It’s May so it must be Feral Cat Month!

Kylie Piper - Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Each year in May we have been celebrating - or should that be commiserating - feral cat month.


Feral cat month sprang from our work trying to control feral cats around the Arid Recovery Reserve, and the importance of highlighting the impact that feral cats can have on our native species.

We have just had a visit to the Arid Recovery Reserve from Gregory Andrews, the Threatened Species Commissioner, and much of the discussions had were about feral cat control.

Over the past few years we have blogged, posted and tweeted about cats and so to get this years’ feral cat month going we thought we would put some of our past efforts into one place for your reading pleasure and we will be sure to get some pics/videos and various other things over the next month for your viewing pleasure as well!

Feral cat fact sheet 

Feral facts – a resource for land owners

They eat what? 

CATastrophic impacts on the arid zone 

Cat on a leash 

The fight against ferals continues

What a success!

Kylie Piper - Saturday, August 23, 2014

It was with a huge sigh of relief that Arid Recovery staff and volunteers were able to sit back and relax last Friday evening after the last of the critters caught during annual trapping was released.  The hard work didn’t end there though. 

After sweeping out a week of red sand from the vehicles staff sat down to begin plugging the pages and pages of data into the computer.  Although we are still entering data we can give average numbers of those who were caught during the week.  Approximately 180 reptiles were pulled out of pit fall traps and nearly 500 small mammals fell for the peanut butter and oat ball baits.  Although numbers aren’t as high as last year this is most likely due to the drying off of much of the vegetation and the fact that last year’s trapping was undertaken in the middle of a mouse plague.

Probably the highlight of the reptiles caught was the desert banded snake.  With the start of the week being relatively mild this was good news for field work but not so much for the reptiles we wanted to be catching.  Towards the end of the week this specimen of desert banded snake fell into one of our pit fall traps located outside the reserve.  Usually growing to about 21 centimetres in length these guys tend to burrow just below the surface of the sand to hide.

Spinifex Hopping Mice were the most abundant mammal with a few Stripe Faced Dunnarts, Fat tailed Dunnarts, Plains Rats and a Bolam’s Mouse to mix it up a little.  “I noticed during my own processing and from a quick glance at the notes of others, that nearly none of the ‘Hoppers’ were breeding,” said ecologist Helen Crisp, “This might be in response to the conditions around them, with grasses and seeds drying off and food becoming scarce they try to control their populations.”

With the rain clouds looking to hang around the Roxby Downs region for the rest of the week, staff will be confined to the office, plugging away at the data to determine what trends, if any, are presenting over the 14 years of trapping.

From far and wide

Kylie Piper - Friday, August 22, 2014

Arriving Sunday afternoon, our volunteers were fresh faced and eager to get stuck into some work. As was pointed out yesterday evening, as we relaxed at the Reserve over a BBQ waiting for the sun to set, our “type” might seem like a bit of an odd lot. There probably aren’t a lot of people who take pleasure in starting work before the sun has risen, willing to spend a week volunteering in 40 degree heat in the desert.  A balance of volunteers, those young, and some a little more experienced in life, some who rattle off scientific names of plants with excitement in their voice, those living urban life in an interstate city and some who have experienced much of rural Australia. They hailed from the southern edges of South Australia, across to Melbourne, country Victoria and even all the way from Canberra. Either way, not matter their background or their origin, they were all keen to get their hands dirty for a week of trapping with Arid Recovery.

 

There was a slight chill in the air this morning which took us by surprise, as the preparations for Arid Recovery annual trapping begain early. It didn’t take long for the sweat to start forming as we dug into the dry hard earth of the swales, flicking rocks out the way. Rows of mesh netting were quickly erected between each of the pitfall traps. Most animals like straight lines, and so when they run into the fence they follow it along, eventually dropping into one of the 6 pit fall traps.

Elliott traps were also laid out, 15 of them in a line parallel to the line of pitfall traps. Coopex, a white insecticide is sprinkled around each of the Elliott traps to stop ants from attacking any small animals when captured inside the trap. For trap sites inside the Reserve we use excluders, large pieces of PVC pipe that have a small hole on the front, which is attached to a wooden board. This wooden board is then pegged down into the ground. This is because our Elliott traps are baited with peanut butter and oat balls, something which our bettongs love! If we didn’t peg them down and place the Elliott traps out of reach of the bettongs, they would just pick them up trying to get the bait out and set them off. With the traps set off by the bettongs we wouldn’t be catching too many small mammals.

