Numbat survey at Boyagin Nature Reserve with Project Numbat

My buddy Jimmy had been talking for a while about the annual numbat surveys he helped with, for Project Numbat and Parks & Wildlife Service (part of DBCA).  I had been interested for a while but with little kids it’s a huge ask to leave my wife with the kids all weekend, this year the ever gracious Mel was happy for me to join the team.

Jimmy had been instrumental in my first sighting of numbat and it wasn’t an ordinary quick glimpse but an extended viewing of a pair just before mating.  It was my 4th time trying to see them which gives an idea of the rarity and how difficult they can be to find.

Project Numbat survey both Boyagin Nature Reserve and Dryandra Woodland once a year.  Project Numbat are a not for profit group with a focus on community awareness and conservation of the numbat.  The type of survey we would be conducting was a digging survey as just visual surveys can miss animals and they leave distinctive markings when they forage for termites which persist.

Jimmy and I headed down once I had the kids mostly ready for bed.  We would be staying at the lovely Lions Dryandra Woodland Village and travelling to Boyagin daily which is about 30 minutes away.  We got there after dark and couldn’t help but go for a spotlight – we were hopeful for Pygmy possum that Jimmy had seen in some flowering bushes a year earlier and also after a couple of trips Jimmy had made earlier in the week.  Unfortunately it wasn’t the evening for Pygmy’s but we found a couple of lovely Woylie (Bettongia penicillata) in the area.

We headed back to Lions Village to get some sleep as we had a full day of surveying the next day.

We got up and had breakfast with the other volunteers.  Also joining us was Dr Tony Friend from Parks & Wildlife – Mr Numbat himself!  We had six of us in total and split into 2 parties and headed out to Boyagin to make a start for the day.  My group comprised of Tamara (President of Project Numbat) and Jimmy. 

First task of the day was to practice in identifying numbat diggings – they are quite small, not too deep, discrete diggings without a mound of dirt.  These are left after exposing termites in their galleries just beneath the surface and licking them with their long tongues – they are also often grouped in a run as the numbat follows the food in the galleries – see below photo.  Other diggings that need to be ruled out are the following:

  • Woylie (deeper v shaped hunting for underground truffles) – often earth left mounded
  • Quenda (funnel shaped)
  • Rabbits (often with scat present)
  • Echidna (messy often covering a large area)

The survey consisted of driving to pre-defined locations and then the group surveying an area of 100m radius for a period of 10 mins.  If diggings were found others confirmed or disagreed.  Once located, a quick search was also made for numbat scat – hard, quite heavy black with shiny bits of termite exoskeleton inside.   The locations are spread out throughout the blocks of Boyagin and allow year-to-year comparisons of numbats.  Records were kept on Project Numbat Toughbooks in a GIS application.

It was rewarding to find evidence of numbat foraging and also noting how you can tell if a site habitat was more ‘numbatty’ depending on the vegetation and fallen trees present.

We saw plenty of Gould’s sand goannas (Varanus gouldii) crossing the tracks and also got a glimpse of a black-headed monitor (Varanus tristis) but it didn’t stay for photos!

We came together for morning tea & lunch and it was nice to hear how the other group were getting on.  They, like us, had some sites with repeat records of numbats from previous years, some had new records where they hadn’t been found before, and some sites that previously had diggings but didn’t this time.  Such is the way of scientific survey.

We finished off the day’s surveys feeling like we had made great progress – setting ourselves up well for the next day. Tamara cooked an amazing green chicken curry with rice which went down a treat after all the work of the day. Just before dinner one of the team mentioned they had seen a Gould’s goanna just outside our cottage.

That night the rest of the team were going to settle in for a relaxing night and enjoy some well earned beverages, but Jimmy & I we wanted to see more wildlife. We headed out as it got dark going back again to our Pygmy possum spot – with still no luck! We had a very nice viewing of a Tawny frogmouth that just stayed put. We also saw the usual collection of Woylies, Brushtail possums and Western grey kangaroos. We also spotted a nice Western spotted frog. Highlights were spotting a couple of Chuditch – in a couple of hotspots that seem to have animals every visit – no photos as the animals were skittish that night.

