Mega-fun with Melbourne’s microbats

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.

ABOVE: Geeking out over my flashy new headpiece.
ABOVE: Me, Ryan, Ben and Sarah. Bat-trappers.
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


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!


earthwatch logo

Happy International Day of Forests!

Here are a couple of posts I designed for the Wilderness Society Victoria facebook page to celebrate International Day of Forests (today!). This is a critical time for our environment, and today is about celebrating our remaining wildplaces, reminding each other of the value in these ecosystems and pledging to stand together to protect them. For information about the Wilderness Society campaigns and ways you can get involved, check out our website.

Wilderness Society Victoria International Day of Forests
Click to zoom! (and check out that massive tree)

the wilderness society international day of forests
Click to zoom! (and check out those misty mountains)

All in the name of science & conservation!

waders citizen scientist earthwatch turtlesYep, that's me - looking as attractive as ever in a pair of waders, smelling 
like 'pond'...

While my one-day Earthwatch expedition was certainly dirty work and more than a little tiring, I had a great time learning from scientist Lee and actively participating in her research with fellow volunteers Emma and Gabriella. Our mission: to gather data on turtle habitat and turtle populations in the greater Melbourne region!

It was an early start, compounded by the fact that we’re still in daylight saving mode here in Melbourne, which meant waking up in total darkness, waiting at the bus stop in total darkness, travelling in total darkness (I am aware that some people do this every day) and waiting at the rendezvous point in – you guessed it – no you didn’t – semi-darkness. 

earthwatch expedition turtles melbourne uni school of botanyFirst to arrive! Showing my supreme eagerness to get the day underway. 

After a quick PowerPoint to bring us up to speed on the project, the vollies split into two groups of three and jumped into a car with one of the scientists. Each team had two sites to monitor; ours were in Mill Park. We spent the day in waders: setting up eight turtle traps, collecting and anlaysing dip-netting samples, assessing the quality of the water and checking and removing the traps.

earthwatch expedition turtles melbourneearthwatch expedition turtles melbourneMy team hard at work
earthwatch expedition turtles melbourne
While my team is hard at work analysing and documenting water samples in the 
background, here I am conducting my own analysis/documentation...

Unfortunately for us, we didn’t catch any turtles – unsurprising perhaps because this is the last day in the season (Earthwatch will run sessions again starting in January). However, the team stationed in Doncaster managed to nab three, which would have each been measured, weighed and tagged. We didn’t come up entirely empty-handed though…have a look at what we found in one of our cathedral nets:

All in all, it was a great day outdoors 🙂

Little Red Toolangi Treehouse

Drafted the below media release earlier this week on behalf of the Wilderness Society Victoria. Unfortunately, the court ruled in favour of DEPI, so it seems the days of the Little Red Toolangi Treehouse are numbered. We can only pray that the same is not true for the Leadbeater’s possum.
– Meg

The Little Red Toolangi Treehouse The Little Red Toolangi Treehouse

Treehouse occupants stand (29.6m) tall against government takedown

By Meg Bauer

March 12, 2014

Mansfield, VIC: Young conservationists have been taken to court today over a treehouse constructed to protest the proposed logging of Mountain Ash trees in the Toolangi State Forest. The Department of Environment and Primary Industry (DEPI), the governing force in state forests, put a summons on the nearly 30 metre tall tree around two and a half weeks ago, calling for the owner of the treehouse to come forward or the matter would go to court. The hearing will take place at Mansfield Magistrates Court at 10 AM.

As a show of solidarity, fellow forest defenders including the Knitting Nannas of Toolangi (KNOT), Mansfield locals and members of the Wilderness Society Victoria will be staging a demonstration outside the courthouse to gather community support for the cause and further protest the proposed logging venture.

Non-Violent Direct Action has been taking place in the Toolangi State Forest for over a decade, with this latest tree-sit campaign ongoing since November last year. Beee, the previous occupant of the treehouse, recently came down to ground after 86 days straight and was promptly replaced by Harley.

Upon his ascension into the canopy, Harley declared, “I am 110% committed to putting everything I can into this campaign to save our beautiful forests and all the creatures that call these places home.”

Beee, Harley and members of the support camp at the base of the tree say they aim to educate and empower the public to respond to the commercial destruction of Australia’s native forests.

Toolangi State Forest

The Little Red Toolangi Treehouse, as it is known, is carefully positioned in an area of the forest where the world’s largest flowering tree, the Mountain Ash, is found. This is the habitat of Victoria’s state emblem, the fragile and threatened Leadbeater’s possum, which needs old growth like the Mountain Ash to nest in.

Harley explains, “This is why it is so important to keep the fight going to save our forests. These massive old trees provide a home to the endangered Leadbeater’s possum, the sooty owl and many other creatures. Studies also show that the Mountain Ash forests of Victoria and Tasmania are some of the most carbon-dense forests on Earth…(It’s clear that) logging in our state forests needs to stop.”

Emblazoned in fire-engine red and suspended at an imposing height, the treehouse is effectively standing sentinel over the forest, at the same time raising awareness of the cause.

If the case goes in favour of DEPI they will claim ownership of the treehouse, and inevitably remove it.

To learn more, please visit:
Little Red Toolangi Treehouse Facebook Page

*All images borrowed from the Little Red Toolangi Treehouse facebook page

Scientist for a day!

Melbourne freshwater turtle earthwatchLast week, Earthwatch came to my company as part of a volunteer expo, and, inspired by the representatives and the materials they proffered, today I signed up for my first expedition. In mid-March, I’ll be a citizen scientist for a day, collecting data on freshwater turtles with a small group of other volunteers and Earthwatch scientists. $95 well spent!

