Friday, September 11, 2009

Tracking numbats.

On Tuesday morning I left Albany and headed 300 km east to the Cocanburup Timber Reserve near Ranvensthorpe, Western Australia. I was on a trip with Karen, one of the researchers at the DEC, to track and monitor some little marsupials, the numbats.

DEC estimates that there are less than 1500 numbats left in the wild. They are threatened due to habitat destruction and introduced predators such as foxes and cats. The numbats have always been a icon of Western Australia and up until this point there has been a lot of interest to attempt to protect the remaining population. Unfortunately, support for threatened species has been cut at the federal level here in Australia. Soon DEC won't be able to put any resources towards these projects. The good news is that there is an interested community group, Project Numbat, and I really hope that they will be able to continue raising money to protect these little guys.

We arrived at Cocanburup after a three hour drive down the very straight and long coastal highway. The Timber Reserve is home to an introduced population of numbats. Seven of them wear little collars that transmit a signal so that they can be tracked. The collars need to be changed every 3 months. Five of the seven numbats collars were due for a change this week so we actually needed to capture them. This was all very new to me because I have never worked on a project involving small mammals.

Karen and I met two of the volunteers at the entrance to the reserve, Andy and John. Both are local fellows who are interested in learning more about the numbat project. Both have been trained to help track the numbats, but are still learning how to operate the receiver. The receiver is a big, blue antenna that is attached to a small handheld device. The device gives off a beep that increases in intensity as you come closer to a numbat. Numbats are territorial and stay within fairly small areas. They are also active during the day because they eat termites (and only termites) which are also active during the day. They don't put much effort into foraging, so it's impossible to lure them out with food. They actually need to be cornered and caught. Generally, they run into the hollow log of a fallen salmon gum tree. Then, we put a net on one end and stick a garden hose up the other end and blow on it until they come running out the end that has been netted. Capturing numbats was actually a very stressful activity for me to take part in and I'm really happy that I like to work with plants.

On that note, here are some truly beautiful spider orchids I found on on tramp through the bush (hike through the woods, for my Canadian readers).

Once a numbat was captured (this is Cora) the collar was changed and various morphometric measurements were taken. Karen did all of the handling and measuring. I handed her implements and held onto the numbats when they were safely in their little cotton bags (that's how we carried them around so that they would be less scared?) . I did hold onto their little back paws if they wouldn't be still when she was trying to measure.

We also caught Shy. Shy and Cora both had young. We set up video cameras at the entrance of their burrows and we saw the little ones out playing in the sun.

To find the last numbat, York, we had to hike a few kilometres down the river. Along the way we saw all sorts of interesting things including this native succulent called pigface. I love the way it looks in the sunshine. I wish it had a prettier name.

The last numbat we needed to capture was Rochelle. She kept ending up in the best logs. We knew she was about halfway down this snag, so Chris drove the truck right into the bush so we could get a closer look. The rack on the top of the truck has a little seat that opens up so someone can ride along with the receiver up high as height and speed are assets when tracking numbats.

On the drive out we saw so many emus! The way they run is hilarious. They look so off balance, like they're going to topple over at any second. The dads hang around the nest and keep the eggs warm and once the babies hatch they run around with the dads. This picture was taken out the front of the truck (which is a very powerful 4WD, the only way you can travel on the backroads around here). The father is right in the centre of the picture and the 2 chicks are the tiny things to his right just on the other side of the scrub.

We also came across this little bobtail, another native reptile. He was right under beside the wheel of the truck and I took this picture hanging out the passenger side window.

That night, Karen and I stayed in a cabin in Ravensthorpe. She had brought her computer and she showed me a nature documentary that a Japanese company had made about the numbats. Even though I couldn't understand a word, it was really funny to watch. She thinks the series is called Darwin's Ideas and this is the way they portrayed Darwin. I was a little bit shocked, to say they least.

The next day, two of the guys I had met at the hostel, Nick and Tim, and I drove out to Two People's Bay to catch up with Chris. We decided to go for a hike down along the beaches and look for whales and Waterfall Beach. The boys did a lot of rock scrambling to find the waterfall and I took pictures along the shoreline.

Striations on the sand, coming down from the cliffs.

Twisted driftwood.

The paperbark forest.

After all the hiking, the weather turned stormy again, so I've been back at the house. Chris made pizza for dinner with pineapple and mushrooms and bacon. We just went out and looked at the stars. It's very clear and cold tonight. We could see the Southern Cross, the Pointer Stars, Jupiter, Scorpio, and the fabulous Milky Way.

Tomorrow I'm probably going to spend my last day hiking around the bay. On Sunday we're going to go see District 9, a new South African sci-fi film. I listened to a podcast review about it today and it sounds incredible. I'll let you know what I think next week. Then I'm about ready to head off to Alice Springs, even though it's going to be very tough to leave this place.

1 comment:

  1. Cass loving all the adventures tails, aussie slang and pictures. It looks like quite the amazing place that is for sure. Miss you. Hope to talk to you soon.