Dryandra & Boyagin – Woylies & numbats!

Jimmy and I had planned a while back that we would head out to a couple of the Wheatbelt nature reserves in the Christmas break – so just before the end of 2017 I would have another go at trying to see one of my bucket list animals – the numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus).   I have already tried a couple of times previously and they have proved elusive.

Dryandra Woodland Nature Reserve

We drove out to Dryandra (soon to be a national park) and setup camp at Gnaarla mia – a fairly new, well setup bush camping site run by Parks & Wildlife.

Before we setup camp we scoped out 2 likely Chuditch (Dasyurus geoffroii) sites where Jimmy had seen a Chuditch before on a previous trip – one where we had setup my camera trap that I have blogged about before.

We headed out just after dusk and drove the tracks through Dryandra paying special attention to our two possible Chuditch sites.

We soon came across Common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) and Western grey kangaroos (Macropus fuliginosus).

Brushtail possum @ Dryandra

This also seemed to be a night with many Woylies (Bettongia penicillata) sighted – a real encouragement as it was many more than our trip almost a year before.

Woylie bum – often all you see of them!

But then a few allowed us to get closer – our best sightings were in one of the old Sandalwood plantations (location described in previous post) where there seems like plenty of nuts around and the Woylies were more concerned about eating than running away from us.  We also had a look for Red-tailed phascogale (Phascogale calura) as both Jimmy & I had found one on separate occasions in the Sheoak, but not this night.

We then revisited our Chuditch site without the camera trap and Jimmy spotted a gecko on a Wandoo tree – he later ID’d it as a Reticulated velvet gecko (Hesperoedura reticulata) – a new species for both of us.  No Chuditch though.

We then had a sighting of a Southern boobook (Ninox novaeseelandiaeand Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus).

Later Jimmy spotted some eyeshine a way off the road and we walked out to see what it was – we thought maybe Woylie or possum but was hopeful for maybe Tammar or Western brush wallaby.  It was just a possum but then I spotted green eye shine to the North not far from the second Chuditch site which was quite close to Barna mia (a place where you can see endangered animals in an enclosure).  Jimmy was ahead of me and saw the animal climb quickly up a tree where he was able to see spots and confirm Chuditch, but then it dashed down again and ran off before he was able to alert me.  We were not able to relocate it either.  Jimmy did think it might have been the same animal that he had seen in the area on a couple of other occasions.

We then headed back to camp after 5 hours of spotlighting to get a few hours of shuteye as it was 2am!  We checked the camera trap and could see a few images had been taken but I had no way of telling what had been captured.

We did see a couple of microbats flutter in our spotlights but we were not able to ID them – one seemed to have an orange belly (might have been a Western Falsistrelle (Falsistrellus mackenziei) – a fairly large microbat with cinnamon tummy) and I did hear a White-striped free-tailed bat (Tadarida australis).

The next morning we were up bright and early and after a quick coffee headed to Boyagin to try for numbats.  We picked up the camera trap noting it had taken 60 odd images but had no way of viewing what had been captured – that would have to wait until I got home.  On the way we had a lovely viewing of some Carnaby’s munching some Hakea and Jimmy did say he thinks it’s a good sign so see something so early heading out!

Carnaby’s cockatoo @ Dryandra

Boyagin Nature Reserve

We then drove to Boyagin Nature Reserve where we had tried unsuccessfully  for numbats a few months back.

We drove the tracks of the reserve mostly focusing on the North-East block.  We had been driving for 2 hours without seeing anything and had about an hour to go before we needed to head back.  We were just headed up a hill when Jimmy calls “NUMBAT!!” – he had seen just a head peeking out above a log on the side of the road – I then saw it as well and was really excited to see my FIRST EVER NUMBAT! (Tick off the bucket list!), but could not get out of the car to get a better view, for worry of scaring it.  This shot was all I thought I might be able to get.

My first ever numbat sighting! @ Boyagin

Then Jimmy said there is a second one as well!  They both stayed around the log just checking us out – Jimmy was able to open his car door and then I was able to as well and managed to get a few closer shots.  We noted the rusty streak on the male’s chest – oils secreted from their sternal gland during this time of year.

Numbats are typically solitary except when females are caring for their young or when males go roaming for females into their territories, as they only go into estrus for a 24-48hr period in the first couple of weeks of January.  Jimmy and I were both able to get out of the car for better views and then both numbats casually went into the hollow log.  We sat down on the road about 10m back and waited 10 mins before they came out again.

They then sauntered off through the heath and I watched them head towards another hollow log.  They hung around outside for a little while before going inside.

We moved to get good observation positions a way back from the log (I was closer to the road and Jimmy on the other side) and waited another 10 mins or so.  They came out and still seemed pretty chilled with our presence.

I like this shot of the females tongue!

Numbat (female) showing her tongue! @ Boyagin

We could tell it was mating season as the male seemed pretty keen to start right at that moment but the female was a little more coy and at one point turned and gave him a cuff & vocalised her disapproval!

They then re-entered their log and Jimmy moved next to me as he thought it was a better spot.  We waited another 10 mins and out they came again!  At one point we heard a car in the distance and they assumed the meerkat-like pose facing towards where the sound came from (lower image).

