Canning dam herping

The weather forecast was indicating a promising herping night was coming up – a really hot day with a possibility of some humidity/storm in the evening. Jimmy wasn’t able to make this trip but I decided to go it alone to Canning Dam as it seemed like a good evening to maybe find a Death adder (Acanthophis antarcticus)! Their common name is the Common death adder but they are anything but – sometimes found in the valleys around the Canning dam area, they are a stealth predator.

I got out quite late after helping to get the kids to sleep and drove very slowly along McNess Drive looking for anything on the road – ever hopeful for herps! I parked up near the southern service entrance and walked through the gate. See here for my previous visit and map below. It looks like the picnic area is closed for refurbishment and its closed of an evening anyway.

It was pretty quiet and I was a little unnerved being on my own but wanted to make the best of a good night. It wasn’t far along the path that I came across this roadkilled snake – it is a Carpet python (Morelia spilota ssp. imbricata) – I needed help with the ID but the wonderful community on iNat were able to help – I thought it was a dugite at first – see here. Seems a shame as its a service road without public access so the staff should know better.

I then quickly saw my first gecko of the evening – a Barking gecko (Underwoodisaurus milii) but it didn’t pose for a photo. I had a few that were pretty skittish and this was the first two that I got an average photo of. They are beautifully marked and if provoked can put on quite a bluff show & vocalised hence their common name.

I saw a few more geckos and then headed back. I had another spot I wanted to try tonight that was close to the dam. I had read a paper where they had trapped mainland Quokka (Setonix brachyurus) which is one of my most wanted species. Unknown to most people about half of all quokkas live on Rottnest, the rest live in relative obscurity.


Barking gecko @ Canning Dam

I headed a little way south and located the access track to the site. At this stage I won’t divulge anymore about the location. I drove in a little ways but was not comfortable as noone knew exactly where I was and it was an isolated spot. I had a quick spotlight from inside the car and will be back at some point with a buddy to explore more carefully. The habitat looked good with low wetland shrubs but it will be a challenge to spot any animals.

So all in all a nice evening to be out but with only 2 species of reptile and one of them dead. 🙂

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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!  

Sullivan Rock Herping

I have been wanting to go out herping in the colder weather for a while now.  It’s a good time when reptiles can be found brumating (the reptile version of hibernating) and can be quite sluggish giving good views up close.

Jimmy was again game to join me with my 4 year old son and we managed to pick a beautiful clear winters day, but with some rain looming in the evening.  We headed out at midday with Liam enjoying the car trip.

Liam enjoying an audio book on the trip out

We headed to Sullivan Rock on Albany Hwy in Mt Cooke – it’s where the Bibbulmun  track crosses the highway and there is a good sized car park.  We crossed the road following the track where it crosses Sullivan Rock.

As we got to the rock we headed East to get to some areas where we thought less people would visit.  Along the way we lifted rocks looking for reptiles – always carefully placing the rock back in exactly the same spot to minimise disturbance.  Many rocky outcrops in the Perth Hills have been damaged with people taking rocks for their gardens, rock cairns being built, vehicles driven on the rocks damaging habitat and rocks just generally being moved.  Many living things use the rocks as habitat – so they must be treated with care.

The first reptile we found was a Barking gecko (Underwoodisaurus milii).  This is a pretty cool gecko that, when threatened, will raise its whole body up on its legs and ‘bark’ like a small dog.  This one was pretty sluggish and ambled off underneath another rock.

Barking gecko @ Sullivan Rock

The next thing we found was a scorpion under a rock – Liam was very keen to touch but we had to insist it was a bad idea!

We enjoyed a picnic lunch on the rock and then kept looking.  There was quite a lot of water seeping down the rock but we didn’t find any frogs under the wet rocks or in some of the rock pools.

We found a couple of small skinks that moved off too quickly to ID or photograph.

We then found a family of Ornate crevice dragons (Ctenophorus ornatus) – there was one larger with three smaller.  Three of them dashed off to another rock but one just sat there, pretty much motionless.

We then headed for home – pleased we had found 3-4 species of reptiles and really giving Liam a good nature experience.  He loved his time and had been so good clambering over the rocks.  He was pretty tired after this and got a few Zzz’s in the car on the way home!

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.

Herping at Canning Dam

My naturalist buddy Jimmy and I planned to come out herping just before Christmas on the really hot 38°C day.  Hot days mean warm nights and this can mean the herps are more active into the evening.  It was also moonless so we hoped that would help us see more.

We headed up to Canning Dam – our primary target Southern Death Adder – Jimmy has been looking for them for a number of years with no luck as they are really hard to find.  They tend to sit in leaf litter motionless just waiting for an unlucky prey item to come past – the warm nights can bring them onto the road to be found.  Jimmy had checked it out the night before with no luck but had found a roadkilled one a couple of weeks before – so we know we are in the right spot.

We brought our bikes as the Water Corporation block off access at night – this allowed us to cover plenty of ground.

Our first wildlife was an inquisitive Tawny Frogmouth that checked us out.

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Tawny Frogmouth

We then found our first of what was to be many – Barking Gecko.  They get their name from their behaviour when threatened – they arch their backss and bark quite loudly.  They have real character and are beautifully marked.

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Barking Gecko

Just across the road from the Barking Gecko, Jimmy spotted another gecko – which after a closer inspection was a Clawless Gecko – Australia’s smallest species.  This one was only 4-5cms long and beautifully coloured.

