While at Sundown National park recently, on a quiet morning walk, I was privileged to spend some time watching a water rat as it went about it’s daily activities. The water rat is a native mammal and one of only 2 native mammals that live in fresh water, although reasonably common they are rarely seen and this was my first encounter with one.
I first spotted him in the distance as a disturbance on the water and thought it might be a platypus so I watched and waited – slowly it made it’s way towards me but it was clear from the way it was swimming that it wasn’t a platypus. It had been exploring among a group of rocks in the distance before swimming directly to where I was sitting. This was the head on view I first got:
As it came closer I wondered when it would see me or if it might even come out of the water near to where I was. Unfortunately it did see me and made a sharp turn away.
It didn’t see too perturbed by me as I sat quietly and watched. It made it’s way over to another section of rocks and continued whatever it was doing. I didn’t get to see it feeding or where its burrow was but I thoroughly enjoyed the half an hour I spent quietly watching it before it disappeared on the other side of the waterhole.
My Top 5 tips for getting opportunities to see wonderful wildlife like this are:
Be Silent – nothing scares wildlife off quicker than unfamiliar sounds, it is much easier if you are on your own but even with a group of people you can be extremely quiet. Be aware of your footsteps – it’s not unusual for me to take off my shoes so I can have a quieter approach.
Be Still – coming in a close second to silence is stillness; many animals have extremely keen eyesight and are easily spooked. Once you see something stay as still as you can, if you do need to move closer do it as slow as possible. Be aware that most animals have a ‘comfort zone’ that they will let you approach to until they feel threatened and move away. If you are slowly approaching an animal watch for the signs that it is getting anxious about your promimity and then stop there. When it moves you will likely be able to approach again to a similar distance.
Take your time – don’t assume that because you can’t see anything that there is nothing to see. Stop for a while and watch and you will often be surprised at the amount of wildlife that is around you.
Be there when they are – seems simple but time your visit to when there are likely to be more animals about. The middle of the day in summer is seldom a good time to see anything but early morning and late afternoon are often fantastic as the animals come out to feed and water. Try to time your visit so that you are there in position before the animals are so you don’t disturb them with your arrival.
Be respectful – it is very easy to cause damage to the environment and distress to the animals you are watching. Be careful with where you are and ensure that you stay safe and leave no trace and that your presence does not disturb the animals you are observing; particularly if they are nesting or raising their young.
There is an incredible world out there waiting to be seen by those patient enough to watch.
For more information on the Water Rat check out these great links:
The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection: https://www.ehp.qld.gov.au/wildlife/animals-az/water_rat.html