We watched them for another 10 mins or so and then backed away, giving them back their space.

Numbat pair chilling @ Boyagin

They sat in the above pose just watching us.   Jimmy and I headed back to the road feeling so privileged to have such an awesome wild experience.

After sharing the images with Tamara from Project Numbat and Sean Van Alphen from the Numbat Task Force – they were able to say they thought they knew the female was either Sheila or one of her twin girls who looked similar but the male has not been ID’d as yet.  They use the unique stripes from the animals to identify individuals and keep a database of all the sightings.  Tamara spends almost every weekend watching numbats and she mentioned to Jimmy how hard it was to find pairs this time of year and she had never seen anything like we had.  What  she usually sees this time of year is horny males trying to find females!

Dryandra Camera Trap Images

Once back at home I was able to download the camera trap images and found more surprises.  We had visits by a Woylie(s?) and a Western grey kangaroo.

And even more exciting – a visit from a Red-tailed phascogale!  They are pretty camera shy (seems to be related to the white light of the spotlight) and I haven’t managed to get a photo of one yet.

I was elated to have finally seen a Numbat and not just one, but a pair showing pre-mating behaviours!  I did get a little carried away with the photos and took over 200 of the numbats so its been difficult to cull them!

Dryandra and Boyagin are two stunning reserves in the WA Wheatbelt and on the trip back we discussed our next trip to get out to Tutanning to see the third major reserve in the Wheatbelt.

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Rainbow Bee Eaters and Camera Traps…

For my birthday over a year ago I was generously given a camera trap by my wife – a Browning Strike Force HD.   Essentially it is a motion activated digital camera with some smarts – designed to be left outside for extended periods.  Initially developed for hunters they have found huge application in wildlife monitoring.  I had wanted one for ages but for the past year only really used it to spot cats in backyards.

Anyway I had been chatting to Klaus from the Friends of Kensington Bushland as I had been thinking about setting up the camera in the bushland to see if I could photograph any wildlife.

We needed to get council approval and as things transpired a Rainbow Bee Eater nest had been located and they were keen to get a camera on it.  Rainbow bee eaters (also called RBEs) are the grey nomads of the bird world – they spend the winter months in the far north sometimes as far as PNG and summers in the South.  They breed during summer  and unusually for a bird dig a nest burrow in sandy soils.  They are related to kingfishers and have the most amazing rainbow colouration (hence the name!) – see top image.  As the name also suggests they eat bees and all sorts of other insects – this bird was seen with a large dragonfly and beating it to death against the branches of the tree!

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Rainbow bee eater nest burrow @ Kensington Bushland

The above photo shows the burrow.  I met with the council representatives and we set the camera trap just in front of the nest – taking care to conceal it from the path to prevent theft.  It was set up on 03/01 and finally removed on 27/01 – so just over 3 weeks in total.

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Camera trap in situ

Over that period the camera took approx 7500 images of which 150 had animals in shot – most were of waving grass (one of my learnings!).  Another learning was that the camera date was set in US format – so when resetting after a battery failure on 08/01 I had actually set it to 1 Aug!!

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Camera trap image

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Cropped RBE pair at burrow entrance

Above is one of my earliest images – I had some issues with the camera resetting itself and chewing batteries – so I updated the firmware and then it behaved perfectly.  My next learning was being careful where you aim it.  I had taken it home to update the firmware but when I put it back I actually had it aimed too high.  Fortunately I got some amazing shots of the birds in flight, however missed the action at the burrow.

The inbuilt thermometer seems to be unhappy when the temp is over 46-48 degrees and then goes negative!

Here is Steve from the council trimming back some of the grass to reduce shots of the wind in the grass.

Steve trimming vegetation – note the temperature!

I came back and re-positioned it but then didn’t get any more images from the burrow – it looked like the RBEs had left it by then.

Last image associated with burrow

3 mins before last image taken just above burrow

Looking back through all the images this is the last image I can associate with the RBEs leaving the nest.  The other image was taken only 3 mins before.  This was on 13/01, ten days after I had first placed the camera.  The chicks fledge after thirty days and we were not aware of when the egg first hatched, but could see the bird going into the burrow with food.

Last image of bee eaters – appears to be 3 birds

This image is the last one that I think are Rainbow bee eaters – the colour is off as I have it facing into the sunset (I have now learnt best to aim south to avoid the sun).  I can make out 3 birds so I like to think its the 2 parents and the fledgling.  This was 3 days later on 16/01.

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This image was taken on my phone camera on 28/01 – if you look carefully you can see spider webs across the burrow and it is no longer in use.

Here are a few other images that are interesting.  It is quite effective at night and uses infrared flash to take photos.  I ended up spending quite a bit of time at the bushland late at night as that fitted best with family commitments.

Anyway to finish off – I didn’t get a shot of the fledgling leaving the burrow as we had hoped for, but I learnt heaps about using the camera and got some amazing shots of animals just from the one location in the bushland.  I hope to get some more opportunities to deploy the camera and see what other critters I can find.

Smile 🙂 I am on candid camera!