Mega-fun with Melbourne’s microbats

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ABOVE: Wood ducks on the lush green grass of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.
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ABOVE + BELOW: Some of the gorgeous Gardens flora.
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ABOVE: I don’t always drink coffee…but when I do, it’s so I can stay up all night on an Earthwatch expedition.

Expedition recap – Melbourne’s Microbats

The expedition team arrived at the Royal Botanic Gardens in the early evening when it was still light, piled high with pillows and sleeping bags and overnight kit. After dumping our belongings in the common room and running through the introductions, we got straight to work on setting up the harp nets to trap our microbats!

We put up around 7 or 8 nets in total, in various spots around the park. Our lead scientist, Casey from San Francisco, knows the most popular flight paths from previous studies, and the nets we used are designed so the microbats fly into the harp-like strings and tumble down into the canvas bags below.

Once the nets were in place, we headed back to the base for a presentation on our pint-sized research subject – learning about the different species, their basic anatomy, range and so on.

Soon, it was time for the first of three net checks. We donned our head torches, grabbed the Anabat (an acoustic device that picks up on the bats’ echolocation) and ventured out into the night.

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ABOVE: Geeking out over my flashy new headpiece.
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ABOVE: Me, Ryan, Ben and Sarah. Bat-trappers.
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ABOVE + BELOW: See anything yet?! The team inspects a net.DSCN9526
We checked harp net after harp net, trying not to show our disappointment when each one came up empty. After all, there are no guarantees on a scientific expedition – particularly when it comes to wildlife.

Perhaps the weather wasn’t right. Maybe we were too early – night hadn’t quite fallen.

But then, in the final one, success: our first microbat!
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ABOVE: A member of the research team strokes the super-soft fur of a lesser long-eared bat.

We hurried back to base to process the little guy as quickly as possible. He (it ended up being a semi-juvenile male) was definitely less than thrilled with the whole procedure, but managed to shoot me a grin for the picture below.DSCN9532-001
ABOVE: A semi-juvenile male lesser long-eared bat is measured and assessed by the Earthwatch team.DSCN9534
ABOVE: Casey answers questions from the group and talks us through the data collection process.DSCN9543
ABOVE: Get your membranes out: checking the bat’s wings to determine its age.

After we’d released Bat No. 1, we had some downtime until the next round of net checks (there’s a run at midnight and one at three in the morning). To fill in time, we watched some David Attenborough documentaries, chatted amongst ourselves (a Brisbane couple I spoke to had just come back from a National Geographic expedition to the Galapagos!) and shared snacks. We also set up our camper beds – I strategically positioned mine in the kitchen, to be close to the food!

Perhaps due to the weather (we had a storm around five in the morning, and rain threatened throughout the evening), the bat yield was low – but we did get one each time we headed out, bringing the total to two males and one female. We were hoping to see another one of the four distinct species of microbats that inhabit the Gardens, but the three we caught were all the same species (the lesser long-ear).

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ABOVE: Rise and shine! (Shine optional).
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ABOVE: Our expedition accommodations in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne. Not bad, huh?

In the morning, we dismantled the nets and shared a hot breakfast. Casey also gave us the opportunity to go onto mailing lists for other bat research expeditions around Melbourne, which I’d definitely be interested in undertaking.

All in all, it was a great experience – I loved seeing the microbats up close and getting to spend the night in the Botanic Gardens. This is a Melbourne summer activity I recommend to anyone interested in wildlife and wildlife conservation.

Melbourne’s Microbats expeditions run until 28 February 2015. Visit the Earthwatch website to view dates and book.

Going in to bat for science

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It’s booked! Excited to announce I’ve signed up for my second research expedition with Earthwatch Australia and this time, it’s an overnighter!

The expedition is called Melbourne’s Microbats, and I’ll be working with a small group of citizen scientists (and one actual scientist) to trap and band these miniature creatures in the Royal Botanical Gardens. We’re doing this to record important data about the bats including their species, sex, age, reproductive stage, food supply and habitat.

Earthwatch says:

Eating up 600 mosquitoes an hour is just one of the ways the tiny, fragile microbat helps keep the balance in our ecosystem.

…Information [gathered on this expedition] will establish baseline data on the community composition and critical habitat requirements of insect-eating bats across greater Melbourne, and it will help us develop ways to conserve their populations.

My booking is for the first week of December and I can’t wait!

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Painting the town gold

Some pictures of Golden Wattle in strange morning light. This flowering tree is the official Floral Emblem of Australia, and, at this time of year, you can spot them everywhere – with blossoms ranging in colour from bright, neon yellow to a deep amber hue.

Can you spot the flying insects in the photographs?

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Great Forest National Park

Great Forest National Park postcards The Wilderness Society
Doing my bit for the Great Forest National Park initiative. If you’re in inner-city Melbourne, one of these postcards will be appearing in your letterbox soon (possibly delivered by me!). Sign it, drop it in a postbox – no stamp required! – and The Wilderness Society will deliver them all to Premier Napthine and Opposition Leader Andrews.

To find out more about the Great Forest National Park proposal – Melbourne’s newest playground, and safe haven for endangered species like the Leadbeater’s possum – head to the Great Forest National Park website.

