Colour me perfect

Looking out of my eastern window, I was struck by how perfectly the colours of the fur of the Eastern Red-necked Wallaby match those of the local rocks, here laid as a tank base. They really belong.

perfect-2

Not three metres away I spotted an echidna; not so camouflaged in my yard, but good to see as they’ve been absent lately, no doubt busy aerating other slopes. You can easily twist an ankle in my orchard in the many holes they’ve dug.

Like the wallabies, they have flea problems, but they are at least equipped with an extra long claw to get at them and scratch amongst the spines.

perfect-3

Now, in this non-stop rain, from my wet verandah I see that the wallabies and roos are still out there doing what they must, bedraggled and darkened but hopefully dry underneath their fur.

A few are sheltering under my verandah, but most want to be feeding.

This mother seemed to me to be exhibiting supreme patience as her big joey drank… and drank… and drank… while the wind whipped the cold rain around them. I hope he’s grateful.

Wild steppers

The steps to my verandah gate also lead to a dry patch on the top step. This has been claimed by a wallaby who sits there and surveys the soggy world. Only when I appear does she skid off, leaving tail and claw marks and several fat leeches.

Yesterday, as I approached the gate, I saw another of my wild co-tenants climbing up the open steps. An echidna was easily bridging each gap, stopping on every step to scratch. 

It was dislodging actual lumps of mud as it did so. Clearly a very muddy major excavation had taken place, as mud was sprinkled all over its back, dotting its spines; the bigger lumps must be in between them.

I wondered if an echidna can shake itself when dry, or is that special long claw the only way of cleaning?

The echidna reached the dry step, walked along it, and began descending at once. Whether it was just inquisitive, or whether it was disappointed in whatever it had hoped to find?

It stopped for a last scratch on the bottom step, then hopped off and waddled through a dish full of stones and water… why?  As so often, I wished I could ask, and they could answer.

One hump or two?

My eyes did a double-take as I saw that my favourite rock seemed to have attracted an echoing rounded hump — spiky rather than spotty.

The lighter echidna, whom I’ve been calling Blondie, looked gingery-red this time, but I am not so intimate with these extraordinary creatures that I can be sure if it’s the same one. Perhaps it’s the spring colour fashion?

If it’s not Blondie, that would make three differently coloured echidnas who use my yard: a blonde, a brunette and a redhead. Like all the others, it was gleaming with health, glossy hairs shining amongst the bright spines.

Like all the others, it was a treat to watch, only about a metre from my verandah steps.

Getting to know echidnas

The echidnas who poke about my yard seem to cope with any terrain, as I’ve shown you before — climbing fence stays, banks, logs, rocks and steps with ease.

They look awkward as they lumber along on their sturdy legs, but seem to have great balance, as you can see by the way this one lifts rear leg to use its special extended claw to scratch between the spines.

In the past, their spiny backs were what came to mind when I thought of echidnas. Now they share the yard and are frequently close by, I think of their furry legs as well, and their faces more, their cute ears and distinct eyelids.

And I am now very aware that their spines are not all straight bristles, the way a child would draw a hedgehog, but grow in distinctive patterns, rosettes on various body parts — like their tails.

Home — my outdoor learning centre.

Sharing territory

Two echidnas have been aerating my house yard grass as thoroughly as I imagine gophers must, if you go by the complaints of U.S. rural gardeners. It doesn’t bother me, as I don’t have a lawn, but a part-mown, part-grazed paddock. I have never seen the echidnas less than about 10 metres apart, and there seems to be no acknowledgment of each other’s presence.

Late one afternoon I spotted one of them standing up to lever the bark off a firewood log. That was worthy of a photo, looking so suddenly tall, an anthropomorphic cartoon character who ought to be wearing a vest.

Then I noticed he was rolling the log as he did so, to get it all off and uncover any secretive supper treats.

I’d gone up on to the bank above him to get a better view; that’s when I noticed the other echidna barrelling towards us. The wood-echidna (bottom left hand) left his log and began to head out to the open grass.

