by Carl Strang
When I traveled to Australia in 2000, the animal I most wanted to see was the platypus. Arguably the strangest mammal in the world, that egg-laying monotreme reportedly is difficult to observe. When I reached Mount Field National Park in Tasmania, I heard that platypuses are seen regularly in that area. After a day’s exploration of that beautiful park I still hadn’t found one, though. I mentioned my interest to the couple that ran the National Park Hotel, where I was staying, and they made a phone call.
My hosts arranged for me to go into a local golf course which had not yet opened for the season. They said they liked to go there in the evening and sit above a pool in the river, with the national park boundary on the opposite side. When I got there I found out why. I am now several months into my 62nd year, and I have never in all that time found a place where I felt more at peace than I did that morning at Platypus Pool. I sat at the top of the bank overlooking the river, which was 20 yards wide and had a few fallen logs in it. Birds sang their spring songs, eucalypts on the opposite side occasionally shed bark strips, and a brilliant male superb fairy wren came through just beneath me, his foraging behavior sometimes chickadee-like, sometimes wren-like.
From my trip diary: “I sat on a rock, enjoying the peace of the place and surveying the pool below, and within 2 minutes a platypus appeared. It worked its way along the far edge of the pool, giving me a good look. I even snapped a quick picture. A second platypus soon appeared. They nosed their way along the far bank, swimming among the fallen logs and sticks, both swimming along the surface and diving down. They were easy to spot when present, because of the ripples they formed when breaking the water’s surface. One crossed the river at the upstream end of the pool, swimming across the surface to do so. A couple of times a platypus rolled over near the surface of the water, reminding me of an otter.”
My lasting impression, however, was that the platypus was most reminiscent of a muskrat, from its size, the way it dove for food, used the current, floated on the surface. Like muskrats in streams they use bank den tunnels, and include plenty of mollusks in their diet, though they don’t eat plants nearly so much, if at all. So, I saw my platypuses, and had a morning that will remain one of the highlights of my life.