Monday, January 28, 2019

Wonders in the Dryandra Woodland

Greeting Everyone,
The next stop on our Western Australia tour was Dryandra Woodland, a short 2- hour drive from Treetops Cottage in Kalamunda. This woodland is a valuable nature conservation area comprised of 17 blocks totaling 28,000 hectares and is the largest area of remnant vegetation in the western Wheatbelt. We stayed in the Lions Dryandra Woodland Village, which used restored cottages from the 1920's Forests Department settlement. We were booked into Malleehen Cottage named for a vulnerable ground-dwelling bird found in the woodland. It would be a comfortable base for the next week.

Malleehen Cottage

The following morning we set off to visit nearby Boyagin Nature Reserve to look for Numbats. We had read that they are more plentiful in Boyagin than Dryandra. Along the drive, I spotted a dark shape moving on the ground. We came to a screeching halt and through our binoculars, we could see that it was an echidna! Later research revealed that it was a Short-beaked Echidna, the only echidna species found in Australia. We were able to approach to within 8-feet for excellent views and photos. What a bizarre looking creature with its short snout, beady eyes, and body covered in spines. Like the other extant monotremes (echidna & platypus), the Short-beaked Echidna lays eggs, the only group of mammals to do so. The echidna has a low body temperature between 30 and 32 ° C (86 and 90 ° F) and during hibernation, the body temperature of the echidna may fall as little as 5 ° C (41° F). What a great find! 

Short-beaked Echidna

We continued toward Boyagin when I spotted what appeared to be a lizard in the road. We turned around to investigate and found a beautiful skink with a partially missing tail. At first, we assumed that it had lost its tail as some reptiles do to escape predators but we later found out that it was a Bobtail or Shingleback (Tiliqua rugosa) which has a short tail. When I got too close, it opened its mouth to scare me off and I could see from where it got its other common name, the Blue-tongued Skink.


We finally reached Boyagin Nature Reserve and searched for three hours not finding one mammal. We returned to Dryandra and prepared to visit Barna Mia Nocturnal Animal Sanctuary. We had organized a private tour of the facility located within the Dryandra Woodland. We arrived just before dusk and met our guide, Sally. We walked to the first feeding station, a clearing surrounded by logs where guests can sit and watch the animals. Sally put out two dishes of pellets and I put out some mushrooms since the Woylies feed on fungus. I asked Sally why the animals are fed here and she said to attract them so visitors can get a good look. Being nocturnal these marsupials are rarely seen and people are more willing to protect what they know. Barna Mia is mainly about educating the public about the plight of these critically endangered animals. Feeding only supplies 10% of their diet and they must forage for the rest. 

The animals slowly emerged from the vegetation to feed. There were Woylies, Quenda, Mala, Boodie and our favorite, the Bilby. Once common on the mainland these marsupials now only survive on a few islands off the coast of Western Australia and in predator-proof enclosures such as Barna Mia. A few free-ranging populations of some of these species persist where Red Foxes and feral cats have been removed. Marc had special permission to take photos with a flash. Usually, only photography with a red light is allowed. He was still sensitive to the animals and just took pictures as long as the flash did not disturb them. 

The Boodie (Bettongia lesueur) or Burrowing Bettong, is a social, vocal marsupial that lives in communal burrows. Healthy animals such as these, store fat at the base of their tails, giving them a thickly-banded appearance.


The Mala (Lagorchestes hirsutus), also known as the Rufous Hare-Wallaby, is a small delicate marsupial with light fawn-colored fur. When disturbed, it springs from its hiding places and quickly springs away in a zigzag motion. Malas are prolific diggers, hence their pouches face backward to prevent the joey from getting covered with dirt. 


The Bilby (Macrotis lagotis) is a gentle animal with soft, blue-grey fur, long ears more like a rabbit’s and a decorative black and white tail. The female Bilby also has a rear-opening pouch. During the day, Bilbies sleep in deep burrows, emerging after dark to feed on insects, grubs, seeds, fungi, and bulbs.


On the drive back to Malleehen Cottage, I spotted a snake in the road! It was a beautiful Carpet Python about 5-feet long. These snakes are non-venomous but care should be taken around all Australian snakes.

