Friday, 22 March 2013

Easter bilby came early: Dryandra Woodlands

27 Feb to 5 March 2013

Warning: It's another of my long blog posts!

From the time we hit Esperence I kept asking all the families travelling in the opposite direction if they had visited Dryandra Woodlands on their way through. Most had never heard of it and none had been there.  It’s something I’d read about on the DEC website before we left Brisbane and had planned to visit.

Dryandra Woodlands are 2 hours south-east of Perth between the small towns of Williams and Narrogin.

The real drawcard of the visit was Barna Mia an animal sanctuary that runs nocturnal tours to see bilbies, woylies, boodies, quendas and mala. (If you’ve only heard of one of these, you are not alone!)  So we arrived on a Wednesday to join the tour that night and thought we’d probably leave the next day. 

But we were taken with the beauty and peace of the place and we ended up staying 6 days and it’s one of the most special places we’ve been to on this trip. 

Our first proper drive through the wandoo woodlands was on sunset/dusk and it was just outstandingly beautiful. The light colour of the trunks of the Wandoo trees was really accentuated at this time of night, and with the beautiful golden glow it was just breathtaking. The track to Barna Mia is quite narrow in parts and surrounded by this beautiful woodland – we’d never been in anything like it before.

I hope the photos we add to this blog do the trees and woodlands justice but I suspect they won’t. But trust me, this place is amazing.

The chance to see bilbies in their natural environment was what initially appealed to me about Barna Mia, but it was the mala and her pouch young that captivated me on that first night. And in fact, the bilbies looked quite awkward and gawky compared to their very cute peers. 

So a woylie is a brush-tailed bettong and a boodie is a burrowing bettong. The woylie is more upright (like a little wallaby) than it’s boodie counterpart but the boodies are boisterous and bold and cheeky. They are the ones you see first, fight over their food (snatching the tray of food from each other) and are fun to watch. They store much of their fat in their tail and as these boodies are very healthy, they had very fat tails!  They liked to shake their boodie!

In WA the bilby is often referred to as a dalgyte, the Indigenous name for it here. The quendas we know as bandicoots and the mala is the rufous-hare wallaby.

All of these nocturnal marsupials are small (most are around the same size as a ring tail possum) and they are either endangered or extinct on the Australian mainland. So to see them up close, and watch them just a metre or so from you was a real treat.  I wasn’t sure if we’d see any of the animals so our group (our family and two middle-aged couples) were excited that by the time we’d walked just 20 or so metres into the enclosure we’d spotted our first woylie, closely followed by a bilby hiding behind a bush but still just visible. I thought this was as good as it was going to get, but it just got better and better.

You could hear the brush either side of the walking track alive with creatures as we made our way down to Station 1 – a small clearing where they have a built a small hutch where they feed the animals. They have logs to sit on around the hutch and the animals get 10% of their diet from these feedings on the nocturnal tours.  So they are all waiting at this station to get their feed.  Some even hopped down the track behind us!

We sat and watched for at least 20 minutes and in that time were fortunate to see all five species come and eat.  The remainder of the two stations were not as busy as this first one.

Isobel woke up the next morning and asked that if we are anywhere else with a nocturnal tour that we do it.  Simon and I talked about it and decided that Barna Mia is a once in a lifetime experience (how many Australians have seen a bilby in their natural environment?) and it was a very affordable ($45 for our family to go on the tour and hear the lecture beforehand) so we booked into the next tour on Friday night as well!

Our guide was surprised we were back, obviously visitors don’t normally come back quite so quickly!  I had prepped the kids that we may not be so fortunate this time, and not to expect to see all the animals we had on our first night, but to our delight we saw just as many (although the quenda didn’t show itself on the second night but that’s OK as we had seen quite a few in our annexe back at Herron Point including one with pouch young).  The bilbies were much more entertaining on Friday night and would zig zag their way to the food (that’s how they got their scientific name) and right at the end we saw a big adult bilby come into view.  He was significantly bigger than the two juveniles we’d been admiring and it was great to see a big one.

We heard how one night there were only two Germans on the tour.  They were sitting in the dark, quietly watching and admiring the young bilby which had just come out of its mother’s pouch; what they hadn’t realized was that a carpet python had also been admiring it. Before their very eyes they saw the snake attack and eat the young one.  The guide tried to console them by saying not many people in the world had seen a young bilby come out of its mother’s pourch and that certainly the numbers of people who had ever witnessed a snake taking one was even less – so they were one of the lucky ones! 

We learned so much and were so taken in by these gorgeous little critters.   It was great to see one of the world’s largest conservation projects, WA’s ‘Western Shield’, in action and it looks pretty successful to us. 

The woodlands are one of the best places in the world to find a numbat, the WA fauna emblem, so it made us even more determined to spot one while we were here. It’s one of only two marsupials in Australia that is diurnal (does it’s eating/playing during the day and sleeps at night) and is much, much smaller than we imagined. Unfortunately the closest we got was a stuffed one at Barna Mia. We may have seen some of their diggings but no-one (not even the guide) could tell us if they did much digging to eat the termites they rely on, or what their poo looked like; they are notoriously shy so the chances of seeing one with our noisy tribe was minimal.

It was such a lovely, peaceful week at Dryandra. We even got to take in our very first campdraft which we all enjoyed (we’d seen a sign weeks beforehand that Williams was having a campdraft during WA’s long weekend) and Otto wanted to go back to it again the very next day.

We’ll always remember Dryandra not just because of the amazing wandoo woodlands and fauna there, but because our very precious and gorgeous little boy burnt his left leg there. The morning after, as we were packing up, Otto said to Simon and I in his inimitable way, that ‘Wished not I burn my legs’.  Don’t we all, beautiful boy.

 Barna Mia's website:

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