Seen whilst birding

As you may have gathered, I am somewhat obsessed with observing and photographing birds. However, whilst out birding I am sometimes interrupted by other native animals, so I thought I might give an overview of the mammals that can be seen in the area that distract me whilst observing birds. As many are nocturnal they are hard to see, but if you don’t know what is possible you may never realize what is out there.

Although people often think of Australia as the home of the marsupials, in fact we also have a range of placentals. For many years I was involved in mammal survey work which involved travelling all around Victoria. I was fortunate enough to see and handle a wide range of our beautiful native animals. So – let’s have a look at what you can see around this area. All these photos were taken by me, although not all photographs are from the local district.

The Water Rat or Rakali (Hydromys chrysogaster) is far more common than people realize and is often active during the day. I have seen them around here in such diverse places as the Loddon River near Newstead and at Baringhup and further afield on the Avoca River. They are also common in Lake Wendouree in Ballarat in the midst of the tourist area where crowds and noise do not seem to affect them and neither do droughts. Lake Wendouree, The Loddon and the Avoca rivers all dried up in the big drought, but water rats have bounced back. Amazing resilience! I have also seen them swimming in the bay at Williamstown near the dockyards – not exactly a pristine natural environment.

This Rakali was photographed at Newstead.
I was actually trying to photograph a Sacred Kingfisher, but hey, sometimes non-birds do get in the way!

The word “rat” has all sorts of connotations, but in fact Australia has a range of rats related to, but quite different from, the rats you are likely to see around your house if you are unlucky. The house rats that you are most likely to see are the Black Rat (Rattus rattus), or more rarely the Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus).

Black Rat – seen swimming in the river.
Can be confused with Rakali, but it does not have a white tip to the tail

However, we also have several native rats. In this region it is possible to see the Bush Rat (Rattus fuscipes) and in damper areas the Swamp Rat (Rattus lutreolus). These two species are from the same genus as the domestic rats, but favour bush areas and along damp zones in the case of the Swamp Rat. Both natives tend to be smaller, darker and with shorter tails (especially the Swamp Rat) than the Brown Rat. For inexperienced observers though it can be hard to tell at first glance.

Swamp Rat – can be seen during the day if you are quiet (like waiting for a bird to appear). Has a very short tail.

Moving on to the marsupials, the obvious ones are the Grey Kangaroo, ubiquitous even in town at times and the more secretive Black Wallaby that is more often than not solitary, but not uncommon throughout the Castlemaine Digging area. I am often out early in the mornings on my bike and regularly see them along the bush tracks.

Black Wallaby and young.

Of course a Grey Kangaroo is worth showing – a beautiful animal.

We also have a variety of small predators (Dasyurids) – marsupials that can be seen in the area. All have tiny but razor sharp teeth than can hurt if they get a soft spot as I know only too well! Much work has been done on creating nest boxes for the Brush-tailed Phascogale or Tuan (Phascogale tapoatafa). They tend to avoid humans but can sometimes be seen during the day moving rapidly about the place in search of food. This one ran straight up a brick wall when he saw me.

Brush-tailed Phascogale or Tuan on the move climbing the walls of our old house

Smaller than the Tuan are the Antechinus species. In the drier areas the Yellow-footed Antechinus (Antechinus flavipes) is very common, although rarely encountered unless you are observant. I have often seen them running up and down trees in full daylight at a variety of locations ranging from Rise and Shine, Muckleford, Vaughan Springs and Mount Beckworth near Clunes. Other species that can be seen include the Dusky Antechinus (Antechinus swainsonii), the largest of the group which​ favours wet forests and Agile Antechinus (Antechinus agilis), generally only in wetter areas like down towards Daylesford. All of these species are well known for the wild mating period and the subsequent death of all males, leaving only pregnant females to continue on to the following season.

Yellow-footed Antechinus – common in the dry forests.
This curious fellow was in Rise and Shine amongst fallen timber.

Dunnarts are also to be found in the drier areas to the north. The Fat-tailed Dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata) favours the drier grasslands and woodlands. It is one of my favourite marsupials.

Fat-tailed Dunnart in a typical pose – only likely in very dry areas

Only recently I was surprised to see signs of wombat out near Mount Alexander. These cute animals are more common south of Castlemaine in the aptly named Wombat Forest. They tend to produce almost cubic droppings, but I have no idea why!

Wombat and young

Although quite uncommon in the area, the Koala can be found in a few locations.

This one found a hot day in the Muckleford forest rather exhausting

The monotremes or egg-laying mammals are well known – the Echidna and the Platypus can both be found in the region. The Echidna is widespread throughout the area, but the Platypus can also be seen in various spots like along the Loddon River and Campaspe River near Axedale. Like the water rat, platypus can be found even in noisy urban areas – I have even seen platypus in the Yarra next to a noisy football ground in Heidelberg, but no football followers even knew it was there.

Echidnas are common throughout the region.
At times they can be very curious – this one was exploring the front door of our previous house

And last but not least are the possums. The Sugar Glider (Petaurus breviceps) is widespread in the area and at times is in competition with Tuans for nesting boxes as you may have seen in some videos on local websites.

Sugar Glider running down the tree trunk

Although considered a pest by some, the Brush-tailed Possum is to be admired for the way it has adapted to human environments – some might say too well.

Brush-tailed Possum

Last, but not least is the Ring-tailed Possum. A quiet and generally slow-moving possum that prefers dense vegetation, but has also adapted to human habitation as well.

Ring-tailed Possum


4 thoughts on “Seen whilst birding”

  1. Hi Damian, 1st time on site, really enjoying this article, easy, relaxed narrative & we both photographed same little Y-f Antechinus in the same spot @ R&S. LOL. I look forward to reading more, keep up great work. Regards Mel

    1. Thanks Mel – R&S is a great spot for Antechinus. I spend lots of time just watching their antics.

  2. Thanks for putting all these pages together Damian. I found the site while trying to ID some backyard birds in Castlemaine – the Spotted Pardalote, namely- and got carried away with all the great stories.
    I love the pic of antechinus popping out of the stump!
    Also, I’m told wombats poo in cubes because they stack up like building blocks to mark their territory. You will see them stacked in prominent places, on logs or flat stones. A unique strategy! :0

    1. Ah yes – the antechinus is one of my favourites. Wombat poo has always intrigued me. I often see it when walking on Mount Alexander and wonder!

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