 It was as if he wanted to put the competitor off the track, after all the work he’d been doing to remove the bark. The intruder, undeterred, was making straight for this direction.

I was fascinated to see what happened when they got close to each other. Both moving fast, they passed so close they almost touched, but wood-echidna gave no sign of noticing. Intruder echidna turned its head and gave a perfunctory sniff at the rear that passed by. But that was all.

Hardly a greeting, and total poker-faced bluffing on my wood-echidna’s part. Was it a tacit way of sharing the goodies or avoiding a fight?

Echidna crisis

About to walk back up the steps with an armful of wood, I had to look twice to believe what I saw: the little echidna suspended from my verandah edge. Why on earth was it there and how did it get there?

I quickly opened the flimsy wallaby gate and saw that, although it was hanging on tight to the lattice, it wasn’t wedged or stuck. I figured it had suddenly felt thin air beneath it and panicked. Poor little thing!

I dragged the netting away from under it, in case it fell and was caught in that. Then I propped planks and blocks of wood under its rear, hoping it would sense their solidity beneath it, and retreated to let it calm down.

 It worked, and surprisingly soon it backed down, crept through the railings and on to the second bottom step.

But it can’t have been all that panicked. Instead of making a getaway to the safety of non-human territory like grass, it had a leisurely  and thorough scratch amongst its spines, first with one clawed foot, then the other.

Only then did it ease itself rather awkwardly down the steps and waddle away.  I removed the planks.

It was back in the yard next day; I have a feeling this echidna may get too comfy around me and too invasive of my territory, like a certain young wallaby!

Echidna close-ups

I love to see echidnas almost daily in the yard, and that they are starting to ignore me when I walk past a few feet away.

But sometimes I curse their night’s work. The earth bank is an easy target for them to poke their snouts into, but  I slip on the stones they dislodge onto my brick steps! They are effectively burying them.

But I don’t curse for long — unless I do actually slip. They are far too interesting and far too cute. I get to see them from all aspects except underneath, but they are never still for long. They do a surprisingly swift waddle!

Their faces I can catch by sitting still as they approach.

But I was fascinated to see this close-up of an echidna’s rear. It’s not one of my resident echidnas: this great shot was taken by web visitor Darian Zam — thanks, Darian!  

The tail always looks like a strange extension, rather like an emu’s, I have thought.  Or an overly-gelled ducktail hairstyle. I’d imagined the symmetrical spiky end whorls would overhang the actual anus, but this shows otherwise.

Constantly surprising creatures

I had never thought of echidnas as climbing creatures. I had seen them ‘walk’ up banks so they looked as if they were climbing, but this one was indisputably climbing up a fence post stay.

Definitely above ground, it was sticking its nose in under the loose bark, flipping it aside and, I assume, finding lunch. It only stopped where the bark ended.

But then this echidna has surprised me before in that its spines are so light-coloured — this is The Blonde.

But I also have an Eastern Rednecked wallaby (left) and young visiting here at present that both have very fair haunches, not red or grey. Blonde highlights?

Not to be outdone, another less glamorous but perhaps more adventurous wallaby was spotted (right) climbing on the rocks to reach the Chinese Jasmine. Perhaps this is the one who likes to climb up my steps?

Days of their lives

Early morning, sunshine after days of rain, the grass still soggy. The kangaroo family has decided that just inside the forever-open gate, on the hard-packed clay track, is the driest place to rest.

They know my car only moves out of the shed every few weeks — the track’s more for them than for me.

Midday, and one of the echidnas has been poking about on the same track, then working its way down some steps cut into the bank. It had reached the flat area near the cabin and was moseying along the wall towards my steps.

I’d had to net the ornamental grape there, so its shoots had a chance to grow to be my summer shade. Having already seen a joey go under it and panic somewhat, suddenly I saw a potential problem in the combination of spikes and netting, should the echidna go in under the wire.

