixing the mobile firefighting equipment and made some reflective safety signs that we positioned on Orwell’s Track after checking the water tank levels.

Goodbyes were said to Peter and Chris as they headed off to Lake Hart in pursuit of more reptile escapades.

On Friday night we had a relaxed, and very funny, game of 'Articulate' which brought our adventure to a close before heading back to Adelaide and the journey home the next day. So much appreciation to Kate and Clint, Jo and the rest of the Bush Heritage team for making this experience possible – it rocked our senses!

Thanks to Jenny, Sharyn and June for being such awesome volunteers. Kate said, "Thanks to my great team of volunteers. You guys rock". Volunteers make all the difference!

Back breaking work - Sharyn digging the trench for the drift fence Back breaking work - Sharyn digging the trench for the drift fence
Jenny and June setting up the drift fence. Jenny and June setting up the drift fence.
Set up: Sharyn setting up a trap-line Set up: Sharyn setting up a trap-line
A shaded funnel trap designed to capture reptiles A shaded funnel trap designed to capture reptiles
Kate with a morning's capture. Kate with a morning's capture.
Kate releasing a Central-netted Dragon Kate releasing a Central-netted Dragon
Trilling Frog (Neobatrachus sudelli). Trilling Frog (Neobatrachus sudelli).
Women in Conservation! Jenny, Sharyn and June. Women in Conservation! Jenny, Sharyn and June.
A beautiful Narrow-banded Shovel-nosed Snake. A beautiful Narrow-banded Shovel-nosed Snake.
Hive of activity - processing animals back at the Homestead Hive of activity - processing animals back at the Homestead
A fully gravid (pregnant) female Central-netted Dragon. A fully gravid (pregnant) female Central-netted Dragon.
Celebrating a great trapping event with dodonea seed confetti that filled our traps Celebrating a great trapping event with dodonea seed confetti that filled our traps

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