Prior to writing this blog, I know some followers live in parts of the world hard-hit by covid-19. My thoughts are with you during this difficult time……
Recently, I made a short visit to a few of my favourite reserves in the West Australian Wheatbelt to hopefully photograph a few locals. I camped two nights at Tutanning Nature Reserve and a third night at Dryandra Woodland, with a couple of daytime drives thrown in at Boyagin Nature Reserve, on the final day I visited Mount Caroline Nature Reserve. The trip was very successful, and all the more memorable now that travel between the regions of Western Australia have been restricted due to covid-19, meaning such a simple camping trip is no longer possible.
I travelled East on the Brookton Highway Friday night after work with a view to investigating the small reserve of Pingeculling, near the town of Brookton. This reserve is reputed to be good for a Wheatbelt endemic the Red-tailed Phascogale. It quickly became apparent, however, the folly of spotlighting a reserve not visited before in daylight! I did find a single Brush-tailed Possum before deciding the remainder of the evening would be more productive at nearby Tutanning Nature Reserve, where I at least had some idea of the geography!
I entered Tutanning Nature Reseve from Stanes Road and drove East along Tutanning Road, stopping once for a quick spotlight in the she-oak thickets that border the road, and finding a second Brushtail Possum for the evening perched in an acacia tree.
Once the tent was set up I had time for a spotlight before sleep. I found a beautiful Western Spotted Frog perched next to the track. Later, after switching to the thermal imager in the she-oak woodland of Tammar Rd I picked up a small heat image moving along the fallen logs on the forest floor. The movement made me think this was almost certainly a rodent, but unfortunately the animal was too far away for a definate id when I put it under torchlight.
Western Spotted Frog.
Saturday morning I managed a lie in of sorts, waking around 7am. Now that it was almost the month of April mornings were cool, so I decided to go for a walk to warm up before breakfast. Wildlife was quiet during the morning walk, although I did see a few flashes of yellow in the tree canopy identified as Western Whistlers. This bird used to be known as the Golden Whistler, but the Western population has recently been given it’s own species status, and therefore the new name.
Tutanning more than the other reserves of the Western Wheatbelt is famous for its flowering heaths. Autumn however, is the quiet season. The only plant I could find in flower was the Round-fruited Banksia, no doubt an important source of nectar at this time of year.
Round-fruited Banksia (Banksia sphaerocarpa.)
Eating breakfast back at camp I was watched by a Grey Butcherbird, distinguished from the Pied Butcherbird by the white throat, the duller plumage indicating this bird is a juvenile.
Juvenile Grey Butcherbird.
I spent the day lesisurely exploring the reserve both by 4WD drive and on foot interspersed with plenty of reading and napping in the tent, which was an oasis from the plague of flies which terrorise the Wheatbelt during the warmer months. The cooler conditions of the weekend unfortunately meant a dearth of reptiles, the exception being Ornate Crevice Dragons basking on the sun warmed rocks of Tutanning’s granite outcrops.
Ornate Crevice Dragon.
During the day, the only people I saw were in a 4WD belonging to the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC.) I discovered the purpose of their visit to Tutanning later in the afternoon, when I came across a trapline on an ecotone of Powderbark / She-oak Woodland on Tammar Rd. The position of the traplines indicating their target species being the Red-tailed Phascogale.
Currently the AWC are overseeing a “re-wilding” project where they remove endangered species from the wild, breed them up at their fenced sancturaries, and some time in the future release them into the wild? This is an admirable objective, but I can’t help but think that it really would be a shame if the only place the public could see a Red-tailed Phascogale, (or other species,) would be to pay for the pleasure at an AWC Sanctuary in the meantime?
Tammar Road – Tutanning.
After dark I targeted the She-oak / Powderbark ecotones myself with the thermal imager, in the hope of finding Red-tailed Phascogales. Conditions were good for thermal imaging with the moon already set and conditions windy. Just after 9pm I found a thermal image moving along the fallen logs of the forest floor, similar to the previous night. I was able to hone in on the heat source until I was quite close, so that when I shone the headtorch the animal scurried up a nearby she-oak tree, then I could see I had found a Red-tailed Phascogale.
This formidable hunter of arthropods and other invertebrates is one of two species of Phascogale that live in South West Australia, the other being the much larger Brush-tailed Phascogale. All males of this species in common with other small Dasyurids (carnivorous marsupials,) die after an intense mating period in July when they are only one year old.
An hour later also in she-oak woodland the thermal imager identified another small heat image on the forest floor. This animal turned out to be another dasyurid species, a Dunnart, and a completely new species for me. There are 19 species of Dunnart in Australia, but with the aid of geographical location maps this animal could only possibly be two of these species. Fortunately I had a good look at the tail before photographing, indeed a small part is visible in the far right of the photo. This is enough to convince me that this species is a Gilbert’s Dunnart.
