4 October 2019

Volunteers needed to put the polish on echidna population

| Michael Weaver
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Millie Sutherland Saines with an echidna

Ecologist and outreach manager at Mulligans Flat, Millie Sutherland Saines, with an echidna that will go into the annual count happening over the next two weekends. Photo: Mulligans Flat Woodlands and Wetlands Trust. (Note: Millie is licenced to handle native wildlife)

If you happen to come across an echidna in the Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary this weekend or next, make sure you have a little bottle of nail polish handy.

That’s the word from ecologist and outreach manager at Mulligans Flat, Millie Sutherland Saines, who is looking for extra volunteers to keep tabs on the population of the egg-laying monotremes in the wildlife sanctuary, next to the suburb of Forde in Gungahlin.

The annual echidna count is in its fourth year and presents volunteers with an incredible opportunity to get up close and personal with the friendly and solitary animals that roam the 485 hectares of Mulligan’s Flat, surrounded by a purpose-built cat, fox and rabbit-proof fence.

Millie says the nail polish is so volunteers can dab their quills to account for each echidna spotted.

“Last year we cut two-centimetre pieces of straws and some glue but we found the glue didn’t stick all that well,” Millie said.

“So this year, I’ve cleared out all of the crazy colours of nail polish from the chemists – we’ve got oranges, blues and yellow and whatever – so we will know which echidnas have been counted and which ones haven’t.

“People may be getting a little confused as to why they are seeing all these multi-coloured quills on the echidnas wandering about, but I think they’ll look great.

“It will make quite a spring 2019 fashion statement,” she said.

We may even see a few echidnas sporting lime green in support of the Canberra Raiders.

Mulligan's Flat echidna.

A Mulligans Flat echidna marked in last year’s count. Photo: Emily Belton.

Last year, the count found a population of between 50 and 53 echidnas. Millie says now is the perfect time to find them with the warmer temperatures bringing them out to forage.

“We need about 60 people each weekend. We’ve got 40 this weekend and about 30 the following weekend, but the more the merrier really,” Millie said.

“It always ends up being a bit of a competition to see who can find the most.”

Millie said echidnas are fairly elusive creatures but they will definitely be out looking for food at this time of the year.

“We did tracking of them a few years ago and it’s incredible to see where they go,” she said.

“They hide in logs and cover themselves with leaf litter, but the easiest way to see them is when it’s nice and sunny.

“I think they look like a little moving hedge or bush, but once you’ve seen a couple, you get an eye for them.

“We’ll hopefully get good numbers again this year and we’ll be able to see if their numbers are increasing or not.

If you would like to volunteer for the annual echidna count at Mulligans Flat, Millie said the best way is to register on their website via the volunteer link or follow them on Facebook.

The count starts at 9 am on Saturday, 5 October and finishes at about 3 pm. Volunteers are also needed on Saturday, 12 October.

“They’re definitely solitary and they’re definitely out looking for food at this time of year,” Millie said.

“It’s a nice temperature, the insects are active and the echidnas are active, so it’s a really good time to spot them.”

Nail polish is supplied.

Mulligan's Flat echidna.

An echidna in its natural habitat at the Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary. Photo: Joe Willkom.

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