Thursday, November 13, 2008

Grampians - 9th Nov - 12th Nov

The Trapper family!

My first proper conservation Holiday in Oz was a 'Naturewise' trip organised by the Conservation volunteers, Australia. It was a 4 day all inclusive trip in Grampians National Park to trap and survey mammals. The Park has an ongoing fox baiting (that's poisoning to you and me) programme to try and keep the numbers down and they survey mammals in baited and unbaited areas to see what effect the programme is having.

I met our team leader Prue at 9am at the Melbourne office along with another volunteer Anita. We then had to drive for 3 hours up to the park to meet the rest of the volunteers at the YHA hostel in Hall's Gap were we would be staying. The hostel looked great - it was touted as an eco hostel complete with total recycling facilities and was very spic and span. I would say it was the cleanest hostel I had seen on this trip so far.

Two of the remaining volunteers, Kim and Barb, were already waiting at the hostel for us. Another group of volunteers had already been trapping for the previous 3 days and the remaining volunteers, Robert and Sue, were staying on from this group. They arrived soon after us with bad news - they had not managed to trap any mammals - just a couple of stumpys.

After lunch we went and met Mike the park ranger, who was in charge of the project, for a briefing on what we would be doing. For about the fifth time that day I introduced myself as 'Ray' and each time all I got was confused looks from the other person. 'Is that Roy? Rich? sorry I didn't get that' 'Its Ray!' 'OH you mean Raaay! ' as they pronounced it with their Australian twang which made it sound like they were speaking through their nose.

After the briefing we were dropped off in the centre of Hall's Gap so we could get essentials for the the coming night (you should all know by now what I am talking about when I say essentials - it's brewed, comes in bottles and is cold - yep - Iced tea!). That night we had a massive meal of moussaka (of sorts as the recipe was really for a pasta type sauce rather than real moussaka) and pasta with apple crumble to follow - and yours truly had to make the apple crumble! The food on this holiday reminded me of my National Trust holiday were you spent most of your time either preparing to eat, eating, cleaning up after eating before preparing for the next meal. Every now and then you did some work - in between eating.

Because we all had to get up at 5am (YES 5am!!!) the next morning (in order to be able to have breakfast and get to the rangers depot for 6am ) everyone went to bed early. The next day I got up exhausted having not managed to get any sleep and hastily grabbed some breakfast before everyone headed to the ranger station to transfer to the Parks Utes one driven by Mike and one by another ranger Sylvia. Then it was out to check the traps. The reason for getting up so early was quite simple. Any animal caught in the trap would be subjected to the lethal warmth of the Aussi sun if left too long so we had to make sure we got to the traps first.

We split up into groups and checked two lines of traps having first put on Gaiters to protect our lower legs from thorns and snakes. Me and my partner Sue soon found a trap with a stumpy in it and called Mike to come and process it. Each animal has to be weighted and sexed (if possible - stumpys are pretty impossible to sex) before being marked so that it can be identified if its re caught in another trap. For stumpy lizards the marking consisted of dabbing the top of its head with a white marker pen. So after the trapping programme we had a lot of lizards running around looking like they should be in a bollywood musical. Nobody else seemed to catch anything in their traps until Mike called out on the radio to say they had caught a Heath mouse.

We all ran over to see it. I am sure most of you are thinking 'its only a bloody mouse' but we were all dead excited to have finally caught something worthwhile. Again it had to be sexed which meant looking at its knacker region (it was a male btw) and then it had to be marked so that it could be identified if recaptured. For the mammals instead of a mark on the head they had the indignity of getting some hair cut off their backside. After weighing the mouse it was released back into the thicket.

Heath mouse

One cut and blow dry coming up!

On that first day we managed to get several stumpys, 1 heath mouse and an Antechinus which is a shrew like marsupial. Mike was able to show us its pouch in its back (it was female). There was also one unwelcome visitor caught in the traps on the first day - a red bellied black snake which is highly venomous. The Rangers waited until all the other traps had been checked before releasing the snake - from a very safe distance. The wee bastard had to be coaxed out of the trap before it finally slithered away.


Unwelcome Red bellied black snake

The good thing about getting up so early was that we were finished by 12 which meant that after we transferred back from the Utes to the CVA minibus we could go somewhere in the Grampians to have lunch. We drove to a place called Mackenzie falls for lunch then went for a walk to the falls for some photos. After that we went to a couple of picturesque viewing places on the way back to Hall's Gap. Tea on the second day was a Barby (it is Australia after all!) which consisted off burnt chicken - done by me on the BBQ before one of the other volunteers Robert took charge of it, loads of sausages, burgers, corn on the cob, potato wedges and enough tossed salad to feed a small army. Half the sausages and burgers end up being kept for lunch the next day.

