Bon Bon Bonanza

Admin Aridrecovery - Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Roxby Downs Green Army works mostly in partnership with the Arid Recovery Reserve, but under the South Australian Rangelands Alliance shared between Arid Recovery and Bush Heritage, the opportunity came along in early December for the Green Army to undertake a placement at Bon Bon Reserve. Bon Bon Reserve, which is 150 km west of Roxby Downs (on the Stuart Highway), is a de-stocked sheep property (over 2000 km2 in size) acquired by Bush Heritage in 2008, and is run by managers Mike Chuk and Julia Harris as a protected area, wildlife corridor and refuge.

The Green Army team studied under and assisted Mike and Julia with a number of tasks. This included maintenance on the original boundary fence with neighbouring station Mount Vivian. Restoring this historic fence was simple but labour intensive. The team assisted Mike and Julia to drive 6ft star droppers alongside the original mulga fence posts to straighten and provide extra stability. The team twitched the original and new posts together with fencing wire to ensure the two didn’t become separated over time.


Using our strength to straighten the property boundary fence.

Time was also spent upgrading the existing fire breaks and access tracks. This provides a navigable route (which is smooth and obstruction free) for fire appliances to access parts of the Reserve from the Stuart Highway. Over time, woody plant species such as Acacia and Senna have established on the track, and required removal by hand and in some cases chemical treatment to prevent re-sprouting.

Grading this track involved a contraption built from old railway line and four truck tyres. The contraption was chained to the back of a tractor and pulled along the dirt track. The railway line would flatten and compact the surface and the tyres would catch and push any debris that may be left on the road such as sticks and rocks. The team assisted by helping manoeuvre and attach the bulky grading device around difficult obstacles and on and off the back of a flat-bed ute for transportation.


Loading the tyres and the railway line for transportation was a creative process that required the use of the tractor to prevent serious strain or injury.


Shovelling a sand bund to allow access by the grading device.

We also spent time locating and managing rabbit warrens in an area of the Reserve, where priority control was identified. The Managers have a responsibility to monitor and control both plant and animal pest species. Smaller warren entrances were simply filled in, while larger entrances were treated chemically. On inspection of some previously recorded warrens in hard calcrete country near the edge of a small salt lake, some of the warrens seemed to be getting larger and there were obvious new tracks and scats present. Southern hairy-nosed wombats had moved in and were increasing in activity, further extending their known range on the Reserve, which thrilled everyone involved.


Preparing a rabbit warren for treatment.

An active wombat burrow.

We participated in a range of other tasks including seed collection, visiting historic photo points to see how some areas had changed over time, and assisting University students who were conducting biological surveys using pit fall trap lines in the south of the Reserve.


An opportunity to brush up on plant ID skills.

Working on Bon Bon Reserve was a great opportunity for the Green Army team, and Mike and Julia were grateful for the assistance, achieving goals that would have been nearly impossible without a little help. We thank them for their hospitality and look forward to visiting again someday.

Do you want to gain field experience across a variety of activities? The next Green Army project starts in March. Anyone who is interested can contact B0210002202G@cva.org.au or visit www.conservationvolunteers.com.au/greenarmy.


Written by Tegan Elms, Green Army participant

Quoll-ity time at Arid Recovery

Admin Aridrecovery - Friday, January 15, 2016

My name is Evan Griffith. I recently graduated from Grinnell College in Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in biology. I’ve been at Arid Recovery (AR) for seven weeks now, working as a research assistant with Dr. Rebecca West (Bec), a research officer for the University of New South Wales, who is one of AR’s research partners. Since arriving in the outback I’ve trapped bettongs, bilbies, and bandicoots, helped dig Beethoven, one of the reserve cats, out of a warren, radio tracked stick-nest rats, counted carrots at “ratstaurants,” determined approach distances of collared bettongs, scored bettong behavior videos, dragged and helped count track transects, got three flat tires on three different vehicles in one day, and observed all kinds of wildlife. Some personal highlights and favourites include seeing a bearded dragon, gibber dragon, western brown snake, sand goanna, shingleback (sleepy) lizard and of course the big four, greater bilby, burrowing bettong, greater stick-nest rat, and western barred bandicoot. Ian, a tree dtella, lives in our kitchen and has provided hours of entertainment. I find spinifex hopping mice adorable and have a slightly strange obsession with their fluffy tails. In addition, the variety and density of bird life has been a constant delight. I enjoy watching grey and pink galahs gather in the mulga trees outside my room, listening to large flocks of white-browed babblers caw at each other as they swoop between green acacia bushes on sunset red sand dunes, and observing wedge-tailed eagles float on thermals high above the landscape. However, if there is one species that has left its mark on me it has to be the Western Quoll. There are two quolls at the Reserve, Sepia and Koombana, and I have had the privilege of meeting them both.

