Farewell to Arid Recovery

Developer 2 (MM) - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I was thrown in the deep end (as is the case with most new AR staff members!) when I started at Arid Recovery, and I’ll admit I was pretty daunted when they told me I was in charge of the kids club for what was probably our biggest open day ever. Pretty exhausted by my first day of work (which involved copious amounts of poo making with numerous small children) I was pretty pleased to realise I would be working with such a dedicated team of staff and volunteers.

My first “real” job out of university, and I have to admit it wasn’t what I had ever expected it to be. When you find yourself completing tasks that range from bleary eyed winter mornings for trapping, opening up a cat for dissection on a warm summers day through to wrestling a giant bilby or explaining to a child how a simple fence protects our threatened animals, you realise you don’t have a normal job. I’ve had some amazing experiences with Arid Recovery, learning things you can’t read in books about the plants and critters of the outback, from people who have such an intricate knowledge of the arid zone.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with our volunteers, and probably one of the best parts of the job is some of the people I have been able to meet. Whilst the days can be long and tiring, hearing some of the different stories about the unique places people come from is always interesting. Sometimes I think we get a bit caught up in the Reserve. A fresh pair of eyes to appreciate AR, and a comment along the lines of how important the work is that we do, always gives you a bit of motivation to try harder again tomorrow.

Now it is on to the next chapter for me, and while I’m sad to be leaving Arid Recovery, I’m keen to tackle something new. I’m sure I’ll be back at some stage. If there is one thing I have learnt since starting here, most AR staff and vols can’t help but come back to visit the beautiful red sand dunes of Arid Recovery. That, and bettongs are bloody good diggers, I probably won’t miss repairing the holes they dig under our fence!

Arid Recovery volunteer and community officer Hannah Spronk during the Roxby Downs Christmas Pageant.

A slippery situation

Developer 2 (MM) - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

It’s that time of the year again Roxby residents (the whole of Australia, really). Not only do the old togs and your dads embarrassing stubby shorts come out of the closet again, but so do the snakes. We have had a few calls recently from locals with snakes in their yards, and spotted a couple ourselves out in the Reserve, prompting us to have a bit of a refresher on what to do in a slithery situation.

Many will turn their nose up and shudder at the mention of snakes, and you will also get a few squeals of terror. While Australia does rate pretty highly on the venomous and deadly snake scale, they aren’t all bad and there is plenty you can do prevent getting yourself or your family into a dangerous situation.

  • Clear up around the house. Hook up the trailer and grab a pair of gloves, it’s time to get rid of all those old branches in the backyard, and any piles of scrap metal, bricks or even toys that the kids don’t use anymore. Prune back any shrubs growing close to the house, not only does this assist with fire prevention and control, but also removes the places snakes love to hide.
  • Remove water sources from your yard. Snakes need water too, and will be attracted to it in the hot weather.
  • Keep your compost heaps tidy and make sure there are no gaps for rats and mice to enter. If you provide food for the snakes, of course they are going to hang around.

One of the friendlier, less deadly snakes, the Woma Python. Arid Recovery undertook the first ever trial reintroduction of this species several years ago.

Snakes are a part of our lives in Roxby Downs, we have moved into their habitat so it is inevitable that we are going to encounter them. Ensure you are wearing long pants, thick socks and boots when working outside during snake season. If you do encounter a snake, try not to panic, remember they are usually more scared of you than you are of them (you are a giant, towering over him slithering at ground level!).

Remain calm and still, keep your eyes on the snake and if possible back away slowly. Watch the snake to ensure it does not head towards a building or other people nearby. If you lose sight of the snake it makes it very difficult for someone to assist you with catching it. Most of the time snakes will move on by themselves, you have given them such a fright they will quickly escape to another area.

If you do have a problem with a snake entering your home or business, there are some local residents trained to handle snakes. The local council has the phone number of a snake catcher, or sightings can be reported to the BHPB Environmental Department on 08 8671 8369 or Arid Recovery on 08 8671 2402.

Camp out with the Bettongs!

Developer 2 (MM) - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Looking for something different to do these school holidays than camping in the backyard or local caravan park?  Why not spend a night camping out at the Arid Recovery Reserve, with the chance of getting up close and personal to our bettongs while you are at it!

