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Scottsdale’s loveable larrikin

Published 06 Dec 2016 

Chilly temperatures can’t deter a small group of Bush Heritage volunteers from getting to know one of Australia’s most iconic species a little bit better.

Volunteer Casey Gough, one of 15 Bush Heritage volunteers who surveyed platypus on the Upper Murrumbidgee River adjoining Scottsdale Reserve. Photo Phil Palmer.It’s early morning and the chill has reached Casey Gough’s bones as she unfurls her frozen fingers and reaches for her blue clipboard. It’s tough-going, but the ardent 19-year-old wouldn’t have it any other way.

Casey is part of a group of 15 Bush Heritage volunteers braving Scottsdale’s icy August weather to count Platypus in the Murrumbidgee River.

The volunteers are carefully positioned in hides along a 1km stretch of river. Their job is to sit patiently and watch intently for an hour, recording every Platypus sighting at ten-minute intervals. This method ensures that simultaneous sightings can be attributed to different animals. The process is repeated in the late afternoon.

“Our strategy was to get as much information about the Platypus living within the Murrumbidgee River corridor as possible. In total each of the volunteers surveyed for seven hours over the course of three days,” she says.

Platypus. Photo Jiri Lochman / Lochman Transparencies.Volunteers like Casey are an essential part of Bush Heritage’s conservation goals at Scottsdale Reserve – goals that are shared by partnership organisations Waterwatch and the Upper Murrimbidgee Demonstration Reach initiative, and supported by Bush Heritage donors.

“There’s a certain Zen to sitting early in the morning over a still river and watching life unfold.” – Antia Brademann

“The volunteers recorded six platypus overall,” says Casey, “of which I spotted five – which was great.”

“I’m so glad that my work could contribute to understanding more about the situation of the platypus in Scottsdale.”

The Murrumbidgee River as it travels alongside our Scottsdale Reserve in NSW. Photo Peter Saunders.The correlation between platypus numbers and river health has long been acknowledged. Yet there's a lack of research on platypus numbers in the Murrumbidgee River. Cooma Region Waterwatch Coordinator Antia Brademann says the surveys will determine how the small mammal is faring in the Upper Murrimbidgee River adjoining Scottsdale, and the information has broader implications for the health of the entire waterway.

“It’s very James Bond as we synchronise our watches to make sure we’re all running on the same time,” she adds with a laugh. 

“By going out there and observing their environment there’s so much information that we can gain,” she says. “We’ve had a few surprises in that we found Platypus in areas where we hadn’t expected them to be – such as fast-flowing water and rapids.”

The Australian Platypus

The Platypus is a semi-aquatic, egg-laying mammal endemic to eastern Australia, including Tasmania.

The Platypus propels itself through the water by using its front, short, webbed limbs, and the partially webbed hind feet act as rudders. Behind its distinctive bill are the grooves that house the ear openings and the eyes, which close when the animal dives.

Males possess a horny spur on their ankles, which is connected to a venom gland in the upper leg, making the Platypus one of the few venomous mammals. Platypuses are active all year round, but mostly during twilight and in the night. More...

The surveys will provide a baseline on platypus populations so that our Scottsdale team can monitor how they’re tracking over time. The data will be compiled for the Upper Murrumbidgee Waterwatch’s Catchment Health Indicator Program Report, which provides information to help protect and improve river health, a key factor in the future of the Platypus across the region.

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