In my call to action at the bottom of my Steve Irwin tribute, I suggested the Perth Zoo's "Night Stalk" event as a great way to get involved with conservation in your local area.
By surveying your local bushland areas for mammals, you can get a snapshot of diversity and abundance. If you build the data up over a few years, you get a moving picture of how your local wildlife is faring.
My involvement was largely inspired by discovering a swamp wallaby in Oatley Park just before the official Night Stalk period began.
In my first Night Stalk, I only managed to locate a single bat flying overhead.
However, armed with some insights from persons much more experienced than I, and nearly as importantly, with a newly borrowed night-vision scope, I prepared for a second round in Oatley Park. The question still needed further investigation: do possums still survive in the Park? It would seem almost absurd to suggest they don't, but all was quiet the first time around.
Tonight's adventure was hyped up as I prepared to bring the children along, only to discover as we were leaving, that the night scope had decided to go on the blink. It was working a few days ago! Not to be deterred, we set out with torches again, and took a new route.
We managed to hear some bird chick chirping away in an unseen nest, and were almost disheartened to get within about 50 meters of the end of our circuit without seeing any mammal fauna again. Then finally, there it was once more, a hop, hop, hop; or thump, thump, thump.
The tiniest of glimpses in the light of our failing torches, and the unmistakable sound imply only one possibility - the swamp wallaby again. Either the same one, or one like it.
We were on the same suburban border of the park (and the wallaby was within a few meters of it, with the road on the other side of the fence), but over on the western side - across main roads which wind through the park.
Although the kids didn't see it, I'm fairly sure they heard it, and knowing our report is going off to a zoo on the other side of the country to help build our understanding of Australia's current mammal fauna is of course a buzz.
We came out of the park at the same time as a troop of about 30 scouts, and headed off along the road beside the park. Who knows - perhaps we'd catch sight of this macropod again?
Then up ahead, on the roadway - hop, hop, hop. No thump, thump, thump - this time it was a frog dancing in the headlights. I came to an abrupt halt, only to have one of the vacating scouts pull up right behind. After an all-too-short pause I headed off and pulled over about 50 meters later to let the other car pass.
With the kids strapped in the back, I grabbed the torch and headed back to see if I could catch the frog and show it to them.
Alas, what I found was one very flat amphibian on the roadway. (It might very well have been a Spotted Marsh Frog). Whether or not it was my car or the next is besides the point. I had the chance to hold up the traffic and let the frog through. Inside, I felt I'd let the title "wildlife warrior" down but consoled myself with the orchestra of frogs croaking away at the wetlands down the hill.
"I didn't catch the frog" I told the kids when I got back.
"Why not?" they asked.
After a moment of pause I answered, "I didn't find any hopping around".
I didn't have the heart to tell them :(