I had recently set myself the challenge of photographing three of South West Australia’s most elusive mammals. One of these targets was the fabulous Yellow-footed Antechinus, also known in WA as the Mardo. Although I had previously had brief sightings of this species at both Dryandra Woodland and Stirling Range National Park, it wasn’t enough time to truly observe and photograph.
My good friend Gordon, a sprightly 76 year old and environmentalist had back in the early 90’s made a great decision to purchase a dairy farm and return it to nature. The property is located near the Boranup Forest, South of Margaret River in the Capes Region.
This now 30 year project has resulted in a suite of wildlife utilising the revitalised land. I am fortunate this wildlife now includes couple of Mardo that have recently taken up residence around the cottage.
I had secured Monday off work to spend a long weekend in the Capes Region on what was forecast to be a very wet weekend indeed. I left Perth on Friday afternoon and the route to Gordon’s cottage goes past Busselton Tuart Forest. This rare forest of the Swan Coastal Plain being one of my favourite places to spotlight in the South West for the bountiful Possums and Frogs. It provided an opportunity for a spotlight before the forecast wet and cold weather set in for the weekend.
It was a mild and cloudless night with the moon still below the horizon when I arrived at the Possum Walk Trail in the Tuart Forest. Within two minutes I had located an endemic Western Ringtail Possum, the first of thirty Ringtails I saw over the course of the evening.
The second Possum species that inhabits the Tuart Forest is the ubiquitous Brushtail Possum, and the Tuart Forest is reputed to hold the densest population of this species of any reserve in Western Australia. They are indeed common although not as common as the Ringtails in this forest. Their latin name is Trichosurus vulpecula which translates as fox-like hairy-tail a reference to the long ears and pointed snout of this species.
Frogs are often encountered while spotlighting the Possum Walk Trail, with the two species most commonly seen the Motorbike and Moaning Frogs. Indeed there were plenty of Moaning Frogs on this night, so when I picked up eyeshine from a large frog on the forest floor I assumed it was this species.
Closer investigation revealed an impressive Western Banjo Frog, a Winter breeder usually found calling from vegetation near permanent water, and so not often seen out in the open. A great opportunity for a photo of this beautifully patterned species.
The last inhabitant of the Tuart Forest encountered was a Tawny Frogmouth sitting on a low peppermint branch across the path. This bird of the night feeds on moths and insects although they will also take small mammals. It is a very common bird of the South West often seen when spotlighting.
Time was pressing on, and I still had over an hour to drive to my final destination near the Boranup Forest, so reluctantly I returned to the car. I arrived at Gordon’s place around 1am and after unpacking the car I decided to have a quick spotlight around the property before the inclement weather set in. There were many Moaning Frogs sitting expectantly for the coming rains on the tracks around the property with around 10 frogs seen on a short walk.
I found also, a second species of frog sitting expectantly on a track, and while it can be difficult to positively identify a frog without hearing it call, I suspect this frog to be a Quacking Frog ( Crinia georgiana ) based on size, geographical location and features, such as the muscular forearms and the red groin of this individual (not visible in picture.)
There are often Brushtail Possums in the orchard surrounding the cottage, so when I heard a rustling in a grevillea tree I assumed it to be these nightime marauders, but on closer investigation I found a Ringtail Possum with joey. I had always assumed this species would be present at the property, given the large peppermint thickets, but this was my first sighting and I was really delighted this endangered possum was thriving at the property.
During the night the rain arrived and the sound of the rain falling on the tin roof was wonderful. Saturday morning I woke to heavy showers with brief periods of intermittent sunshine. After a leisurely breakfast and warm cuppa I set out the bird dish and filled it with desiccated coconut, a favourite of the cottage birds. The first visitors of the morning didn’t take long to arrive, and were the Fairy Wrens not yet in breeding plumage.
Before long a second visitor arrived in the form of a White-browed Scrubwren….
Then, a flash of movement down the verandah post caught my attention. I sat silently hardly daring to take a breath until a head popped out of the woodpile to give me the once over….
