April 2017 Field Visit – Narrandera Koala Count

Today was the Annual Koala Count in Narrandera. I have been every year for the last several years, except when it’s been called off because of rain or flooding, and as I did last year, I decided the Count could be April’s official field visit.

One of the koalas spotted at the 2017 Annual Koala Count held at Narrandera Common
One of the koalas spotted at the 2017 Annual Koala Count held at Narrandera Common

This year 158 people joined in the count, and over the course of about an hour and half/two hours we spotted a total of 33 koalas, which is 3 more than we got last year.

Somebody brought along a list of volunteer and koala numbers from each count held since 1989, which I assume was the first one, and it makes interesting reading.

Someone asked me earlier in the day if the flooding that occurred in 2010, 2012 and 2016 had impacted local koala numbers, and I wasn’t sure, but looking at the list suggests the answer is ‘maybe’. The counts prior to 2009 yielded greater numbers than those held since, but whether this reflects a decline in the total number of koalas in the Narrandera population, or simply a decrease in numbers spotted due to a decrease in the total area searched because of some areas becoming difficult to traverse thanks to weed incursions and flood debris I have no idea. I do know that was the primary reason for the very low count results in 2013. By the same token, it’s difficult to guess if the population decline (if there has been one) is due to a change in birth/death rates, or to koalas moving out of the area to escape flood waters or possibly even territorial disputes. I do know that there have been reports of koalas moving up and down river from Narrandera in recent years, and I guess widespread flooding might be an incentive to move out of an area, although koalas can swim (as can most land mammals), and so might not be bothered too much by needing to swim from tree to tree rather than walk. It might also be worth remembering that between 2000 and 2010 was the Millennium Drought, which resulted in the loss of available water and widespread tree dieback across the region (and most of southern Australia). Narrandera Common is located between two permanent water bodies, which certainly got very low during the drought, but never completely dried up, so it’s possible that koala numbers were concentrated in the area during the drought years due to the relative availability of food and water, and they’ve been able to move out over a larger area since. This is all speculation on my part, but I think it’s an interesting question to ponder.

One thing that amuses me about the Koala Count every year is that there always seems to be a koala somewhere close to the volunteer mustering point on the day. Today was no exception.

Koala located within a few metres of the volunteer mustering point.
Koala located within a few metres of the volunteer mustering point.

 

We split up into groups and headed off to search different sections of the reserve. My group spotted two koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus).

Koala One
Koala One – yes I know I already used this picture above

 

Koala Two
Koala Two

 

Those claws tho

 

We also spotted:

Assorted bird nests.

Lots of bardi grub casings (which I erroneously told someone were the larvae of case moths, which is decidedly incorrect – moths yes, case moths no – so if she’s reading this I apologise for the wrong info).

More of the white bracket fungus I’ve seen at Narrandera Common on previous occasions, and which the internet informs me is called  Laetiporus portentosus or ‘white punk’.

A lovely set of kangaroo prints in the clay.

This tree which had clearly been heavily used by either koalas or possums in the recent past, but appeared to be abandoned when we looked at it.

This tree which is surely home to many tiny bats and other critters – look at all those hollows and flaky dead bark.

River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) saplings and flower buds.

Native daisies, bravely holding on.

‘Bleeding’ red gum branches.

A scar tree – I am insufficiently knowledgeable about cultural artefacts to know if this is a Wiradjuri scar tree showing where bark was removed to make a coolamon (bark dish) or if this tree was scarred for some other reason (whether by Wiradjuri or European people). It looks very like a coolamon scar to my untrained eye, but if any readers can confirm or debunk that would appreciated.

Edit: Since posting this I have received the following reply from someone from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage: ‘It is always risky trying to identify culturally modified trees from a single photo. Having said that, I’d suggest that the scarring is not the result of natural processes but rather the result of bark removal for use as either a Coolamon or Shield by the Traditional Owners. While early Europeans also removed bark from a tree these were typically for use in shelters and display a straight top and bottom (sometimes with a zigzag pattern).’   Thank you for the information!

I also got some super-pretty pictures of light shining through a gum leaf, showing all the veins.

After the count ended and everyone headed home I decided to wander around by myself for a bit and look for some of the koalas found by other groups, identifiable by the yellow ribbons used to mark the trees.

These two koalas were in trees right beside each other. I tried to find an angle that allowed me to get both koalas in the same picture, but it eluded me.

While moseying around I saw:

More white fungus.

Some galahs (Eolophus roseicapilla).

An Eastern Rosella (Platycercus eximius).

A Yellow Rosella (Platycercus elegans flaveolus).

A group of White-winged Choughs (Corcorax melanorhamphos).

And some lovely woody debris serving the dual purposes of providing essential habitat for wildlife and looking beautifully decorative.

See you next month!

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2 thoughts on “April 2017 Field Visit – Narrandera Koala Count

  1. A.M. Valenza May 1, 2017 / 12:57 pm

    Gosh, I love how judge-y those koalas are looking at you, like, especially that first picture is just like, “Ulch, these guys again.”

    They look so chubby too. I mean, claws aside, man, I really like chubby looking creatures that look like either super soft or have nice rolls of chub. To SQUEEZE. Chubby puppies. Chubby koalas. Chubby birds. If mauling and/or injury wasn’t a thing, I’d be out there trying to get a hug. *sniffs* At least the dogs love me.

    Anyway, enough of my chub rant. It’s so cool that they’ve organized an event like that. I can’t think of anything similar in my area. *wracks brain* No. Nope. Definitely drawing a blank there. Maybe it’s because koalas aren’t so volatile that it works out so well? Either way, that’s looks so fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    • riverinawildlife May 1, 2017 / 8:51 pm

      Big nose + small eyes + high vantage point = excellent judgey expressions. They are always peering down their noses at you!

      Koalas are super fluffy, the fur is very thick and soft, which unfortunately made them very popular targets when the fur trade was at its height. The Narrandera population is actually descended from individuals that were reintroduced into the area in the 1970s after they were hunted to extinction locally for their fur some time before. I think there are some places where you can pay to pat or cuddle captive-bred koalas, but yeah, I wouldn’t recommend trying to pat a wild animal, you’d scare it and it might strike back. Have a look for videos of koalas brawling – they look much less cute when they’re riled up.

      The koala count is held every year (well, except when it’s too wet) and is organised by local volunteers and the state National Parks and Wildlife Service. There are other wildlife counts held annually in other places, including migratory bird counts and the like, but I guess it’s easiest with species that are big and obvious and located in/passing through places where you know they’ll be. I’m sure also it helps that koalas don’t tend to run off if an excited group of people are gathered around their tree, they might get pissed off and climb higher, but they don’t go flitting off into the underbrush in the space of a heartbeat. I have been told that the Narrandera Koala Count is one of the longest-running citizen science wildlife counts in the country, but I don’t know how to check the truth of that. In any case, it’s certainly fun, and always makes for a good day out.

      Liked by 1 person

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