If you’re interested in signing up for one of these short (one day) volunteer sessions, check out their website. I’ll definitely be doing the microbat one when it’s offered again in November-December!


Turtles on the Move – Schedule for the day:

07:00 – 07:30 a.m. Overview of research project & safety briefing
07:30 – 08:30 a.m.
Travel to research site 1
08:30 – 10:00 a.m. Set up nets + quick break for morning tea 
10:00 – 12:00 p.m. Travel to research site 2 & set up nets
12:00 – 12:30 p.m. Lunch
12:30 – 02:30 p.m. Travel to research site 1. Conduct dip-netting + habitat assessment (vegetation and water chemistry). Remove nets & process turtles
02:30 – 05:00 p.m. Travel to research site 2. Conduct dip-netting + habitat assessment (vegetation and water chemistry). Remove nets & process turtles
05:00 p.m. Depart field & return to university

Earthwatch Turtle expedition

Real-life wildlife warrior

I chat to Ebony from Wildcare Australia about being a volunteer carer for injured and abandoned wildlife, and the best ways to get involved in wildlife rescue in your area.

wildlife carer            wildlife carer
Meet Ebony. All images from Cooked by Stars

Is wildlife rehabilitation a paid job for you or do you do it in your spare time?

Unfortunately, wildlife caring is pretty much always done in a volunteer capacity. The only time you can do it as a ‘career’ is by working with captive animals at zoos or in a medical area at a wildlife hospital which deals with the animals before they go to a carer.

What training / qualifications do you need to look after Australian native wildlife?

It varies depending on which state you live in. You are best off looking up your local parks and wildlife department and seeing what permits are needed. In Queensland, you need to join a wildlife group and then complete training every year on the particular species you want to keep a permit for. Certain speciality species like koalas, cassowaries, tree kangaroos (etc.) have restricted permits which take more training to obtain.

How much of a time commitment is required? Does it vary per species (i.e. possums vs. flying foxes)?

Species play a big role in determining the time you will need to commit each day. Baby birds might need to feed every 15-20 minutes from sun up to sun down, whereas a pinky joey will feed every 2-3 hours. Feeds just go up in lengths of time from there. Aside from feeding, you also have to consider the time spent administering medications, cleaning out cages and washing bedding, as well as vet checks, rescues and food prep (preparing bugs for some species, cutting native leaf every day for others).
flying foxes wildlife shelter rehabilitation

Could someone who is working full time ever be able to do this kind of job?

If you work a 9-5 job you can still be a carer, however it will depend on the species of animal you want to care for. Some workplaces allow animals at work which means you could still care for babies on feeds around the clock (depends if you are okay with minimal sleep too!).
There is also the option of caring for injured adults or juvenile animals that only need growing or recovery time in aviaries. Reptiles often just need feeding once a week. The main thing to remember is the length of time the animal will be in care. If you get a baby animal, you could have it anywhere from a few months (some birds) to over a year for roos. This means you are pretty restricted when it comes to going away on weekends or nights out.

Could you explain a bit about the process?

I rescue for the group Wildcare Australia and also for the RSPCA. In these situations, a member of the public contacts one of the organisations and then their call is directed to me if it’s in my rescue area. A lot of animals also come to me via other carers or the RSPCA Wildlife Hospital. Plus, I’m the ‘Possum Coordinator’ for Wildcare in Brisbane, so all the possums that come into care in our group get called into me and I work out who they need to be placed with (often the ‘homeless’ stay with me).

Once the animals are with me it really depends on their age, condition and species as to how long they will need to stay. A possum that is on 4 hour feeds will take about 6 months to get released back into the wild. As they grow, you give them more independence by placing them in larger and larger cages and having less and less interaction with them, until they are in an aviary and you are putting in the foliage for them to eat before they wake up.

An adult with an injury will be kept for medicating and then released back into its territory as soon as possible.
Some species, once they’ve reached a certain age, will go to a ‘crèche’ which will assist them in making new family groups before release (such as bats).
flying fox babies caring for wildlife

What’s the hardest part of the process?

There are a lot of times filled with sadness and heartbreak. Realising the amount of love and time you give to an animal does not always transfer into restoring health. Having to know when euthanasia is the kindest option.

What do you love the most about what you do?

Furry fluff balls!!

What’s the most common reason that native animals are sent to your care?

The main reason animals come in is due to human activity. Cars and domestic animals are the cause of most injuries. Keep pets inside at night! Well fed pets still hunt!.
possums wildlife rehabilitation

Of the animals you receive, how many are injured, and how many are orphans needing to be raised to maturity?

The majority of animals that come into care will be babies or juveniles. This is purely because most injured adult animals have to be euthanised due to the severity of their injuries. In Queensland, we have a policy that animals that are not able to be released back to the wild have to be put down. Most native species are very territorial and have only a very short amount of time they can be away from their home turf before another animal will move in. A male brushtail possum or kookaburra (for example) has about 9 days until he needs to go back to his home, so only injuries that can heal in this time are viable for treatment. Even some species of reptiles are affected by this. Unfortunately, there is no option of just hoping they find another home or kick out the new inhabitants, as these animals are already compromised and will actually die without a secure home.

What’s your most memorable wildlife rescue experience?

I don’t really have just one that I can pinpoint. Mostly just feeling really lucky to spend so much time seeing how wild animals grow up and witnessing so much that most people will never see. It is sad knowing babies lose their mums but really amazing being the closest thing to a replacement.
Possum wildlife shelter

What tips would you give to someone interested in contributing to wildlife rescue?

Get in touch with a local wildlife group and see where you can start. Even if you’re just interested, you can always attend courses and start learning. If you know a wildlife carer – spend some time with them! Then you can get an idea of what area of caring might fit with your lifestyle.