Merry merry king of the bush is he

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During our visit to their new home in Wollongbar a few IMG_1462 painted and ready to installweeks back, Jakob and Julie were lamenting that they could no long watch a pair of kookaburras nesting in their tree Kooka box FFFyear after year as they previously did at their old property in Lismore. Jakob wanted to place a nest box in a gum tree in the paddock opposite his house. As a little thank you present for hosting us, we bought them a kookaburra nest box to place in the tree.

Jakob was not sure how the neighbours would react or how he was actually going to place the box high enough in the tree, but as it turned out the whole community got on board. Many people on the street attended the installation event and a local friend of Jakob’s helped install the box using his cherry picker. Even the Kooka box installationlocal newspaper (read online article here) and local birding group showed up for the event! Since installation, a kookaburra has been seen sitting near the next box, so fingers-crossed for some kookaburra chicks this season.

Northern star kooka story

Going batty for bats

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Where: Tolga Bat Hospital in the Atherton Tablelands

IMG_1459Graeme and I have both worked with bats in Australia and New Zealand so I was very keen to check out the Tolga Bat Hospital. During our visit I was pleasantly surprised to see such great facilities for care and rehabilitation of injured or orphaned bats.

Bats have got a bad rap in the eye of the public: they are considered pests by fruit farmers or when they roost near people because of the noise and smell, and they are known to carry diseases that have the potential to infect humans such as Lyssavirus and Hendra virus in Australia and Ebola virus and IMG_1457Nipah virus overseas. But I am here to tell you that bats are a very important part of any ecosystem because they aid suppression of insect populations, dispersal of seeds, pollination and recycling of nutrients in the ecosystem. If you ever get to meet a bat you will hopefully see they are not as scary as you may think and may even begin to appreciate them as cute little creatures.

Many bat species in Australia are in decline and this is solely due to human activity. Destruction of their habitat is the number one threat to bats, and as they move into human populated areas they are vulnerable to shooting by fruit farmers, getting caught in barbed wire fencing or inappropriate fruit tree netting IMG_1447and electrocution. The hospital at Tolga cares for 1000’s of orphaned and injured bats each year (I can’t remember the exact number but was definitely A LOT!) with the aim of releasing them back into the wild.

As for the diseases found in bats in Australia (Australian Bat Lyssavirus and Hendra virus) that have the potential to infect humans, there is absolutely no need to go around culling/killing bats in order to minimise transmission to humans. Australian Bat Lyssavirus has similar properties to the Rabies virus and therefore vaccination with Rabies vaccine protects humans from infection with Lyssavirus. All people who work with bats are required to have the Rabies vaccine (as Graeme and I have). As for Hendra virus, the bat first needs to infect a horse and only then are humans able to become infected. Humans cannot be infected with the DSCN1669virus from coming into contact with a bat. Besides, there is now a Hendra virus vaccine for horses so the risk of transmission from horses to humans is minimal in a vaccinated horse (be wary of those who have the opinion that the vaccination is dangerous in horses – there is no actual evidence to support this. Opinion is very different to evidence – don’t get me started!).

We were given a tour of the facilities at the hospital and got to meet many of the current patients including this cute juvenile Spectacled flying fox who tried to steal my hat!

 

OUR WILDLIFE LIST

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Where: Paluma NP, Wallaman falls, Atherton tablelands (Lake Eacham, Lake Tinaroo, Yungaburra)

We have a list of animals that we are determined to see in the wild during this trip. This list includes animals like the northern quoll, tree kangaroo, cassowary, northern bettong and the striped possum. So far we have managed to see several species on “Our list” including northern hairy-nosed wombats and koalas.

The platypus has proven to be quite the elusive animal and although we have pretty much spent most of our time traveling within their area of distribution, the quirky platypus has managed to evade us. Once we arrived in the northern areas of their distribution we realised that we needed to be more targeted in our search. So for almost a week, our choice of campsite depended solely on places where we might find them.

Platypus are most active at dawn and dusk, so for several nights in a row we would sit silently on the banks of rivers and streams waiting patiently for them. We tried Paluma NP, Wallaman falls and areas in the Atherton tablelands and yet there was no platypus sighting – although we did manage to see a water rat. It wasn’t IMG_8153until we arrived at the “Platypus platform” in Yungaburra that we finally saw our target – and in a creek surrounded by cattle paddocks and during the middle of the day no less!!

