Autumn sandpad monitoring at Charles Darwin - notes from the field
Brian Martin prepares the sandpad, sweeping it to create a smooth surface in which animal tracks can be identified.
The 2017 Autumn sand pad monitoring at Charles Darwin Reserve was led by Brian Crute with me in support. The Northern York Gums (Eucalyptus loxophleba subsp. supralaevis) were just coming into flower. It amazes me that there's a non-stop flowering of different native plants throughout the year.
What is sand pad monitoring? Firstly we have a route over 70km consisting of 39 GPS-designated positions south of the homestead and 30 GPS-designated positions north of the homestead. On the first day we prepare each pad by using a heavy rake to loosen up the soil and then the pad is smoothed using a broad soft-bristle broom.
In January two downpours of rain – one of 50mm and the second of 79mm – washed a lot of soil from a number of sand pads. The challenge was to produce sand pads from baked clay. It was back breaking work but we succeeded.
For five mornings we drove around the route using the GPS to stop before each pad. The driver is in trouble if they drive over a pad, and the passenger is the first to inspect the sand pad for tracks.
If tracks are seen the driver climbs out of the vehicle to verify the tracks. Many times there's deep discussion and looking at the tracks from different angles. If a decision identifying the critter can't be made then it's recorded as unidentifiable.
In the past we used paper and pen recordings but this year we had a brand new Ipad with recording software designed by Dr Vanessa Westcott (a Bush Heritage ecologist). It took a while for us to become competent in its use. Plus we had to devise a new routine for the Ipad involving storage and ease of access. This was done and now Vanessa doesn’t have to input the data.
We both enjoyed working with the new Reserve Manager, William Hansen. He asked if we would cross a few tasks off his 'to do list' in the afternoons after we'd checked the pads. We willing obliged and did such things as treating and painting the rusty camper’s information box and putting new seat covers on the Hilux.
On the fourth day we were surrounded by dark thunder clouds with rain in the south and west bearing down on us. After completing the southern section we cancelled our usual morning tea and continued on hoping to beat the rain. We didn’t need to worry as the rain didn't arrive until the evening but the 7mm washed out all the animal tracks, so we had to be satisfied with four days data.
In preparation for an upcoming fence removal working bee we spent a day conducting an inventory of fences on the reserve. We used the Polaris to look for fences in the acacia growth areas. Brian C enjoyed my dodgem car antics, finding pathways through the acacia.
In the afternoon we surveyed the northern end of the reserve and were pleasantly amazed to find two ephemeral salt lakes full of water. Neither of us had ever seen this – even in the winter – so a local thunderstorm must have dumped a lot of rain providing run off to fill the lakes.
We were pleased to see the continuing increase of dunnart tracks but were surprised at the reduced frequency of hopping mice tracks. But numbers of hopping mice fluctuate with changing weather conditions. There were only two cases of fox tracks and one of a cat. Due to Brian C’s efforts, rabbit numbers were also down.
Brian and I hope the rain will continue and we have a bumper winter season.
Thank you to the two Brian's for their dedication and the important help they provide at Charles Darwin Reserve.