Carpet Python

Back on the main road, I saw eyeshine on a log about 40 meters away. It didn’t move, so I thought it was a reflector. We got out to investigate and found a Chuditch or Western Quoll! Marc was able to get a good photo showing the quoll's distinctive white spots. We didn’t get back to our cabin until midnight but what a day we had with five new mammals and two reptiles to add to our list!

Chuditch or Western Quoll

During our third visit to Boyagin Nature Reserve, while driving down a side road called Frogmouth, I saw a tiny chipmunk-sized animal running down the road. It could be nothing but a Numbat! We stopped where it had left the road and waited but sadly it did not reappear. We returned to the site several times hoping that it would come out but it didn’t. Bummer - foiled again!

Later in the afternoon, we decided to climb Boyagin Rock, the main draw to the reserve. It is an imposing granite outcrop known by the Noongar People as Boodjin and it has significant cultural and spiritual meaning for these local indigenous people. It was an easy 300-foot climb to the top from which we got great views of the surrounding woodland with a variety of eucalyptus species such as Wandoo, Marri and York Gums.

Boyagin Rock

We returned to Dryandra and set off at dusk to search for nocturnal mammals. A mob of 50 Western Grey Kangaroos had emerged to graze in the paddock in front of the cabins. The 23-km Darwinian Loop Drive was very productive as we could see up to 20 Common Brushtail Possums and 10 Woylies in a given night.

 Common Brushtail Possum

During one night drive, we spotted what appeared to be branches on the road. When we approached more closely, we could see that they were actually two Tawny Frogmouths! Often mistaken for owls, these nocturnal birds are native to Australia.

Tawny Frogmouths 

A night walk along the Wandoo Trail led to a very close encounter with a free-ranging Woylie. It’s great to see these critically endangered marsupials surviving outside predator-proof enclosures. These animals can make a comeback if introduced Red Foxes and feral cats are removed.


On most mornings we woke to the raucous squawking of Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoos outside our cabin. We’d sneak outside but these wary birds would fly off before Marc could get a photo. One morning we decided to take a break from Numbat hunting to hike the Lol Gray Trail. On the way to the trailhead, we encountered a flock of Carnaby's Black Cockatoos feeding on pine cones that had fallen on the ground. We were able to sneak around a cabin for great views and finally a photo! These endangered cockatoos are endemic to southwest Western Australia.

Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo

Along the trail, we encountered a particularly old stand of Grass Trees. These plants are prolific in Western Australia.  They belong to the genus Xanthorrhoea and are endemic to Australia. They are very slow growing and depending on the species, a 5-meter meter tall plant can be 200 to 600 years old!

 Grass Tree

After our hike, we visited the gardens of the caretakers, John and Lisa, to observe the many birds attracted to the bird baths. Lisa told us that John and his friend were out looking for Numbats. “Good luck,” I thought. After 4 visits to Boyagin and many hours of searching, we had yet to get a good view. When John and Rob returned, they told us they had seen 4 Numbats right here in Dryandra! We rushed off to one on the locations where they had just seen a Numbat but came up empty-handed yet again! We spent the next day and the following morning searching for Numbats in Dryandra. We scanned the woodlands in vain and on January 28 we had to admit defeat and move on to our next destination. We didn’t leave Dryandra disappointed though. We had seen a fantastic variety of mammals, birds, reptiles and plants here. Some are extremely rare and we were very privileged to get such great views and intimate photos. Thanks to John and Lisa for being such great hosts and the folks at Barna Mia for not one but two private tours of their facility to see and photograph some of Australia’s most endangered marsupials! 
We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our route map:

Monday, January 21, 2019

Laugh Kookaburra!

Greetings Everyone,
We’ve always wanted to visit Western Australia and to escape winter we decided to spend 2 months there. We left home on January 13 and arrived in Perth by way of New York, Beijing, and Singapore on January 16. To get over jet lag and to acclimatize to the warmer climate we spent our first five nights in Treetops Cottage nestled in gardens in the town of Kalamunda.

Treetops Cottage 

Our prime reason for visiting Western Australia was to search for the state's rare and endangered wildlife. An unexpected surprise awaited us at Treetops. A family of Western Brown Bandicoots, locally called Quenda, were living in the garden and had become quite accustomed to human visitors. Normally nocturnal and very secretive, Bandi, as we came to refer to mom (or maybe it was dad) and her offspring, Coot, would scoot around the garden paths during the day giving us great views. 

