Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Night Shift in the Forest

I have taken quite fondly to 'spot-lighting' recently. Whether it's in a local park or even just down the back of my garden, I have made time over the past few weeks to flick the torch on and see what nocturnal animals I am sharing my neighbourhood with. The opportunity to make a star-lit visit somewhere less suburban has appealed to me however, so last night I headed to Samford Conservation Park with my adventurous friend Leah. After a hearty and nourishing meal at the Samford Valley Hotel, we braved the darkness and headed into the forest, starting with a deserted picnic area named 'Lomandra'.


The key to spotting nocturnal wildlife is to hold a torch next to your head, at eye level. The beam of light coming out of the torch reflects off the big eyes of a night-active animal, flashing back in a straight line into your own field of vision. I was surprised at the effectiveness of this search technique when I first tried it, as it can reveal animals hidden in thick vegetation that are otherwise obscured from view. It also uses a wild animal's wariness against it, as they will usually turn to look and watch the large, clumsy outsider moving through the bush from any available vantage point.

At Lomandra, one of the more unpleasant features of spot-lighting was quickly revealed to my friend Leah - it's not just cute mammals that have reflective eyes. All through the picnic grounds and surrounding vegetation of this location were many spiders, their green eyeshine twinkling all around us as we moved through their home. Particularly common were athletic Brown Huntsman Spiders (Heteropoda species) that occupied most tree trunks, boulders and track edges.

Clockwise, Top Left: Wolf Spider (Tasmanicosa species), Garden Orb-Weaver (Eriophora species), Brown Huntsman, Golden Orb-Weaver (Nephila plumipes)

Apart from a few Cane Toads (Rhinella marinus) and an unidentified 'microbat', there was nothing else to see at Lomandra, so we moved on a kilometre down the road to Ironbark Gully. Stepping out of the car, we were immediately greeted by a pair of Common Brushtail Possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) amongst the bottlebrush flowers. A pouch is visible on the belly of the Possum below, identifying it as a female.

Common Brushtail Possum

A few more of these possums were scattered about in the mid-canopy near the start of the Crebra Walking Track, but we didn't see them again once we left the forest edges behind. The only other mammal we saw was a rodent in the lantana. Its tail length, size and habitat suggested it was a native Bush Rat (Rattus fuscipes), but it's hard to say for sure. Of more interest was this gorgeous and confiding Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides).

Tawny Frogmouth

I've always thought of this bird and the Kookaburra as being part of a 'tag team', where one relieves the other at dawn and dusk for hunting duties. This bird was sitting upon exactly the kind of exposed perch a Kookaburra would choose in the day, affording a trackside vantage point for small prey items.

One thing I have made an effort to be aware of is how my spot-lighting affects the animals I observe. Mostly I try to illuminate vertebrates with the edge of the torch beam so as not to temporarily blind them. Both the Frogmouth and the Possums made nimble getaways after I had taken their photograph, indicating their senses were unaffected by my activities, if not their routines. As always, it's a fine line with animal observation - how much human impact is acceptable in the efforts to learn about and raise awareness of these creatures? I hope to stay on the correct side of that line as my experience in the bush increases.

  • Dedicated to Leah, the bravest girl I know! Thanks for your company on this adventure and for your unfailing support in all that I do.

10 comments:

  1. Great technique - very impressive. I love that red and white spider - well, perhaps love is a bit strong....

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    1. Yes it was a nifty little trick I picked up from reading a book or two about local wildlife. Speaking of wildlife, that spider is a beautiful type - I especially like the two little 'headlights' on the back that really showed up in the torch!

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  2. such great finds in the dark. the spiders are beautiful (unless you're walking into them) and the frogmouth is fascinating! love the cute possum, too!

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    1. Thank you, glad you enjoyed 'meeting' them all! :)

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  3. well done you two --- think the owl would've been my big buzz; you got such great snaps too Christian

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    1. Thanks Carole, the Frogmouth was our highlight too, but we were fascinated/horrified by the spiders, I must admit!

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  4. Woodlands at night are great places - I still remember my daughter calmly pointing out a scorpion on one such adventure!!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne.

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    1. Wow, I don't know if I would have been that calm!

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  5. I admire the adventurous spirit of both of you Christian. Night spotting is soemthing I have wanted to do but (as usual) never got round to. Interesting theory about the Kookaburra and frogmouth using the same perch but it makes so much sense that animals will select the best as available - nest sites, roosts, feeding sites etc. Think I'd be worried about dangerous things at night, especially snakes where you live. Aren't snakes very active at night?

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    1. Thanks Phil! With regards to the Kookaburra and Frogmouth, I was more pointing out that they occupy the same ecological niche if anything, and that one has evolved to be nocturnal so as not to over-compete. I like snakes so I'm not worried about seeing them and our most dangerous types are usually day-active anyway! The spiders on the other hand... I am consistently shocked and creeped out by the number of them that the spotlight reveals. The ground is alive with green glowing eyes!

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