This trip was my fourth to Groote Eylandt but my first time during the wet season, and the humidity and temperatures lived up to all expectations. The Natalie-Miranda team got off to a strong start, managing to get off the plane in the afternoon and have a grid of traps set by sundown the same day.
We had plenty of quolls the next morning and I got my first taste of measuring. Before this trip I mainly did performance with the quolls and left Natalie to do all the morphological measurements, but seeing as all we had to do this trip was get DNA samples and body measurements it was time for me learn some new skills! Happy to say my first two days of measuring went well with only one escapee in the lab (who was quickly caught again) and no quoll bites. It was all going too well….
On our third night we were woken to the sound of heavy wind and pouring rain – my first tropical storm on Groote. We had only set our traps a few hours beforehand but neither Nat or I could sleep at the thought of our quolls stuck in traps during the storm (even though we do our best to put our traps in secure and dry places). At 12am we headed out with head torches and closed all our traps, thankfully only a couple of quolls had actually been in a trap and they were released unharmed. In one of our last traps for the night we found a blue tongue lizard AND a quoll! Both were released unharmed – but it was one crazy night and to this day we still can’t think of how a lizard and a quoll ended up in a trap together.
That was the start of our record number of blue tongue lizard sightings. In total we must have seen about 20 blue tongue lizards, both in and out of our traps. And while it was great to see such a healthy population it became a bit frustrating when they were taking up our traps instead of quolls each morning.
In comparison to last year, this year has been a much drier wet season, and there was a decrease in quolls captured in our traps. A lot of our second and third year females were missing but I was extremely happy to be reunited with one of my favourite ‘old girls’ Storm. Storm has reached granny status within our population and was the only four year old female caught this season. Typically, only around 30% of female quolls survive to their second year, so she really has beaten the odds living to four! She does seem to have gotten a little grumpier in her old age though, and was not happy getting her photo taken.
The Andrew-Andrew team (better known as Chopper and Bushy) were also up on Groote, and after a week we decided they were having too many sleep ins so we put them to work when we could. We had them hauling out traps, conducting habitat assessments and tidying up our lab equipment - thanks guys! There was also some time for fishing and the boys brought us home plenty of delicious fish; fish curry was a staple dinner this trip.
A big congratulations are in order for Natalie, who at the end of this trip has officially finished ALL her data collection for her PhD. We managed to fit in some last site-seeing and outings to celebrate the end of over 2.5 years of fieldwork, and of course we had to have one last logistics meeting by the pool.
Some final quoll selfies were taken the last morning and we both agreed that these feisty little marsupials really are one of the best creatures to work with. In times to come we’ll miss our time catching, measuring and recording performance with them (even if we said we didn’t want to touch ANOTHER quoll some days). I reflect back to my first trip up almost two years ago, and how I jokingly said it would be really cool to have a scar from a quoll…. Yep I am nuts, but amazingly I got my scar thanks to a well-aimed quoll bite on my shin, along with a lot of other crazy and memorable stories that will be great to tell around a fire one day.