I’ve been looking out for Rakali for a while now, ever since my wonderful assistant Matt found a yabby claw out on the creek bank while we were doing water testing at Lizard Crossing. I was told that water-rats (or rakali) like to take their food out onto the bank to eat.
Unfortunately, the first one I saw was dead. So was the second one.
We have some beautiful beetles here, and some that annoy me by eating trees that I would like to have survive, but I’d never paid much attention to the little black beetles that crawl around on the ground.
Then in March we had a visit from Kip Will from UC Berkeley who was interested in carabid ground beetles. (Not rabid, as I thought when he first said it.) To check out what we have, we set up pit traps (plastic beer cups buried in the dirt) at various locations in the Box Gum woodland, helped by Fabian and Martta.
It’s the time of year to see reptiles out and about on the roads again. Bearded dragons (pogona barbata) do threatening push-ups as they try to frighten off approaching cars. Or they lie as flat as possible like this one is doing, before scuttling quickly away.
A few old trees make all the difference when you’re doing a bird survey. The bare, newly planted paddocks on Carkella and Adnamira were limited to a few species, mainly parrots (galahs,red-rumps, rosellas) and a small family of magpies.
Red-rumped parrot photo by Leo from iNaturalist.org
Our lovely neighbour Cathy Campbell has a new project. It’s called “Managing Mange in the Mullion” (that’s the title of the Facebook group also) and involves counting wombats, working out how many of them are affected by sarcoptic mange and treating them using “burrow flaps” that deliver a dose of medicine automatically at the entry to their underground lairs. Continue reading
Before I got glasses for short-sight at the age of eleven, I used to wonder why people made such a fuss about birds. Most of them were invisible as far as I was concerned. The only ones I never had trouble seeing were the big ones: the egrets, the Wedge-Tailed Eagles, the black swans (which I’ve rarely seen since we’ve been back here) and, of course, pelicans (pelecanus conspicillatus).
In the darkness, I heard the dog barking and scuffling with something in the gravel driveway. I assumed it was a beetle. Obviously something small. But when I went over to look I could see it was a snake.
Calypso was dodging in and out enthusiastically. So much for the snake-avoidance training. I shouted at her, though, and she backed off.
“Is it a baby brown?” I wondered. It was too light-coloured for a red-bellied black snake.
But our biological dinner guests started shouting “Typhlops! Typhlops!”
Whatever that meant. Continue reading
diamond firetail finch photo by Chris Tzaros
This year the grand finale of our tree linkage project was not even on our own land. To complete the 3.9 kilometres (2.4 miles) of small plots that will allow birds like diamond firetails (stagonopleura guttata) and speckled warblers (chthonicola sagittata) to move around the landscape, we planted a larger area at the edge of the Dog Trap Road. A paddock that actually belongs to our neighbour Suzanne.
Photo by Nathan Ruser from iNaturalist.org
We don’t often see Eastern Long Necked Turtles (Chelodina longicollis), as they spend most of their time in the water. The Murrumbidgee River is rarely clear enough to see to the bottom where they hang out. We do sometimes see them hiking overland after rain. When you pick them up they not only hide as best they can inside their shell, they can give off a thin, stinky liquid that presumably is meant to make you go away and leave them alone.
It works on me.
Last weekend we planted in two different directions at once.
We finished the final small tree lots that are part of the chain of connections across the Murrumbidgee river for small birds. That makes nine tree lots for connectivity only, plus two extra areas, a shelter paddock that used to be a calf-feeding area, and a decorative one that will have an avenue of white trunked eucalyptus mannifera at the entry to Adnamira . The two extras will act as bird stepping stones as well. Continue reading
Just before the weather began to turn cooler, a stranger came flapping through the garden.
It was large enough that you could expect to hear the wings beating.
The spy camera team arrived yesterday, armed with a big blue plastic crate full of gadgets, plus a couple of star pickets and a mallet.
While the wildlife wasn’t looking, Corin, Steve and Andrew set up three cameras in plausible places for passing four-legged traffic. Or wriggling snake traffic. Or winged traffic. Continue reading
I now have a wonderful kit that will tell me what’s in the water that flows past our house.
Finally, we have some way to tell what’s going on underwater, other than just admiring clear water rippling over rocks. Or staring at turbid brown floodwater, with the occasional tree or wombat carcass floating by, while hoping that we’ll soon be able to get across.