Arid Recovery is holding a two week trapping event from the 1st- 12th of July and welcome tourists to stay a night at the Reserve and play a hands-on role in the conservation of a threatened species.  Visitors will be able to assist with every step of the trapping process, from bait making, and trap setting through to processing and the release of the animals.

A regular day would see visitors arrive mid-afternoon to the Arid Recovery Reserve for an introduction to the project and to set up camp.  Then it is off to set traps with a special mix of peanut butter and oats, a smell that bettongs cannot resist!  Before the sun rises everyone bundles into their vehicles to check the traps and remove any captured animals.  Back at base camp animals are processed and visitors are encouraged to take part, learning exactly what we are doing and getting up close and personal to these cute creatures.  A quick stop for coffee and then it is off to release the bettongs into their new burrows within the Reserve.

“There aren’t too many places like this that offer the chance or people to play a hands-on role in conservation,” says Volunteer and Community Coordinator Hannah Spronk.  “If we can give people the opportunity to be involved in our project, we can help to increase awareness about the threats our native wildlife are facing.”

Prices for visitors start from just $70 per night for a family, with powered camping and basic bunk accommodation available.  All visitors will receive a complimentary one year Arid Recovery membership.  Places are limited so get in quick to book your spot. 

Please call (08) 8671 2402 or email volunteer@aridrecovery.org.au

Bettongs and bilbies moving house

Developer 2 (MM) - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The effort to ensure our control is kept clear of not only feral cats, foxes and rabbits but bilbies and bettongs too continues.  Acting as a ‘control’ the second expansion is an area where we have minimised the number of variables (such as feral and native species) that might be impacting.  We can then compare data collected from here to other areas inside and outside the reserve.

Although feral proof, our cheeky bettongs and bilbies have managed to sneak their way in to the second expansion and make themselves at home.  Compared to other areas within the reserve their population numbers are low, but we are still working hard to maintain the integrity of our control and remove all reintroduced species from there.  Field Officer Anni Walsh has had the task of coordinating the ongoing trapping effort, experimenting with different techniques to determine the most successful.

We are well aware that our bettongs love the smell of peanut butter and will happily wander into a cage trap in the pursuit of peanut butter goodness.  But our bilbies are a little more difficult.  Earlier in the year our interns utilised burrow traps, targeting areas where there was known bilby activity.  In an attempt to utilise the particularly inquisitive nature of our bettongs, a trial one way gate was installed, in the hope that they would use this to remove themselves from the second expansion to other areas of the reserve. 

Surprisingly we got lucky, and caught footage with our remote cameras of a bilby investigating this new contraption installed near his home.  As can be seen from the photographs below, he almost goes through with it, getting half way into the one way gate before becoming shy and retreating.  Night after night, our footage has shown the same bilby returning but unfortunately never following through and crossing over to the other side of the fence.  So, the quest to clear all bettongs and bilbies from the second expansion continues!

 

The bilby checking out the one way gate (circled in red on the left).

Although he got himself halfway in, he unfortunately turned around and didn't go through.

An Arid Recovery Baby

Developer 2 (MM) - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

There was much cooing into buckets earlier this week as the Arid Recovery staff discovered a new addition to the family.

Undertaking some pit fall trapping work this week the staff were excited to find one morning they had captured more small mammals than usual.  Once small mammals have been processed we place them into large buckets with water and some seed for the rest of the day. 

Before heading back out in the late afternoon all the animals are returned to their bags to be released at the same site they were caught.  Field officer Anni Walsh, was slightly surprise to discover there was more than just one Forrest Mouse in the bag.  Upon closer inspection ecologist Helen Crisp was able to determine there were four small babies in the bag with their mother.  Left overnight with plenty of food and water, the mother Forrest Mouse was quite content to look after her babies in the warmth and security of a catch bag. 

Rather than prolonging the inevitable, staff released the small family back into the wild late the next evening.  Finding a digging that would provide her with shelter, she was protected with vegetation and left alone with the four small additions to her family.

 

One of the small babies attempting to attach itself for suckling to its mother.

