Children learn a lot about the world through imaginative play and what better place to imagine than at Charles Darwin Reserve.
The first two weeks of July are school holidays here in WA and with COVID restrictions easing – our families have been able to visit for the first time.
It's always great to see family, but to be able to share the magic of Charles Darwin Reserve with not only our siblings, but also their children, is a unique and special experience.
We went searching for tadpoles in the rock-pools on the granites near White Dam, picnicked at the campgrounds, studied eagles’ nests in the York Gum woodlands, spotted kangaroos in the homestead paddock, roasted marshmallows on the campfire, made and ate pizzas, jumped in (and fell into) many muddy puddles, and overall just had a blast outside in nature.
But the clear highlight of the trip was discussing the best habitat type for dragons – no not the Dwarf Bearded Dragon or Spotted Military Dragon kind, rather the Night Fury, Deadly Natter and Terrible Terror kind. And if you have no idea what I am talking about I suspect ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ is not in your top ten movie list.
My seven-year-old niece and four-year-old nephew love, love, love these movies – and to be honest so do I – and we often wonder if there's a dragon just waiting to pounce down on us from the sky. And in one of these many animated chats, I found out the dragons prefer big tall trees to live in. At Charles Darwin Reserve, this equates to the tall Salmon Gum Woodlands – a picture perfect stand of Eucalyptus salmonophloia.
So one morning while the children were busy playing, my sister and I snuck out to the Salmon Gum Woodlands. And with the help of our ever trusty reusable coffee cups, we created ‘dragon tracks’ in the sand – right in front of a motion sensor camera.
So of course that afternoon the whole family just had to get in the car for a drive to see this magnificent woodland. And it didn’t take long for the little people to spot the giant dragon tracks. At first they thought they must belong to elephants, but with a bit of prompting about how big and tall the surrounding trees were – it was unanimously agreed that they had to be dragon prints – and given their size and shape either a Night Fury or Deadly Natter.
Seeing the wonder and awe on the children’s faces as their dreams about dragons being alive and active on the Reserve was pure magic, and their looks were even more delightful when they noticed the motion sensor camera right near the tracks – as I had been telling them all about how I use those cameras to capture images of animals on the Reserve.
Now I am by no means a dragon expert but when I went through the camera data – one image really stood out and my niece (who is a dragon expert) has since confirmed that it is a Deadly Natter about to pounce on an unwitting magpie.
You might be wondering what dragons have to do with conservation – well, I say a lot – because by using dragons as the bait to talk about animal tracks I was able to lure everyone into looking for tracks in the sand and what tales they might have to tell. And whether it was dragons or kangaroos, Emus, snakes, Malleefowl or Dingoes, we all got swept away with the excitement of finding and identifying animal tracks.
Maybe next time we'll look for unicorns…