A small army of specialist volunteers rose early at your Boolcoomatta Reserve this April, to discover which creatures had wandered its dunes and saltbush plains through the night.
As children across the country opened their Easter eggs earlier this year, a team of dedicated Bush Heritage scientists, partners and volunteers were already hard at work on Boolcoomatta Reserve in South Australia. Up since the crack of dawn, they were busy trapping, counting and recording the creatures that had traversed the open grasslands and desert outcrops overnight.
Boolcoomatta's unique animals
Listed as vulnerable in South Australia, the dusky hopping-mouse is about twice the size of a common house mouse and is characterised by its long feet, a long tufted tail and big ears.
These furry little Australian marsupials have a dark stripe between their ears on top of the snout, which stretches to their nose. Their sharp-pointed molars indicate they have a different diet from rodents.
This nocturnal rodent has olive-brown fur and a white belly and inhabits the arid and semi-arid areas of Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales. It is distinguishable from the common house mouse by its larger ears, longer back feet and docile nature.
All Photos by Peter Morris
This was the first major survey to have been conducted on the reserve in five years.
"The enthusiasm was tremendous," says Graham Medlin, the survey coordinator. "You could hardly hear yourself at night in the shearer's mess, with everyone talking excitedly about the day's events."
Corellas call at breakfast
The team, comprised of 33 adults, three teenagers and one child, rose in silence with the sun each morning for four days. They listened to the occasional raucous squawks of the corellas as they travelled in 4WDs to ten different capture sites set around the 63,000-hectare reserve.
"Boolcoomatta is such a delightful place," says Graham, an Honorary Research Associate and sub-fossil expert at the South Australian Museum, and member of the South Australian Field Naturalists Society. "It's one of the best-managed reserves in which I've carried out research."
Hard work and great results
Prior to Bush Heritage purchasing the property in 2006, Boolcoomatta was an outback sheep station.
Since then, volunteers and supporters like you have helped to reduce populations of feral animals, upgrade Boolcoomatta's facilities to enable volunteers and contractors to stay and work at the reserve (including on surveys like this one) and erect exclusion plots to monitor and manage the effect of kangaroos and rabbits on the land.
"The health of the area's vegetation is a credit to Bush Heritage and its supporters," Graham says.
Bush Heritage Ecologist Sandy Gilmore sounded pleased as he reached into the pitfall traps and carefully pulled out the lively and sometimes ferocious creatures that had wandered into the traps overnight. (The animals remain unharmed and are returned to their homes after being studied.)
"We found several different rodents and marsupials, as well as a large number of skinks, dragons and geckos," says Sandy. "There were dusky hopping-mice, the Bolam's mouse and stripe-faced dunnarts."
A haven for wildlife
These creatures have found a haven at Boolcoomatta that is difficult to find elsewhere. South Australia has the highest rate of mammal extinctions of any state in the country, and Australia has the highest rate of any country in the world.
The volunteers install a trap-line – a low mesh fence that guides reptiles, small mammals, insects, spiders etc. to pit traps (buckets set into the ground).
But on Boolcoomatta, life looks prosperous. A 2010 bird survey showed significant increases in bird populations on the reserve such as redthroats and white-winged fairy wrens.
"It's very exciting," says Sandy. "But we haven't reached the end of the story by any means." With your ongoing support Boolcoomatta will continue to flourish.
Boolcoomatta Reserve was acquired in 2006 with the assistance of the Australian Government's National Reserve System program and the Nature Foundation SA. We gratefully acknowledge The Native Vegetation Council for their support of conservation activities on Boolcoomatta.