Natural Area News

NRM BioBlitz 2016

The 2016 Annual Wheatbelt NRM BioBlitz happened on the weekend of October 8 and 9 at Tarin Rock near Lake Grace. This year, the event was co-hosted by Dumbleyung Landcare Zone. A contingent of seven from Natural Area made the trek out into the Wheatbelt to participate, read on to see what the team got up to.

Ah, that blissful feeling of waking up early on a Saturday morning with the rain pelting down thinking ‘no work today’. Only to come to and realise that you’ve got to pack a ute full of camping gear and take a four-hour drive into the Wheatbelt. It can only be BioBlitz time again.

With charming weather in the days leading up to Saturday October 9, it was up to every field crew member’s favourite rain spirit Wandjina to test our grit once again; and tested it was, with a healthy cold front passing over our part of the world just before dawn. Also put to the test was my tarp wrapping abilities as all our gear and food was just a thin layer of poly away from being drenched. However, nothing builds friendships like being squished in a little Navara with no radio reception for four hours. The rain did little to dampen our enjoyment of the journey nor our bedding thankfully.

Driving deep into the Great Southern Wheatbelt of Western Australia is a must for anyone visiting this part of the country. With such vast open fields and tree lined gravel roads the view literally stretches for miles such that the crops appear to blend into one huge layer of colour all the way to the horizon. Most people describe it as a bore, a featureless expanse of potential wealth and as environmentalists it is hard to ignore the sheer scale of habitat destruction that took place in order to build Australia into what it is today. But thankfully as environmentalists we can see beyond the larger scale to the finer elements that still exist in such amazing bush pockets; this is what the Wheatbelt NRM Bio Blitz is all about.

Set up in and around a shearing shed on a local farm in Tarin Rock the ‘country’ came oozing out of us and we soon started to chat and mingle with farmers, locals and DPaW staff alike, and with a decent number from Natural Area attending we decided we had better make a good impression. After the usual run down of proceedings from Director Leigh Whisson, everyone was keen to get stuck in, especially after overhearing we were in Echidna territory and there would be fauna trapping this year!

Getting fairly steady winter rains, the crops were looking remarkable along the journey and we all had high hopes of seeing some beautiful wildflowers that we just don’t get in Perth. So naturally our first interest was to head off with a botanist and discover just how similar, yet different the flora out here is. I speak confidently for the Natural Area team when I say we felt like we had a new loving grandmother in Robin; our expert guide for Saturday. With a basket full of collecting resources and a passion for botany that thoroughly outsized her stature, Robin was an incredible resource and set our weekend off to a great start. By the end of the first day, we had a very impressive collage and herbarium of over 100 species, most of which were new to us including Callitris roei a relative of our Rottnest island pine that I formally thought was the only native conifer in WA. A good few hours later we had seen some magnificent wildflowers and spider orchids, but despite some rogue searching no one saw an Achidna.

Now despite the enjoyment of the first day, the weather was……. let’s say less than ideal so we were all incredibly happy to see two camp fires raging and a dinner sizzling away as we got back to the shearing shed to sort and identify our collection. Due to the afore mentioned weather, the annual night stalk was called off and anyone interested was treated to a very stimulating talk from Peter White on the importance of nomenclature and his incredible knowledge of Wheatbelt Eucalypts and their identification; which lead into a discussion about Gilberts Potoroo (Potorous gilbertii), predation by feral animals, Bandicoots, truffles……. the list goes on as did the confabulation. It really was fantastic to discuss such a wide range of environmental issues and get an array of thoughts from experts and enthusiasts at the same time, but some of us had an early start and the night had to end at some point.
Day two began with those keen enough getting up early to check the Elliot traps before another barbecue breakfast. With very high hopes of a Red Tailed Phascogale (Phascogale calura) or Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) being in at least one trap. I was not at all regretful of my decision to sleep in when the crew came back empty handed. Never the less we were determined to see some cool vertebral critters so decided our Sunday would be dedicated to reptile and also invertebrate foraging, and with a temperate dose of sun things were looking promising. The patch of bush along the northern boundary that we foraged in did not let us down, with a Southern Blind Snake (Ramphotyphlops australis) and Bearded Dragon (Pogona minor) being capture highlights for the day, but alas, still no Echidna sighting. Once our foraging time was up we had seen several different insect and reptile species as well as a Turtle Frog (Myobatrachus gouldii) that were well worth the effort made by all.

After a rapid pack up and yet another delicious barbecue it was time to sadly say goodbye to the people we knew from last year as well as those whom we had just met and hope to see again. With the talk of more organisations planning to host their own BioBlitz it is a most likely future encounter.

Tarin Rock 2016 was my second NRM BioBlitz but it shall definitely not be my last, each event I learn more about the environment I call home and become more captivated with the life that constitutes it. So if you share the same passion, would like to develop your knowledge or just want to go for a nice bush walk with someone who can answer your “hey what’s this?” with more than “dunno!” then sign yourself up and get out there, you might even spot that Echidna!

– James Piper, 2016

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