1009 traps and 111 quolls later and we have returned from our 5 weeks of data collection on Groote Eylandt!!!
The trip up there was an adventure in itself, with a flight to Darwin, a quick lunch stop with past lab member Jaime and then a 90 minute flight on a small 30-seater to Groote. We spent the first few days setting up the lab and building the performance structures. It was here that we began acquiring many new skills as handy-women, including taking a whole hour to insert ONE screw with a power drill and nearly sawing off a finger. After 4 seemingly long days as tradies, our structures were fit for quoll performance and we commenced trapping the next night.
We are looking at quoll diet and performance in two habitat types, open sclerophyll and rocky escarpment areas. Every evening we would set out traps at a site, check them the next morning, process the quolls during the day and then release them that evening.
Trap hauling was another steep learning curve, holding 6 traps on one shoulder, two more in each hand, GPS for navigation, flagging tape and of course a 1kg tin of chum somehow balanced and ready to bait the traps. Needless to say this didn’t come naturally… especially when something like a shoelace needed tying. Nevertheless, it only took a few falls before we became slightly less uncoordinated and carrying traps became the norm
Our sites were beautiful, particularly at sunrise and sunset. We often saw dingoes, frilled lizards and rock wallabies, plus beautiful golden wattle and red grevillea flowers. The beauty of each site made the early mornings and late nights all worth it and we honestly cannot believe how lucky we were to experience such a unique and untouched environment.
Back in the lab we ran the quolls through six performance tests. Up poles, around corners, along straight paths and up and down – it truly was the quoll-ympics. While most were willing, some just wanted no business cooperating which made for some very interesting yoga positions for us, especially when attempting to get them to climb the pole!
The quolls are master escape artists, and when they’ve escaped once there’s a 100% chance it’ll happen again. We once spent 40 minutes trying to coax one out from behind the freezer, while he sat there contently knowing there was no chance we could squeeze into the tight crevice. One of the tests was the ‘firepole’ which involved a quoll climbing a pole and us scaling a ladder to reach them at the top. As a rough estimation, we climbed the ladder 552 times!
Of course, we also managed to squeeze in a camping spot to beautiful Marble Point, to enjoy a campfire on the beach and an incredible starry night sky, and a trip to aboriginal cave paintings.
The sunsets on Groote were stunning and we made time to watch as many as possible, either in the field or relaxing on the deck with a cider in hand.
There were 5 other fellow lab members on Groote while we were there, and a big shout out goes to Nat and Jess for their delicious vego cooking, Nat and Heather for collecting 95% of Hannah’s insects for her, Nat and Chop for setting up the fire pole and Skye for teaching us how to be expert quoll/trap handlers. The past 5 weeks have been an absolute blast and despite the bites and scratches, we miss the little guys already! Here’s to a whooole lot of data extraction ahead!