Also seen over the course of the evening, were Western Grey Kangaroos and Tammar Wallabies in the fields adjacent to the reserve, and a magnificent Tawny Frogmouth perched in a she-oak tree on Tammar Rd.
The following morning I packed up and drove the short distance to Boyagin Nature Reserve, where I hoped I might encounter that most endearing of marsupials the Numbat! There is a road in the West Block of Boyagin that passes through excellent habitat containing plenty of fallen logs, and it was at this location I searched.
At 9.45am and with the temperature at 16C I caught movement at the entrance to a log, close to the road. A flash of stripes disappeared into the log. I turned off the car engine and waited. In under five minutes a striped face appeared at the entrance to the log, followed by the rest of the Numbat…
The fur on the Numbat was erect to trap air and insulate the small marsupial, on what was another cool morning…
Ever cautious the Numbat stood up on it’s hindlegs to check for danger…
Satisfied that all was well, it relaxed…
….before hopping off the log and making it’s way into the woodland to start digging for the 20,000 termites it needed for the day!
The previous two evenings had ended well after midnight, so with the Numbat target for the day seen quickly for once! I decided an afternoon nap was a good idea, so I made the short drive down York-Williams Road to Dryandra Woodland, set up the tent and promptly fell asleep.
Waking refreshed, the day was by now quite warm and with Dryandra being a great location for Echidnas, probably the best in the state, I thought a drive around the woodland would most likely produce this species. This was indeed the case when the individual below was seen in mallet plantation foraging around for ants and termites. It was quite confiding provided I remained at a respectful distance.
I was still tired after all my recent exertions so the spotlight that evening around Dryandra was shorter than usual. Over the course of the drive, however I saw all the usual suspects, Brushtail Possums, Woylies and Western Grey Kangaroos. The Tawny Frogmouth pictured below was perched in mallet near to Gnaala Mia Campground where I was camped.
Monday was the final day of the trip with the target species for the day the Black-footed Rock Wallaby found at Mount Caroline Reserve 100km to the East. Rock Wallabies are most active at dawn and dusk, especially on warm days as the day was predicted to be, so there would be little point arriving at Mount Caroline too early in the day. This gave me time to search Boyagin some more for Numbats. En-route I stopped to photograph the old Pumphreys Bridge that has fallen into disrepair and it now collapsed into the Hotham River.
Old Pumphreys Bridge.
Today at Boyagin I concentrated my search on tracks passing through the East Block of the reserve. Once again my search was productive early on with an individual seen at 9.05am with the temperature once again at 16C. Unfortunately this Numbat was on the track immediately in front of the left hand side of the car and a photo was not possible, but I watched as it trotted off into powderbark woodland tail held high.
The following three hours didn’t produce any wildlife so I started the drive East to Mount Caroline. My route took me through the town of Beverley, where surrounding the town cemetary was a copse of stunning Acorn Banksia in flower. This 10m tree of sandy soils is an important nectar source, and here at Beverley Cemetary the air was filled with the calls of feasting Honeyeaters.
Acorn Banksia (Banksia prionotes.)
Arriving at Mt Caroline mid-afternoon I was glad to have brought my fly-net as flies were in plague proportions. While I had a cuppa at the picnic shelter I could see that there was water in the Caroline Gap indicating recent rains. This only enhanced the already stunning view across to Mount Stirling on the other side of the gap.
Mount Stirling across the Caroline Gap.
I made the 30 minute walk up onto Mount Caroline accompanied by my entourage of around 100 flies. The day was starting to cool at last, although there didn’t seem to be much action in the way of Rock Wallabies. My first encounter was with an individual basking trance-like on a high West-facing ledge.
Black-flanked Rock Wallaby.
There are five species of Rock Wallaby found in Western Australia. Three of these, the Short-eared Rock Wallaby, Monjon and Narbelek are found only in the Kimberley, while the Rothschild Rock Wallaby is only found in the desert like Pilbara Region. The Black-footed Rock Wallabies of Mount Caroline are the most widespread of the the West Australian Rock Wallabies, being found from the Kimberley in the North down to the Archipelago of the Recherche off the South Coast of the State.
Despite being the most widespread Rock Wallaby, small populations are widely scattered throughout rocky ranges and outcrops of the state, and the species is a victim of predation by the introduced European Fox. Reserves like Mount Caroline where fox baiting occurs become like island sancturies for these Rock Wallabies.
Black-footed Rock Wallaby.
Late in the afternoon the sky clouded over as the predicted thunderstorms formed in the sky above. The overcast cooler conditions brought many Rock Wallabies out into the open and provided I sat quietly I was able to observe many animals at close quarters.
Black-footed Rock Wallaby.
Having seen over thirty Rock Wallabies over the course of a few hours it was time to return home to Perth. Halfway back to the city the setting sun illuminated the falling rain of a localised thunderstorm against a red sky, the distinctive silhouette of the predominant local eucalpyt the York Gum completed the picture. It was a fabulous end to a great long weekend.
West Australian Sunset.