Day 2 of checking the traps was not nearly as fruitful as day 1 I think we only got 1 heath mouse if that. In the afternoon after lunch and helping the rangers put together brochures for a major event happening the next day (see below) we went for a small walk beside a wooded creek. In 2006 the Grampians Park had a major forest fire which burnt away over 40% of the park. It was amazing to see how quickly the trees recovered but it was still a major blow to the park and we could still see the difference between burnt and unburnt areas on our walk. Tea that night consisted of Shepard's pie made from the moussaka leftovers from the first night and chicken burritos. Again there was just too much to eat and half the chicken and salad had to be packed up for lunch the next day. Before we started to eat the owner of the hostel rushed in and pointed out a brown snake making its way to the chicken house. I just managed to spot it before it disappeared into undergrowth. As with the red-bellied the brown snake is extremely venomous.

After dinner some of us went outside to see if we could spot any bats in the approaching twilight (avoiding the brown snake!) I thought the nightlife of Africa was loud until Australia. There were all sorts of bird and insect sounds especially Kookaburras. I always laugh now when I see an old tarzan film with a soundtrack of kookaburras in the jungle - its like a tiger in Africa!

The checking of the traps on day 3 had to be done ASAP. This was because we had been invited to see the event we had been folding brochures for the previous day. One of the major reasons for all the fox baiting that had been going on in the last 3 years was to pave the way for the reintroduction of Brush tailed rock wallabies back into the Grampians mountains. These small roos used to be common in Victoria but now only consisted of 1 remnant population away to the east of the state. This day was a culmination of years of preparation with the release of the first 10 wallabies. We got to the camp site where all the bigwigs made speeches to the all the guests of honour before being transferred by bus to the actual release site. Because we were only lowly plebes we had to wait for the second bus load to be taken to the site.

Reintroduction website - I am lazy enough to let it talk about featured animal!

News article

The release site of Morra Morra creek was set in a large gorge in the mountains. We got there just in time to see them release the last wallaby. Because they wanted to reduce the stress to the animals only a select group of film crews and dignitaries got to see the release close up. The rest of us had to be content with viewing it from the top of the cliffs. Still we did just about see the critter jump off into the bush (if you had binoculars!) and it was a great feeling to be part of the experience.

After the release it was back to hostel to pack up (and eat more!) before heading back to Melbourne.

We got back to the CVA hostel at about 8pm. I have to say really enjoyed the whole experience. It was great to get some 'hands on' volunteering where you could actually see the animals you were trying to help. The disappointing thing was the lack of animals in the traps which did not bode well. In both baited and unbaited areas the number of animals we caught were down on previous years. Of course foxes are not the only problem in the area - 2 feral cats were seen by us while we were travelling around checking the traps and as any cat owner knows they will anything and everything they get their paws on. Luckily a rock wallaby is too big for a cat.

Glossary Update:

Noun, (For the non hiking people) Its a piece of fabric strapped to the bottom half of your legs to keep them from getting mucked up when hiking. In Australia they use them to avoid thorn snags or even worse snake bites. Not to be confused with Garters which would be very stupid thing to wear when avoiding snakes or Gaters which would certainly help avoid snakes but would probably bite your leg off.

Gramps: Aussi slang: Short for Grampians. As is usual Aussis will always try to shorten a word and give it an endearing slant to it.

Things that I have Learnt:

There is a bat in Australia (whose name escapes me) which was discovered to be in fact two species of bat but the only way to distinguish the species was to check the size of the bats penis. One of them has a penis larger than the other. Naturally the Aussis have nicknamed the two species big dick and little dick!

The Antechinus male has such a fierce mating season that they all die afterwards leaving just the females to reproduce the next generation.

People I have met/seen: (new category)

I forgot to mention before that the English Girl Jen I met in Perth had the unlucky distinction of having been on the flight from Singapore to Perth which decided to try and fly by itself. She was lucky in that she had her seat belt fastened but seen other people literally fly up into the parcel shelf. She says she seen someone whose head had actually gone through the shelf! Not a nice experience!

I seen a girl walking a ferret on a lead in the middle of Sydney - very weird.

There is a guy called Ciaran living in the hostel in Melbourne who had a 'bit part' in the film Angela's Ashes. When he told us we looked it up on Youtube and sure enough there he is as a teenager. Here is the link:

He is the one who shouts 'Langer'!

Angelas Ashes


One animal we did manage to trap was of course the fiercest one known to man:

After he was released DM managed to catch and subdue an Emu for riding.

My attempt at making films - Dm riding an emu (don't ask) I was supposed to say Riding through the glen NOT running as in "Robin hood" - again don't ask!

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