Amongst my family and friends it is a bit of a joke about how much I love Platypuses. I've read books about them, gone to platypus centres, made road trip detours to spot them and I'm probably an official platypus collector.
So when I saw my first platypus in the wild in a little creek behind Burnie in Tasmania I nearly had a conniption, I was so excited I wanted to tell the world about it. I'd been looking around the creek for over half an hour and thinking it would probably be a waste of time because it was the middle of the afternoon and they are notoriously shy. And then she popped up right at my feet. I thought we were eye balling each other but it was the whirl of my zoom camera trying to focus on her than made her realise I was these and she took off, only to resurface on the far side of the creek well away from me.
The photo I did get of here is still very much treasured by me and I still have to explain where the platypus is in the image to anyone who sees it.
But I was bitten, I kept up my hunt for platypuses and heard loads of stories about them, of ones walking along the side of the road at Cradle Mountain, probably a youngster looking for a new home territory, others running over the feet of people who were standing on the edge of their dam watching the sun set and the list goes on.
So I went to Platypus House at Beauty Point and did the tour, bought some platypus sourvinors and learnt more about these fascinating creature. I now see my platypus brooches and necklaces at Platypus House and feel like I've come a full circle.
I went to the "Platypus Capital of the World", a town called Latrobe in the central north of Tasmania and tried spotting a platypus from the high viewing stand looking over the wide river flowing along and saw nothing. I realise now that given the distance from the river bank I wasn't going to get a good look at one anyway.
During my travels I kept asking people about where to find platypuses and would constantly be given tips, the best one was to walk by the Meander River in Deloraine, again in the central north of Tasmania, about 30 minutes from Launceston and this is where I've had my best sightings.
I take my artisan business Creatively Belle to the Tasmanian Craft Fair held in Deloraine every November and at the end of the day I go "platypusing". I head down to the river and sit on a log under a tree and watch for platypus. Within minutes one will pop up and I'll be like an excited six year old again.
It's often my birthday when I'm in Deloraine and one birthday I saw five platypuses in about an hour. My favourite local Deloraine platypus is a female who successfully raises two puggles (young) and they are generally out of the burrow and foraging around at this time, so three of them belonged to this little family. The other two were males, each living in separate territories
After years of platypusing success I've developed my own little ways of finding them. Some of my success is based on luck but I wonder how much of that luck is centred on my feeling that these amazing Australian creatures are my totem.
5 Tips for Spotting A Platypus
1. Be patient, it can take hours and it can all depend on what's happening with the individuals involved. A big part of my success in Deloraine is being there at the right time of day and year - one family burrow has three active platypuses, that increases my odds dramatically.
2. Ask locals where and when they regularly see platypuses. Mainland platypuses are far more nocturnal than their southern cousins. I think this is because of the population and the number of wild dogs and other predators. Tasmanian platypuses are out and about much more.
3. Be quiet. You can't squeal in delight when you see one, that startles them and they take off. Children are generally too noisy for a platypus and they just won't come near, especially the ones in the more remote areas. The Deloraine platypuses live in the middle of a town with a road bridge going over a favourite food spot. These platypuses are accustom to a lot of human background noise, to dogs being walked along the river (and when they jump in the river the platypuses take off) so you can actually have a little picnic on the river bank, talking and laughing and you'll still spot them - admittedly towards the middle of the river and away from you.
4. Be still. If you have a platypus pop up right in front of you in the river bank edges you can frighten her away by moving for your camera. You need to keep your camera at the ready when you're tracking a feeding platypus.
5. Platypuses duck dive down to the river floor to find their food and then float to resurface within a couple of minutes making ripples. These ripples are the tell tale movements in the water to spot these perfectly adapted monotremes. When a platypus is foraging she'll move along quite a distance under water and can be quite surprising how far along she's moved. You can often track them by the air bubbles coming to the surface and they'll pop up further along from the bubbles. When it's about time for her to surface, bring your camera up and ready.
Something for Platypus Collectors
While it's completely illegal to capture a platypus as a pet it's also really dangerous as the male platypuses have a nasty poisonous talon on their back paw that is it's main defense weapon.
But happily contemporary platypus collectors are much more interested in collecting platypus brooches and necklaces, photographs, art works, homewares, sculptors, keyrings and cards.
I also have collected platypus books that have been published over the years, including a favourite from my mum's childhood "Shy".
The David Para and Elizabeth Para-Cook platypus documentary is amazing for its footage and insights into platypus behaviour.
They were able to get a mini camera down into a platypus burrow and watch puggles from hatching, being suckled milk through the mum's belly fur to being weaned. The burrows themselves are very complex and quite deep and mum plugs them up when she heads out to feed.
When I was first learning about platypuses and figuring out how to spot them I found the Australian Platypus Conservancy very useful but I realised that the best chances of seeing wild platypuses were to be had in Tasmania and Queensland. The Healsville Sanctuary in Victoria has a platypus experience with a female platypus but that's been out of my budget so far.
My own goal with my watercolour painted platypus necklaces and brooches is to be able to sponsor the platypuses (or at least one) at Taragona Zoo - that would be a dream come true.