When the sun goes down....

Skyrail Nature Diary: May 2010

When travelling on the cableway, it is often very difficult to see animals. The reasons for this is that they may be camouflaged, hidden under the dense rainforest layers or because many of the animals are nocturnal - they come out of hiding at night.

One animal that is particularly active at night is the Orange-footed Scrubfowl (Megapodius reinwardt). Late in the night this animal will be heard through the dense bush producing piercing cries. During the nesting season, it is more frequent and mostly a duet between the male and female. Their nests, which act as a large incubator, are made on the forest floor and can be as large as twelve meters in diameter and five meters high (see image 1).

Also found echoing through the night with its wailing calls is the Bush Stone-curlew (Burhinus grallarius). This peculiar animal is motley brown in colour which provides excellent camouflage from predators. If disturbed whilst nesting it will often lie on the ground protecting the eggs and pretending to be invisible (see image 2).

The White Tailed Rat (Mystromys albicaudatus) certainly has a character of its own, sneaking out at night fall. These cheeky creatures are the size of a small cat or rabbit and can weigh up to one kilogram. Its features include a long, slender, hairless, scaly white tail which is tipped black. The scales on their tails and their very large, clawed hind feet assist them to climb trees with incredible efficiency. They eat fruits and seeds off the forest trees, as well as insects, amphibians, bird's eggs and nestlings. They are also known as serious pests in some areas (see image 3).

The Northern Brown Bandicoot (Isoodon macrourus) will be found in the rainforest rummaging through the soil with its forepaws. They have a reverse pouch so that it will not fill with soil when digging. As nocturnal animals, they forage for food at night and during the day live in their leaf lined nests, often in logs, crevices or burrows. At night they can move over a range of up to six hectares in search of food including spiders, earth worms, berries, grass seeds and sugar cane (see image 4).

On dusk the Red-legged Pademelon (Thylogale stigmatica) sets off along well defined paths through dense vegetation to suitable feeding grounds where it is active until shortly before dawn. Using it's forepaws to hold and eat food, it grazes on berries, fern seeds, orchids, grasses and leaves (see image 5).

Rarely seen during daylight hours is the Tiger Quoll (Dasyurus maculates). By day they prefer to hide away in a den inside tree hollows and burrows. They emerge at dusk in order to hunt their food and move over large territories, often travelling up to six kilometres in one night. They are excellent nocturnal predators, hiding in the shadows of the night and preying on small mammals such as bandicoots, possums and native rats (see image 6).

Although hidden deep in the rainforest in the day, at night the rainforest flourishes with activity - animals large and small, hunting, eating and travelling large distances in order to survive.

Photos are courtesy of the Wet Tropics Management Authority:
Image 1: Copyright Campbell Clarke; Image 2: Copyright Karen Franklin; Image 3: Copyright Mike Trenerry; Image 4: Copyright Mike Trenerry; Image 5: Copyright Mike Trenerry; Image 6: WTMA