We headed to the sandalwood plantation previously mentioned to see if we might see Red-tailed phascogale, and it’s always good for Woylie. Many woylie were seen and Jimmy saw an Echidna that I didn’t see. Hitting the carpark I found this beautifully marked Wheatbelt stone gecko (Diplodactylus granariensis) – a new species for me. We headed back knowing we had another full on day tomorrow.

The second day Jimmy & I were with Tony Friend (numbat guru). We changed plan this day deciding not to meet for morning tea but would meet for lunch at one of the dams. Discussions with Tony were great and I learnt lots about many topics!

At one point we were just heading for a corner where two tracks met and Tony calls “Numbat! and I would like to catch it”! It bolted, as did Jimmy, who hadn’t seen it from the back seat but was doing his best to find it… Unfortunately it was too fast and this was our only sighting of the weekend. Tony will sometimes attach radio collars or make an assessment of the general condition of the animal, so not just catching for fun.

I learnt heaps from chats with Tony and totally enjoyed the day. We caught up for lunch and learnt that the other team had seen a carpet python which Jimmy had been dying to see – but no luck for him this weekend! We headed out after lunch completing the last few sites before finishing for the day around 2pm. We took some team photos before we headed back to Perth. A great weekend all round – I learnt heaps, met amazing new people and had lots of time in the bush!  

Tutanning Nature Reserve – Phascogale, Tammars, Bats & Frogs!

Jimmy and I had planned a while back to continue our Australia Day tradition from 2017 where went out to Dryandra.  This year we planned to go to Tutanning nature reserve (another remnant Wheatbelt nature reserve) as I have never seen a wild Tammar wallaby and Jimmy has seen them each time he has been there.

It’s about 2.5hrs from my place and Jimmy kindly agreed to leave after my kids were down for the night. We planned to drive there, spotlight and then head back in the wee hours.

We drove out taking it slow over the hills trying to make sure we didn’t hit any roos.  Despite all our care – we were dive bombed by a Tawny frogmouth who wedged itself in the grill and died instantly.  It was a night for frogmouths as we saw 4 more in the reserve.

As we got to the reserve at 10pm, we thought we might have some problems with trees across roads as there had been some pretty strong winds with the tail end of the weather from Cyclone Joyce earlier in the week.  We were able to get around them but the roads need careful attention as some might need a 4WD or careful driving in Jimmy’s SUV.  We saw a couple of Western grey kangaroos throughout the reserve.

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We drove through the reserve to the Eastern part where Jimmy had seen Tammar wallabies before – funnily enough on Tammar Rd!

We didn’t initially see any wallabies driving through the section so we parked up and headed out on foot.  Jimmy caught something in his lights and we both saw something small on the ground and then jump onto dead branch just off the ground.  We first thought mouse or maybe Mardo (Yellow-footed Antichinus) but then it scooted up a nearby Sheok moving very quickly – we then realised it was a Red-tailed Phascogale (Phascogale calura).  We both got some quick photos as these critters often move very quickly and especially in the white light of our spotlights.

Red-tailed phascogale @ Tutanning NR

This was my third ever sighting, but the first time I was ever able to get a photo.  It skipped around the branches of the tree but then settled on a main branch allowing us great views and better photos.

We were then pretty much satisfied with our night and anything else was a bonus!  Not long after, we spotted our first Tammar wallaby – they are smaller than kangaroos and look very attractive.  They are quite skittish and hang out in areas of thick undergrowth.  I got a couple of shots before it sped off.

We then headed onto the boundary track that borders a farm – we saw other Tammars but they didn’t stay for better viewings.  We then headed up another road seeing a few more, but they stayed well clear of us.

I also got a chance to try out my new toy – Echo Meter Touch 2 for Android – a bat detector you plug into your mobile!  Take a listen to what I think might be a bat – identifying them is a bit of a black art and very technical as you have to analyse the acoustics of the calls.

