Dryandra woodland in a night!

Our good friend Karen was visiting from South Africa and she expressed interest in seeing some Australian wildlife. I don’t need much encouragement so we planned a quick evening trip to Dryandra Woodland. It’s a little over 2 hrs from Perth and it was my first time spotlighting there without my usual mammal watching buddy Jimmy!

I was keen to return to try and find Western pygmy possum that I have blogged about before – so we spotlighted on our way to that location and came across a few possums.

Brushtail possum @ Dryandra Woodland

We spent quite a lot of time looking in the flowering vegetation but again I lucked out on Pygmy possum – one day 🙂 I was hopeful that I had seen something with a bright eye reflection but on closer examination of the photo it was a spider way up in a tree!

We spotted a few Woylies in the region but they were fairly skittish – Karen had a close encounter with one I had spooked and it bounded her way!

We headed down to the sandalwood plantation to look for more Woylies and also possibly find Red-tailed phascogale as we had found them before. We only found more possums but got a good shot of Karen with a possum in the tree above.

Karen with a possum in the sandalwood plantation.

Later we found a beautiful Tawny frogmouth that let us get very close.

Tawny frogmouth @ Dryandra

And something I don’t often sight, a possum on the ground. I know from seeing camera trap footage that they are often on the ground there, but I usually see them up trees as they feel safer. We then took a little video once it headed up a tree.

Possum on the ground @ Dryandra
Possum @ Dryandra

We finished off the night going past a couple of spots that had been good for Chuditch previously, but no luck tonight. We saw our last possum and then headed out of the woodland. All in all a very enjoyable evening.

Brushtail possum @ Dryandra
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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!  

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.

Dryandra spotlighting – mammal heaven!

Ever since I have been researching wildlife watching I have wanted to go to Dryandra Woodland.  2 hours out of Perth and not far from Narrogin it is a premier destination for nature lovers.  It is a patchwork of reserves in wheatbelt farming country and is going to become a national park soon.  Due to DPAWs Western Shield program wildlife has held on in Dryandra, where it has disappeared from most other places.  It is one of only a couple of places where our state fauna emblem, the Numbat, can be seen in a naturally remaining population.  The Numbat was common across most of Southern Australia from West to East coasts – but disappeared as foxes made their way West following rabbits.  I still haven’t seen a Numbat in the wild but as they are diurnal (out during the daytime), you need to drive the trails keeping your eyes peeled during the times they are active.

Anyway my mate Jimmy had suggested we do a long, late night to Dryandra the day before Australia Day.  I was excited to go there for the first time at night!  My wife and I went about 3.5 years ago during the day (pre-kids!) and saw some nice birds and an Echidna.

Jimmy and I left at 6:30pm hoping to get there before the roos got too active – the drive went well.  We got to the reserve and setup our gear.  We drove very slowly spotlighting out the windows – we spotted a pair of snoozing kookaburras, roos and a few possums on the ground.  We then spotted this Tawny frogmouth.

Our main target of the evening was the Woylie – its a small critically endangered marsupial that gets to about 40cm long and 1.5kg.  Huge conservation efforts had led to the removal of the threatened status which caused celebrations but recent crashes in populations has put it back to critically endangered.  It’s not entirely known what has caused the crash – possibly a parasite and cats – but it happened in multiple geographically separated locations at once.

We headed down Wandering-Narrogin Rd before turning into the reserve on Kawana Rd. Next we headed right into Gura Road to some old fenced sandalwood plantations (a couple of kms after the intersection of Koomal Rd) where they like to eat the nuts (coords below) because of fallen branches – so the Woylies can come and go.  Jimmy spotted a couple from the car at the first fenced region on the right – they were quite skittish and the leaves underfoot were very dry – impossible to try and be quiet.  The photos are all of the same Woylie- note the ear tags – it must have been caught before by researchers.  It looks like it might have a joey in the pouch.  There were two but these were the best shots I could get.

