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The circle of spring

Published 18 Nov 2021 by Will Sacre

In October, Bush Heritage field staff undertake annual ecological surveys across the country. As the weather warms up and flora comes to life, so do many diverse species of fauna. Reptiles are at their most active feasting on swarms of insects that in turn attract an array of birds and mammals. Wildflowers pepper the landscape as daylight hours stretch long into the evening.

Evidence of breeding in Little Long-tailed Dunnarts (Sminthopsis dolichura) and a boom in mammals may be a result of higher than average rainfall. Some were even found with pouch young.

For the Honey Possum or noolbenger (Tarsipes rostratus), which are endemic to the south-west of Western Australia on Noongar country, spring is a time to reproduce and consume large amounts of their only food source: nectar. They drink a whopping 7 millilitres of it per day, which would be like a human drinking 50 litres of soft drink!

This one, captured by our reserve manager Jessica Stingemore on Chereninup Reserve, Noongar Country is feasting on Pink Bottlebrush (Beaufortia schaueri).

Jessica also photographed a Western Pygmy Possum (Cercartetus concinnus) peering out of a nesting box on Monjebup Reserve. Like many marsupials, their tails swell with extra fat in times of plenty and allow them a fifth limb for climbing.

Further north in WA’s midwest, rain resulted in a late start at our Charles Darwin Reserve, Badimia country. The team caught a whole host of animals including, despite cold weather, plenty of reptiles like Sand Goannas (Varanus gouldii) and Fine-faced Geckos (Diplodactylus pulcher). Healthy numbers of Mitchell’s Hopping Mice (Notomys mitchellii) and Little Long-tailed Dunnarts were also recorded.

“The boom in mammals may be a result of higher than average rainfall ”

Over in southeastern Australia on Naree Reserve, Budjiti country out back o’Bourke, Bush Heritage ecologists discovered a Ringed Brown Snake (Pseudonaja modesta) during their spring pitfall trapping. The species is endangered and rarely sighted in New South Wales. While highly venomous, they tend to be placid towards humans, hence ‘modesta’ in their Latin name.

Another reptile recorded was the Long-tailed Earless Dragon (Tympanocryptis tetraporophora) known for its thermoregulation – they stand erect like a meerkat balancing themselves on their hind limbs and tail with their back facing the sun and gaining heat.

Also on Naree, this Stripe-faced Dunnart (Sminthopis macroura) was one of several tiny marsupials surveyed this spring. Even on vast plains, these resourceful critters sleep in soil cracks during the day, coming out to feed on invertebrates overnight.

Fauna trapping is a critical part of our role as one of Australia’s largest conservation land managers, allowing us to build an inventory of what we protect across our reserves and partnerships. This year’s survey season did not disappoint, leaving the team with some fascinating interactions and, more importantly, providing invaluable data to inform our conservation strategy going forward.

Western Pygmy Possum in a nestbox at Monjebup Reserve. Western Pygmy Possum in a nestbox at Monjebup Reserve.
Photo by Jessica Stingemore
Long-tailed Earless Dragon. Long-tailed Earless Dragon.
Photo by Renee Hartley
Ringed Brown Snake. Ringed Brown Snake.
Photo by Vanessa Westcott
Stripe-faced Dunnart. Stripe-faced Dunnart.
Photo by Vanessa Westcott
The Naree Fauna Survey Crew. The Naree Fauna Survey Crew.
Photo by Bridget Roberts
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