Below is what a call looks like on my phone app and on some specialist acoustic analytical software Kaleidoscope.  I think the frequency of the call is between 28-50 KHz which I thought might make it a south-western freetail bat, but I have asked for help from experts.  {edit} I have since had advice that the call comes from a Gould’s wattled bat (Chalinolobus gouldii) which is very widely distributed through Australia.

We then spotted a small white frog sitting motionless on the track.  Not 100% sure of the ID at the moment and it can be pretty hard to tell with just photos – I can’t even work out if it is a Sand frog (Heleioporus psammophilus) or White-footed trilling frog (Neobatrachus albipes).

Jimmy then spotted a lovely Western-spotted frog (Heleioporus albopunctatus) in the field so we jumped the fence for a closer look.

Western-spotted frog @ Tutanning NR

We headed back to the car with Jimmy taking his shoes off – going bush in socks! – as he was determined to get a better shot of a Tammar.

Tammar wallaby @ Tutanning NR

I then found another Western spotted frog – the greenish eye shine on the ground is quite distinctive when you shine a headtorch.

Western-spotted frog @ Tutanning NR

We headed home and I finally got to bed at 4am!  A long night but very successful.

Looking for numbats at Boyagin Nature Reserve

Its on my wildlife bucket list to see a wild numbat.  I get out wildlife watching fairly often in the Perth region but numbats live that little bit further away, they are diurnal (out during the day) when I am normally working or with the family and also they are listed as endangered as there are probably less than 1000 left.  There are only 2 natural populations left – Dryandra and Perup, with Boyagin a site where they have been reintroduced.  They used to cover most of the southern region of Australia before the introduction and spread of foxes.

My wildlife buddy Jimmy and I planned a Saturday night away at Boyagin Nature Reserve – out in the wheatbelt not too far from Brookton – about an hour 45 mins from Perth.

I had seen quite a lot of facebook activity with people spotting numbats on The Dryandra (Incl Boyagin/Tutanning) – A South West Australian Safari group – so that made me really want to get down and see my first one.  Jimmy had warned me it can be a slog sometimes but that just makes it all the more rewarding when you see one.  I studied these tips from Sean van Numbat (van Alphen)!

I met Jimmy at Boyagin as he had already been at Tutanning Nature Reserve looking for Thorny Devils – an amazing lizard that can be pretty hard to find.  On my way off Brookton Hwy I saw a beautiful Wedge-tailed eagle being harassed by a mob of ravens.

We dropped a car off and started the numbat hunt – driving slowly scanning the woodland in likely habitat.  One of their prime habitats is Wandoo woodland with its hollow fallen logs for cover and plenty of wood on the ground for their food – the termite.

Wandoo with plenty of fallen wood – see the Gastrolobium flowering.

The countryside was spectacular with lots of wildflowers – especially the orangey Gastrolobium shrubs.

We found some probable evidence of numbats in terms of a burrow and diggings but none of the elusive critters.  They dig following the underground termite galleries.  We did see 3 awesome echidna and I was able to get very close to two of them.

We searched for about 3 hours and then headed to Pingelly for a pub meal.  We then came back after dark for some spotlighting – hoping to see some nocturnal marsupials and perhaps a Western spotted frog.  Jimmy had seen Tammar wallaby and the frogs at Tutanning the night before so we were hopeful.  We spent 3-4 hours spotlighting but the only marsupials were common brushtail possums and Western grey kangaroos.  We did find some Western spotted frogs – this is a burrowing frog and it was a dry night, not sure why they were around?  I did also hear a White-striped freetail bat flying above us and caught a glimpse of a bat fluttering in the headtorch beam.

The possums posed for shots but the roos were pretty skittish.

We also saw this awesome Tawny frogmouth.

Tawny frogmouth @ Boyagin

The next morning we headed out numbat spotting again – we put in another 3 hours or so but no luck – not even echidna today but saw a few lovely birds and heard many calling.

It was a great time but I will have to put more time in before I get my first numbat.  I need to start making plans to be back during the day!

I headed for home and saw this little guy on the road and helped him to safety..

Bobtail @ Boyagin