The easiest way to spot a platypus is to look for ripples without a splash. I am working on the assumption that you know there are platypuses where you intend to view them. The habitat where you may see a platypus would be a healthy freshwater creek or stream with a lot of snags and roots along the banks where they can burrow a home (like a beaver) – one for the adults, one for the kids.
Research tells us that the platypus is a semi-aquatic, solitary, nocturnal monotreme. Monotremes are different from other mammals because they have no teats and lay eggs like birds even though they raise their young like mammals. The platypus is one of only three monotremes. The other two species are Australia's short-beaked echidna (which you can also spot at Bungadoo Breeze) and Papua New Guinea's long-beaked echidna. In my experience, however, I am not so sure about those descriptors of nocturnal, semi-aquatic and solitary. I see families of platypus feeding together during any time of the day. I have never seen them on land. I do know that their burrow is under the river bank amongst a lot of tree roots and snags.
It is highly likely that you will surprise the platypus with your appearance. Have the camera ready before you even get there. Silence is important, move slowly and quietly, speak softly.
These creatures are smooth operators in the water. About the size of a cat, they can swim very fast indeed, a rowing motion with sideways webbed feet. They hunt their prey like dolphins – with their eyes closed, their bill has receptors that detect electrical currents in the water to find their food. When they break the surface of the water, like a whale, you will see a hump – only it will be 3 humps – beak, back and tail – before it dives under, leaving little more than a ripple in its wake. Unlike the turtle or water dragon – who will make a big splash, or the lungfish, making bubbles and a ‘poof’ sound of air exhalation.
Sitting quietly by the riverbank is paramount to spotting that elusive creature. Because they are very shy and wary, they will disappear into the murky water at the first disturbance of their habitat. But after a while, they will see you as part of the habitat, and carry on with their feeding. The photo opportunity is likely to be when there is food to catch on the surface of the water. Because they forage for 12-14 hours of their day, you will most likely see them in the morning when they are feeding on dragonflies and other insects on the surface of the water. They also love yabbies and stuff on the bottom of the river. They can stay underwater for up to ten minutes.
Platypuses are not on the endangered list, even though there are only thousands in existence. They are a protected species though, so you cannot catch one and keep it as a pet.
I had the pleasure of watching 3 young platypuses (or platypups!) playing and foraging on the water’s surface one morning. Naturally, I had forgotten the camera. (as you do!) The next morning, I went back to the same place with my camera on and ready. This time I surprised mum platypus. She must have been right under the bank where I was standing. She shot across the river but stopped half way to get a good look at me. She watched me intently as I clicked the camera and then sunk below the surface effortlessly. I believe that I may been standing on top of her burrow of young – she seemed territorial, and rather cranky at the interruption. (August In Qld is the time they have their young.)
Therefore, success in spotting the platypus is in early morning viewing, looking for large ripples and no splash, and sitting quietly for at least 20 minutes.
I can guarantee that even if you do not see a platypus, you will come away feeling relaxed and ready for the day ahead.
Learn more about the platypus here.