It is common to walk through a forest full of wildlife and never see an animal.
It is also common for governments and developers to call in environmental consultants towards the end of plans for a new major development, when there is too little time left to find what species of concern may be present.
Why the difficulty in finding wildlife?
- Most Australian mammals are nocturnal
- Most Australian mammals, birds and lizards are small
- Most of our small marsupials and native rodents live amongst dense vegetation on the ground,which combined with nocturnal habits and shyness makes them difficult to see
- Others live and feed in tall trees, and the smaller, nocturnal oes can easily be over-looked
- Some birds and lizards are very well camouflaged, and when they ‘freeze’ can be very difficult to see, even if you know more or less where they are
- Animals that live solitary lives and have large home-ranges (like the quoll in the photo) can be so sparsely distributed through an area that it is very much a matter of luck to be searching in the right place
- Frogs may be present in large numbers and calling (or on other nights silent) but in a sheltered position totally out of sight (and when so many animals eat frogs, it’s easy to understand why)
- Many animals are ‘shy’ (not a social condition so much as an adaptation to avoid being eaten), and disappear from view as soon as they hear, smell or see our approach
- Small insectivorous bats may be seen fleetingly, but there are so many species in any locality it is impossible to identify them without a close-up look or analysis of their calls
Does it matter if animals are hard to detect?
For the amateur naturalist, researcher or the visitor to a region it can be frustrating, as many hours can be spent without finding the animals of interest (although I always enjoy the whole atmosphere of the forest or outback shrublands even when nothing is found)
For the conservation manager, lack of information on what animal is present may lead to wrong decisions – e.g. what times are appropriate for burning the understorey, what trees are okay to remove, which habitat fragments are important to connect.
Fr local governments deciding on approval of a major development, a list of common birds and easily-detected mammals such as brushtail possums and wallabies may look okay on and environmental impact statement but miss out the rarer, more threatened species that need special consideration.
How do we find rare and cryptic animals?
- The book by Barbara Triggs “Tracks, Scats and Other Traces” is valuable for detecting the presence of Australian mammals and some of our other cryptic species
- Getting familiar with the calls of frogs, nocturnal mammals and cryptic birds is pretty well essential - Dave Stewart’s NatureSound collection is an invaluable tool for this
- Getting out there anr being patient – there are far worse ways of spending a few hours than sitting in a forest listening quietly for rustles, squeaks and scratches, and you can gain a lot of insights into forest life by doing so (as well as being a good spot for meditating on other things without phone or email or knocks on the door)
- Books, journals and google – there is a fantastic amount of information out there nowadays (although there is also still much as yet unknown)
- workshops, discussion groups etc.
Wildlife workshop on rare and cryptic fauna: May 2011
Organized by Scenic Rim Wildlife, sponsored by the Scenic Rim Regional Council
Where? The Outlook, Boonah, Scenic Rim. Southeast Queensland
When? 10.00am – 4.30pm with optional field trip to follow, Saturday 7th May 2011
More details? See the website of Scenic Rim Wildlife website and Facebook
The workshop is free, but bookings are essential