The old saying “many hands makes light work” rang true this morning, and whilst it was a record breaking set up like last year, sites were all complete well before lunch. Volunteers and staff are now resting, before heading out tonight to bait and set their traps.

To check out more photos from today, head to our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/AridRecovery

Manicures for Reptiles

Kylie Piper - Thursday, August 21, 2014

The reasonably mild weather, and the several spots of rain last evening hasn’t helped to increase our chances of catching large numbers of small mammals and reptiles, but we are persevering. This morning slightly higher numbers of mammals were brought into the lab, and it was positive to see only a few house mice in the bunch.

Once escorted back to the lab (via their chauffeured and air conditioned vehicles) it was mammals up first for processing. Mammals rather than reptiles are first, as they can become quite stressed in catch bags, and so we aim to remove them as quickly as possible, placing them in a large bucket with water, food and a toilet roll to hide out in. One of the first mammals pulled out of their bag for processing was a spinifex hopping mouse, clearly keen to get a move on, as he bounced his bag around the bench. Whilst at first looking harassed, it was soon discovered his slightly damp sheen was in fact oil from the peanut butter bait ball, which he had clearly been enjoying by the slightly rounded and bloated look of his face and belly!

 

A Plains Rat that has clearly been enjoying his peanut butter bait balls!

Another cute and furry mammal native to Australia is the Plains Rat (Pseudomys australis) which has been captured inside the Arid Recovery Reserve. This species was once widespread, from Western Australia, across the drier sections of South Australia and into the Northern Territory and Queensland. Unfortunately now their distribution has declined to the gibber plains of SA and the western Lake Eyre Basin, due largely to habitat damage by stock and predation by dingoes and foxes. These native rodents like to live in the cracking soils, and survive mostly on seeds and plants, with the occasional bit of fungus or insect thrown in. Like many Aussie animals, they do not need to drink water as they obtain it from metabolising their food.

With mammals processed and safely tucked away in their temporary toilet roll homes, it was on to reptiles, and skinks were in abundance today. Ctenotus schomburgkiiCtenotus leonhardii and Ctenotus regius are all three common skinks in this area, and at first they all look similar. Upon closer inspection, and carefully assessing colours and markings on particular sections of the body, different species were determined.

The animals captured last night are now enjoying an air conditioned laboratory, with ample food, water and shelter, before they are bagged up again and released back to the sites they were captured at this evening.

For more photos of the captures and processing, please visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/AridRecovery

Mammals galore at the AR Lab

Kylie Piper - Thursday, August 21, 2014

Today the lab was filled with mammals of a slightly larger build than those that fit in our Elliott traps. Classes from St. Barbara’s Parish Primary School came to visit the Arid Recover laboratory today to find out exactly how annual trapping works.

The students of St. Barb’s are very bright, with many of them having visited the Arid Recovery Reserve before. They were on the ball pretty quickly, understanding that annual trapping lets us see the different species that we have in the arid zone, and find out how many animals there are. Students checked a pit fall line of traps, making sure there were no cheeky sand swimmers hiding at the bottom of each of the pits. They also taught new staff member Sam about how to set an Elliott trap. It isn’t as easy as just placing the peanut butter and walking away she found out! Students searched out shady bushes to make sure the traps wouldn’t get too hot, and they were placed on flat stable ground. The tasty pieces of peanut butter and oats were pushed right to the back of the trap, making sure that any animal who wanted to get it had to step on the treadle and shut themselves in.

 

Learning how to set an Elliott trap.

Back in the air conditioned laboratory the students completed Venn diagrams, sorting out the unique features that make a mammal a mammal and a reptile a reptile. We now all know that reptiles are cold blooded, they need to warm their blood up with help from the sun, better known as ectothermic. Mammals are able to control their own body temperature from inside, and are known as endothermic. This is why Arid Recovery run their trapping during February, it is usually a bit cooler for us warm blooded mammals to get out and work, but still hot enough for the reptiles to be out and about.

Students toured through the lab, getting to meet some of the native mammals and reptiles that were captured that morning. For more photos from todays visit, check out our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/AridRecovery  

Almost time for Trapping

Kylie Piper - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Arid Recovery begins its 17th year of Annual Trapping on Monday 10th until Friday 14th of February. Annual Trapping monitors small vertebrates inside and outside the reserve. Feral predators have a devastating impact on our small native wildlife outside the reserve. Long term monitoring reveals 6 times more mammals are caught within the Reserve.

