The Quest

April 30, 2019  •  Leave a Comment


Rakali, also known as Water Rat or 'Australian Otter".Rakali, also known as Water Rat or 'Australian Otter".Rakali running in a waterway in Brisbane, Australia.

The quest to photograph the Rakali

Rakali or Water Rat is a native placental mammal found throughout the coastal area of Australia. Many people mistake it with the black or brown rat which is a pest. It is more like an otter than a rat, especially in size and that is why it is sometimes referred to as the Australian Otter.

One evening, after finishing searching my local bushland for wildlife I stopped at a bridge which leads over a creek. As I have just parked my car and thought to just have a quick look, I didn't bring my camera with me and of course, spotted an animal in the water fighting with something. I quickly pulled out my torch to see what it was. What I thought I saw was a platypus, but on closer inspection, I realised that it wasn't a platypus at all and it was too big to be a black rat. The next moment I saw the animal picking up something which turned out to be a frog or toad. The animal quickly turned around and swam back into the distant reed banks. While swimming away I noticed a distinct white tip on the animals tail. I cursed myself at that moment that I left my camera in the back of my car parked too far away to quickly grab it.

Back home talking to my wife what I witnessed, she mentioned that it might be a water rat. After hearing that, I researched the water rat and with all I have seen, the size, swimming, the frog meal and the white tip of its tail, I concluded that my wife was right. I have seen a Rakali (water rat).
CreekCreekCreek or waterhole, habitat of the Rakali (Australian Water Rat)

The quest was on, the next afternoon, with all information gathered I made my way back to the bridge and the creek. I have read that the Rakali can mostly be found at dusk or dawn but is out during the day too. I went down to the creek bed and placed myself close to the bridge and waited. And waited. I heard twice the splash of a big animal but unfortunately, every time I tried to spot it, nothing was there. The night had clearly fallen and my visibility was very limited. I used my torch with a red filter attached every now and then to scan the water surface but apart from jumping small fishes, it was quiet.

Back home I watched a few videos about the animal to understand their habits. That turned out to be a bit more difficult than thought, as very little is known about the Rakali. I decided to go out once more to try my luck. This time I prepared my wildlife blind and stool, so I could sit and wait which will make the waiting a bit more comfortable. The blind will hopefully make me blend in with the background enough to not chase away the animal. But again, nothing.

A couple of months had passed and I was on my way home from another night excursion. I decided to stop at the bridge again and have a look if I can see anything. This time I prepared myself and grabbed my Nikon D500 with the Sigma 150-500mm attached and a torch. I used the setup I have written about in my last blog post. I reached the bridge, looked down the far side of where I saw it last time. Nothing. I crossed the road and looked down. We had some rain in the last couple of days so the creek was slightly higher than on my last visits. There it was, the Rakali I was hoping to photograph. 

Rakali (Water Rat)- Hydromys chrysogasterRakali (Water Rat)- Hydromys chrysogasterRakali, Hydromys chrysogaster, also known as rabe or water-rat, is an Australian native rodent first described in 1804. The change to the aboriginal name Rakali was intended to foster a positive public attitude by Environment Australia. It is the only member of the genus Hydromys with a range extending beyond Papua New Guinea and Indonesian West Papua. Having effectively adapted and colonised a unique niche of semiaquatic and nocturnal lifestyle, this species lives in burrows on the banks of rivers, lakes and estuaries and feeds on aquatic insects, fish, crustaceans, mussels, snails, frogs, birds' eggs and water birds. Rakali have a body 231-370 millimetres in length, weigh, 340-1,275 grams and have a thick tail measuring around 242-345 millimetres. Females are generally smaller than males but tail lengths are normally the same. They have partially webbed hind legs, waterproof fur, a flattened head, a long blunt nose, many whiskers and small ears and eyes. The body is streamlined with a skull that is large, flat and elongated, with two molars on the upper and lower jaw, similar to the False water rat Xeromys myoides. They are black to brown in colour with an orange to white belly and a dark tail with a white tip. (Source: Wikipedia)

I pulled the camera up to my eyes, shone the torch towards the water rat, focused and clicked on low burst mode as many times I could. The Rakali is a shy creature and once it spotted me turned around and moved back through the water and riparian growth to the deeper side of the creek. Swimming strongly and in the direction of the far sides reed bank. It disappeared at the same spot as last time which I presume it is its borrow.

I went back to the creek a few times and waited patiently for hours. One evening I heard a rustling behind me and then a minute later I saw the Rakali bouncing through green plats on the edge of the water before diving in and disappearing in the direction of its burrow. The whole thing took very little time and I couldn’t move my camera quick enough to capture it. An experience anyway.

The hunt for the perfect photo of the Rakali is still on...
Rakali - Hydromys chrysogasterRakali - Hydromys chrysogasterRakali or also know as Water Rat is closer to an otter than a rat. The Rakali is a very good swimmer and has adapted perfectly to its habitat. On the far right of the image you can see its distinct white tip tail which differentiate the Rakali from the Rat.

About the Rakali:

Rakali, Hydromys chrysogaster, also known as rabe or water-rat, is an Australian native rodent first described in 1804. The change to the aboriginal name Rakali was intended to foster a positive public attitude by Environment Australia. It is the only member of the genus Hydromys with a range extending beyond Papua New Guinea and Indonesian West Papua. Having effectively adapted and colonised a unique niche of semiaquatic and nocturnal lifestyle, this species lives in burrows on the banks of rivers, lakes, and estuaries and feeds on aquatic insects, fish, crustaceans, mussels, snails, frogs, birds' eggs and water birds. Rakalis have a body 231–370 millimetres in length, weigh, 340–1,275 grams and have a thick tail measuring around 242–345 millimetres. Females are generally smaller than males but tail lengths are normally the same. They have partially webbed hind legs, waterproof fur, a flattened head, a long blunt nose, many whiskers and small ears and eyes. The body is streamlined with a skull that is large, flat and elongated, with two molars on the upper and lower jaw, similar to the False water rat Xeromys myoides. They are black to brown in colour with an orange to white belly and a dark tail with a white tip. (Source: Wikipedia)

 


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