Andrew Leonard displaying a 2010 flood (no carcases)
Upper Murrumbidgee Waterwatch came to my assistance, specifically Woo O’Reilly and Damon Cusack who introduced me to the world of water testing, water bug assessing and riparian condition reporting. Continue reading
We regularly see mistletoebirds (Dicaeum Hirundinaceum) around the house and around the hills. They’re a flowerpecker with a taste for mistletoes.
Mistletoebird (Dicaeum Hirundinaceum) photo by Leo from iNaturalist.org
Mistletoes grow all over the world, not just at Christmas for romantic kissing purposes. Unlike the area north of us, near Lake Burrinjuck, however, our eucalypts have few mistletoes. I’m not sure why. Maybe they’re too widely spaced. It’s probably for the best given all the other stresses on them. Parasitic mistletoes are a big drag on a host tree’s resources.
Eucalypt with many mistletoes, Wee Jasper Road near Yass
It’s puzzled me what the mistletoebirds are eating around here.
Meanwhile, Lesley Peden and I were jolting around the paddocks looking at the sites I want to use for tree-planting this year. Continue reading
Mum and I were having a walk around the garden checking out all the growing things when we passed the callistemon bush that grows on the edge of the lookout. I’d been seeing the flowers from a distance but it wasn’t until we were up close that I realized it was amazingly alive with insects feeding from the cascades of pink blossoms.
For the third time in three years, many of our trees are looking like ghosts of their former selves.
The immediate, obvious, culprit is the Christmas Beetle (an anoplagnathus species of scarab), a bit of seasonal joy in a shiny suit. If the weather’s right, it digs its way up from underground in November or December, munches its way to February, then dies.
Their larvae are called “curly grubs” around here and can be found pretty much wherever I’ve tried digging – from high up on hillsides to the sandy soil along the river, under the casuarinas. They don’t seem to lay their eggs where they feed, necessarily. Beetle bodies lie thickly under our eucalyptus nicholii peppermint gums that they don’t eat at all.
I hoped that meant that peppermint gums poison them, but I think they just like the shade. The shade that they remove elsewhere by eating the leaves of the Blakeley’s and Yellow Box gums. Continue reading
The Murrumbidgee River is a significant part of our landscape here. But it’s only in the summer that we really get to play with it.
Charles and his cousins Will and Alex had intended to go out in our old Canadian canoe. I was doubtful it would hold three large young men. However, it filled up with water for a different reason. It turned out I’d forgotten they’d put a hole in it last summer and not fixed it. Last time that happened I spent hours cursing, trying to find a shady, cool place to do the repair in 34 degree (Celsius) heat, covering myself in gloopy runaway resin and trying to decipher the instructions which were written for “dudes” fixing “dings” on the “rails” of their surfboards.
Luckily this time the Leonards came to our rescue with the loan of three kayaks. Continue reading
Fresh, juicy, aromatic apricots are one of the joys of Christmas time in Australia.
So I was horrified to see that criminals were in the garden stealing our treasures. I ran out shrieking swear words at them. Of course they think shrieking is just talking endearments in their own squawking language, but the running about flapping my arms gave them the hint. Continue reading
A big attraction of setting up the “small bird stepping stone” plantations on Esdale this year (five 20m x 20m areas that link the Mullion Creek vegetation to the Murrumbidgee) was the promised monitoring of the plants and animals. I’m really interested to see what the changes will be as the trees and shrubs grow.
It’s great to have an outsider do the official counts because I’m a lousy birdwatcher. I let myself be discouraged at an early age because I was short-sighted and found it hard to pick out a swan at twenty paces. Craig is better, especially with raptors and parrots, but we’re both unreliable with calls and identifying the little brown birds that all look so alike to the ignorant.
Somehow, they can tell themselves apart. Continue reading
The most common way I see snakes around here is on the road.
Sometimes alive. Sometimes dead, if they’ve been unlucky enough to meet with a car.
On the cool, windy- but-sunny days we’ve been having lately, I’ve seen them quite frequently, probably because they’re too slow to be gone before I get there. They probably also like the heat of the gravel or tar. When Craig was collecting snakes in Central Australia years ago, we would go out at night looking for snakes keeping themselves warm on the black, sealed roads after the sun had gone down.
In 2012 I repeatedly saw one black snake crossing the road at the same place at the same time of day – from the river up into the steep revegetation area at the cutting. It usually went quite slowly until it noticed the car, then it would whip away much faster into the long grass.
More recently we see them at Lizard Crossing (on Mullion Creek). Craig and I saw both a black and a brown at opposite ends of the bridge a few weeks ago. Again, near water. Continue reading