Still on St. Bees Island, Australia
7.10.06 0 °F
Australia Diary – May 9 – July 13 – Second Week
Monday, May 15 – St. Bee’s – I AM ON THE MAP!
Karin took a big stand for herself yesterday and declared that today was the day that she would be able to see another koala without help. She inspired me and when I picked my vibes card for the day, it was Call in your Runners – Time for me to find a koala!
Ah, the luxury of being able to sleep in a little as I am not on kitchen duty. Today our team was only three people, as Cynch, who was on kitchen duty today, opted to stay in the kitchen and cook. So my team of Digby, Damien and I, with Sean as the shadow, left the base with 6 koalas on our list and most of them, I have seen before. YAAH! Abby, Tea, Olivia, Stud, Yoshi, Digger.
I am finding that I am very popular with the mosquitoes, especially around the elbows??, but at least the gecko is not peeing on me anymore.
I told the team that today was the day that I would see the koala’s unassisted. I asked if they found one, to let me try and find it before they pointed it out to me. Embolden by my new stand and commitment to have fun and let my runners help me, as we were going for Abby, I thought I had spotted one, but it was only a branch. We were to approach her very quietly and let Delma know as Abby is one that she is following and she wanted to make sure she stayed put.
Next the team went up the gully for Tea and again, I finally spotted the animal after it had been sited. At this point, Sean determined that our PDA was not talking to our GPS, but with some radio assistance and Sean’s determination, it was finally working.
Our third koala was Olivia who you may remember was Miss Elusive and originally was very high in the tree and almost obscured by branches. As the tracking device indicated that we were close, I looked up and way in the top branches was a little grey face looking down at me. When I got my bino’s in place, the eyes were closed and she was taking a nap. I was very happy that I had finally found one by myself! THANK YOU OLIVIA AND THANK YOU RUNNERS! I felt wonderful.
Olivia was not in a tagged tree so we went into action. Delma wanted to see Abby, Tea and Olivia in order to place a monitor near them and she was with us for the nearest neighbor’s data collection. Sean left us to go do some other work and inadvertently walked off with our PDA and GPS device.
Our next two were in a totally different area so off we went to find Stud and Yoshi.
I was on tracking as we went after Stud. My team was very patient with me as I had them up and down the mountain and both left and right. We found Stud and this time, he was not as hidden as before. Bill sent Sean back with our PDA so that we could continue to get full records.
Yoshi was problematic so we opted for lunch and then we would try again. About this time, we were asked to look for Winston instead of Yoshi and then do Digger.
We found Winston and on the way to going after Digger, I spotted my first unassisted koala (Albie), which means we were not using the tracking device when I spotted him. He was very small and looked very sleepy. (We found out later that he was about 18 months old, had already been collected by the other team and was determined to be too small to collar at this time. No wonder he looked so beat!)
It was lovely to see Digger, the koala that I had seen caught the previous day. I fancied that I could recognize his face, although I am not sure that I can. He was very curious about us and a little concerned we might be after him again. I kept assuring him that he was all right. Digger was in an untagged tree, so we were running around underneath him for a good 15 minutes. As I had seen before, as soon as we started nailing the tree tag in place, he climbed higher.
Just as we were finishing Digger, Bill, Delma, Sean marched past on the way to a catch of a clean skin. We went along to see if they needed help and we got to watch Bingo being caught and collared. He was only about 6 feet up in the tree and he put up quite a struggle but finally made it into the bag. He received two yellow ear tags in his left ear and a maroon one in his right. Two tags in the left means male, two tags in the right is for females. (According to the crew, the females are always right).
I got to hold him, but he refused to pose for photos and kept his eyes closed. When Antonio set him free, he sat at the bottom of the tree for a minute. Then decided he liked the larger tree behind him and moved over and scampered up.
We returned to the base camp for a Mexican meal made by Cynch, assisted by Karin, with me as the consultant. We have added Alistair to the team, who is the other primary investigator for St. Bee’s Island. He will only be with us for 2 days and when he leaves, he takes Sean with him.
Tuesday, May 16 – St. Bee’s – Rain Rain Go Away!
