Tag Archives: wildlife

The garden at Greendale #14

Bruce with some of his ladies

If you choose to live on the edge of a national forest on a hectare of land, you’ll be visited by wildlife. There was a resident mob of kangaroos in the valley which went from property to property keeping the grass down and fertilising. We saw them often, at any time of day or evening. And sometimes we didn’t see them at all.

I took one memorable picture quite early in our tenure. I knew the roos were close to the house, so I fetched my camera and walked around the corner to where the front patio would be. The alpha buck and his ladies were right there in front of me. He stood up with a surprised look on his face but he didn’t react, although a couple (not all) of the ladies bolted. I backed off quietly and took a few pictures, then left them to it. The alpha male (we called him Bruce) was enormous. He stood well over six feet, with an upper body Arnie would have envied. I have never seen a bigger buck.

This was taken just outside the kitchen

The nice thing about the roos was that, although wild, they were comfortable with people, and behaved completely naturally. Mums would let their joeys out for a run around and I saw one mum refuse to let a joey that panicked at the sight of me, back into the pouch. I wasn’t a threat.

The young bucks would practice fighting, and check on the girls to see if they could have a quickie while the boss buck was away. They would lounge on the grass, relax in the shade, and generally be kangaroos.

This is a large buck, on his own and working up to being a challenger to the alpha

The Wombat State Forest was home to wombats (I saw one crossing the road once) but we didn’t see them much. We had possums, both brushtail and ringtail, and we saw the occasional koala. We heard them more often, the big males growling from the forest above our house. Here’s what they sound like.

But apart from the roos, the most abundant critters were birds. Sulphur-crested cockatoos in their thousands called the Wombat Forest home. We would see them in the early morning, warming up their wings in raucous groups, planning their day. In the evening, they would perch up in the highest trees to catch the last of the sun before they went off for a last noisy fly-around before they settled down in the trees to roost. They’re lovely birds living to a ripe old age of 50+ years in the wild, but they are big, loud, and destructive. They are the bush’s native tip pruners, and they love soft wood like western red cedar window frames. They didn’t mind a bite of treated pine, either, so we didn’t encourage them too much.

A squadron (just one) of cockatoos doing a warm-up run

Gang gangs. The male has the distinctive red head

Gang-gangs visited in the Summer, obvious by their distinctive call which sounds like a creaking gate. And, of course, pink and grey galahs. They loved lining up on the power lines on the road and performing acrobatics. We also had heaps of crimson rosellas. They loved the purple wisteria, but weren’t so much interested in the white one. They also loved the catkins on the silver birches.

The rosellas loved the purple wisteria

This young rosella is enjoying catkins on the silver birches in the rain. They go red as they age

Of course we had magpies. They very quickly learned we were friends. They nested in the three gums near the dam, and popped in for snacks at a feeder table we set up just outside the kitchen. Kookaburras visited, too. When we replaced the washing line with a rotary hoist, they liked to sit on the central high point. A few birds quite liked sitting on the hoist’s arms and going for a ride in the breeze.

The little birds, in particular, loved our garden because we had so many dense bushes. Superb blue wrens nested in a number of places, including the shade house. A blackbird set up in there, too.

This white-browed wren built a mud nest in the fernery. Here, she’s caught a moth

Here’s a better view of her

This male superb blue wren is perched on a rhododendron flower. He had a nest in the bushes in the front border

A pair of baby kookaburras on the deck rail

These are Australian wood ducks, probably parents with nearly grown kids. The females are mottled.

Wood ducks nest in tree hollows (up in a tree). Their kids have to jump down, and from there mum and dad take them for their first swim.

The year the dam had water

We had frogs, too. In particular the pond at the base of the waterfall in the terrace garden became a frog pond. Every year we’d see the eggs and later the tadpoles around the rushes.

