Fieldwork can be hard and repetitive, sometimes even tedious. The Great Poo Hunt had the potential to become that way, walking many kilometres day after day, often in beautiful places but staring intently at the floor. Fortunately, I was lucky during this trip: every day I have found something new to wonder at - apart from all the poo of course! Some examples:
Not the best photograph (compact camera only on this trip) but spot the southern brown bandicoot in the centre of the image, going about it's business in the middle of the day. We watched for a while and it didn't seem to care we were there. That was a treat!
One particularly wet and miserable day we surveyed a vegetable farm, bleak and muddy with no protection from the wind. The consolation prize was many many little tiny Crinea frogs around the farm dam :)
Pelican footprints in the sand! They are huge! I have seen many a pelican before, but never their footprints.
One day I chanced upon a writhing blob that turned out not to be a scat (fortunately) but was instead these three Pseudemoia (species?) skinks: as best I could tell I watched two males wrestle with / over a female. Eventually one male let go and ran away, the victor then dragged the female into the leaf litter. I think I am glad I am not a skink!
Invertebrate diversity was amazing, but mostly too fast for the little compact camera I had with me for this trip. This very cool spider (near Hobart) was kind enough to pose, so will have to represent the many other kinds of spiders, mites, grasshoppers, crickets, dragonflies etc. I encountered.
Last but not least, one site we visited was rich in Permian mudstone (I think, I hope I have that right!) and almost every rock on the hillside was full of these wonderful fossils. If I hadn't been looking for scats I could have spent hours just wondering at these...
For the last couple of weeks I've been in Tasmania, helping with fieldwork for The Great Poo Hunt - a large scale predator scat survey of the east of Tasmania. We've been collecting all scats that might belong to the larger mammalian predators, from selected survey sites. These will be DNA tested to identify the predator and some of the prey species whose remains are within each scat. Hopefully there will be lots of devil and quoll scats, signs of a healthy ecosystem! But I suspect there will also be a good proportion of feral cat scats and some dog scats. We really hope that we don't find any evidence of fox DNA in the scats - a fox population here would be disastrous for Tasmanian wildlife.
It's been hard work, with mud, wind, rain, heat, cold, leeches, biting ants and a heavy backpack (did someone say that science was glamorous...? ...probably not...) but I've had a wonderful time and got to see some parts of the country I would never normally get to. One thing I have really enjoyed is finding evidence of devils in the wild. Devil numbers have declined dramatically in recent years as a result of devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) but they are still hanging on across Tasmania and a lot of dedicated people are fighting to help them survive. I photographed the devils above at the Tasmanian Devil Park in Taranna. It has been years since I saw one in the wild (caveat - I have not spent an awful lot of time in Tasmania lately to go looking!). The scats are some that we came across at a devil latrine near Huonville. You can see they are full of fur and interesting pieces of bone and other prey remains. Devils tend to leave their scats in a favourite place and multiple devils may use the same site as a communal latrine / message board. The first latrine my team came across was in a beautiful spot on a ridgeline overlooking the Huon valley. We all agreed, the devils have it right, they like to poo with a view!
I'm a biologist with interests in conservation, genetics, evolution and ecology.
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