Woke to overcast skies but started out at our normal time. With more koalas tagged, our lists increase every day. Luckily, we have people who are very adept at tracking so we don’t take too much time between finds. The competition for clean skins and unassisted is fierce and at times, it appears that people are more interested in adding to their total then enjoying the animals.
I still find is amusing that as soon as we find the koala, the team generally ignores it and scurries around the base of the tree collecting data and then heading off to the next find. I long to just sit and admire them for a time.
My team today was Antonio as tracker (known for his ability to get you there quickly and almost always pinpoints the tree exactly), Damien (the man who tends to lead us in the wrong direction as we begin), Cynch and I. Sean joined us after our first find today. Bill stayed in on the radio to directed us from afar and Delma accompanied the other team.
Our list included Natasha, Honey, Yoshi, Winston, Yellow, Elizabeth, Gizmo, Frontier and Jackaroo.
Closest to us was Natasha in an untagged tree, but when we found her, we only tied a tag on a pink ribbon on the tree so as not to disturb her. Delma wants to monitor her later on, so we will have to return later to do nearest neighbors. Delma’s group was after Abby, but she was not were she had been found for the last few days, so we had a listen for her and she was somewhere close to the point of the hill. Once we got through out list, we would try for her if they had not already found her. We went straight up the hill to find Honey, who was considerably higher then we have seen her before. A gentle rain began, but we continued. Sean caught up with us and we found we had Stud not far away, so we told the other team we would take him, if they would take Gizmo. They agreed. (Gizmo has not been seen yet this trip and we are having a devil of a time getting a signal on the receiver for him.). By the time we found Stud, it was raining in earnest and we ducked under the cover of an umbrella tree to wait it out. After 15 minutes and we were all pretty wet, the rain lightened and as we were already wet, we decided to continue to try and locate Yoshi. Sean told Bill that I would like a thermos of hot, milky tea sent up with biscuits and after we decided on both types of biscuits, Bill signed off. We continued across the top of the hill and the rain increased. Under another tree we stood and got wetter, but we had also located a koala that we were not tracking but was marked. Luckily, it was in a tagged tree but it was not on our small list, so we had to consult the expanded list and go off the ear tags. We determined that is was Vertigo and the rain continued.
Bill said the other team was heading back and we began to descend as the rain increased. It was slick going down hill so we were even slower than usual but we finally made it to the goat highway close to the bottom of the hill. As we got closer to the gully, we came across a dead, collared koala right on the path. We tried to quickly determine who it was, but our short list was beginning to disintegrate with all the water. Sean carried the male koala by the hind legs and we continued towards home. By this time, every part of me was wet, I had removed my glasses as there was nothing to dry them on and I could not see with all the water drops. If I inadvertently raised my arms, I got a cold shower of rain into that armpit. We were soaked.
At the North house, we determined that the koala was Cameron, the one that we had tracked for the last several days and I had seen the day before. Upon closer inspection, there were no apparently signs of reasons for his death, other then he was elderly, (8 years) and not in good body condition. His hipbones were very prominent under his soaked skin. Very sad for the team. It was 11:40 am when we arrived back at camp. As I arrived back, I realized that I had lost one or my leather gloves that I had taken out the previous day.
Alistair had been on the mountain with us and was also soaked. Nonetheless, he went back out as he needed to do some research and only had two days on the island. He headed back out. THEN IT REALLY BEGAN TO RAIN – BUCKETS OF WATER FOR THE NEXT TWO HOURS. I kept expected to see Alistair shooting past on a torrent of water from the hill. (It was determined that we got around 68 mls or around 2.5 inches of rain)
I ended up reading for most of the day and tried to nap. By 3:30, the rain had pretty much stopped. The sun did not come out, but it was clearing, so the teams were back on the hill by 4pm. There had been a chance that we would begin night tracking tonight, but Bill said we would just try to sight everyone on the list and leave the night tracking for another day.
