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Saturday, May 20 – St. Bee’s
We arrived home from night tracking at 10pm and I was so jazzed up, I didn’t shut my eyes until midnight. Even so, I was up and out of bed by 7am.
I had asked the universe for a repeat of my original team of Karin, Chris and Digby and today I got most of them with Chris, Digby and I off to find Abby, Tea, Olivia, Honey, Winston, Jackaroo and Stud.
Chris was tracking and Digby doing the main amount of spotting. We crossed paths with Delma and Tashina as they made their way around the island changing weather monitors and observing animals. Nothing new today except I FOUND MY FIRST CLEAN SKIN!
Chris was on a rock searching down the hill and in the tree just behind him, was a koala, about 12 feet above the ground heading up the tree. I think it was a girl and she was very beautiful. Yaah!
On our final sighting, I was standing next to a small bush looking through my bino’s and my right elbow was right next to a green ants nest. The next thing I knew I was brushing ants off and Digby was pulling off my backpack and brushing ants out my hair and my back. We had been told that if you disturb a green ants nest and are covered, you need to take off your shirt to make sure you got everyone. Luckily, we didn’t have to go that far and I was not even bit once.
We have the afternoon off and there may be night tracking again. I am not sure if I will go, as I am on kitchen duty tomorrow, which means a very early morning.
Sunday, May 21 – St. Bee’s
I was on kitchen duty after a not too restful night and broke a blood vessel in my right eye. I was pretty pooped and as I look back on it, the last three days were pretty intense. I am able to do most of the hiking, with sufficient rests, but it becomes more difficult if I have to carry a lot of extraneous equipment. Usually when you go out as a team, each member carries some of the load. Some people don’t have backpacks or don’t care to carry too much. Bill is wise enough to know that this is strenuous and unaccustomed activity for most of us and is very reasonable if someone wants to take some extra time off the mountain. The two half days of rain helped to give us a rest. I am torn, because at some times, I would like to have a little rest, but how can I skip a chance to see these beautiful animals.
Delma left today but she will met us at the marina on Tuesday. She is very friendly and we have lots of common interests such as dancing, music, and animals and are of similar age. I may have the chance to see her for dinner once I am back in Mackay.
My team today was Digby, Tashina and Me going after Abby, Tea, Olivia, Honey, Stud, Digger, and Winston. There were two koalas that were normally close together and on the way home, so whatever team got there first was to go after them as well, Natasha and Macaroon.
Digby on tracking, Tashina on self-doubt and Jane on spotting, off we went. It was lovely sunny weather again and we had lots of friendly swamp wallabies that accompanied us.
Photo – Wallaby
I was happy that I managed to spot the first three and I finally feel that my eyes are dialed in to seeing them. They are still hard as they are a small grey animal, next to grey bark and on this trip, against a grey sky. It also doesn’t help that some of them love to hide, high up in dense foliage in the dark. Tashina spotted one and I mistakenly thought that was her first that she had seen and announced it over the two-way radios. I was corrected that she had seen one before. Digby saw almost all the others and was adding to his cleanskin/unassisted scores during the day. We got a call that the other team had Stud and had found Natasha.
Bill was hoping for us to catch Frontier and Stud at least as their collar batteries are running low and once you loose the signal, it is hard to find them. We got the call after we had finished Olivia that there were two clean skins to be caught, so we went back to base to get the gear.
Karin at spotted two on the top of the knoll and up we went. Usually, we stop quite a lot to listen and reposition, but this time it was straight up. I brought up the rear with several stops and lots of sweating.
We started with the poles but when Digby’s pole separated and beamed Antonio on the head, we ended up with the tarp method to catch the koala. I was on the tarp and just as we brought it up in the center, our koala popped out over the top on my left. She leapt to the ground and I dropped the tarp and helped to pin her to the ground. As I had a hand on her, as she was a clean skin I would get to name her. She turned out to be blind, corneal scar on the right eye and left eye totally opaque. She was quite old and the letter I had to name her with was F. I decided on Freedom, as she had been free for so long. She was a little feisty, but I did not want to saddle her with a difficult name for the rest of her life. We did the normal data collection and I was scribe for Bill and when it was time for release, I got to do it. Normally, you get to the base of the tree that she was in, put down the sack and seat the koala and then slowly open the bag and let them see the tree. Freedom was already climbing out to the sack as I approached the tree and I did not get her to the ground. I positioned her near the trunk, but she took off to the right and kept going until she found a larger tree to climb. She would approach an obstacle, bump into it and then modify her position and keep going. I felt very bad about not getting her back into her tree, but I am sure her first priority was to get away from the large smelly things and up into a very safe tree.
