Warddeken biodiversity survey in Arnhem Land

about  Warddeken Partnership  
on 12 Oct 2015 
Bush Heritage ecologist Allana Brown and Warddeken ranger Suzanna examine a Fire-tailed Skink (Morethia ruficauda). Photo Peter Martin.<br/> Bush Heritage ecologist Allana Brown and Warddeken ranger Suzanna examine a Fire-tailed Skink (Morethia ruficauda). Photo Peter Martin.
Ecologist Terry Mahney with Warddeken Ranger Justin (right) and Traditional Owner Judah (left) set up a camera trap to look for rock possum. Photo Allana Brown.<br/> Ecologist Terry Mahney with Warddeken Ranger Justin (right) and Traditional Owner Judah (left) set up a camera trap to look for rock possum. Photo Allana Brown.
Warddeken Junior Rangers show Northern two-lined Dragons (Diporiphora bilineata), all caught in pitfall traps.  Photo Allana Brown.<br/> Warddeken Junior Rangers show Northern two-lined Dragons (Diporiphora bilineata), all caught in pitfall traps. Photo Allana Brown.
Warddeken rangers set a pitfall trap and drift line—great for catching small reptiles. Photo Allana Brown.<br/> Warddeken rangers set a pitfall trap and drift line—great for catching small reptiles. Photo Allana Brown.
Senior Ranger and Warddeken Director Terrah Guymala records habitat values at one of survey sites. Photo Allana Brown.<br/> Senior Ranger and Warddeken Director Terrah Guymala records habitat values at one of survey sites. Photo Allana Brown.
“Release the dragons!” was our catchphrase during the afternoon trap checks—here Alex returns a young two-lined dragon to his home at site 5.  Photo Allana Brown.<br/> “Release the dragons!” was our catchphrase during the afternoon trap checks—here Alex returns a young two-lined dragon to his home at site 5. Photo Allana Brown.
One of the Traditional Owners of Baby Dreaming Country, Conrad Maralngurra, with his family at a survey site. Photo Allana Brown.<br/> One of the Traditional Owners of Baby Dreaming Country, Conrad Maralngurra, with his family at a survey site. Photo Allana Brown.
Team photo: it was a real privilege to join in with Warddeken’s survey and to work with such a passionate and enthusiastic team. Gamak! Photo Allana Brown.<br/> Team photo: it was a real privilege to join in with Warddeken’s survey and to work with such a passionate and enthusiastic team. Gamak! Photo Allana Brown.
Shade covers over the pitfall traps ensure animals are comfortable as they await release. Photo Allana Brown.<br/> Shade covers over the pitfall traps ensure animals are comfortable as they await release. Photo Allana Brown.

In the middle of the dry season I travelled to Arnhem Land to help Warddeken Land Management with one of their annual biodiversity surveys. This year they were focussing on the Ngalngbali clan estate - Baby Dreaming Country - in the Northern part of the Warddeken Indigenous Protected Area. A place that had never been surveyed before. One of Warddeken’s usual ecologists was away, so I was very lucky to be invited to help out for this year.

Around 30 people took part in the survey, including landowners, Warddeken rangers, their families, local kids from Nawarddeken Academy and their brand new teacher! It was great to see how keen and excited everyone was to take part. The survey was led by senior Warddeken Rangers and Terry Mahney, an ecologist who has worked with Warddeken for several years.

Six survey sites were chosen and five different kinds of animal traps (cage, funnel, pitfall, Elliot and remote cameras) were used at each site. Traps were left out for four nights and were checked first thing every morning. Every site produced different results – we got small mammals in cage and Elliot traps at some sites, and lots of different reptiles in funnel and pitfall traps at other sites. It goes to show that a mixture of different habitat and trapping methods will provide a good general baseline of biodiversity for an area.

On two nights we also did a spotlight walk that resulted in a Squirrel Glider being seen – something that would not likely have been picked up by any other method. Camera traps were also effective at capturing animals that otherwise would not have been recorded. One site in particular looked like great habitat for djorrkkun – the reclusive rock ringtail possum (Petropseudes dahli). With the careful placement of cameras up on rocky ledges we got photographs of not one but two rock possums on the first night! This was an excellent confirmation that had all of us grinning from ear to ear for quite a while.

In the end the Warddeken survey recorded six native mammals, 16 reptiles and two frogs; plus a bird list for each site. Everyone was very happy with how the survey went and that the country surveyed seemed healthy and still supports a diverse array of species.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Warddeken for such a special opportunity. It was a real privilege to help out and to see the skills and knowledge of experienced Warddeken rangers being shared with landowners, their families and school kids. 

Ecologist Terry Mahney with Warddeken Ranger Justin (right) and Traditional Owner Judah (left) set up a camera trap to look for rock possum. Photo Allana Brown.<br/> Ecologist Terry Mahney with Warddeken Ranger Justin (right) and Traditional Owner Judah (left) set up a camera trap to look for rock possum. Photo Allana Brown.
Warddeken Junior Rangers show Northern two-lined Dragons (Diporiphora bilineata), all caught in pitfall traps.  Photo Allana Brown.<br/> Warddeken Junior Rangers show Northern two-lined Dragons (Diporiphora bilineata), all caught in pitfall traps. Photo Allana Brown.
Warddeken rangers set a pitfall trap and drift line—great for catching small reptiles. Photo Allana Brown.<br/> Warddeken rangers set a pitfall trap and drift line—great for catching small reptiles. Photo Allana Brown.
Senior Ranger and Warddeken Director Terrah Guymala records habitat values at one of survey sites. Photo Allana Brown.<br/> Senior Ranger and Warddeken Director Terrah Guymala records habitat values at one of survey sites. Photo Allana Brown.
“Release the dragons!” was our catchphrase during the afternoon trap checks—here Alex returns a young two-lined dragon to his home at site 5.  Photo Allana Brown.<br/> “Release the dragons!” was our catchphrase during the afternoon trap checks—here Alex returns a young two-lined dragon to his home at site 5. Photo Allana Brown.
One of the Traditional Owners of Baby Dreaming Country, Conrad Maralngurra, with his family at a survey site. Photo Allana Brown.<br/> One of the Traditional Owners of Baby Dreaming Country, Conrad Maralngurra, with his family at a survey site. Photo Allana Brown.
Team photo: it was a real privilege to join in with Warddeken’s survey and to work with such a passionate and enthusiastic team. Gamak! Photo Allana Brown.<br/> Team photo: it was a real privilege to join in with Warddeken’s survey and to work with such a passionate and enthusiastic team. Gamak! Photo Allana Brown.
Shade covers over the pitfall traps ensure animals are comfortable as they await release. Photo Allana Brown.<br/> Shade covers over the pitfall traps ensure animals are comfortable as they await release. Photo Allana Brown.