Lovin' Melbourne's Wildlife - a Valentines Day Tour

What better way to spend Valentines Day than falling in love with some of Australia's cuddliest and cutest animals. Today was very special for Wildiaries and some families from the Patch School near Melbourne. With Karen Garth of Ecoadventures we joined a group of adults and kids for an afternoon and evening frolicking with wildlife. 

The day started in Warburton with a private introduction to some local, native, and endangered animals care of Mark Cairns, owner of Endangered Species Recovery. Mark owns a range of native animals he uses for conservation training.

First up, Mark produced a harmless Blue-tongued Lizard, common in the gardens and creekside vegetation of the Yarra Ranges, then a beautiful green and golden Growling Grass Frog, an endangered species and the focus of ground-breaking management in the immediate region. 

This afternoon was the opportunity to show people animals ... to give everyone the chance to learn by interacting with native wildlife and passionate people. The evening was to culminate in wild platypus-watching and spotlighting our largest native glider, the cat-sized and aptly-named 'Greater Glider'.

Meanwhile however, Mark had plenty more to reveal. Next to be introduced to the kids were 'Jarrah' and 'Cedar', two gorgeous hand-raised Squirrel Gliders. Also an endangered species, these gliders are native to the forests of northern Victoria and closely related to three species we stood a chance of seeing later that evening. Clambering over Mark, they lapped up the nectar mix handed to them in a bowl by the children. Everyone was in raptures.

Also found in the Yarra Ranges, Mark produced a Barn Owl, explaining how this species survives and hunts in our forests. Barn Owls are rarely seen, despite being one of the most widespread birds in the world. Later that evening we briefly heard the haunting call of Sooty Owl, a much bigger, slate-grey relative of the Barn Owl that lives in our rainforest-clad hills.           

Mark is also the proud custodian of the second-largest captive breeding populations of Mountain Pygmy Possum. This species, related to the Brush-tailed and Ring-tailed we're more familiar with, is the only hibernating marsupial in the world. They occur in several discrete populations on mountain tops in Victoria and New South Wales. Not much bigger than a mouse, they scurry about beneath boulder fields, emerging to feed on berries and fruit in summer, snacking on Bogong Moths under the snow in cooler months. A marvel of evolution, this species is also very endangered, threatened by changing climate. Click here to watch one of the films we made about them with researcher Linda Broome.

Finally Mark brought out Hamish, a Wombat he raised himself. Hamish is unusually well-mannered and a hit with the families. He weighs in about the same as one of the boys who had come along ... but packed with muscle and a real handful when he's not chewing on his favourite carrots. It was a wonderful and fitting end to an awesome afternoon.  

After an outdoor barbecue we headed upriver for the first of our wild experiences. Very heavy overnight rain had swelled the Yarra so it was quite hard to spot Platypus and see them well. Most of the group managed to steal a glimpse and we reckoned there were at least three along the short stretch but we had limited time before the 25 minute drive to Badger Weir.

Karen Garth has been guiding here for over 20 years and this site's real specialty is the Greater Glider, a huge furry marsupial that looks a bit like a teddy bear with a very long tail and pink nose. Also here are Sugar Gliders (a few people managed to see one briefly in a wattle tree) and Yellow-bellied Gliders. Described by Karen as the 'ferraris' of the glider world, these frenetic animals race through the forest, crashing into branches and sprinting up 30m tall gums. They are very hard to see ... so we were very lucky when one individual landed nearby and we were able to watch it in full view for some time while it gnawed on the sap from a branch. Amazing!

Then the evening finale as we found two Greater Gliders and everyone was afforded great views. Unlike their racy cousins, Greater Gliders are gum-leaf feeders like Koala. So they have a tendency to sit quietly and move sedately through the trees.

This had turned out to be an exceptional evening. We all felt privileged to spend time with such knowledgeable people and to engage with wildlife in such a unique and beautiful setting. Steve Greenland, father of two kids who came along said "What a day, not sure what my favourite moment was as so many to choose from".

For anyone who is interested, we will be repeating this experience. So watch this space ... or contact Wildiaries and ask for information.