Another mission in the tablelands was to find Lumholt’s tree kangaroo.   We had been advised by multiple sources to go to the Nerada Tea Estate to find them. After searching through the remanent patches of forest on the property and finding nothing we headed to the Tea Estate café feeling dejected. It wasn’t until we were literally about to leave that a couple kindly told us where to find them in a patch of forest right at the front gate!IMG_8125Lumholtz tree kangaroo original

We’ve been doing a lot of spotlighting at night in these areas and so far we’ve seen northern, southern and long-nosed bandicoots, striped possum, giant white-tailed rat, sugar gliders, ringtail and brushtail possums, fawn-footed melomys and various wallabies.

For more of our wildlife photos (and other photos of our trip) check our site on flickr (Finlayson’s flickr albums)

Striped possum (near Lake Eacham)

Wallaman falls - highest, permanent, single-drop waterfall in Australia

Wallaman falls – highest, permanent, single-drop waterfall in Australia

Fawn-footed melomys

Fawn-footed melomys

Tyson’s tour

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DSCN1460Tyson is our 7-year-old Jack Russell x Miniature Pinscher dog and he joined us for the first 5 weeks of our trip. We were hoping to have him with us for the entire trip but it didn’t take us long to figure out that it was going to make things difficult when we wanted to spend time in National Parks. So with much sadness on my behalf, and much happiness on my mother’s behalf, we decided to send him back to my mum in Melbourne.

Those of you who have met Tyson may know of his cheekiness (aka naughtiness), but we were incredibly surprised at how well behaved he was on this trip. He met so many new animals including horses, cows, kangaroos, wallabies and possums. He got within a metre of a common wombat and barely had any reaction (which is interesting considered he barked at a statue of a wombat!). He learned very quickly that Colin the cat was the boss and avoided eye contact with him at all costs.

We will miss him on the rest our trip, but I know he is currently being spoilt by my mother and no doubt will put on several kilograms of weight due to overfeeding.

Here are my favourite photos of Tyson on his adventure up the east coast and a special selection that I like to call “The many sleeping positions of Tyson”.

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PLAYING CATCHUP – The short(ish) version

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Gympie

From Toowoomba we headed up to Gympie to visit friends Pete and Bree (and kids Angus and Tawni) whom we had originally met in Roxby Downs a long time ago. They had recently settled in Gympie after finishing their own 18-month trip around Australia, so we spent a lot of time picking their brains for some of the best things to see and do. They had just moved into the house on their beautiful new property just out of Gympie after living in their campervan for another 6 months. Again we got roped into some weeding as we walked around the property :-) Unfortunately it was a very brief stop, but it was so great to catch up with friends that we hadn’t seen in almost 10 years!

Wildlife Disease Association conference

We back-tracked a bit down south to Maroochydore to attend the 2015 International Wildlife Disease Association (WDA conference). I almost felt like I was back in New Zealand because so many of my kiwi friends (actually mostly Aussies living in NZ) were there too. It was also a great chance to catch up with many of my friends and colleagues from zoos and wildlife hospitals across Australia and the rest of the world!

The NZ crew at WDA

The NZ crew at WDA

Graeme helped a colleague from the UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network run a full day workshop on oiled wildlife response while I attended a workshop at Australia Zoo on koala medicine.

It was a fantastic conference with so many great and inspiring presentations. Just what I needed to re-invigorate my passion for conservation medicine and wildlife disease.

Zilzie/Rockhampton

Graeme’s father and his family come from Rockhampton where Graeme’s Uncle Arch and Aunt Jeanette still live. Graeme’s other Uncle, Brain and wife Fiona, have bought themselves a winter house in nearby Zilzie by the beach in order to escape the Melbourne winter.

We indulged in someDSCN1355 relaxing activities, walked the dogs on the beach, read books and had some quality “puzzle time“. While we were kayaking in the bay one day we are pretty sure we saw a dugong!

