Darren went down to our creek to see how a family from America were doing in their attempts to see the platypus. They had been advised to sit quietly with no sudden movements or noises, so he was a bit alarmed to see both kids walking along right at the edge of the water. When they saw him they shouted ‘There’s no platypus here!’
Well, no, there wasn’t that day. There were a pair living there but probably if they had started to emerge for their night of foraging they were by now tucked up back in their burrows waiting for a little peace and quiet before re-emerging.
In Tasmania platypus are often seen throughout the day, and occasionally the same is true further north, but they are primarily nocturnal. Typically they will leave their burrows an hour or so before dusk, continue feeding throughout the night and return to the burrow an hour or so after dawn.
Thus the best time to see them is usually during the first hour after sunrise or the last hour before sunset.
They are found in unpolluted streams along the east coast from Tasmania to far north Queensland, and have been introduced to Kangaroo Island, South Australia. The best foraging spots seem to be slow-moving areas where the water is between one and three metres deep. Don’t bother looking for them high in the mountains above tall waterfalls though – they would find it hard to travel up to these.
Their eyes and ears may not be brilliant (and they don’t use either for foraging), but unless they have become well habituated to human presence, they will notice anyone sitting or standing near the bank, and most likely return to the safety of the burrow. Sudden sharp movements or loud noises will almost guarantee they will disappear until it is too dark to see them. Quiet human presence in the water – in a canoe or floating for instance – doesn’t seem to worry them quite so much, perhaps because most of their predators come from the land.
They tend to be more predictable during breeding season in the last half of the year, so if you are advised late in the year that they have been seen recently in a particular part of the creek, there is a good chance they will continue to use this spot for a while,.
So, to see a platypus, find out which local streams are likely, wear something warm, perhaps take a book or something to nibble if you have trouble sitting still, then do just that – sit still and quietly from sunrise onwards or from late afternoon, glancing at the water evry minute or so if you don’t feel like watching it constantly.
No grunts or bellows announce its arrival. It is not there and then suddenly, very quietly, it is there. Sometimes you will see a small row of bubbles just before it surfaces, then can watch as it floats on the surface chewing whatever it has just caught, or perhaps scratching its ear or swimming along a little way. Then it hunches its back and dives down again for maybe a minute or two before re-emerging.
Maybe you won’t see one on your first few attempts, but there are worse ways fo passing the time than sitting by a quiet stream listening to bird calls.
Or maybe, suddenly, very quietly, there he is in front of you.