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Firing cannons at birds

JackAshby30 June 2011

Natural history has always been a field largely populated by amateurs. This is one of its biggest strengths. Without the passion and interest of millions of people worldwide it would be very hard to get anything done – both politically and financially. And by referring to people as amateurs I’m certainly not suggesting that they can’t also be experts.

Ringing a bar-tailed godwit

Ringing a bar-tailed godwit

Hard-core natural historians regularly fall into one of three groups – birders, mammal-tickers and herpos (those obsessed with reptiles and amphibians). A common trend among them (though not true of all members of each group) is the desire to “tick off” as many species as they can, and create a nice long list of everything they have seen. (more…)

Cows and cremation – fighting fire with fire

JackAshby20 June 2011

In my last post I begun to talk about the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s ecologists that I have joined for a month in the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia. It’s the dry season here and while most of the land isn’t underwater the annual ecological trapping survey is underway.

This involves trapping small mammals, lizards, snakes and frogs and doing bird and vegetation surveys to assess what lives in various different habitats here. A couple of major investigations are underway – the purpose isn’t just to create a list of residents. About half of the reserve has had cattle removed from it (because of seemingly bizarre land-leasing laws this conservation NGO is technically required to run their wildlife sanctuary as a cattle station), and one question is to ask what impact that has on the ecology. It’s easy to predict that the many small mammals that rely on grass seed would be affected by these massive grazers, and this is what the data are suggesting. (more…)

Australian fieldwork: a pocket guide

JackAshby27 May 2011

I’m writing from the Kimberley region of north-western Australia, where I’m spending a month or so trapping animals with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC). This is how I spend my holidays, or at least as many of them as I can. This is my third trip to Oz over the past year, and I’ve spent about seven of the last 13 months doing fieldwork here.

This has caused several people to ask me why I keep coming back to Australia; it’s a big world out there and there are plenty of mammals to chase around the rest of the globe. Why I don’t I go somewhere else? (more…)

Cane toads ate my baby

JackAshby28 April 2011

A delayed account of zoological fieldwork in Australia – Part 13

From April 2010 I spent about five months undertaking several zoological field projects across Australia. I worked with government agencies, universities and NGOs on conservation and ecology studies ranging from Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease, the effect of fire, rain and introduced predators on desert ecology and how to poison cats. This series of blog posts is a delayed account of my time in the field.

Weeks Sixteen to Nineteen – part 2

Last week I described how we went about trapping small fauna at the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Wongalara sanctuary in the Northern Territory’s Top End. This week I want to talk about cane toads and some of the other feral beasts around. (more…)

Catching rats in the land of the undead

JackAshby10 February 2011

Quenda or Southern Brown Bandicoot

A quenda, one of the regulars at the cabin.

A delayed account of zoological fieldwork in Australia – Part 3

From April 2010 I spent about five months undertaking several zoological field projects across Australia. I worked with government agencies, universities and NGOs on conservation and ecology studies ranging from Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease, the effect of fire, rain and introduced predators on desert ecology and how to poison cats. This series of blog posts is a delayed account  of my time in the field.

Week Three

At the end of the post last week I was dropped at Two People’s Bay Nature Reserve. This is a small reserve managed by the Western Australian Department for Environment and Conservation (DEC), with whom I was working. I was asked to fulfil a few tasks while I was staying – the only resident of the research quarters. I felt a little isolated as it was out of season and there were no tourists around, and until my colleagues arrived in a few days, the only other people in the park were the rangers, who spent a lot of time away from their base. (more…)

Poisoning cats – Week 2

JackAshby3 February 2011

 

Radio tracking in the Fitz

A delayed account of zoological fieldwork in Australia – Part 2

From April 2010 I spent about five months undertaking several zoological field projects across Australia. I worked with government agencies, universities and NGOs on conservation and ecology studies ranging from Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease, the effect of fire, rain and introduced predators on desert ecology and how to poison cats. This series of blog posts is a delayed account  of my time in the field. (more…)

Poisoning cats – Week 1

JackAshby27 January 2011

A delayed account of zoological fieldwork in Australia – Part 1

Fitzgerald River National Park, Western Australia

Fitzgerald River National Park, Western Australia

From April 2010 I spent about five months undertaking several zoological field projects across Australia. I worked with government agencies, universities and NGOs on conservation and ecology studies ranging from Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease, the effect of fire, rain and introduced predators on desert ecology and how to poison cats. This series of blog posts is a delayed account  of my time in the field.

Week One

Looking down at the world’s most remote city from Kings Park – Perth’s botanic garden and municipal parkland – one could easily think it was Tokyo – sky scrapers and smog, thick smog. But zooming out you notice the river, and the esplanade, and breathing in you realise it isn’t smog but smoke from the burning farmland up in the hills.

Currowongs instead of crows, wattlebirds instead of pigeons, Caspian gulls instead of black-backed gulls and the pelicans and cockatoos instead of nothing really. (more…)