With only had about 2 hours of good light left, so we started off to find Yellow on the farthest tip of the point. The ground was wet and slick in places and there were little rivers coming off the hill that we normally did not see, but we were amazed how comparatively dry the foliage was around us. Found Yellow and then went after Elizabeth. Sean was again going to join us. At this point, the other team kept spotting animals that we needed to get, so after Elizabeth and a few unassisted (Nell, Winston and Marina) and one very complicated nearest neighbors data collection, we were asked to go back and finish nearest neighbors on Natasha.
I was going to get the team back to the original tree with the GPS coordinates we had taken earlier that day. I found the coordinated and off we went. I found that the arrow on the device kept pointing in the wrong direction but the distance kept going down. At this point, we found Natasha in another tree and had to collect that data, so I went back to assist with the PDA on her and Sean and Damien went off with the GPS. By the time Cynch and I got there, the light was really fading and they were well into nearest neighbors.
We went very slowly down the hill to the bay, as it was very steep and slick and walked across the bay to home. Luckily, we were not too wet this time, as most of us are on our last set of dry clothes.
At dinner tonight Bill discussed night tracking and a possible change in our schedule for tomorrow. We were supposed to have tomorrow afternoon off, but if the weather improved, we might do am tracking, partial afternoon off, early dinner and night tracking. Night tracking is done with considerably smaller groups and involves finding every koala we tracked during the day and just seeing if they are in different trees or with different koalas around them. I indicated that for me, on the day I would do night tracking, I would definitely want my afternoon of down time, as it could be a very late night, followed by another full day of tracking. Bill said that would be fine and that night tracking would be optional. We will come up with a roster so that the teams are small and everyone gets a chance to do it if they want to.
Off to bed, but not much sleep as the rain and wind returned and it was a very loud night.
Wednesday, May 17 – St. Bee’s – Here comes the rain again!
I went to breakfast a little earlier today, Karin was already was at the South House because she was on kitchen duty today and the other two ladies were also up and moving much earlier than usual. It is just as well because literally one minute after we arrived for breakfast, the sky opened and down came the rain. Bill indicated we would not be going out any time soon, so I spent the morning down loading photos and blogging. The rain may also mean that Alistair and Sean will stay another day, as the plane will not be able to arrive at Keswick Island.
The weather finally cleared, so we were going to head out at about noon. The fine weather meant that Sean and Alistair would also be able to leave. Hugs and pictures at the boat, we waved them off, ate lunch and then put on our boots.
I was finally on a team with Bill, the PI, along with Karin, Chris and Antonio. Both teams made short work of our lists and with Digby tracking for the other team, other people were able to score a few clean skins and unassisteds. Karin also found my leather glove that I had lost during the big rain the other day. YAAAH! It spitted rain on and off, but we only were half soaked by the time we made it back in just under 2 hours having found every koala on our list plus 4 extra one. Our list today included Natasha, Jackaroo, Yellow, Winston, Elizabeth, Frontier and Digger.
Natasha was our first and easy to find the same as yesterday. Just up the way, we came across Jackaroo, and since we did not have him on the radar, he was an unassisted sighting. Next we found Yellow and Bill helped us see that she had a large pouch and a little guy hiding in there. As she is one of the ones to be caught so that they can change the battery in her collar, we may get to see little guy.
Elizabeth was no problem and on the way over to Winston we also found Nell and Frontier.
Digger was out last to find and as I stood on a rock and surveyed all I could see, Karin spotted him directly above me. I had already checked to see if this was a day I would find one, and the vibes said no. I caught him in mid chew and he had a eucalyptus leaf out both sides of his mouth with a worried look on his face. When I looked back again a few minutes later, he still had it in the same position. I spoke to him and told him he was all right, we weren’t going to disturb him today and that he could go back to eating, he began to chew again. He really does have the most wonderful face. I hope to see him again soon.
Our teams are knocking off the lists within 2 hours now, especially when we have our super trackers in the lead - Digby and Antonio. Damien is also very good as is Chris. Chris, bless his heart, has had major shoe difficulties on this trip. The old boots he brought from home had the soles come off within 2 days. The sneakers he wore the next day, was the day it poured, so they are wet and the borrowed boots from Bill are rubbing sores in new places. Add to the complication he has big feet and there just aren’t any second hand left over shoes that fit him. Even so, he continues on with a can-do attitude.
