When I had the opportunity to go to one of Australia’s favourite National Parks for a field trip this semester, I knew I couldn’t stay away. Booderee National Park, in Jervis Bay, is crawling with cute cuddly animals like the small mouse-like Brown Antechinus and perhaps less cuddly but still just as cute Small-eyed Snakes.
Volunteering to assist with environmental fieldwork has been one of my New Year’s Resolutions since my first year of university in 2012. Helping Claire with her PhD fieldwork was a perfect way for me to get some real field experience and return to Booderee to see even more animals! Sure enough, I got to see a lot more reptiles – especially snakes. Claire is looking at the combined effects of fire and grazing by kangaroos and wallabies on the plant and animal species that occur in the park.
Claire has set up plots in burnt and unburnt parts of the park, some of them excluding kangaroos and wallabies using fences. The black plastic makes the fence more visible to these animals so they are less likely to go through them.
The first afternoon was unfortunately not that exciting because we were counting roo poo in the rain. If it wasn’t for Claire, I would have gotten completely lost as soon as we left the main paths and dived into the bush. I even managed to get lost inside the study site! The plots were quite far apart so as to sample the wide variety of forest types in the park, so we had to get around in the 4WD. I hadn’t had much experience in a 4WD so I found it quite fun, especially because the general public are not allowed to drive through the park. There’s always something appealing about experiencing a place beyond what tourists and visitors see.
The second morning in Jervis Bay we did reptile surveys and saw a lot of wildlife that people walking through the park wouldn’t normally see. Each study plot had about four 1m2 sheets of corrugated tin laid out to create a warm microhabitat for little critters to take refuge. Surveying the plot meant that we lifted the tin to check what was sheltering underneath before it got warm and the animals were active for the day.
Early on in the day, we discovered a Red-bellied Black Snake and I was excited because I hadn’t seen one up close before. However, it started to wake up and move around, so I thought it best to lower the tin back over it. I managed to get plenty of photos of the teeny Small-Eyed Snakes. The scariest animals to find under the tin are the little Brown Antechinus because they dart out so quickly and give you a fright.
When we came across a piece of tin with a large bump in it, we were confused as to what it could be. When we lifted it up, there was an Echidna underneath! This was the first Echidna to be surveyed in Claire’s fieldwork and it was even more surprising that we found a second one later that day!
I really enjoy the large amount of time I get to spend outdoors whilst doing my degree. I had a wonderful time in Jervis Bay and seeing all that wildlife made any ant bites, rain and early mornings worth it!