I see all sorts of wildlife every day at Charles Darwin Reserve, but it's only once a year that Bush Heritage partakes in small animal trapping on the Reserve. And I must say it's definitely one of my favourite times of year.
A week-long adventure of early mornings, peering down into dark traps never knowing what creatures might be hiding inside – and the utter joy of seeing a native animal staring back at you. A joy only surpassed by releasing the animal unharmed back into the wild.
The annual trapping begins with removing the lids off a series of pre-dug pitfall traps (about 60cm deep) and setting up the netting fence-lines that guide animals into the traps.
The traps are then checked daily before the sun rises and in the afternoon, if hot enough, with animals being identified, weighed, measured and then released.
But alas, Mother Nature had other plans for our group in Spring 2020, with the week starting off with catastrophic fire conditions, which meant no-one could leave the homestead precinct. This was followed by a multitude of overcast days that ended in rain, which meant closing the traps early. All of which resulted in lower animal abundance and species diversity.
But the week was not without its highlights.
Setting up mist nets near a granite outcrop with semi-permanent water and capturing a wide array of birdlife – Zebra Finches, White-browed Babblers, Brown Honeyeaters, Southern Whiteface and Singing Honeyeaters just to name a few. I was lucky to release one of the Singing Honeyeaters – and I think the photo captures my excitement and joy.
Going ‘hunting’ for Claypan Dragons (Ctenophorus salinarum) on the edges of Monger Lake and after crossing the seemingly endless white salty pan finding some superb specimens perched on top of and in the samphire. These photos do not do the dragon or the experience any justice, but their image is forever imprinted on my mind.
One lucky group spied three juvenile dingoes running along the tracks, before they vanished into the shrub lands. Another group spotted not only a Malleefowl but also an Australian Bustard crossing the road (and no, I don't know why these birds crossed the road, maybe just to get to the other side).
And speaking of Malleefowl the group got to visit an active mound just as the sun was rising and heard the bird’s deep vibrating call.
Plus, we were all privileged to be able to share the week with Traditional Owners and learn more about Badimia Culture and their connection to local animals and landscapes.
But I think this trapping season will be remembered for the small mammals – the abundance of dunnarts, and the occasional hopping mouse. Dunnarts are Dasyurids (related to Tasmanian Devils and quolls) and are nocturnal, carnivorous marsupials that are endemic to Australia.
Whereas Hopping mice are true mice – not marsupials – and are members of the order Rodentia. During this survey we found White-tailed Dunnarts, Gilbert’s Dunnart, Fat-tailed Dunnarts, Little Long-tailed Dunnarts, Mitchell’s Hopping Mice and Spinifex Hopping Mice. Some of which were very eager to return to the bush.
Conducting these annual fauna surveys is vital work on the reserve, because it highlights how the integrated pest control at Charles Darwin Reserve is allowing native animal populations to recover, and is hopefully laying the foundation for the return of other species that were once found in the region.
It also provides a unique learning experience for students from Central Regional TAFE in Geraldton, as they get hands-on experience guided by industry experts, in a truly remarkable part of the world (even if I am a bit biased).
I'm already looking forward to getting ‘around the traps’ again next year...