Sunday, April 29, 2012

Walter the Wombat

Living and working as we do, at the intersection of one of Australia’s biggest National Parks and a thriving ski industry, interactions with the native wildlife are sadly inevitable. I’m not sure of the figures, but based on my own observations hundreds of native animals are killed on our regions roads every year.

Marsupial young can spend up to a year in their mothers pouch and then longer learning the nuances of life from their mother. Often the death of a female would lead to the death of its offspring. However, if the pouch is checked at the time of an accident and with a lot of luck the orphan can be saved.

LAOKO (Looking After Our Kosciuszko Orphans) is a wildlife rescue group of trained volunteers who assist in the rescue and care of native wildlife in the Snowy Mountains region. The group also assist in the raising of native orphans and rehabilitating them for release back into the wild. Quite a few of my colleagues are members of LAOKO and its not uncommon to see the odd joey jumping around the office.

Late last year Walter the wombat was given to my colleague Carmen to raise, ill let her tell her story….

“Walter came to me when he was just 600 grams and probably about 4 months old, just lightly furred and starting to regulate his own body temperature - two things which meant his chances of survival were pretty good. I fed him 6 times a day around the clock for the first 7 weeks til he finally hit 1kg in weight, then I could drop to 5 feeds a day, and later just 4 feeds. When he was not fully furred and feeding more often he mostly stayed in his pouch.

600g and poorly

Drink up little guy

Big claws even at this age

Not sure what's doing here, ear massage perhaps?

Hello, inquisitive Walter

A joey under 1 kilo is like a new born baby and has to be kept sterile; even washing and sterilising all bottles and teats, and boiling water to make up milk.

Rude Walter

As he got older and more adventurous, Walter liked to explore all around the house including under beds and in cupboards. He liked to nibble on feet and often wanted to climb up onto the lounge to sit with me and explore even more. Because Walter operates strongly on his sense of smell he could usually find me wherever I was in the house. He'd even come and find me in bed at night. This is because he has excellent olfactory senses and is nothing to do with me being stinky!

Bed time

Funny sight around the office
Enjoying the outdoors

I had Walter for 5 months in total and when he left me he weighed 3.8 kilos and was fully furred, and starting to enjoy time outside to eat grass and dirt. He also enjoyed eating rolled oats, shoelaces and cardboard. He has gone to another carer and is now buddied up with another wombat, to learn to socialise and de-humanise a little. He will eventually be released back into the bush (probably not near a National Park though, usually on a LAOKO carers property out Berridale - Cooma way). I have heard he's getting along well with his new wombat friend and has put on another kg, so I'm guessing he'd be about 5kg now.

I joined LAOKO as a volunteer over a year ago and Walter was the first animal I cared for.”

Walter and mummy, look at those claws now!

Hopefully he will grow up to be as big as this guy.

Big fat Common wombat

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Schlink Pass 4 Hut Challenge

I bought myself a bike a few weeks ago. A proper bike too, not a $150 special with no front brakes like my last one. Since I got my new baby, a Giant XTC 29er (incidentally, how awesome are 29ers!) I have been getting out and about on the trails around Jindabyne and the Kosciuszko National Park. Last week a sunny Sunday presented me with the opportunity to do a ride I have been thinking about for awhile, I’m going to call it the The Schlink Pass 4 Hut Challenge.

I parked at the Munyang Power Station and started up Munyang-Geehi Rd. The ride begins with a heart starter 300m vertical ascent from the Snowy River to the montane forests above. Despite my flash bike I was struggling by the last switchback and stopped to “take some photos” of the hydro power generation pipes.

The climb to start, much more fun on the return journey

Its not a water slide its Snowy Hydro infrastructure

After considerably reducing the number of beats my heart has left in it, I claimed the ridge and enjoyed some nice downhills and flats to the turn for my first hut of the day, Horse Camp Hut. As a relatively “low hanging fruit” this was my fourth visit to Horse Camp. As usual I admired the bright red door and peaceful setting.

Hut number 1 for the day

Holly’s entry in the log book after our Christmas card debacle

I walked the bike up a steep little hill behind the hut and met up with the Snowy Hydro aqueduct trail. Snowy Hydro don’t miss much, every little stream had a sluice gate directing water into the aqueduct.

I continued along the aqueduct trail and eventually met back up with the Munyang-Geehi Rd.

Near the intersection with the main Munyang-Geehi Rd.

As I turned onto the road I noticed two people jogging around 100m behind me. I put in some solid pedals but to my horror, they were gaining on me (jogging, remember I am on some super-duper bike). Just as they were about to catch me I took the turn to Whites River Hut, the second on my list for the day. The joggers turned off the main road and started on the hut access road, still gaining on me. It was now that I came across Whites River, (from which the hut gets its name) I took some speed into the crossing and made it to the other side. The water nearly came up to the top of my fancy 29 inch wheels. I turned back to see the joggers stuck on the other side of the river, there was no way they were getting across, I was saturated but had defeated them.

Whites River Hut was built in the 1930’s but was partially burnt down in July 2010 by an errant stove. My friend Dougs recently rebuilt the hut with some assistance from volunteers.

After a quick bite to eat it was back across the river and I continued north and up to Schlink Pass at 1804m.

It was a nice gentle downhill for a km or so to hut number 3, affectionately known as the Schlink Hilton owing to its size. The hut has number of rooms and even a slow combustion fireplace. A working bee was in full effect and I got back on the road after a quick lunch before someone handed me a paintbrush.

These guys had special access, cars are not normally permitted

After climbing uphill for pretty much the whole day, I welcomed a few km of fast downhill heading south from Schlink Pass. It wasn’t long however before I once again detoured from the Munyang-Geehi Rd to take another aqueduct trail, Disappointment Spur, to my final hut for the day.

Riding along I started to notice large numbers of Flightless Mountain Grasshoppers on the trail and I was doing my best not to hit the funny insects. Incredibly slow moving, both the females and males are flightless, although the males can manage a sort of jump to get away from predators. The females are particularly fat and dung looking. They do have one defence however, an amazing brightly covered back side that they will happily show you (if you continually try to poke them like I did).

Females and male flightless mountain grasshoppers

Attempting to avoid squashing the grasshoppers I came across Disappointment Hut, my final hut for the day. Also known as ‘Aqueduct Shelter Number 2’ it was built in the 1950’s. I was hoping that the name was intended to be satirical but it was not to be, the hut is indeed a bit of a disappointment. It has only one room with a double bunk and no fire place or nearby running water. It did have a certain quaintness however and if you look through the burnt out trees the view was pretty nice.

Hanging around Disappointment Hut were large numbers of Kosciuszko Grasshoppers. These little guys getter brighter as the day gets hotter. Judging by the iridescent greens and blues on display, they were running pretty hot. Seems it was a day for the insects as I didn't see any snakes and only the occasional macropods.

Kosciuszko grasshoppers and unimpressed hairy caterpillar

With my objectives achieved for the day I had a great ride down Disappointment Spur burning the vertical metres I had claimed in the morning.

View over to the perisher range

My ride ended back at the Munyang Power Station, around 24km. The Snowy Hydro boys were gearing up to make some power.