It was a Mardo (yellow-footed antechinus.) The yellow-footed antechinus is the most widespread of the ten Australian antechinus species, and the only one to be found in Western Australia. In common with other small Dasyurid species the antechinus have an unusual reproductive strategy. Males of the species live just one year after which they expend enormous amounts of energy fighting other males, pursuing females and engaging in marathon mating sessions lasting up to twelve hours. This frenetic behaviour results in their immune systems breaking down and an untimely death.
Although cautious, this antechinus spent 15 minutes feeding. If I moved it scurried back into the woodpile briefly, before returning for more coconut. This prolonged view enabled identification of the typical features of this species, including the change from grey on the head and shoulders to russet flanks, and the distinctive prominent pale yellow-grey eye-rings.
Later that morning as the heavy showers became less frequent I took a walk around the property umbrella in hand. It was clear that there was much flowering, some prolifically such as this Pin-cushion Hakea (Hakea laurina.) Needless to say the birds were making the most of this feast of nectar.
The wet conditions of the South West Winter had resulted in a huge variety of fungi sprouting around the property, in various shapes and colours.
Around the property the yate trees were flowering. This being the same species in which I found a Brush-tailed Phascogale feeding at Perup earlier in the year. Yate trees are endemic to South West WA and have extremely beautiful yellow flowers which are a magnet for birds, mammals and insects. I had seen the flowers previously but here I was also able to make out the flower buds and they look so exotic that they wouldn’t look out of place in a South East Asian rainforest.
My luck held out with the showers so I extended my walk down to the Boranup Forest being followed part of the way by this Grey Fantail.
The Boranup Forest is the most westerly forest of the endemic karri tree and although it was heavily logged in the past it has been allowed to regenerate to the beautiful forest it is today. The view below is from a lookout situated on Caves Road and is my favourite vista in the Margaret River region.
A second cold front lashed the Capes Region that afternoon once I had returned to the cottage, and it was lovely to sit by the wood burner with a book, safely out of the elements.
The following morning I woke to a beautiful sunrise over the granite outcrop next to the cottage, a sign that the worst of the weather was over.
After breakfast I made the most of the sunshine and took a walk around the property encountering the resident mob of kangaroos. These kangaroos have been at the property for the 10 years I have been visiting and unusually for Western Grey Kangaroos many of them have this interesting white marking on the face.
There is an enormous variety of birds at Gordon’s property which is an ecotone between the jarrah and karri forests. On my return to the cottage after my walk I encountered my favourite bird. There can be no more magnificent sight in the bush than the vivid colours of a male Western Spinebill, and the individual below was singing his heart out high in a tree. What a treat.
Gordon has cleverly installed a bird bath in the orchard of the cottage and now that the rain had mostly cleared there were plenty of customers over the course of the afternoon, so I was able to indulge in my favourite pastime at the property.
I am never happier than when I am sat on Gordon’s cottage verandah, cup of tea in hand photographing the great variety of visitors to the birdbath. Who needs tv?
Gordon was due at the cottage Sunday afternoon and I was happy for the company after not seeing anyone for a whole two days. The afternoon was spent putting the world to right (Gordon’s favourite pastime!) and a soggy evening walk was enjoyed now that the rain had returned.
Monday morning was an early start because we had to make the journey to nearby Prevally Beach to join the Prevelly Penguins for 6.45am. The Prevelly Penguins are a jolly bunch of slightly mad Margaret River locals that swim every day of the year at Prevelly Beach. Despite the ocean being rough it was a pleasure to get in because the water felt balmy compared to the freezing ambient air temperature.
Afterwards the group has coffee and sometimes cake in a post swim gathering at the beach carpark. There can be no better way to start a day than an invigorating dip in the Indian Ocean.
We stopped for the excellent coffee at Yardbyrd café in Witchcliffe on our return journey to the property, and I also indulged in a well earned breakfast burrito!
Back at the cottage there was one last treat waiting for me before I returned to Perth. There was a vivid green Motorbike Frog sitting in the carport, taking my frog tally for the weekend to an impressive four species.
In the afternoon Gordon and I spent a couple of hours walking the Cape to Cape Track from Redgate Beach to Bob’s Hollow and back, a great finish to the weekend. All too soon it was time to return to Perth and the reality of the working week but I was certainly refreshed after a wonderful weekend in the Capes. #NatureNeverFailsToImpress!