In 2013, trapping sites were in the swales (between dunes). Volunteers and staff caught and processed 228 individuals (25 species) caught within the swales. This year, trapping sites are in the dunes. Previous years have shown a higher number of individuals in the dunes. In 2012, 938 individuals (24 species) were caught and processed. 2013 was Australia’s hottest year recorded and temperatures have not ceased, with above average temperatures this January and February. It will be interesting if the extreme temperatures have an effect on mammal and reptile populations.

Our Intern Bianca Amato prepares for her second year of Annual Trapping with Arid Recovery.

Last year during Annual Trapping it was in the mid-30s and over cast. It was perfect weather for staff and volunteers to scurry over swales looking for their favourite lizards and mammals. During 2013 Annual Trapping my team caught the only Bolam’s Mouse(Pseudomys bolami), a small native mouse which is rarely caught. Often mistaken for a House Mouse, little is known about this nocturnal creature.

This year I am excited at the opportunity to trap in dunes, hoping to catch the legless lizard, the hooded scaly-foot (Pygopus nigriceps)or even a Sand Goanna (Varanus gouldii). However, the chance of capturing over 900 individuals is a daunting possibility. 2014 will see staff and volunteers are equipped with plenty of catch bags, sunscreen and water.

Site setup for the day

Kylie Piper - Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A cool start this morning makes for a speedy first day site setup.

Our wonderful volunteers arrived late Sunday afternoon to a welcoming 40 degree plus day in Roxby Downs.  After a quick round of introductions it was time for a bbq dinner and an early night before the big week ahead of us.

The volunteers and AR staff have prepared themselves for what is predicted to be a very hot week; however, to everyone’s surprise we were treated to a balmy 27 degrees this morning with a slight cool breeze! This made the trudging up sand dunes and pit fall digging all the more enjoyable.  Four teams have been allocated 4 or 5 sites to monitor for the week, with each team having 3-4 volunteers.

“Everyone worked really well together to have all sites setup before morning tea. The cool weather this morning certainly helped, however we are all aware that it is likely to be a long hot week, with the weather predicted to be in the low to mid 40s for the duration of trapping ” says Education and Community Officer Anni Walsh.

Annual Trapping volunteer Merri uses a pelican pick to dig the pitfall line.

The teams are recuperating in the cool comfort of their air-conditioned rooms before they head back out to the Reserve to check their pit fall traps for any reptiles, as well as baiting and setting Elliot traps with peanut butter and oat balls.  The excitement will begin tomorrow morning, when everyone heads out at the crack of dawn to see what critters the warm nights have treated us too!

Keep an eye on our Facebook and Twitter pages for regular updates and photos throughout the week of annual trapping.

 

Can not get enough of Annual Trapping

Kylie Piper - Monday, August 18, 2014

Here I am, back again for my second year in a row. Even the forecast forty degree heat wasn’t a deterrent for this eager trapping enthusiast. I even managed to inspire fellow student, Scott, to join me this year with my Arid Recovery trapping stories.  Scott, having just returned from Borneo looked like something a feral cat had dragged in when I met him off the bus in Pt Augusta (he prefers ruggedly handsome). However, he was still full of enthusiasm despite his obvious sleep deprivation.  An Adelaide Uni honours student Tristan and English backpacker Brendan completed our volunteer posse.  We felt set for adventure as we rolled into town with Thin Lizzy belting out Whiskey in the Jar over the local radio.

Two days into Annual Trapping, plus forty degree temperatures and lack of sleep have yet to dampen spirits.  We beat the heat by working in the early morning and late evenings.  During the hottest part of the day we have a siesta and seek solace at the local pool.  Whilst on trapping duties teams tend pitfall and Elliott trap lines inside and outside the Reserve.  So far, our team with all bar one outside trap line, has yet to bag a mammal despite abundant mammal tracks around our trap lines.  Our Team Leader Craig’s theory is that the mammals outside the reserve are ‘smarter’ as living alongside predators possibly gives them an edge.

Annual Trapping Volunteers Barb and Scott admire a Central Knob-tailed Gecko Nephrurus levis


Still, there is three days to go and the other teams have had plenty of mammals in their traps making us hopeful.  Consistent catches of a variety of reptiles: geckos, skinks, laristas and predominately dragons keep us and on our toes and filled with anticipation for the week ahead.

Barbara Murphy and Scott Giacopini
Environmental Science students 
University of South Australia

 

Arid Insights

Kylie Piper - Sunday, August 17, 2014

Three days in to our trapping experience and we’re already starting to melt!