Sepia up close. Credit: Evan Griffith

Reintroducing endangered mammals to the Australian outback is a challenging endeavor. Many reintroduction initiatives fall short due to predation by feral cats and red foxes, caused by a lack of effective anti-predator responses in native mammals (Johnson and Issac 2009; Moseby et al. 2011). Current research projects at AR are attempting to determine whether prey naivety can be reduced in threatened species by exposing native mammals to low predation pressure (look for more on this in my next blog post about bettong behavior). The idea is that if native prey naivety can be reduced reintroductions outside the reserve have a better chance for success. As part of this endeavor, Sepia and Koombana, two female Western Quolls have been brought onto the Reserve. Both quolls have been trapped regularly for health checkups and to examine their scat. Looking at quoll scat, as incredibly exciting as it sounds, allows us to determine what the quolls are eating, thereby demonstrating their impact on the native mammal populations in the Reserve. Tracking down the quolls in order to trap them isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

When I first arrived at AR I was informed we have one good quoll and one naughty quoll. Sepia is relatively easy to find in the southeastern part of the Northern Expansion (Northern). In contrast, Koombana is never in the same place. She could be in the Northern or the Second Expansion (Second). Seeing Sepia up close for the first time was an incredible experience. Quolls are beautiful, with their spotted coat, bright shining eyes and long pointed nose. Part of the appeal of quolls for me is that they’re like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They’re fierce predators, but are incredibly calm when being handled. They have sharp digging claws and a long tail. Their spots are specific to individuals and can be used to identify them. There is something intangibly attractive about them, and as soon as I saw Sepia I was completely smitten.


Evan releasing Sepia into her burrow. Credit: Bec West

Finding Koombana so that we could trap her became an intensive quest. I started out on the razor (polaris sand buggy) at 7 am and headed to the Northern where she had been seen most recently. The radio collars on the quolls have a range of between 200 to 700 meters, depending on the height of the sand dune you’re standing on and how windy it is. In order to scan the entire area I drove to the eastern border fence, chose a dune and headed west along the crest. I stopped about every 500 meters and listened for Koombana with the receiver tuned to her specific frequency. As soon as I got to the western border I turned around, chose another sand dune and headed east. After five hours with no sign of Koombana I was getting pretty hot and sticky and ready for lunch. Bec suggested that I head over to the Second since I wasn’t having any luck in the Northern. I again started slowly travelling along seemingly endless sand dunes, listening for any slight beep that would alert me to Koombana’s presence. After another two hours I finally heard something! I tracked Koombana down to a burrow about 1.5 km south of the northern border, basically in the middle of nowhere, which is classic Koombana. Bec came and helped me put a burrow trap in and two mornings later we got her! I was so excited to see another quoll and Koombana didn’t disappoint. She’s slightly larger than Sepia, but just as beautiful.


Koombana being released into one of her many burrows. Credit: Bec West

Spending eight hours on the razor in 38 ˚C was a pretty long day, but it was totally worth it to be around these incredible creatures. Recently, I got the chance to see both quolls again when we trapped them on the same day, which has never happened before! As my time at AR comes to an end I’m grateful for the opportunity to see quolls, bettongs, bilbies, and all of the native mammals of Australia. Their uniqueness and special qualities can’t be overstated. The current collaboration between UNSW and AR as well as other reintroduction efforts will hopefully contribute to the spread of these animals across their former habitat, allowing for more Australians to experience what I felt when meeting Koombana and Sepia for the first time.

Written by Evan Griffith, ARC Project intern at Arid Recovery
Arid recovery is a conservation initiative supported by:
bhp
adelaide university