{edit  Jan 2018 – I have since had it identified by Ryan Ellis a WA Museum research assistant – that this is a Speckled stone gecko (Diplodactylus lateroides) – recently described in 2013 in this paper – Thanks Ryan!}

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Speckled stone gecko @ Canning Dam

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Speckled stone gecko @ Canning Dam

We found plenty more Barking Gecko but they weren’t that obliging for photos!  They are the biggest geckos that I have seen.

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Barking Gecko

We looked carefully on a granite outcrop where Jimmy had seen a good sized Carpet Python the night before – sadly not there tonight.  Our night was snakeless – shame…

We did hear a few White-striped Freetail Bats – they are audible with the human ear and often heard.

Towards the end of out travels we crossed over the river that comes from the dam and there were plenty of frogs – Motorbike, Slender Tree and probably a Moaning Frog.

All in all a great night with two new geckos for me but a distinct lack of snakes – well we will just have to do another trip!

On the way home I took some shots of a roadkilled 2D rabbit and bobtail.

Queens Park Bushland Night Stalk

I joined up with the Friends of Queens Park Bushland to go on one of their night stalks.  Sian, the organiser wasn’t sure if it would just be a couple of people.  It ended up being a rainy day that cleared later in the afternoon and there were maybe 12-15 people who joined.  I got there late after getting the kids in bed. I came with my friend Hodgey.

The Queens Park bushland is a number of reserves about 36 hectares in total with a number of different habitats.  The group has done a huge amount of work re-vegetating, weeding, surveying and even constructed a wetland where an old drain used to be.

When we got there the bigger group was already spotlighting and we looked at what had been attracted to a light trap that had been set up.  The trap was simple enough – a tall clothes airer draped with a fine white mesh with a UV light inside.  All the local bugs flocked to it!

I am not so great on my bugs – but the community at iNaturalist have been helping me get some ID’s – see all my observations from that night.

The group came back and enjoyed drinks and fruit mince pies – the night stalks are really well organised and I encourage you to to go to one.  Join up the mailing list to find out when the next one is on – or you can ask me 🙂

A few of the group stayed on for more spotlighting and we headed out – 6 in all.  Almost immediately I spotted a Southwest Spiny-tailed Gecko.

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This was a much paler specimen from the one I found with my bro Joel a few weeks back.  The eyes are so amazing.

The reserve doesn’t have many large animals but it does have really cool invertebrates as above.

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Moaning Frog

This moaning frog just sitting on the side of the track.

We disturbed a Collared Sparrowhawk from a tree near the path but was able to get this shot when it landed nearby – a lifer for me!

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Collared Sparrowhawk

Sian showed us this little hole in the sandy path which I never would have noticed.  With a little encouragement from a twig – out popped a huge black wish-bone spider – a type of trap door spider but it has a web like a sock around the top of the hole.

We then found this little banjo frog – another lifer for me – I have heard them but have never seen one before.

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Banjo Frog

We then found another black wish-bone spider also in the middle of the sandy path.  They get their name from the shape of their burrows.

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All in all a great night – new species of vertebrates for me and heaps of inverts too!

Reptiles at home – Two-toed earless skink & Marbled gecko

I was transplanting some agapanthus & dietes from another house and in the bag I had stored the plants found this little guy.

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Different from the Buchanan’s snake-eyed skink you often see on fences and walls this is a two-toed earless skink (Hemiergis quadrilineata).  One of the interesting things about Australian skinks is many of them have reduced numbers of legs and toes.  This fella lives in leaf litter or under the sand so is quite snake-like but the head is characteristic lizard.  They are pretty common in Perth backyards but not that often seen except if you disturb where they hang out.  My son Liam had a good look but declined a hold and we let him go in his new home in my garden.  So I have now conducted an inadvertent reptile translocation into my garden.

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That’s now 3 species I have found in my garden – last week when setting up the night before for my 40th party  I found this guy in my sons sandpit – a Marbled gecko (Christinus marmoratus).  Common in many of the older suburbs around Perth.  I see around lights in the evenings catching the insects that are attracted.

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I will now have to get a picture of the Buchanan’s snake-eyed skink (Cryptoblepharus buchananii) which is the final species I have in my garden.  Maybe I have more but its pretty stark landscape for wildlife..

Herping at night

I had information from my wildlife buddy Jimmy that the first really hot day after winter is when the Herps (reptiles) will come out and can often be found on or by the road especially in the north around Two Rocks.

My bro and I got headed off for the hour odd drive about 8ish getting to Two Rocks Rd about 9:15pm – it was still in the low 20s so warm but nothing like the 37° odd day it had been.

We drove slowly along – pulling over for the mush faster other traffic – we went really sure what we were looking for but giving it a go anyway.  We saw lots of stick snakes 🙂 but this was our first herp but unfortunately road killed.

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I had this ID’d on a facebook page as a dugite.  I had been hoping for a Bardick but it wasnt to be.

We drove plenty more and then we saw this tiny grey thing right in the middle of the road but we were past.  We reversed back and saw this amazing south-western spiny-tailed gecko on the road.  We chuffed it onto the verge for its safety and to get some shots.

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My bro and I were so pleased to see this amazing gecko – the couple of hours driving were all worth it!  We will have to try again on another warm night…