Tiny frog on a waterlily

You’re going to ask, aren’t you? About the spiders and the snakes. And the simple answer is ‘of course’. This is the Australian bush. On a number of occasions, I caught large huntsmen spiders in the house and escorted them outside. (That was my job – Pete just told me where they were.) Pete killed two snakes with the brushcutter when he was hacking back the long grass when we first moved in. I don’t condone killing animals for no reason. Snakes are normally pretty keen on minding their own business. One ventured onto our front veranda and we encouraged him out to the grass with brooms – just guiding, not attacking – where he hightailed it out of there. In the years we lived at Greendale I saw a snake four times, and never in an aggressive pose. Don’t do anything stupid like stand on them, or try to attack them, and you’re usually pretty safe. Given a chance, they’ll get out of your way.

So that’s about it. Join me for FAQ’s in the next post – the final one.

 

 

A timely rescue

Picture of a Noisy Miner Bird bathing

Noisy Miner Bird bathing

We’ve had a long dry spell of late. The grass is brown and crunchy underfoot, the trees are shedding leaves and everything seems to want a drink. A pair of Pacific black ducks pops into our swimming pool not long after dawn for an early morning splash and the bird bath is a busy spot for everybody. Not that all the smaller birds use the bird bath. It’s set up next to the swimming pool and a few birds prefer the Big Blue. Blue-faced honey eaters and noisy miner birds in particular, prefer the risky but obviously satisfying thrill of bathing in the pool. It doesn’t always work out. I’ve had to rescue quite a few over the years, some lucky enough to attract my attention before they were completely sodden. Some… well, drowning comes at the end.

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Sitting in her towel nest

I’ve seen kookaburras using the swimming pool for a bath but that was many years ago, when we had another long, dry spell.  They’re big strong birds, the largest of the king fishers, so they tend to handle the deep water pretty well. But not always. I’d been reading inside and went out to check the letterbox. On the way back I noticed a bird in the pool, sitting on the flexible pipes that run from the skimmer box down to the automatic pool cleaner. The kookaburra had been in there for a while, its soaked wings dragging in the water.

I approached slowly. Kookaburras have a formidable beak and the bird had opened it. But she didn’t struggle when a scooped her out, lifting her with her body cradled in the palm of my hand. Her wings hung down, absolutely soaked and she had no energy. Usually, if a bird hasn’t been immersed for too long I can put them into a tree, where their claws will automatically latch onto the branch without them being conscious of it. But this bird was past even that. So we dabbed her dry with a towel and then  I sat in a chair with her propped up in a towel-nest on my lap. That way she was protected from other birds who might attack a predator in a weak state, and the warmth of my body would help her to recover.

I sat like that for about half an hour, aware of her body moving as she breathed, until she began to stir a little. Then I set her up in her towel nest on the chair to give her a chance to decide what to do next without having the great big human to contend with. I kept an eye on her, though. After another ten minutes she moved to the arm of the chair and then up onto the canvas back.

On the back of the canvas chair

On the back of the canvas chair

Ten minutes later, she’d moved to the clothesline in the sun and breeze, moving her wings to dry the underparts. And then she was gone, off to tell the family about her frightening experience.

Drying her wings on the clothesline

Drying her wings on the clothesline

Two days later, three kookaburras turned up on the pool fence, happy to accept some meat scraps. Life’s hard for the predators at the moment. The worms are buried deep in the dry soil, the frogs and lizards are in hiding. I think they were happy to accept some help. Oh, and two of them went for a quick bath in the pool before they went home to bed.

I’ve called the kookaburra ‘she’ but I really don’t know. There is no discernible difference between the sexes, as far as I know.

And yes, it felt good to know I’d done a small thing to help the wild creatures in my neighbourhood. Very good.