Both Karin and I have tracked some, but we don’t feel as comfortable with it. We can do it; it just takes the teams a little longer between animals. Cynch and Tashina have not tracked yet, but will be given an opportunity soon.
I blogged for most of the afternoon. We had an early dinner because some of the team would be going out for night tracking. I opted to stay back and make a birthday cake for Karin, and Cynch and Tashina also stayed. During the night, the teams try and find the same animals we saw earlier during the day. As koalas are usually nocturnal, there is usually more active and moving around even between trees. Bill likes to do day, night and then day tracking on the same animals to see what patterns can be found in their movement and home range, followed by an afternoon off. Those who did not partake the first time will have two more opportunities, but it is optional, but apparently, addictive.
They all marched off at 7pm with large torches (flashlights) and headlamps if they had them, two teams to find 9 koalas. Bill estimated they would be back around 10pm. I began in the kitchen at 7:30 and thank heavens I did, because they made it through the list within 90 minutes and were heading back. The cake was baked and the hot chocolate ready, but the cake was still too warm to ice. I finally had to ice the cake as the waving lights approached the kitchen, but the icing pooled in the middle of the cake and made it very soggy. It still tasted nice to them. It was a different taste than I was accustomed to and I left it sort of tasted like dish soap. No one else had that problem, so I guess it was a success. Karin would not allow us to sing her the song, because it was not her actual birthday. We will have to wait until tomorrow.
We ended the evening eating cake on the beach, drinking hot chocolate (or beer for some) and watching the stars. It was fun.
Thursday, May 18 – St. Bee’s – No rain and the afternoon off!
I woke up and met Karin on the porch between our rooms on the way to the bathroom and sang her birthday congratulations.
We determined that during the eating cake episode on the beach from last night, that Damien attracted every sand flea within 20 miles and has red spots over 30 % of his lower body. Not only awful to look at, very itchy and painful especially when brushed against.
The morning started the same with the exception that today some volunteers would be doing two-hour observations on individual koalas. I had volunteered and so I was put on Delma’s team this am. Damien, Cynch, Tashina, Karen and I struck off to find Abby.
I was to be put on the watch with Abby, and then the team would leave Delma and I and proceed to the next koala. Cynch was trying her hand at tracking and got us to Abby without too much difficulty. Luckily Abby was in a tagged tree so the data collection was minimal and then they moved on. Before we began the observations, Delma set a weather monitor in the tree near Abby. Delma showed me the data collection sheets that were in 5-minute increments. Every five minutes you would indicate the koala’s position in the tree, posture, exposure to the sun and activity. She changed positions just before we started and then sat in one part of the tree for 2 hours. There was heavy cloud cover so exposure stayed the same for most of the time. She essential slept for most of the time so her posture did not change much. Pretty much the only thing I was monitoring was her activity was mainly, sleeping, scratching, slightly changing her position and swaying in the breezes that came by. Delma left me after about 30 minutes and went to set Cynch up to observe Tea farther up the rain forest gully. The time went pretty quickly as soon as I had a fresh spray of mosquito juice and ate my apricot bar.
The pattern that I found was that she usually stayed in one position for over 4 minutes and then in the last 30 seconds of the 5-minute blocks, she would do something. It was a gift to have the time to just sit and watch one animal. Even though she wasn’t jumping around very much, I had the luxury of time to really examine her through the bino’s and see her coat pattern, ears and watch her work with her pouch. I think she has a little someone in there. They really do look cuddly and their fur is very dense. I am glad I did it and had the chance to sit with one koala and admire her for a long time.
Friday, May 19 – St. Bee’s
Tracking all day – I had been feeling like a team lightweight recently with not much ability to spot the Koala’s and not tracking. Today, I asked to track and my team was Cynch, Damien and myself. We had a short list – Yellow, Elizabeth, Yoshi, Winston, Digger, Frontier and Natasha.