As it did, but kept going, under the verandah and out. Untangling an echidna might not have been easy.

Late afternoon, and over the top of the netted toddler barrier, a wallaby family was mowing the grass near the steps. I’m no longer sure if I’m netted in, or they out. Lucky I have long legs for a shortie and can step over this barrier.

I had to add the netting because one day I surprised a joey munching on the plants on the verandah, having got through the wooden bars.

I don’t mean to be voyeuristic but sometimes the colloquial greeting, ‘How’re they hanging?’ takes on new meaning. And to think they leap through the tall tussocks without getting caught up or damaged…

Spiky business

Through one window I’d been watching the smaller echidna poking about on fairly bare dirt, trying to get a photo of its rear feet, with the long extended claws. I didn’t manage to.

It headed downhill into grassed areas, so I gave up.
 
A little later, looking up from my computer and through another window, I saw it again, down by the fence. Only it looked different, lighter. Naturally, I had to go out and see.

It looked different because it was a different echidna. My earlier one was out the front too, also heading west, but closer to the house.

I recognised this bigger and beefier echidna as the one I’d called Blondie in another season when I also had two sharing the yard. The blonde and the brunette, I’d described them as then. I wasn’t sure if the smaller one was the same brunette, however. I really do need to get to know my echidna fellow residents better.

The animals that share my yard seem adept at minding their own business. It may be between different species, as with Blondie and a wallaby here — and notice how similar their colouring is. Or it may be within a species, as with my two echidnas.

They had kept their distance, each showing no sign of awareness or acknowledgement of the other. It crossed my mind that an encounter between them would be interesting — perhaps a very spiky business!

A closer encounter

I see echidnas in the yard often; not daily, like the wallabies, but weekly at least. Sometimes there are two poking about, snouts down and separately. This particular day I had seen the bigger one down by the fence, minding its own business, as the wallaby was, one aerating the lawn, the other mowing it.

Then, as I went to sit on the step with my morning coffee, I saw a smaller one working its way up the yard towards me. Of course I put the coffee down, grabbed the camera — and waited. It was a very cute one, that looked even cuter as it climbed the stone steps amongst the oregano.

I think this was so because I rarely saw one in a vertical position, as if it were walking upright, and its spines looked more punk than usual.

Reaching the top, it kept coming closer, pausing to push its nose into the kikuyu, which seemed to take some effort as it had to do a bit of a body wriggle each time.

It came so close I could see how the fur on its legs shone with health, how solid were the claws below, how the tip of its nose was damp and, most endearingly of all, how long its eyelashes looked. Perhaps they were its eyebrows?

They seem such solitary creatures. I’d like this one to come closer more often and perhaps become used to me the way the wallabies are. But the tiny click of the camera was enough to stop this one in its progress.

I’ll just have to forgo the photographs next time it honours me with such a close encounter.

Echidna rush

In one week I have been visited by three echidnas, two of them at the same time.

From the orchard I saw what looked like a small dark wombat moving up the slope just outside the fence. Drawing closer, it proved to be the biggest echidna I’ve seen on my place. Its spines were darker at their bases, so less obvious, and at first I thought it had few, like a young one. But this fellow was a veteran.

As I ran to the house to get the camera, a movement within the yard, just above the orchard, caught my eye.

There was another echidna, lighter coloured and smaller! This cute one was doing the rounds of the inside of my house fence, poking its snout, or beak, into the ground as it went. A female?

And then a few days later, from the kitchen window I saw one lumbering towards my yard gate.

It wasn’t as big as the first one, but was darker than the second. As it crossed the track, because it was walking on bare dirt, I got a better look at its feet and powerful digging claws, especially the extended rear one, used for scratching their fur amongst the spines.

Then it climbed an upturned tree root and began poking about in the hard clay. Look at the bristling power and fabulous arrangement of those spines!

I am fascinated by these strange egglaying mammals, or monotremes. How lucky to be able to have them just drop by, to share their habitat.

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