Sweat, Sex Ed, Spiders and Salutations – Northern quoll pre-breeding shenanigans 2016.

It’s always exciting when you first get up to the island to see how the quolls have faired in our absence, which females made it to their second or third year and how many babies survived the wet season.  This is now the 5th year of sampling the “Grids Population” – a 128-hectare area that Jaime originally set up as her PhD study population.

Rain radar week one, me hiding in a cave so the quolls would stay dry (I was already drenched) and the 8 am forecast for trapping sites on Groote.

Rain radar week one, me hiding in a cave so the quolls would stay dry (I was already drenched) and the 8 am forecast for trapping sites on Groote.

Pre-breeding sampling of the Northern quolls on Groote Eylandt NT, started with thunderstorm after thunderstorm. This came with incessant heavy tropical rain and us getting drenched to the core most days – either from the torrential downpours or from the intense sweating due to 95% humidity - so much for only doing fieldwork during the dry season. 

Walking out of Beach Grid towards the rainbow (Grid 4) with a bag full of quolls.

Walking out of Beach Grid towards the rainbow (Grid 4) with a bag full of quolls.

First up Pippa and I were out laying the traps on Grids and starting population assessments for the pre-breeding season. Quoll numbers were looking low from the start and we got some of the smallest quolls we have ever had for this time of year (124 g female – Emily). 

The smallest quoll of the season (Emily – 124g) and the largest (Goliath – 822g). 

The smallest quoll of the season (Emily – 124g) and the largest (Goliath – 822g). 

Waterhole – where quick post-trapping dips are had before the long sandy walk back to the Lodge.

Waterhole – where quick post-trapping dips are had before the long sandy walk back to the Lodge.

It seems that this years lower numbers are likely due to the combination of reduced rainfall the wet season just gone and intense fires in the trapping Grids November-December last year.  So fingers crossed for a better-wet season come 2017.

Fire scared landscape on Beach Grid (Grid 4) and the second smallest female quoll Ophelia at 140g. 

Fire scared landscape on Beach Grid (Grid 4) and the second smallest female quoll Ophelia at 140g. 

Sarah trapping up to go out and lay a line on Grid 1.

Sarah trapping up to go out and lay a line on Grid 1.

After an epic fun filled week with Pippa, Sarah arrived to bring us home for the last three weeks of the season.  Although Sarah’s background is hospitality management – she excelled at rock hopping, animal handling and aiding my OCD with everything done to perfection! 

We also had a mountain of additional on island volunteers – with Nicky coming three times a week for a morning stroll through the bush (and sometimes trying to bag an empty trap), Marcelle wishing he hadn’t said he would help, as we laid 40 traps out in the blistering sun, to Jen, the new MJD researcher and Shanna, the ALC Rangers left hand woman, just coming for a jaunt to see what we are all about. It is fantastic that the local community are so interested and engaged in our research! After 5 years on island everyone knows the “Quoll Girls” and love to stop you for a quick chat about their resident quoll that most locals have in their backyard or even their homes.

On island volunteers - Nicky, Jen and Shanna out helping us capture quolls for processing.

On island volunteers - Nicky, Jen and Shanna out helping us capture quolls for processing.

With the “Dust and Human Health Team” needing KOB (our trusty field car) most days, the Quoll Team had to source some new wheels to move about island. So after getting on Groote Eylandt ‘Buy, Sell, Swap’ Facebook page we found ourselves with two not-so-new bicycles all for the grand old price of $40. With a little elbow grease, some bush bicycle mechanics and some hodge-podge modifications for transporting animals – we were underway to being able to move around between the field station, trapping sites and our accommodation. However, we soon realised that Alyangula is not all flat, and after morning and evening tramples through the bush trapping animals, the legs were a tad tired – with Sarah now labelling volunteering as “Skye’s boot camp”. Luckily we have use of one of the ALC Rangers’ Polaris that enabled us to hoon through the back-road dirt tracks to trapping sites when our legs just said they had had enough!

The Quoll Team’s new wheels with built-in animal carrying baskets and Sarah and I hooning around on the ALC Rangers Polaris.

The Quoll Team’s new wheels with built-in animal carrying baskets and Sarah and I hooning around on the ALC Rangers Polaris.

From bikes to blisters - during week two I started getting a mysterious blister on my knuckle one night after laying traps all day. At first I thought typical clumsy me – must have burnt my hand and not even noticed! But as the night wore on and the pain intensified I used Dr Google to investigate what a typical spider bite can look like – because what else could it be? By the next morning my little 5 mm diameter blister had become a 10 mm one and by lunch time a 15 mm pusy blister. A trip to the Alyangula clinic and a doctor’s visit later I was on strong antibiotics and antihistamines – with the doctor confirming that good old trusty Dr Google was right– it was a spider bite.  Three days later the blister had popped and it started to heal – and two weeks since the day I only have a faint red mark. Thank goodness – I was worried for a while that I might loose my finger. Turned out Robbie thought the same – not game to Tweet the bite to the public just in case it took over my whole hand, although there were daily requests for updates so he could show all his friends in the US – What a good caring boss (as I normally never hear from him)! But no doubt it was so he could just say “Everything can kill you in Straya!” to all the United Statians.

Mysterious spider bite – 2 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours, 36 hours, 3 days, and a week later.