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A bonus bit of science


Ian Dudley

Sneaking one final fieldwork session in before the end of my Bushblitz experience.

So the last day dawned, and while the other teachers and the BHP team got ready to cruise in to Ceduna to catch their plane back to Adelaide, I was lucky enough to head out with vertebrate ecologist Dave again, as well as National Parks ranger Courtney, to check Dave’s pitfall traps. Nothing much apart from a few spiders and ants were in either site, but I hand caught a few grasshoppers, a preying mantis and a possible peacock spider, while Courtney got to release the Pygmy Possums from yesterday into a tree hollow about 20 metres away from the traps. I was surprised to learn that even though she is a Ranger, the possums aren’t found where she usually works, so they were one of her ‘bucket list’ animals. We packed up one of the trap set-ups and returned the ground to as natural a state as possible; a bit of rain and wind and before long no one will know there had been anything there. We also found an amazingly well hidden bird nest tucked in amongst the grasses at the second site (most likely an Australasian Pipit or a Little Button Quail) plus saw more of the Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos as we headed back into town, while Dave kept us entertained with hilarious, unexpected and occasionally downright frightening experiences from over 30 years of fieldwork.

I was planning on interviewing both the botany team – you guys had some good questions for them, especially about potential food crops - and the FWCAC Rangers this morning, but they were both unavailable. With the sun finally out, base camp was unusually quite when we returned, and it seemed like a natural sign that it was time for me to return to real life.

After packing up my tent (there were no venomous snakes sheltering under it, unlike for a participant in a previous Bushblitz!) I let the project manager Helen know I was ready to leave, and with that my time as a Bushblitzer and scientific assistant had come to an end. With a fish burger from the kiosk fuelling me for the drive home I was off. Along the way I ticked off a few more birds from my week’s observations (Wedge Tailed Eagle, Rock Parrots, Mulga Parrots, White Fronted Chats) as I drove, passed team leader Hannah returning from Ceduna with the next roster of teachers (I hope they have as much fun as we have) and even stopped for a while at a place called Acraman’s Creek to see if I could catch any fish.

When I was almost home I came across a big road-killed Brown snake of some kind.

One of Dave’s stories this morning involved how almost 30 years ago now a team of researchers he was part of re-discovered the Pygmy Blue Tongue – a tiny relative of the sleepy lizard & regular blue tongues that had long been presumed extinct. They found it when they were actually on their way somewhere else on a different project, and they too found a dead snake on a road. A few of them had the curiosity and the tools to cut it open and see what it had been eating… and found a lizard no one had seen for a very long time. Now I considered this for a moment, but rapidly concluded I didn’t have the time or the need (or be driving through a location home to a highly endangered reptile), so I took a few photos to see if I could narrow the ID down to species level later and then drove the rest of the way home. As a story though, I reckon this one maybe best encapsulates what science is about – if you have passion, curiosity, tools and a little bit of existing knowledge, and you end up in the right place at the right time, even unexpectedly, then you can probably find something amazing.

And that seems like as good a message as any to sign off on...