Woylie @ Dryanda

We then headed onto the next plantation (a little further up Gura Rd on the right – also fenced – coords below) to see if we could see some more.  I tried to get shots of one but it just wouldn’t stay still to get a clear view!  I then saw something mouse like scurry up a dead tree and then peer at me from the top – Antechinus (small carnivorous marsupial) I first thought, but then it jumped to a nearby sheoak and I saw its tail – it was a red-tailed phascogale!  It moved really quickly not allowing me to get a shot – I think the white light affected it.  I hollered for Jimmy as he has never seen one and it is on his bucket list – but he was too far away.  I watched it for a minute or two more – furtively moving from branch to branch before I lost it.  I walked back to the car and found Jimmy but we were not able to find the phascogale again.  This was my best sighting as I had previously had a brief sighting of one in a rubbish bin at Wave Rock, Hyden before – but didn’t have my camera with me at the time.  Now I have seen 2 out of  3 Phascogales – having seen a brush-tailed phascogale in Mundaring last year – just the northern species to see now.  The phascogale was in the back right corner of the sandalwood plantation in a section of mostly sheoak – I have been told that’s where they are most often found.

woylie-tracking

GPS tracks on Gura Rd

The above image shows my walking path – bottom right is the first Woylie spot (GPS Coords 32°45’44” S 116°57’20” E) and the second enclosure (GPS GPS 32°45’36” S 116°57’16” E) – there is parking on the left and an information board.  At the top left you can see my steps around where I saw the Phascogale.

We saw a couple of possums sitting in the tree not far from where the car was parked.

We then headed further up Gura Rd to go to a spot where Jimmy had heard Tammar wallabies had been seen but he had never seen them.  Not far from the second Woylie spot Jimmy saw something dash across the road that he wasn’t initially sure what it was – we stopped to have a better look.  It was a chuditch – a bucket list animal for me!  Chuditch is one of the indigenous names – also called a Western Quoll or native marsupial cat.  It is one of the larger carnivorous marsupials and something I have always been dying to see.  We headed out of the car quickly to try and get a better look and it shot up a tree – bingo we could get a good look now.

It was a beautiful gold honey colour with white spots – on the ground it seemed quite elongate and moved very quickly.  In the tree it just watched us – not really seeming fearful of us at all.  Jimmy thought it was possibly a juvenile as was smaller than others he had seen before.  We watched it for a while before leaving it be.  I was buzzing afterwards.  I have been to Julimar Forest and Lane Poole Reserve previously hoping to see Chuditch but with no luck.

We then headed to a grassy clearing where Jimmy thought the Tammar might be – but no luck.  It was getting to midnight – so time to head for home.

I should mention we had seen a couple of unidentified bats flying above us during the evening – one larger and one smaller – it was a warm night with plenty of insect food bothering us!  I did hear on a few occasions a White-striped freetail bat – one of the only bats that is audible to the human ear and doesn’t need special equipment.

We did re-check the first Woylie spot as we had left a couple of peanut/oat balls hoping to attract some more – they had been completely polished off by 2-3 possums – this juvenile was cute!

Common brushtail possum @ Dryandra

I had mentioned to Jimmy it would be nice to see an Echidna and sure enough we spotted one heading out of the woodland!  Just after this we saw a small mouse like critter that we decided was just a feral house mouse that we didn’t photograph as it was too quick.

Echidna @ Dryandra

Heading back home on the Wandering-Narrogin Rd we saw a road-killed Tawny frogmouth that we moved off the road – to prevent any scavengers suffering the same fate.

We saw 7-8 Western brush wallaby on the way back on Wandering-Narrogin Rd and Albany Hwy.  After so much luck for the evening it didn’t hold and I wasn’t able to get a shot of the elusive critter.  Each time we stopped they were either on the wrong side of the car or another car would come scaring them into the bush.

Our final animal of the night was a Burton’s legless lizard crossing the road.  We took some shots and then chuffed it deep into the road verge trying to keep it from getting squished.

We got back to my place about 2am – what a night!

The total count – 8-10 mammals all up – 2 new to me marked with a *!

  • Common brushtail possum
  • Western Grey Kangaroo
  • Woylie*
  • Chuditch*
  • 2-3 Unidentified bat species (one was White-striped free-tailed bat – heard only)
  • Echidna
  • House Mouse (feral)
  • Western brush wallaby