Despite the impending heat and exhaustion, I was still looking forward to travelling to Roxby Downs to begin my trapping experience with Arid Recovery. As a BSc (Environmental Science) graduate from Flinders University I was excited by the opportunity to get some hands on experience trapping native mammals and reptiles and processing them in the lab. However this experience didn’t turn out to be a “walk in the park” like I was expecting (sorry for the pun). “I can’t describe the intensity of my sweating” exclaims volunteer Merri from Adelaide. Merri is a full-time student at Flinders University studying BSc (Biodiversity and Conservation) who also volunteers regularly at the Granite Island Penguin Centre. We met on the first day, when we realised we would be grouped together for the week with Arid Recovery founder Katherine Moseby, and we’ve been best friends ever since!

“Volunteering here in the arid zone is a completely new experience for me, and I’m enjoying it immensely! It’s exciting to see all the wildlife inside the Reserve, and it’s great to get up close to them while trapping, especially the plump Plains Rats (Pseudomys australis)” says Merri. We were lucky enough to be given trapping sites in the Main Exclosure of the Reserve, which is teeming with native wildlife. We learnt how to set up Pitfall trap lines and Elliott traps, and have caught plenty of Spinifex Hopping Mice (Notomys alexis), Ford’s Dragons (Ctenophorus fordi) and Geckos. However, Merri and I have come to learn Elliot trapping isn’t as easy as we first thought. While both attempting to transfer a caught Spinifex Hopping Mouse from the trap into a bag, the mouse got out, and we both just sat in silence and watched it hop away. The disappointment was evident in Katherine’s eyes!

        

See more photos on our Facebook page

To encourage volunteers to take extra caution when removing animals from traps, Arid Recovery has established a points system. Basically, a mistake like losing a mammal or lizard, or leaving a gate open is worth a beer! I’m already on 12 and Merri is on 2. We thought to reduce our beer debt we would create some annual trapping related jokes, and Merri wrote a ripper!

“Why did the Mouse feel sick from the Merry-Go-Round?”

... Because of the Spinifex (Merri Pedler, 2014)

My joke wasn’t so clever.

“What do you call a Bearded Dragon that is good at rhyming?”

... A Rap-tile (har har har)

Merri and I are enjoying our trapping experience immeasurably. We’ve both agreed that the highlights so far are getting close and personal with the native mammals and reptiles, exploring the Reserve, learning new skills, and building friendships based on our mutual stir-craziness. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll catch some Dunnarts and other exciting creatures!

Merri Pedler and Patrick Pacecca

Science Students

Flinders University

Excuse me Mista is that a Lerista

Kylie Piper - Friday, August 15, 2014

A slender shimmering glimpse of this elusive, hair like creature evades us through the fine rustic red sand of the Roxby Down dunes. Its day four and I am arm-pit deep in a pit-fall hunting for the rabblerouser of a creature, the notorious Lerista as it slinks through my grasp once again. Moments pass as I tentatively reach again; will the twentieth attempt be the last attempt! “Nailed it!” This bipedial relative of the skinks is in my grip and I can finally gaze upon the three inches of alluring scales that shine in the radiance of the encroaching dawn. I look up at my volunteering buddy Emma Wilson a graduate of Environmental Sciences in a gaze of awe as we had finally found the zenith reptile of the trapping experience Lerista lebialis.  A triumphant yelp escaped my lips as I eagerly boasted to our team leader Bec West of this crowning glory. In an exultant daze we presented our remarkable find to our team leader, with huge smiles on our excited faces, only to be deflated with a retorted response, “not another flaming Lerista!” It transpires our zenith reptile would soon be found in large quantities in increasing tedium.

Site two of the day opened up on the horizon, with the success of the finding notorious lerista weighing heartily on our souls as we keenly searched the remaining pits. To call a lerista our zenith reptile is an overstatement to say the least as the pits that followed revealed some remarkable creatures of the SA desert. My personal favourites would be the members of the Gekkonidae family (the geckoes) as they were found in an array of marbled skin patterns that rivalled that of polished stone. The excitement was always tangible when one is pulled out of the pitfall as these charismatic reptiles are quite remarkable with disproportionately large eyes and quirky gait resemblant of a cockney wheeler ( apt as I myself am an English backpacker from London).

Brendan and Emma with their favourite Larista

Our time at Roxby Downs is slowly dwindling. The week so far has been unforgettable, as an English graduate in Zoology, I have thoroughly enjoyed witnessing the endemic fauna in their native environment. The opportunity to observe the array of biodiversity first hand is truly humbling, and an experience I know I will be sharing with fellow poms for years.

 

Brendan Noone (Zoology Graduate)

Emma Wilson (Environmental Science Graduate)

Arid recovery is a conservation initiative supported by:
bhp
adelaide university