And the bush has friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him, In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended, And at night the wonderous glory of the everlasting stars.

Banjo Paterson (1889)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Northern Quolls

It's time to head back to Paradise for another big two week level 2 fauna survey with lots of digging in buckets, checking traps and bird surveys. I'm hoping for a new bird on this survey, Flock Bronzewing, a long shot but with the good rains in the arid areas of Australia this year, I've heard big flocks are on the move and if I'm really luck could come up our way.

This post is about the last survey I was on only last week, a targeted Northern Quoll survey near Port Hedland.

My fellow Zoologist Blair takes a photo of the stunning views from the top of our trapsite hill. Three inportant sites can be seen in this shot, the big range of distant hills (on the left), a rocky ridge (left, half way) and an isolated hill (right).

The isolated hill does not appear to have many suitable large rock areas that quolls like. Are there quolls there? We generally know so little about quoll distrubutions and their local ecology. Maybe in another survey we will find out if they are there.

Quoll surveys are often one of the hardest surveys. Trap sites (like this one) are usually on steep rocky slopes, with each trap of 20 traps located about 50 meters apart. A long hard walk done twice a day, as the traps are checked in the morning and closed, and then re-baited and opened late afternoon.

Some of the traps are large Elliot traps.

Some traps are these metal cage traps.

At the end of the day it's a long 90 minute drive back to our accomodation at Port Hedland. Due to the accomodation shortage, we had to stay in the old detention centre, which has been converted to a motel/resort.

So glad to get back to your 'cell'..... I mean room, at the end of the day!

The Ospreys have taken over the role of security at the watch tower.

The next day's catches included crow, button-quail and this nice male (in moult) Crimson Chat.

So what's in the bag?

Our target have been caught.......Northern Quoll. The trick is keep the eyes covered, hold firmly and do your measurments quickly (try not to get bitten!). Weight, hind foot, tail base, M or F, insert a micro chip (in the neck) and a small ear clip for genetic research.

Once the eyes are uncovered.... they are away at lightening speed.

Due to recent rain the country was in wonderful condition.

Grevillea wickhamii was flowering everwhere and bringing in lots of birds, woodswallows, chats, honeyeaters and Yellow White-eyes.

Other plants were also in flower, such as this beautiful Acacia inaequilatera.

This is a Yellow White-eye, an interesting find. They are a mangrove species normally (also sometimes along coastal rivers), so why are they in these arid area grevillea groves, about 70km from the nearest mangroves and at least 15km from any type of dry river? We saw one flock of 15+ birds, but I believe there were many more in the area. We know so little about a lot of our Australian birds!

A view of the hill from of our trap sites on a the rocky ridge. We did catch a male quoll here that we micro-chipped on the top of the hill answered the question of, would a quoll come out this far? He was probably looking for some more lady quolls!

A southward view from the rocky ridge. Another big question is would the hill quolls make it to the distant big range about 20km south.

A wonderful surprise one morning while checking traps at our rocky ridge, a Black-headed Python.

One of my favourite snakes.

A big 2.5 metre specimen.

One of our favourite lunch places which we called 'Wolf Creek', at the big range. An old alluvial gold mining camp.

We were hoping to find a big gold nugget, but alsa no. Nice place to sit in the riverbed and have lunch.

The reason why we called it Wolf Creek (after the Australian horror movie).

A strange isolated camp with lots of bullet holes and spent shells.

A scary image. Someone is really practising their human head and heart shots.

After some looking around among the caves and big boulders near Wolf Creek, we found evidence that answered another question. Are there quolls at the big range?

Yes...... a quoll skull, but are there any living quolls here?
 Look at those teeth. I still have the bit marks (in my finger bone) from an angry quoll last year!

The rules are if you start getting too many quoll recaptures, you must close that trap site, so as not to cause harm to the quolls. We had to close two of our hill sites and were able to move them to the big range. This possibly would answer the question of quolls at the big range.

The two new trap sites at the big range were even harder on our legs. Lots of big boulders, steep scree slopes and spiky spinifex. Blair is inspecting a trap at a small cave (center left in the photo).

The hill can be seen in the distance, north of our big range trap site. A steep hard boulder-strewn climb to this last trap, from the flat plains below.

Some of the traps at big range had wonderful views, but hard work to visit all 40 traps twice a day.

On our last day we caught one quoll at big range. This showed that quolls are here at big range, but probaly in lower numbers than the hill. The hill is isolated, small and probaly at maximum quoll capacity, but these huge rocky ranges have more area, so quolls are spread out. It would be very interesting to do full surveys of these big ranges, as so little is known. Maybe one day!


Iain D. Williams said...

Very interesting - thank you for posting this, Iain

Fred said...

Looks like an amazing trip, beautiful scenery, strange green fields, wonderful wildlife and wildflowers.

Chris Steeles said...

What a great post!! Well done! some of that country looks amazing!

Saract said...

Beautiful capture of the scenery.