 

Ord River buzz

A lake ArgyleThe highlight of our visit to Kununurra was a trip on the Ord River. After all, without the Ord River, Kununurra wouldn’t exist. The town was created in the sixties, when one of the visionary Duracks, who originally opened up the area, persuaded the Government to dam the river. If you’ve been following my journey, you’d know that year-round water is a huge problem up here. There’s the Wet and the Dry, and the Wet is very, very wet and the Dry is very, very dry. In between there’s fire, which clears the land ready for the next wet. But traditional crops like wheat, cotton and sugar cane don’t grow like that. So a dam was built and Lake Argyle was created. You can read all about it here.

It’s hard to give an idea of size when talking about lakes and things. I’ve often heard descriptions involving Olympic sized swimming pools and football fields. But sometimes even they become insignificant. In Australia we have our own term of measurement – Sydney Harbours. Sydney Harbour holds a big lot of Olympic swimming pools (don’t ask me how many) so we have an idea that’s an enormous amount of water. Lake Argyle holds about 15 Sydney Harbours in normal times. At the height of the 2011 floods it held 44 Sydney Harbours and the flow over the diversion dam that feeds the irrigation area is also measured in Sydney Harbours.

Yes, there’s irrigation, but the other use for all that water is hydro electricity, which requires steady water flow over the turbines. So the line of isolated waterholes that used to mark the course of the Ord River in the Dry is now a fast flowing, all year river.

That’s it for context, folks. Let the journey begin. We caught a bus up to the main dam, stopping for a scenic glimpse of the lake. From there, we piled onto a jet boat – very fast, with very shallow draft to get over the shallow, rocky bits, but able to drift very comfortably in the deep bits. And off we went. The very knowledgeable driver stopped often to let us take pictures of wildlife and reflections.

A rock wallaby3

A rock wallaby watches us from high on a vertical rock wall. They are very agile little critters.

A reflections6

Red rock, blue sky, water. Gorgeous.

A reflections5

We stopped for afternoon tea. This was taken from the river bank in late afternoon light.

A reflections1

Paperbarks line the bank.

A pelicans

A pair of pelicans enjoy the sunlight

A croc

A Johnson river crocodile basks on a reed bed

Guys, this was the bestest trip. Loved the boat, loved the river, loved the red rock almost glowing in the sunlight, loved the reflections, the bird life, the crocs, the botany lessons. If you get a chance, go do it. And at the end, back at Kununurra, we watched the sunset from the boat.

A sunset1

Winning a wild animal’s trust? Priceless…

picture of possum walking along a fenceI don’t have any domestic pets any more. No cats, no dogs and while that makes me poorer in some ways, in other ways I’m richer because the local wildlife comes to visit. We get lots of birds coming in – lorikeets, kookaburras, butcher birds, ibises, noisy miner birds, pee wees, various honey eaters – the list goes on. We’ve also tried to provide nesting sites for the birds and bats. One reason is that there is so much competition for the available sites. We were also forced to take down a few trees damaged in storms and they tend to leave the little animals homeless, too.

The upshot of all that is that we have at least three possums in our one acre yard. That’s the beast at top left, a marsupial that forages at night and lives in tree hollows. We’ve found the nest boxes we put up for parrots have been appropriated by the possums. We also found they like fruit like mandarins and mangoes (both grown in ourpicture of possum eating an orange yard) and a piece of bread with peanut butter. I go outside after sunset most evenings to see them come out. They’ve become quite accustomed to us, although still a little wary. Until last evening.

I went outside with a glass of wine and startled our oldest resident. She hurtled past me back to the palm tree where she has her home in a nest box. She stopped at the base of the tree and looked back at me while I said soothing words like ‘don’t be silly, it’s just me’. She sat up on her haunches and gazed at me for a few moments, then she walked back to where I was standing, a matter of ten metres (yards) or so. She put one front paw on my jeans, then (taking her time) sniffed both legs thoroughly, as though imprinting my scent. Then she went back to her tree. That’s very likely her in the pictures.

Wow. Just wow.

** you NZ lot, I know they’re pests in NZ, but they belong here.

*** you Victorian lot, they’re not like the gangstas in Fitzroy Gardens, so no knocking my possums.