DAY SEVEN Bush Blitzing with the Botany Boys

I am inept at deciphering between colours and can sometimes overlook minor details, after 10 minutes with the Botany team I realised that I needed to hone in these skills a little as we were driving through an open woodland of what the untrained eye could only describe as grass and trees. At a distance these scientists could not only differentiate species by the shape of the leaves but determine whether the particular plants were in seed or not. The particular tree we were looking at was quite rare and the Northern Territory Herbarium was after some seeds for their seed bank. I assisted with their collection, but found it tricky because as there was a fine line between fresh seeds and unusable seeds, we were instructed to collect them regardless, because the sorting process at the herbarium was quite thorough and would immediately remove any bad seed.

DAY SIX School visit.

Today was a treat from Earthwatch, a chance for us to get out and see school from a different perspective. The students from Timber Creek were so excited to have visitors that this community event was potentially the largest thing on their calendar for the year. The scientists took specimens for the students to hold and learn about, they were so excited about this and wanted to learn and show off a little bit to their friends that they weren’t scared of the spiders and reptiles. What was most impressive, however, was the students knowledge of the land, they were well versed in bush tucker, hunting, fishing, and knowing different species that it made the scientists job much easier.

DAY FIVE Spiders and scorpions

With a 7.15am chopper flight, I was in the air with Ronan and Tamara, the two spider experts from Queensland Museum. We journeyed to a place that they had pegged by zooming as close as possible on Google Earth. Ronan is a Tarantula expert, he picked the area hoping that the soil would be soft enough for them to burrow. Unfortunately, we arrived and found that the terrain was incredibly rocky with medium to small stones  rather than soil. As a result, our time was spent turning rocks, looking for spiders underneath them rather than searching for holes where the spiders could hide.

DAY FOUR Dragonfly Z

I have a new love, odonates (dragonflies and damselflies). They remind me of my childhood, I used to love chasing them around the playground at Smithfield West Primary. Unfortunately a lot has changed since 1992 and I no longer see them around as often as I did back then. Moving around the aquatic environments of Bradshaw, however, it was evident that this healthy ecosystem was able to sustain not only an abundance of one dragonfly, but many species of both dragonflies and damselflies. Initially it was a little scary to be standing on the edge of what was suspected to be croc infested water sweeping for dragonflies, but once I got into it, the trepidation dispersed as I was determined to catch a few larger dragonflies that weren’t in the field guide. My confidence was also increased by the ichthyology team a few metres away waist deep in water setting fish traps.

DAY THREE Frogs, Field Surveys, and Quoll Camera Traps

A quieter day was planned for today, I wasn’t rostered to leave until 11.30am. My schedule for the day was to help Sandra from Aurecon who is working with the Department of Defence on surveying endangered species within the Bradshaw facility. I had few hours spare before this so the reptile and amphibian team invited me out to check their overnight traps. It’s important that these traps are checked every day to ensure that amphibians can be released and larger predators don’t eat anything of value that may be caught.

Several types of traps are utilised to catch the amphibians and reptiles. Pit traps, which are buckets dug into the ground and funnel traps, which are made from a cheap yabbie trap that you can pick up for a few dollars. A third piece of equipment is needed and that is a long net, not much higher than a ping pong net but a lot longer. The main idea behind these traps is that lizards are quite territorial, the trap gets laid with the long netting strung over a space of about five meters. In the middle is a bucket and at each end there are two yabbie traps. Along the net the dirt is slightly disturbed. Lizards are very inquisitive as to what is happening in their local environment and so they will come out to see the disturbed dirt, get to the net and not be able to go any further, follow the net along and either fall into the bucket or run into the yabbie trap

DAY TWO Fishing (electrofishing), and Frolicking with a Net (Butterflies, and Dragonflies)

 

Breakfast is served between 6.30am and 7.00am. The scientists gather around the breakfast table discussing where they are going, what they are targeting for the day, and what their backup plans will be if the area that the chopper drops them off at ends up being no good.

It’s really interesting to be a part of the communal approach to the work, and having Plan B already in place to ensure that the day in the field isn’t wasted is such a positive approach.

At 9.15am I was in a helicopter and we were heading to a sacred Indigenous site with male-only access. As the only male on the Bush Blitz teacher team this year I was the only option to tag along. My first ever chopper ride was pretty awesome, flying and seeing what is coming toward you is very different to looking out the side window of a passenger aircraft.

Bushblitz Begins

Darwin to Kununarra to Bradshaw.

The beauty of studying a remote location is that there is going to be lots to find. The bad part is that there is almost a full day of travel to get there, though the chance to bond with the other teachers has been great. We’re all just buzzing to get out into the field with scientists who have devoted their lives to studying particular classes of plant or animal.

Breakfast was our first chance to catch up as a group after we all arrived at various times the day before. Teachers from different states across Australia came together for the common interest of biology and more specifically taxonomy. After breakfast we hopped onto our flight to Kununarra. The flight was smooth and the inflight carrot cake was delicious. Once on the ground a few technical issues were sorted out and we drove to town for lunch and a final supply stop before making our way to the Bradshaw Field Training Area. This site isn't often used by the Australian military but more commonly the US Marines, as a result the facilities are very well equipped with power, air conditioning and a pretty good 3G connection around the main site.