Bandi (L) and Coot (R)

Our hosts, Nancy and Mick, had a bird feeder hanging from the balcony. It attracted not your everyday variety of birds but colorful parrots like these beautiful Galahs! Not everyone likes Galahs as they are very common and tend to raid farmers' fields, but I can’t think of too many gaudy pink birds that come to a bird feeder.


In the evening Laughing Kookaburras could be heard gathering in the nearby Eucalyptus trees preparing to roost for the night. Laughing Kookaburras are not native to Western Australia and were brought here by those missing their raucous laughter. As a child, I remember singing an Australian nursery rhyme written in 1932 by Marion Sinclair. I still remember the lyrics in the first verse:

“Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree,
Merry merry king of the bush is he.
Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh, Kookaburra,
Gay your life must be!”

They have taken up residence in Western Australia and unfortunately hunt native reptiles and small mammals.

Laughing Kookaburra

The next morning we set off early to visit nearby John Forrest National Park. Established in 1898 it is the oldest National Park in Western Australia and the second oldest in Australia. Along one of the park roads, we saw our first Western Grey Kangaroos. We later discovered that they are very common around the park’s tavern. 

Western Grey Kangaroos

The following day we returned to John Forrest National Park to hike its longest trail, the Eagle View Trail, which passed through varied vegetation types, including heath, open wandoo woodlands and mixed forest of jarrah and marri, all species of eucalyptus.

Marc on the Eagle View Trail

We met a local woman on horseback and who told us about a wildlife sanctuary near Chidlow that we should visit. When we returned to Treetops Cottage, I went online and found the sanctuary the woman was talking about. It’s called Karakamia and was only 36 minutes away! I also found out from their website that they do spotlight tours on Friday and Saturday nights. I contacted them and was able to join tonight's tour! We met our guide Mark, and he gave us an introduction to the reserve, named for the Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (Karak), one of the three species of black cockatoo that inhabit the property. It was established in 1991 by Martin Copley, an Australian philanthropist who became rich in the UK by selling extended warranties on electronics. He put his money to good use by purchasing land and creating sanctuaries. Sadly he passed away at the age of 74 but has left quite a legacy. To learn more about the reserve and how you can help go to:

To protect Australia’s small to medium mammals, sanctuaries have to be fenced to keep introduced predators, mainly feral cats and Red Foxes out and native animals in. The fences needed to be buried to prevent animals from burrowing under and high enough to keep predators from jumping over. Bait treated with 1080 poison is widely used, but it’s controversial. It kills non-native species, but native species are immune. Four main species have been reintroduced to the site: Tammar Wallaby, Quenda, Woylie and Common Brushtail Possum. As dusk descended, the Quendas began to emerge and then the Woylies! I had never heard of a Woylie before. These critically endangered marsupials used to inhabit a much broader range, but predation by Red Foxes and feral cats have taken a huge toll. The population has been reduced from 225,000 to only 12,000 to 18,000 in the past 15 years! They are nocturnal and forage primarily for underground fungi (truffles), but also feed on tubers, bulbs, and seeds. To be so close to such a rare animal was thrilling but at the same time sobering. Thanks to organizations like AWC, this species has a chance at survival.


On Sunday, January 20, we met up with our friend Sue. We had first met Sue in 2014 on a trip to Wrangel Island off Russia’s Chukotka Coast. It was great seeing Sue again and she graciously offered to be our tour guide for the day. It was very hot so we headed to Cottesloe Beach, the most famous beach near Perth.

Cottesloe Beach

After we toured the nearby port city of Fremantle which recently underwent a revitalization project. It’s now a lively tourist destination with museums, universities, shops, and cafes. Fremantle is also renowned for its well-preserved historic buildings and streetscapes. We ended our tour at Kings Park overlooking the Swan River and the city of Perth. The park was officially opened on August 10, 1895, and protects 900 acres of native bushland.

View of Perth from Kings Park

Our 2-month trip to Western Australia was off to a great start. We had already seen five species of native mammals, hiked in the bushland and met up with our friend Sue. Stay tuned for more adventures Down Under!
We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our route map: