Gnaala Mia, Dryandra Woodlands 2022

The lure of the elusive Numbat ensures that we constantly have a plan to head back to Dryandra on the lands of the Wiilman people. It seems that August is our consistently preferred month, having been here in August 2018 and 2021. This time the plan was to head out there with friends for two nights in early August, visit the Barna Mia nocturnal experience, look for the Numbats and generally have a lovely weekend. Unfortunately, I got sick and spent the weekend in bed at home, while our friends and Mr P headed off. Mr P didn’t go until Saturday, because I had hoped I would be well enough, but not to be. Obviously as I wasn’t there, I can’t really share much about their trip with you, but they did report back that they saw a Numbat running along the side of the road, that the nocturnal experience was great but cold, and that they had a nice fire and delicious potatoes. I admit to shedding a tear when they sent me pictures taken at the nocturnal experience, but I was honestly too sick to have gone. On his return Mr P committed to taking me back two weeks later, so the plans were remade, the nocturnal experience rebooked and this time I made it!
We headed off after Mr P finished at school on Friday afternoon, opting to travel through Brookton, Pingelly, to Cubballing, then across to Gnaala Mia campground. It might be “the long way” but it was all sealed, clean and not slippery. We arrived at our site not long after 8pm, choosing number 16 this time, and had a fire going, gin in my tummy and dinner on within 20 minutes. To add to the excitement, we were promptly visited by a Woylie, who introduced itself, checked us over as neighbours do, then hung around on and off for the evening. After dinner we also had a visit from a vey tame possum who didn’t mind a bit of leftover Mexican rice. It was so persistent we had a tussle over the salsa jar, before it got the hint and left in search of more appropriate tucker.

Eventually it was just too late to be up any longer (well after midnight) so we headed in for bed and a sound night’s sleep in the Australian bush. The morning was lovely and bright and clear, offering us some much-needed sun to soak. Our fire started again very quickly and we enjoyed sour dough toast from the forks with coffee, serenaded by the birds all around us. There are some friendly wee Rufus Tree Hoppers that have been skipping around, swallows soaring above our heads and 28s making a ruckus in the trees. There are a few wrens but they are not showing themselves, a lovely yellow breasted robin and another interesting yellow flitter that was hard to capture clearly.

With breakfast and the chores done we decided to go for a drive to have a look for a Numbat. I must admit to having very low optimism, but loads of enthusiasm. We have looked before and not seen even a trace. At least we are in the right vicinity and know that they are here in healthy numbers, so that’s a start. We are certainly more likely to see them here than at home on the lounge. Along the road to Dryandra Village we chose a random spot and had a lovely wander, seeing lots of evidence that something has been digging holes and turning over the soil. Just as we were reconciling that there was nothing to see, a small ambling echidna wandered across my path. They are so cute to watch and intriguing to look at. This one was no exception and was happy in his spiny defensive coat to let me get some great photos of him. No sign of the numbat though so we said cheerio to the echidna and went a bit further down the road. From the window of the car I noticed some blue beard and pink fairy orchids, so we stopped for a look. These were bright, sun facing specimens, very pretty to look at.

Eventually we arrived at the village, with me hopeful of seeing a Bush Stone Curlew (and a Numbat). Instead, we were greeted by a very handsome grey currawong. It was very happy to pick the dead bugs off the front of the car, as well as pluck a few unlucky ones from the air. I am not sure if it had an issue with one of it’s eyes, but it definitely seemed as though one eye was less bright than the other.

As the parking area was at the start of the Lol Gray and Kawana walk trails, we headed off along the path, with our eyes peeled and hopes high. We hadn’t gone more than a couple of hundred metres when I thought I saw something move about 50 meters away, near a fallen log. We froze and watched the spot for a few minutes with no further movement, so we wandered further up the path, having another look from a different angle. After watching for a few more minutes, we were just about to keep moving, when I decided to use the camera to have a look down the hollow of the log. Imagine my surprise when there was a little furry face with two bright little eyes staring straight back at me! I nearly dropped the camera as I spluttered out “There is a Numbat there!”. I don’t think Mr P believed me, so I handed him the camera for a look. Then over a couple of minutes, as we silently watched, the gorgeous and enchanting little creature, that is critically endangered, came out of the log, went for a walk, popped up and had a look around, before running off! We were both stunned into silence and then excitement, cross checking with each other that we had indeed seen the Numbat.

Despite hanging around for a while, we didn’t see it again, possibly having scared it as much as it thrilled us. So, we decided to take a wander through the village to try and see a Curlew. As we walked into the village space, fronted by an oval, an oddity was very clearly visible. Among the mob there was a distinctly white kangaroo! Of the thousands of kangaroos we have seen between us, we have never seen a white one. It was a long way off, so hard to photograph, but this beautiful creature seemed to be otherwise normal except for its colour. They are very rare apparently, with just one occurring in every 50,000 to 100,000 animals. It really was our lucky day! Now to find this Curlew …

Despite wandering the bush in search of “a chicken with long legs” we were not lucky enough to spot a curlew, either at the time, or later in the day when we went back at their usual emergence time. It was hard to be disappointed though, given our sheer luck with the Numbat and the white kangaroo. Very satisfied we headed back to Tas for a celebratory charcuterie, s’mores and coffee. Not long after we settled in for the afternoon, I caught a flash from the corner of my eye and was very lucky to see a small, orange and white creature, running on all fours, streak down through the woodland. Mr P also saw it, although for less time, and we are pretty sure it was another, smaller Numbat! I am pleased we saw the other one earlier today, with more time to watch it and photograph it. Of course, I took the opportunity to unashamedly boast about seeing the Numbats to our friends who were here two weeks ago without me, and all of Facebook. Did that really happen? I have seen and watched at least one Numbat. In the wild. Ah-maze-ing! And there is still the nocturnal experience to go tonight …

Before leaving for the evening we wrapped a couple of potatoes in thick layers of foils and popped them into the coal bed in the fire. After unsuccessfully doubling back to the Village to see the Curlew, we arrived at Barna Mia bang on 6pm, ready for more excitement. The hostess remembered Mr P and was pleased to see us. She took us through the short but enlightening information session, providing information about the species and their current status. There are 500 Numbats across all areas of Dryandra Woodlands. They have been released from captive breeding programs and are doing well. Fox and cat baiting are helping. As for the others, Malas, Boodies, Woylies, Quendas and Bilbys as well as Possums are on the likely list for tonight. As Numbats are diurnal, we don’t get to see them here, nor chudditchs (western quolls) which are carnivorous and therefore not enclosed with the others here.

Working backwards, brush tailed possums are in good numbers, although they have been locally extinct in the past, and aren’t actually enclosed at Barna Mia. They like to come in for a free feed, ignoring the zap they get from the electric fence and then hang around with the other animals that are enclosed here, purely for educational purposes. The Bilby is a nationally a vulnerable species and are very timid. They have the huge ears and as soon as they hear scary noises they high tail it away to safety. We were warned we may or may not see one. Quendas are a type of bandicoot, that look like big rats (they are a marsupials) and are “priority 4” meaning their survival is dependent on conservation. They are increasingly seen in the Perth Hills, at Murdoch Uni and other places around Perth. Woylies are brush tailed bettongs. They have a thin tail with a dark bushy bit at the end. They are nationally endangered, critically endangered in WA, rare in SA, extinct in the NT, threatened in Victoria and presumed extinct in NSW. Despite this, one was hoping around our campsite last night! Yahoo for the Woylie. I love saying “Woylie”. Boodies or burrowing bettongs are small, kangaroo-like critters that have thick tails (to distinguish them from the Woylie). They are nationally vulnerable, conservation dependent in WA, endangered in SA and presumed extinct (mainland subspecies) in NSW. The Mala is a Rufous Hair Wallaby, with a thick coat. They are endangered in WA, extinct in NT and endangered in SA.

The status of these animals is very sad and it is unlikely, given feral animals and land clearing that their numbers will ever be large again. Sanctuaries like this one, and zoos like the Perth zoo are so valuable in both educating humans and breeding populations. I am grateful these exist. I am also grateful to scientists and farmers who are doing what they can irradicate pests like foxes and feral cats, while establishing wildlife corridors so the animals can move from woodland to woodland under the cover of trees and with logs and burrows to hide in.

Anyway, back to our tour. There were enough people for two groups to head out into the 2 enclosures in the sanctuary. There were 12 in our group and we went through 3 feeding stations. At the first station 5 of the 6 species arrived quickly. The Woylie hopped, bopped and popped all over the place, while the Mala, Boodie and Quenda sat quietly eating pellets and fruit and veggies. Mumma possum turned up, waddling around with a joey in her pouch. Dad turned up a bit later and proceeded to climb into the food bucket to help himself. Then the 6th animal turned up and we got our first sighting of a Bilby, just our right, cautiously looking around, with its huge ears pricked up. I think I gasped when saw it. As Australia’s answer to the Easter Bunny I have been conscious of this delightful marsupial for a while. So cute.

As we moved from station one to station two, one of the Woylies hopped along with us, like a member of the tour party! We got to see a lot more of the Bilby at station 2. Throughout our time there, the guide was also sharing a lot of great information with us about the animals, their natural predators like pythons and owls, the social gatherings that happen by then fence with other Woylies and possums, and much more. At station 3 we got to see some “aggressive” behaviour between a pair of Mala. Apparently mummy Malas loving raise their young to a certain age and the aggressively kick them out, yell (hiss) and scream (click) at them, abandon them and ignore them, all so they will go to another group, reproduce and keep the species pure. We got to see some of this behaviour between a female and her (likely) offspring!

Just as I was starting to get cold, and after just the right amount of time, our outstanding tour came to an end. Our guide counted more than 17 individual animals, that included all of the enclosed species. I was completely thrilled by the entire experience and learned so much about these endearing and endangered creatures. While I am glad that I saw them, I am saddened that we humans have almost completely eradicated them due to our selfish behaviours over a few short centuries. If you get the chance to go to Barna Mia, don’t hesitate. It is well worth it.

Back at Tas we settled into the evening around the fire. Our spuds were cooked to perfection and tasted amazing topped with Mexican rice, cheese and tortilla chips. Our wood supply was burning perfectly and our occasional visits from the woylie were keeping us entertained. There was no visit from the possum tonight, although it will no doubt inspect the dinner table later for scraps. Just before bed we indulged in the much-anticipated spiked hot chocolate. We used hot chocolate powder made according to the packet directions, poured over a nip of crème de menthe. Oh my lordy, they were delicious, warming and moorish. Next time I am having mine with a s’more. A lovely way to cap off one of the best days we have ever spent in the Australian bush.
Sunday morning we woke to another lovely day. Again, we got the fire going for breaky and enjoyed sitting there planning our day. We started with a short walk up the road to a grassy clearing where we found some donkey and cowslip orchids. Across the road we started the loop walk, never intending to do the whole thing, which we really must do next time we are here. We wandered very slowly and very quietly, hopeful that we would catch sight of some wildlife. But we were not in luck today, with the whole area silent except for a few birds. We continued the trail to the information board and then wandered back to put Tas onto Maz and start the journey home.

On the road, we swung into Congelin and were rewarded with some stunning Vanilla Orchids, a new find for us.

We then headed out of the National Park and down to Williams for a late lunch at the Woolshed. I have to admit, I was very underwhelmed and disappointed, given what I had expected this place to be like. I would drive past it in the future but don’t take my word for it. Our next stop was a recommended orchid site that took us a while to find but was worth the effort. It is at the parking area just west, not east, of the Cowcher Rd intersection on Williams-Kondinin Rd. Once we found it, we were rewarded with loads of orchids, including a colony of snails! Back in the car we headed through Narrogin stopping next at another recommended orchid spot. I confused this spot with another and we undertook a futile search for an orchis that we were never going to find! We did of course see some other lovely specimens, including some great jugs. With the light fading we made a mad dash to the other spot, very keen to see the Primrose Spider in it’s rightful spot. Unfortunately, it was not to be. We did see some lovely Blood Spiders that were poorly photographed thanks to the dark.

With no daylight left, we agreed we had exhausted ourselves and the weekend so we headed home to unpack and repack for next weekend! We are off to the Wyalkatchem Rodeo, with some side trips around Goomalling to look for more orchids. It will be hard to beat this fabulous weekend, but as you know, we will give it a red-hot crack. It honestly can’t come quick enough …

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