Graeme’s cousin Scott and family have a farm on the west side of Rockhampton. Scott has become a horse trainer and has trained some of his horses to do tricks like sitting on a beanbag and lying down on a rug! Graeme and I also had our chance to ride a horse and (try to) make it do some tricks.

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It was also my birthday during this time so we spent the day snorkeling and relaxing on Great Keppel Island.

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Townsville and Magnetic island

I finally managed to convince my mother to come and join us for a weekend in Townsville. It was another relaxing weekend full of DSCN1457afternoon naps and eating delicious food. We managed to squeeze in some sightseeing as well when we finally made it up Castle Hill on our third attempt.

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After saying goodbye to mum and Tyson (see next blog) at the airport we headed over to Magnetic Island. This was one beautiful island and we finally saw some wild koalas including a mum with a joey. We also caught up with a friend of a friend (who is also the friend of another friend – complicated I know!), Andes, who lives on Magnetic Island and knows far north Qld very well. He gave us heaps of great tips on where to go to see rare wildlife.

And thus ends the “staying with friends” portion of our trip. From here on in we are sleeping in our camper!

An Epping Adventure

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G with a baby southern hairy-nosed wombat back in 2002

Now that we’re more than a month into our adventures, I figure it’s probably time that I contributed to our blog so what better way than with a detour to visit one of Australia’s rarest mammals, the northern hairy-nosed wombat. It was roughly fifteen years ago that I ventured into the world of wombats near the South Australian town of Swan Reach. I ended up being involved with various projects in South Australia on southern hairy-nosed wombats for around four years. A lot of those projects were focussed on developing techniques that could be applied to the closely related and critically endangered northern hairy-nosed wombat, which at the time consisted of one population of approximately 100 individuals, with as few as 25 breeding females. Despite being widespread in Queensland and into New South Wales prior to European settlement, this species was already in decline when land clearing in key habitat areas and further pressures such as predation led to the numbers being so low. For more than 20 years a recovery team, led by Alan Horsup, has worked tirelessly to save this species. Serena and I made sure that Epping National Park was on our ‘places to visit’ list and after a catch up with Alan in Rockhampton we made the drive out to the park. The park is now surrounded by a dingo-proof fence because in the early 2000’s they were recognised as a major threat to the survival of young wombats. The facility is first-class, given its location, with a large sheltered area for volunteers and staff to gather and has ample

The elusive northern hairy-nosed wombat!

The elusive northern hairy-nosed wombat!

accommodation. Water is the big issue out there as there has not been a decent rainfall event for three years! We drove out into the park on dusk and spotted a variety of birds and lots of swamp wallabies. But it was when the sun had finally set that we managed to see our first northern hairy-nosed wombat!! We managed to see another four of them before we went back into to camp for dinner, as well as a couple of spectacled hare-

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A couple of happy wombat enthusiasts!

wallabies, which are also doing well within the park thanks to the dingo proof fence and supplementary water supply. After dinner we went out for another few hours of spotlighting and managed to see another five wombats! Looking through the visitors book at the park, it was clear to see that we were very lucky to have seen so many of these rare creatures in one night. It was also great to see so many familiar names that have visited the park from the wombat research community. It is estimated now that there are around 200 wombats in the Epping population as well as a handful that have been translocated to a site in southern Queensland. So hopefully we’ll be seeing this iconic Australian animal for many years to come.

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The wombat searching vehicle

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Spectacled hare-wallaby

HORSING AROUND #1

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Location: Southbrook (south of Tawoomba), Qld

Hanging out with: Jen the horse vet – friend from vet school.

From northern NSW we headed into Queensland to a small town in the middle of nowhere called Southbrook. Our friend Jen was working there as a locum vet at the Equine clinic. We headed into Tawoomba to have a look around but we where hindered by the heavy fog that settled in.

DSCN1319After our breakfast with a view we decided to head out of the fog and drive to Warrick to take a look at their Jumpers & Jazz festival. The townsfolk knit, crochet or sew jumpers for the trees on the main street to keep them warm during the winter, while musicians sing some jazz on the street or in the cafes.

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There was of course the obligatory stop at a winery on the way.

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IMG_3519Back at the Equine hospital Graeme witnessed for the first time how sperm samples are collected from stallions for breeding purposes.