Bill asked us to go after Yellow first as she was a female that needed her collar changed and we had seen that she had a large pouch and probably had a little guy inside. On the way to Yellow, Cynch (our primary spotter for the entire day), found Natasha as an unassisted, so we had one off the list. I took my team for an hours’ walk as we went up the hill, down the hill, across the hill and to the right and the left. Once I settled myself down from my frustration of not being perfect at this and with coaching from Damien, I became more confident. I still find that I loose track of where I have been on the hill and am not quick to determine other locations to try to verify my position.
Finally, we narrowed in on Yellow and Cynch found her in a medium tree under cover. The other team and Bill were another 40 minutes coming to us as Karin was finishing a 2 hour observation. During our time, we snacked and Damien had a wee nap in the weeds.
Once everyone had assembled, we started with just a pole catch, but that did not get her out of the tree. Out next attempt was with a tarp where four of us were underneath the tree and the poles were used to back her into the outer branches and then she dropped into the tarp. Once in the tarp, all of us on the corners came quickly into the middle and held the tarp high. She was then moved into a white canvas bag. Standard procedures ensued with changing her collar, measuring her head, looking at her teeth and checking her body score. There was a little bit of blood and Bill assumed she might have torn a claw when she was fighting with the pole.
After all that, Bill gently extracted the little baby from the pouch. It was a little girl, who kept bleating for her mum, and she was about the size of 4-week-old kitten. She was very sweet and Karin, whose birthday was yesterday, had the honor of naming her. Her name had to begin with an E and we considered Erica, but the final name was Esmeralda. Once Bill had measured Esmeralda, took a small ear sample and put in the small metal ear tags, we tried to put her back in Mum’s pouch. No luck, so we left them in the bag together for 10 minutes. After 5, baby was still holding on to Mum’s belly. But when we looked in again, the baby put her head in the pouch and climbed in. It was a very easy release and Yellow immediately climbed high in the tree and found an even taller one to go to. She did some acrobatics as she transferred trees, but as she was quite a good gymnast, no problems. It has been very reassuring to me to see the animals the next day doing normal activities and not very bothered by us. I know that the catching is stressful for them, so to see them apparently recovered so quickly is very positive.
After doing the nearest neighbors and a quick lunch, I lead the team on. We were slow going and the other team contacted us when we came across one of our animals and did the necessary work. We ended up with about 5 animals, and I did manage to spot Winston in the tree when were tracking him. All in all, a good day in the field, but I did buy each of my able-bodied crew a beer at dinner as a thank you for their patience.
Just as we were finished with our list, Bill asked us to join the group on the way back to base to assist with the catch of clean skin. The koala seemed to be in a low enough tree, but there were two trees nearby that we had to guard so that once on the ground, the animal could not escape up the tree. Once it began, the koala ended up on Delma’s pole. She began to collapse the pole and brought the animal within catching distance to the team members on my right. However, we had been told not to try and pluck a koala off the tree, they need to get a foot on the ground. Well, he did, and then he managed to get up a tree just past two team members and up the tree before we could do anything. The after-the-fact coaching that we received was that if that happens again, is to press the koala against the tree at the shoulder and rump area until the expert arrives. Bill was a little disappointed, but recovered well.
Night tracking – After dinner, the entire group donned our boots, grabbed our large torches and headlamps and headed back up into the hills to find the koalas and what they were up to at night. Usually, you can find them in a gum tree eating. During the day they are in other trees, usually the ones with heavier cover and are just hanging out and napping. So by focusing on the gum trees only, once the koala in range, you had a better chance of finding them. I found it very surprising that the hiking in the dark appeared easier then in the day, no ants to be seen and fewer spiders to walk through. I must say, however, that the koalas were as hard to see in the night as in the day. The earlier group had said all you had to do was shine your torch into the tree and see the glistening eyes. All the koala’s had their eye shades on or knew enough to not look at the lights, because I saw not one set of glistening eyes.
The other wonderful thing about the night tracking was the great view of the night sky. With only the bright glow of Mackay in the distance, you really had a good chance to spot and identify the constellations. The most famous constellation in the Southern Hemisphere, the Southern Cross, was bright and highly identifiable not only this night, but most of the others as well.