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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.