Central Highlands

Touring Toolangi

Last SToolangi - Ryan Gray 12unday I went on a tour of Toolangi State Forest (situated in Victoria’s Central Highlands), led by a small team of passionate campaigners from The Wilderness Society Victoria. Persistent rain and leeches aside, it was a breathtaking and, at times, heartbreaking experience. I witnessed the decimation of areas of the forest that had been sacrificed to logging, alongside the magnificence of untouched old growth such as the Kalatha Giant. I saw frogs, fungi and birds; ate pepperberries. I went away wondering how anyone could gaze up at a towering, four hundred year old tree flanked by a dense, ferny understory and not be awestruck. How it was possible to feel comfortable in condemning entire species to extinction if it could be so easily avoided. How the destruction of complex ecosystems in the pursuit of monetary gain could ever be morally or ethically justifiable.

Why protect Toolangi?

Toolangi is a precious habitat to many rare and threatened species, perhaps the most famous being Victoria’s endangered faunal emblem – the Leadbeater’s or ‘Fairy’ Possum – which nests in hollows in old Mountain Ash trees (the world’s tallest flowering tree).

These mountain ash forests have flourished along the Great Divide under rich rainfall patterns. They provide most of Melbourne’s drinking water [and] have been scientifically shown to be among the most carbon-dense forests on Earth…
Great Forest National Park website

The State-sanctioned logging that takes place in Toolangi is for the purposes of producing cheap copy paper. The cost of removing native forest is much higher – for our climate, water supply and wildlife. There is absolutely no excuse to destroy native forest when viable alternatives (such as plantation timber) exist.

How you can help

Here are some photographs that my partner and I took on the tour. If you’re interested knowing more, and would like to attend a future forest trip or make the journey yourself, follow The Wilderness Society Victoria on facebook. You can also download the beautifully-designed Toolangi State Forest Self-Drive Map.

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Group shot!

Course reviews

Since the start of the year, I’ve spent a healthy chunk of my spare time studying. I have to say, I’ve been amazed at the quality and variety of free online education available in the form of MOOCs (massive open online courses). With six down, three in progress and handful more coming up, it’s time to turn in some reviews!


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Marine Megafauna: Introduction to Marine Science and Conservation

Duke University (8 week course)
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Image by David W. Johnston, course instructor and Assistant Professor at Duke University

Rating: 4.5/5

Comment: Great subject matter delivered by a passionate instructor. Quite a lot of work involved with lectures, tests, reading material (PLOS ONE scientific papers) and assignments, but well worth the effort.

Certification available: Statement of Accomplishment (I achieved a 98% grade which meant that mine came with a distinction)

Next session: Not yet advertised. Sign up to be notified!

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Dino 101: Introduction to Paleobiology

University of Alberta (12 week course)
 Dino 101

Rating: 4.5/5

Comment: Another terrific MOOC featuring engaging material and presenters. This one gets points for variety – they regularly changed up the format of the video lectures and even took us on-site to excavations in the Alberta Badlands.

Certification available: Statement of Accomplishment

Next session: Not yet advertised. Sign up to be notified!

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Design: Creation of Artefacts in Society

University of Pennsylvania (8 week course)
[in progress] – Check back later for review!

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Ocean Solutions

University of Western Australia (8 week course)
[in progress] – Check back later for review!

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Community Journalism

Cardiff University (5 week course)
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Rating: 3.5/5

Comment: A lot of really useful tips were offered in this one, and I liked the fact that they interviewed a variety of experts in the field.

Certification available: No statement available

Next session: Not yet advertised

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Climate change: Challenges and Solutions

University of Exeter (8 week course)

Rating: 3/5

Comment: Such an important topic, but I must admit I struggled with some of the higher-level scientific concepts. Again, a variety of subject matter experts were brought in to discuss various topics, keeping it interesting. My favourite part of the course involved learning about ocean acidification.

Certification available: Statement of Participation

Next session: Not yet advertised

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Fairness and Nature: When Worlds Collide

University of Leeds (2 week course)
 

Rating: 3/5

Comment: Good short course – complex concepts and policies were explained simply, and the course provided much food for thought.

Certification available: Statement of Participation

Next session: Not yet advertised

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Introduction to Ecosystems FuturelearnIntroduction to Ecosystems

The Open University (6 week course) 

[in progress] – Check back later for review!

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Writing for the Web

Open Universities Australia (4 week course)
 Writing for the Web Open2Study

 Rating: 1/5

Comment: Unfortunately, this course only offered very basic, common sense information, no variety in the format of the lectures, limited visual aids and came across as amateur when compared to offerings from other platforms (see above).

Certification available: Certificate of Achievement

Next session: Starts in 2 days. Find out more

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Certificates

Coursera Certificate Statement of Accomplishment Dino 101 Coursera Certificate Statement of Accomplishment with Distinction Marine Megafauna Certificate of Achievement Open2Study

Coming up…

  • Animal Behaviour | University of Melbourne (8 week course via Coursera)
  • What a Plant Knows (and other things you didn’t know about plants) | University of Tel Aviv (7 week course via Coursera)
  • Exploring Our Oceans | University of Southampton (6 week course via FutureLearn)