The next cleanskin was very close to Freedom, so we did not need to move the equipment. This one really tested our resources. Again we began with the pole and both Digby and Bill ended up with a shower of urine. They the koala moved into three different trees before we finally got her after no luck with the tarp, with Antonio and Damien pinning her to the tree. Antonio got a slight scratch for his trouble. She turned out to be Quince, who had been caught before and had successfully gotten rid of her previous ear tags. She was very happy to only have one ear tag and happily went up her tree and as far up and over as she could get.
We sent down the hill as a combined group to locate the last 4 koalas on our lists and Karin found another cleanskin. Again, catchable, we managed to tarp a koala that turned out to be an un-named koala that we named Groucho. We didn’t have a proper catch bag, so Bill collected him in a canvas shopping bag and as I had never held one during data collection, I had the honor. Bill found he did not have a proper sized collar and as we were close to base, he left us and went off to get the equipment. We put Groucho back in the bag, as he was whinging. He would sit with his head out of the bag and let out a long, grouchy sound, not necessarily moving around, but letting us know of his displeasure. He got a little quieter in the bag and finally settled down. It began to sprinkle so we moved under cover and put on coats.
When it was time to release him, I asked if I could do it so I could do it properly once. Antonio was with me, thank heavens. As I went to release him, I had him on the ground and in the correct orientation, but as I opened the bag, her had pulled the handle of the bag into him and had it around his neck. We ended up having to pin him to the tree again in order to get the sack off him. Both he and I were relieved when it was over.
We finally found Frontier in a place where we could get her and did our forth and most entertaining catch of the day. Tarp in place, we were tired, but ready to catch her. It was a heavily leaved tree and as they could not get her off the perimeter of the tree, she ended up going back down the truck. Just as she was pinable, she turned around and launched herself over Karin’s head and was off down the hill. Chris and Antonio went scampering after her with Bill shouting, “Go get her, don’t let her get away”. It had been raining and it was wet, but Chris managed to get his hands on her, but she got away up the tree. Luckily Digby with his pole managed to get her going back down the tree and then Chris, Damien and Antonio pinned and got her into the bag. Antonio took a few more scratches. With her new collar in place, Damien released Frontier, and she also did a right hand turn and selected a larger blue gum tree farther away. That made me feel a lot better about the release of Frontier.
All during the day as I spotted a koala, I was able to say goodbye, thanked then for the tolerance of our interference into their lives and asked Francis and Lilith to look over these special little charges.
When we got back to base, we began to download everyone’s photos to my and Bill’s computers in order to combine them, along with Bill’s data so that we can leave with both reports and everyone’s photos. What a wonderful idea! This way everyone should end up with photos of themselves and other interesting views, as everyone has a different way of looking at things. We will have a fair number of duplicates, but we will be able to pick and choose and keep the very best of them.
We had guests for dinner and Cynch, Karin and I made pasta and three types of sauces, garlic toast, salad and chocolate M&M cake for dessert. Another success, but the cake was still soggy in the middle. Not sure if it is the oven, the recipe or what, but no one turned down chocolate cake. After the wine and the excitement of the day, I was pooped and slept very well.
Monday, May 22 – Last Day at St. Bee’s
Today we would not be going to search for koalas but would be packing up the equipment and getting ready to leave very early on Tuesday. Breakfast was at 7 and we were transcribing the rest of the photos from 8-10. At 10, Karin and I packed the pantry, and from 12-2 there were more computer gyrations as Bill was burning DVD’s. After 2, Karin and I transcribed the pantry inventory on the computer for Bill. We all gathered at the south house for social time, I to my blog and to watch most of the men play beach soccer/rugby/football.
Tashina was queen of the kitchen and made the team lovely meat curry and dal with red lentils. We were eating up the last of the desserts so we had both a plum pudding and a chocolate pudding with cream or custard.