Bilby Trapping

Developer 2 (MM) - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

In the first week of February the Arid Recovery Internship students participated in targeting Bilbies for relocation from the second expansion to other areas of the reserve. Generally Bilbies are rather trap shy, and don’t often go for the peanut butter bait balls set in cage traps that are more appropriated for the eager and social Bettongs.

The interns traipsed through sand dunes on the hunt for Bilby burrows, keeping a keen eye for signs of Bilby tracks and diggings. Once a Bilby burrow was located it was time for some manual labour, with the burrow traps needing to be dug deep into the burrow to ensure a secure capture.

Photo 1: Intern Anni digging in a burrow trap.

 

The following morning the interns got up bright and early to check the burrow traps before the sun had risen, hopeful that the traps were a success! Wondering around in the dark, guided by a GPS and the light of their head torch, the interns found their burrow traps with a timid Bilby tucked away in the corner. “Discovering a Bilby in a burrow trap is incredibly rewarding, they don’t often go for traps, so to find one is a big deal!” exclaims Arid Recovery intern Katy Read, “It’s a great rush to know that the burrow trap has been a success!”

 

Photo 2: Intern Katy placing a burrow trap.

 

Over a three day trapping period a total of two Bilbies and three Bettongs (who often share burrows with the Bilbies), where captured in the burrow traps. Arid Recovery intern student Anni Walsh quotes, “We’ve really honed in on our skills of identifying Bilby traps and suitable active burrows, its great!”

 

Photo 3:  The finished product- a burrow trap ready to go.

A Cousin Next Door

Developer 2 (MM) - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

After 80 long years, relatives of the Arid Recovery burrowing bettong have moved in next door.  Once plentiful along the eastern seaboard of Australia, the eastern bettong (Bettongia gaimardi) suffered a fast decline due to foxes, cats and land clearing in the late 1800’s.

Since approximately the mid- 1920’s the eastern bettong has not been seen on the mainland and survived only in Tasmania.  With the recent arrival of the fox in Tasmania and an increase in other pressures, a small population of 30 eastern bettongs were relocated to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, ACT. 

The ACT government, CSIRO and Dr Adrian Manning of the Australian National University’s  Fenner School are working collaboratively on a grassy woodland restoration project.  The project is undertaken at Mulligans Flat and Goorooyarroo Nature Reserve and it is hoped that at some stage next year, this small group of eastern bettongs will be released at Mulligans flat.

Eastern bettongs are often referred to as “ecosystem engineers” as they play a pivotal role in digging up the soil which increases the flow of nutrients and water into the soil.  The ecologists working on this reintroduction are hoping to determine the impact this reintroduced species may have on the woodland and if they may be used an ecological restoration tool.

Findings from this type of study can be beneficial not only to other woodlands along the eastern coast but also conservation projects across Australia.  Although it may seem the information these sorts of studies and organisations such as Arid Recovery provide are quite specific to the ecosystems or animals they are dealing with, aspects of it can be applicable to a number of different things.  Look at our unique floppy top fence, it is used in different ecosystems across Australia and even in other countries!  Conservation projects and initiatives such as these share not only their successes but also their failures with others in order to improve the protection of our species for years to come.

BHPB Matched Giving Support, where does it go?

Developer 2 (MM) - Wednesday, August 13, 2014
BHP Billiton's Matched Giving Program contributes $10 per hour of volunteer work undertaken by BHPB employees towards the cause of their choice, and also dollar for dollar on many donations given by their employees.  The value of monies raised this quarter by Arid Recovery volunteers through the BHP Billiton's matched giving program is priceless.

This Autumn quarter will have a 'feral focus'.  Funds raised via the Program will help with maintenance of our existing remote monitoring system and feral eradication of the Red Lake Expansion.  March, April and May are the 'golden months' for feral predators as young cats and foxes begin to emerge. Hence it is a crucial time to maintain our feral control programs and monitoring to enhance our knowledge of these amazing but devastating feral predators.

Arid Recovery would like to give special thanks to all the volunteers who have given their time to assist our cause this past quarter, in particular those that assisted with annual trapping, and in this quarter we highlight those involved with feral animal control.

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