Herping with kids at Sullivan Rock

The WA Naturalists held an excursion in August 2019 to Sullivan Rock. It’s worth checking out the club if you are interested in learning more about nature and meeting like-minded people.

Sullivan rock is found within the Monodocks conservation park. Its a large granite outcrop with Jarrah forest surrounding.

I decided to bring both my kids – Liam (5) and Sienna (nearly 3) as they love getting out into nature and it would give my lovely wife some rare time to herself. 2 others joined the excursion – so just a small group but perhaps best with 2 rowdy kids!

It was a lovely clear day but a little on the cool side. We were hoping for herps but cooler conditions are not condusive to seeing them out on the rocks.

The kids were excited and Liam remembered an earlier trip where he had seen some wildlife underneath rocks. Rock flipping is one way to find critters especially when its a cool day – but we must remember these are their homes so it is critical to replace the rock exactly as found. Rocky outcrops are places that, while they might not seem it, are fragile habitats. So driving on rocks, stacking rocks or taking them home all affect the fauna and fauna that live there.

The car park is on Albany Highway and directions can be found here, then head carefully across the highway and follow a small segment of the Bibbulmun track.

The kids enjoyed the walk in – I gave them instructions to walk on the bare rock and not the moss patches. The moss only hangs onto the bare granite rock face and is therefore very fragile.

Amongst the moss patches other plants were found such as Coral lichen (Cladia sp.), a grey lichen with Resurrection Plants (or Pincushions, Borya sphaerocephala) – the spiky plants seen on the right hand side. During dry periods they look pretty much dead.

On the top of the outcrop we found a number of pools with aquatic fauna and the kids were pleased to find some tadpoles. We were unsure of the species but likely to be Crinia sp. The kids were fascinated to watch water boatman ‘paddle’ around the pond.

We crossed to the other side of the rock stopping for some morning tea. It’s important to keep snack levels high. We found some climbing sundew or Drosera which the kids were fascinated to learn is insectivorous. The cups produce an insect attractant but the surrounding sticky tentacles will curl in to trap any hapless insect that gets into the cup.

On the way back more pool exploring was required with more tadpoles found.

We kept carefully checking rocks as we were hopeful to find some brumating (reptile version of hibernating) Ornate dragon lizards (Ctenophorus ornatus) but none were found this time. The easily accessible parts of the rock get a fair amount of traffic and are disturbed.

In amongst the grey lichen we noticed some tiny orchids only 3-4cms tall.

We then headed for home. The kids had so much fun and thoroughly enjoyed being out exploring in nature.

Rottnest in winter…

For the second year in a row we went to Rottnest Island for a winter holiday. Rottnest sits just offshore of Perth (18kms) and is a favourite holiday location for locals and tourists alike. Being surrounded by water, the island is actually warmer than Perth, but you hope for sunny spells and not too much rain!

Quokka at Rottnest

The most well known wildlife at Rottnest is the marsupial Quokka (Setonix brachyurus). They can be easily found especially in the main settlement and have become famous worldwide for the ‘Quokka selfie’. If you google it some 400k results show – with some celebrity examples in there!

They are small macropod (kangaroo family – macropod means big feet in latin). It’s not widely known, but they can also be found on the mainland. Due to habitat loss, changing fire patterns and mainly predation by introduced feral foxes & cats, they are hard to find and populations are vulnerable.

They are very cute, aclimitised to people, and very photogenic.

This quokka was found in the settlement eating a fig leaf while its joey had a nibble as well – cute!

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The other mammal that can be seen at Rottnest is the New Zealand Fur Seal at a resident colony at Cathedral Rocks on the western side of the island. See my previous blog for more information as I didn’t visit it this time.

The other wildlife attraction on the island is birding. There are extensive salt lakes and often rare birds are sighted. There are also a few sub-species of reptiles endemic to the island but as it was winter none were observed.

I went for a walk one day and saw a number of birds.

Pied oystercatcher @ Rottnest golf course

What better way to end with a pic of a Quokka taking a snooze. They tuck their tails under themselves!

Easter possums of Mandurah

As part of our annual Easter family tradition, we spent the Easter long weekend in Mandurah, along with family friends. We took the kids out spotlighting for the critically endangered Western ringtail possum ( Pseudocheirus occidentalis).

We headed down to Dawesville just south of Mandurah. It took some time initially but we were able to find some possums alongside the road in Peppermint trees (Agonis flexuosa). We mainly found ringtails but also found a few Common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula).

This was the first year my daughter joined as she was 2.5 years old. It was a little too much overall for the kids as they were all tired, but they enjoyed the spotlighting – the car trips there and back were challenging.

The spotlighting gang – Easter 2019

Russ and I went out another night (without the kids) to Warrungup Spring Reserve. We had been once before but I had information someone had seen a Brush-tailed phascogale, so I wanted to check it out.

We saw quite a few brushtail possums with the occasional ringtail and a lovely Tawny frogmouth. No phascogale and some distant views of Western grey kangaroo.

It’s really nice to see so many ringtail possums in a location just an hour south of the Perth CBD, but you still have to remind yourself that this species is not doing well.

Searching for Quokka in Jarrahdale..

I have been looking for mainland Quokka (Setonix brachyurus) for sometime and saw information that people had found some in Jarrahdale. While they were careful not to disclose the exact location I saw some facebook chat about a location a little out of the main strip of Jarrahdale where people had seen Quokka in the mornings, so wanted to check it out.

