Mammal Watching

Review: Australian Wildlife After Dark

The Book: Australian Wildlife After Dark
The Authors: Martyn Robinson & Bruce Thomson

Australia’s wildlife is notoriously cryptic. One could be forgiven for walking through a patch of forest during the day and spotting only a few bird species, and perhaps some mammals if luck strikes. Once the sun falls, however, it’s a very different story.

Chatter, shrieks and rustles resound as many incredible species go about their nightly routine. Some of them are familiar to us, many are not. Take, for example, the many species of microbat that are all around us throughout the suburbs, yet we hear the sounds of only one species – the white-striped freetail bat. Or perhaps the greater glider – what is it about this somewhat clumsy species that allows it to persist in our forests?

Australian Wildlife After Dark is unique. Not quite a field guide, not quite a textbook, but somewhere in between. Authors Martyn Robinson and Bruce Thomson focus on the adaptations that allow Australia’s fauna to exploit different ecological niches throughout the night. The authors go through these one after another, from sight and sound to some of the more unique adaptations (such as the electromagnetic sensors used by the platypus).

As is indicated by the cover image, the photography in Australian Wildlife After Dark is fantastic. Robinson and Thomson have collected some wonderful images, all of which help to illustrate their overarching point that Australian wildlife is uniquely adapted to take advantage of the time after sunset. Particularly impressive is the diverse assortment of invertebrate images and their respective adaptations on display.

An important aspect of this book is its high level of accessibility. The writers have pitched the text at a very broad audience, such that school-aged students and experienced naturalists alike will get something out of it. This is a rare feat with ecology and natural history texts, and will hopefully inspire readers to delve further into literature on Australia’s fauna.

Also useful is a final section describing some methods for seeking out Australia’s nocturnal creatures. Combining this with the detailed descriptions of the various ways these animals exploit the night, and Australian Wildlife After Dark makes for a great resource for any budding spot-lighter. Ultimately, this is where Robinson and Thomson have succeeded, constructing a book that is informative and accessible enough to hopefully inspire more people to get to know our unique wildlife.

This book belongs on your bookshelf if… you’re interested in learning about the adaptations that allow Australia’s fauna to take over the night, or if you’re interested in seeking them out in the Australian wilderness.

Head to the CSIRO Publishing website to purchase a copy.  

Cover image by Emma Walsh


Review: Finding the Mammals of Australia

The Book: The Complete Guide to Finding the Mammals of Australia
The Author: David Andrew

Aside from your friendly neighbourhood possums and the ever-present ensemble of feral animals, many of Australia’s mammal species are quite hard to come across. Indeed, some species are only encountered by chance or through technology like camera traps. This is clearly a difficult scenario for those enamoured with Australia’s amazing mammals.

Bird-watching guides are a dime a dozen these days, helping twitchers seek out particular species right across Australia. However, there has been a lack of similar guides for those hoping to seek out some of Australia’s elusive mammal species. The Complete Guide to Finding the Mammals of Australia, compiled by David Andrew, goes a long way to filling that gap.

For a start, this book is brilliantly put together. In its first section, Andrew has split Australia into different locations. For each location, Andrew lists the mammal species likely to be seen, including specific sites where encounters are possible. Not every location in every state is covered, though. Instead, Andrew selects a handful of locations likely to yield the most diverse set of mammal species. Some Victorian examples include Wilsons Promontory and the Little Desert region, both of which are home to unique mammal communities.

Dispersed throughout, Andrew details particular methods and techniques for spotting particular taxa, such as those that are particularly difficult to track, like cetaceans or bats. These groupings work quite well, given the propensity for these species to travel large distances. Similar breakout boxes see Andrew offer short summaries and comments on particular conservation issues in some areas, such as the plight of the Tasmanian devil. These sections offer valuable context for the reader who may otherwise be unfamiliar with location-specific issues.

The second major section is organized by species, detailing exactly where in Australia to find each of our fantastic mammals. As an example, Andrew suggests heading to Cranbourne Botanic Gardens south-east of Melbourne to ‘easily see’ the elusive southern brown bandicoot. Elsewhere, Andrew muses that one’s only hope of seeing a long-nosed potoroo would be through joining a scientific survey team.

Quips such as these are perhaps the most welcome aspect of Mammals of Australia. Andrew’s conversational style presents equally well when only a quick check of the guide is needed, or indeed when an entire expedition is being planned. Some sections feel as though one is reading a field notebook, rather than the polished product that CSIRO Publishing and Andrew have produced.

It would be foolish to brush off Mammals of Australia as simply a mere field guide, because it is so much more. Naturalists and biologists devoted to mammal-watching have been desperate for a resource such as this, given the sheer amount of similar literature available to bird watchers. Mammals of Australia should now be a vital part of any nature-based expedition.

This book belongs on your bookshelf if… you’re still trying to tick an elusive mammal off your list, or you generally love seeking out Australia’s diverse mammal fauna.