This was our last night on the island and the final presentation from Bill showed us all the data that we had collected. Over 300 observations, 14 catches, and new animals tagged to increase the tracking data in the future. After the presentations, each of us received a DVD with all of the data and everyone’s pictures and even some videos. Along with the DVD, we received individual awards.
Jane – Queen of Organization
Antonio – King of the Catch
Karin – Quiet Achiever – 2nd best at spotting
Damien – Unrealized Potential to Spot Cleanskins
Cynch – Can Spot Unassisteds!
Chris – The Koala Whisperer?
Tashina – Queen of Sleep
Digby – King Spotter May 06
We all hung around and kept talking, not wanting it to end and asking lots more questions of Bill. Finally we did need to get back and pack and clean up our areas as the boat was arriving at 7:00 am the next day.
Tuesday, May 23 – Back to Mackay
Up at 6 to shower, pack and get the laundry down to the pick up site. We were all there at 7:00 waiting to be told that the boat had just called and they were running late. Drizzled rain, but when the boat finally appeared, it had cleared enough to load. Only three trips, as we did not have to take back any of the food, only the recycling and Cameron.
As the second boat shuttle trip left the beach, I had the feeling I had to check our house once more, so off I went. I didn’t think I had been gone that long, but by the time I was heading back, everyone was loaded and waiting for me so I ran across the sand to the boat. I guess I did not want to leave. I will miss the koalas, but must admit that my feet will appreciate some time on level, non-sandy ground. Even with showers, sometimes it is hard to get all the sand and gravel off.
The trip back to the mainland was a little rougher than our other crossing, but no one had problems while we were on the boat. Chris and I were up top with the captain and I was sitting right up front with my left foot propped against one of the panels. When the boat hit a particularly nasty swell, my left foot pushed the triangular panel out and it disappeared into the sea. This allowed lots of spray into the top deck and Chris was eventually drenched and retreated down stairs. I moved over to the other side. The Daryl, the skipper, was very nice about and refused to let me pay for the repair. We finally settled that I would buy him breakfast when we landed.
We were running a little late and as most of the team was catching the 11am to Brisbane and out to other locations, they showered quickly and called a cab. Only Tashina, Cynch and I remained and had breakfast with Bill, Delma (who came to meet us at the marina), and Daryl, the skipper. Before breakfast we had to say goodbye to the team and with lots of hugs, off they went.
Breakfast was great and after goodbyes to Bill, Delma dropped the three of us off at my motel. Tashina and Cynch were taking a 5pm flight to Brisbane so they had the afternoon to shop. I dropped my bag in the room and found that my stored luggage and coat were already in my room. As we were approaching the motel, I had this feeling that I had packed my “supposedly forgotten” sandals in my stored luggage. That was indeed the case. Anthony, you are so good to me!
We walked in the drizzle to the local mall, called Caneland for all the sugar cane fields in the area. Typical mall with a Target, Woolworth’s (a grocery chain), a second grocery store and lots of little shops. Tashina and I kept loosing Cynch, so when we finally spotted her, we stayed with her. I walked back to my motel and the ladies went off in a cab to collect Tashina’s other luggage and they met me at my motel. Two more hugs, and my team experience with the koalas officially ended.
What will the team remember about our experience on St. Bees? The Robinson Caruso style living, the curlew alarm every morning, the gyrations to light the gas stove toaster and oven the banging of the trees and the house during the rain storms, Tashina’s naps, Esmerelda, the race down the hill after Frontier, Damien’s mosquito bites, the boys planning coconut patenque, beach rugby/soccer/Aussie rules football, George’s coconut? Hopefully all of it and more because it was truly one of the most unique two-weeks any of us have seen to date.
I spent the afternoon unpacking and planning the next phase of my adventure; sailing the barrier reef and getting back to Rockhampton (Rocky) for my next placement with the wallaby’s. It should be a quiet next few days with dinner with Delma, maybe a hair trim, a little shopping, blogging and hopefully posting it, and post card writing. I do have one half-day trip to the Eunagella forest for platypus sightings and then the bus to Airlee Beach where I catch the boat to the Whitsundays, some islands near the Great Barrier Reef.
I had dinner at my motel and had a chance to get to know Dawn, the owner. She is lovely and is just beginning to think about the next phase of her life, as her daughters are soon to leave home and she and her husband Mark know they don’t want to stay in motels forever.
Next posting, the days between my first two Australian animal volunteer placements.