I took my 4 year old son Liam for a drive hoping we might get lucky and find some Quokka’s enjoying breakfast. We took off a little later than planned but made good time to the location.


We crossed a bridge over a dried up river so the habitat seemed good with thick riparian vegetation but also with a fair few blackberry bushes. Once we found the spot (a gravel parking area fringed by forest) we parked up and waited for some movement.

We waited for some time (as long as a 4 year old can sit still!) and then jumped out of the car to take a closer look. We skirted the fringing vegetation and quickly found this likely looking scat. While I can’t rule it out as Western grey kangaroo it had the features of a Quokka scat – size 1-2cm, cuboid and slightly flattened. These were also fresher than the ones I had previously found in the Canning Dam region.

When walking through the fringing vegetation we found we had we had to be careful even with the small little seedlings on the ground as they were often Blackberries with nasty thorns.

We headed towards the bridge and we heard something mid-sized move suddenly in the vegetation but it was too thick to see properly. Given the likely scat I think this is my unconfirmed closest encounter with a mainland Quokka – but I will have to try again! 🙂

Heading back to the car we found this amazing bug – the wonderful iNaturalist & awesome bug ID app MyPestGuide Reporter – run by the Agriculture Department’s entomologists on the hunt for the next nasty pest! Through both avenues it was ID’d as a Red-banded seed eating bug (Melanerythrus mactans).

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Red-headed seed-eating bug @ Jarrahdale

Searching for Quokkas at Canning dam…

I am currently behind on my posts – so this is actually from January!

I decided to continue my hunt for mainland Quokka’s (Setonix brachyurus) in the greater Perth region. Despite what most people are aware of – they don’t only live on Rottnest Island where they are easy to find, they can also be found on the mainland, but are much rarer and cryptic. I have looked in the Canning dam area before as I found a paper and it listed
Midgegoroo National Park as one of the trapping sites where they had caught animals. My brother was down from Port Hedland and he was keen to join me as well for a late night spotlight.

We started off looking for herps in the Canning Dam proper – parking near the gate and walking up the road looking for eyeshine. It took some time walking around before we found our first Barking gecko (Underwoodisaurus milii).

Barking gecko @ Canning Dam

We then headed further down towards Albany Hwy to my Quokka spot – I was pleased to have company as it’s an isolated spot. On the way we found a freshly road-killed Carpet python (Morelia spilota) – such a shame. There must be a few around as this is the second dead specimen I have found and my friend Jimmy found one on a previous trip.

We drove down a gravel track and parked as close as to the location as we could. I have had information from a scientist that Quokka’s are found in West facing streams in riparian vegetation – which means it’s tough to get through. We spotted a couple of kangaroos in the distance and heard the yipping of a fox but didn’t see any Quokka – strike 2!

We found some scat that I can’t say is 100% Quokka but the size seems right and it was cubic and slightly flattened.

We also found some diggings and then scat which I believe is feral pig.

An interesting night in the correct habitat for Quokka’s but I think if any were around they would have disappeared as we came crashing through the thick scrub! Another observation was this cricket that I am hoping to get a proper ID on iNaturalist – currently thought to be one of the Raspy cricket family (Gryllacrididae).

We had a good night – perhaps a hint of a Quokka but I need to keep looking for a confirmed sighting and photo!

The critically endangered possums of Busselton…

Over Christmas we had a holiday with extended family plus friends and headed to Busselton for a camping holiday. It was the first time camping for my 2 year old daughter and both kids were excited to have cousins and friends with us. We were staying in the Siesta Park region.

From a wildlife perspective the camp caretaker told me he often sees Quenda (Isoodon fusciventer) in the sand dunes – especially crossing the track. This was new to me as I haven’t heard of them being in this area before. Unfortunately I didn’t see them during my stay.

Our first night, once getting the kids to bed, we heard a rustling in the trees as we were relaxing and having a chat. We shone a light and saw our first
Western ringtail possum (Pseudocheirus occidentalis). This turned out to be a nightly occurrence as we were in pretty good Peppermint tree habitat.

The Western ringtail possum are now critically endangered through a combination of habitat loss, predation by cats & foxes and car strike as they have to travel on the ground & cross roads due to loss of trees. While I don’t distrust the science, it is hard to get into your head that something you see somewhat easily in the right habitat, is actually struggling for survival. This species unfortunately makes 11th place onto the top 20 Australian mammal species likely to go extinct with a 25% chance of losing them forever.

Western ringtail possum @ Busselton

Another night a few of the blokes went to the Possum spotlighting trail leaving the kids asleep. It’s a 1.5 km walk set up especially for night time with reflective trail markers. I have blogged on this trail before.

We saw 30 odd ringtails, 15 Common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula), 5 or so Western Grey Kangaroos (Macropus fuliginosus) but no rarer species that have been seen here such as Bush rat or Brush-tail phascogale.

I used my Echo Meter Touch 2 bat detector but no bats were heard. I did however find this Moaning frog (Heleioporus eyrei) – picking it up with reflective eye shine.

Moaning frog @ Possum spotlighting trail, Busselton

We also spent time snorkeling along the beach near the campsite and had some fun with an underwater camera. Look at the top left picture – can you see the flounder? The same fish is in the image below while moving.

One of the last evenings we kept the kids up and took them spotlighting just as it got dark – all were excited especially my 2 year old Sienna who had never been before but heard stories from her big brother! There were 7 kids from our group but we collected a fair few other kids from around the campsite. We saw about 8 possums all up and the kids had a great time & learnt about wildlife!

All in all a lovely holiday with plenty of possums seen 🙂