Annual visitor

For the last three years, each November I have noted in my Gould League Banksias and Bilbies Seasons of Australia diary (a wonderful book, now sadly out of print) that a solo White-necked Heron has visited my little dam.

This year it didn’t come in November.

But in the first week of December, there it was. This time I didn’t spot it first on the dam, but as I came down my verandah steps, I saw it on my solar panel array. Double take!

I ran inside for the camera, muttering ‘Please stay there, please,’ and barely had time to take a photo before it flew off to the nearby dam.

It did its usual slow strut through the water’s edge, skirting the waterlilies and all the life they hide, only this time it was making a call. 

I thought it was a frog at first, but there was only one. It was a repetitive guttural sort of croak. 

Then even from my distance away I saw its throat distend with each croak, as obvious as a swallowed golfball.

My book says it makes noise when startled, which it wasn’t, or on the nest, which it wasn’t. Ideas, anyone?

Morning joeys

At present there are lots of wallaby joeys old enough to be out and about on their own.

They’ve grown past the long-legged spindly stage into one of equally cute chubbiness, and are less nervy and jack-in-the-box bouncy than their toddler siblings.

One sunny morning when the valley below was still filled with mist, there seemed to be hardly an adult in sight, just scattered young ones enjoying the warmth after a damp few days. Like the two above…

…and this one! They weren’t hanging out together, and each one was pop-eyed and watchful, but none moved. I could imagine their mothers admonishing them: ‘Now stay right there until I come back—or  else!’

But nearer the cabin was one of the younger joeys, still very clingy to mum in between mad dashes up and down the track.

A reassuring drink, and then, always astonishing to me, he did climb back into that pouch, long legs and tail the last to fit. It was a very low-slung pouch indeed when all was in!

Happy family

There seemed to be too many ears in the lolling wallaby silhouette I could see from the verandah.  I couldn’t work it out, so I walked closer.

Then I could see that it was two adults cuddled together and a joey in the pouch of one.

Of course I went back for the camera.

Coming from a different aspect made me visible to them – or to those with eyes open. They pricked up their ears but took no more alarm than that.

Check out the size of the joey doubled up in there, with legs and head sticking out into the sunlight.

There are lots of joeys in pouches right now, both wallabies and kangaroos. Some are spending time ‘outside’, slightly wonky on their long legs and oversize feet.

Meanwhile the blokes are happy to forage for green grass shoots amongts my bulbs. I don’t mind, as they are far less destructive than the horses were, and I’m forever grateful that the bulb leaves are unappetisingly toxic.

Red-bellied Houdini

Just when I thought it was cold enough for any sensible snake to have gone to sleep, so had relaxed my vigilance around the house yard…

Out of the kitchen window, I spied my old mate, looking quite spry and healthy and not all sleepy. It was sniffing around the tankstand overflow pipe, which is open-ended there on the short grass.

‘Hope it doesn’t try to go up that’, I thought. ‘It’d never get back out!’

No, it turned about and came down the hill a bit. I thought it was curling up to sleep in the sun. This is one of the few parts of the yard that I have mowed in the last year, so it’s nice and open.

But the snake uncurled — and began to disappear. Its long body seemed to be sliding straight into the ground!

Yet I’d mown there a hundred times; I knew there was no hole…

Then I remembered having run over the end of the agricultural drain pipe a hundred times too. It’s just ribbed soft black plastic with drain holes, and this is the far end of the one that runs behind my backfilled cabin.

We’d buried it and just let any seeped water run away over the grass. The end is invisible but yes, it’s in about that spot.

I was worried; this was one fat snake. It would never turn around in there.  How would I get it out?? I’d just have to keep checking: could a snake back out?

But next day there it was, sunbaking in its front yard. As the day clouded over and chilled, back indoors it went.

No wonder I’d seen it around the house so much this year: it lived here, right under my feet so to speak. But I still don’t know if it backs out or turns around…

Maggie moments

It’s that time of the year when the magpie young are relentlessly pursuing their parents, whining nonstop. They may be as big as the parents, but you can pick the young by their mottled brown and grey colouring; the adults’ crisply dashing colours are not actually just black and white if you look closely.

Other giveaways are the oft-open beak and the gimme-gimme whinge that comes out of it.

My more northerly friend Christa has lots of magpies in her riverside garden, but she also has a creature or two I don’t.

She sent this photo with the tale ‘The water dragon in my garden is chasing magpies who dare to take a bath in one of the large palmbowls. Loud magpie protests don’t stop him (her?) from charging again — until maggie takes to the air. ‘

‘But what,’ I replied, ‘is a water dragon?’

And this is her reply, the tale of her first encounter with a water dragon:

‘I had never seen it before. There it was at the corner of my garden where there were quite a lot of ripe coco palm fruits on the ground. The purple swamp hens like them. So do the dragons. Two hens were busily pecking fruit. This large and colourful one (I have been told the colouring has to do with the mating season — not sure if it’s true) charged at the two hens.

‘They fled down the river bank. I had just come out with the camera in hand to take photos of the hens. The dragon saw me and came at me at full speed. I have no idea whether he thought he could chase me away too or saw me as a source of food. Anyway, I got a bit frightened when it jumped up on the verandah, but managed to take this photo.’

And if dragons and magpies can’t live happily together in reality, Christa, being a bit of a whizz with Photoshop as well as a camera, has created a fantasy union — the Dragonpie!

Wombats and Windgrove

On my brief 2010 foray into southern Tasmania I was looking for wild edges, and I found a place called Roaring Beach that tugged hard at my mountain heart.

It was much later that I discovered a wonderful website, perfectly named ‘Windgrove: Life on the Edge’ emanating from that same beautiful wild place — home of Peter Adams, sculptor, thinker, writer, nature lover — great photographer! All the photos in this post are by Peter.

I only did so via my webmaster/mates, Fred Baker and Allan Moult; Allan does Peter’s Windgrove site. There’s a permanent link to it on my ‘Supporters’ list.

Many of you have loved the photographs of the pouch-peeping wallaby and kangaroo joeys I’ve been lucky enough to get close to. 

As an introduction to the many delights you’ll find at Windgrove as Peter shares his sea-swept 100 acres, there can be little more special than this sighting of a wombat joey nestled in its mother’s pouch.

The pouch is cleverly backwards-opening so her joey isn’t half-smothered in dirt when she digs. Maybe that’s where Volvo got the idea for their baby seats?

I especially relate to Peter’s understanding of how to get to know a natural place and its treasures; I too have learnt to shut my mouth and open my eyes, be slow or still — and carry a camera.  There is so much to allow yourself to be shown.

As I said in the first chapter of my first book, The Woman on the Mountain, explaining why I live ‘way out there’:

‘My world is unfashionable, timeless and teeming and intensely fascinating. It commands my interest, my passion, and my pen.’

It seems that Peter’s art is similarly engaged with and inspired by his world. Similarly too, while he has planted thousands of trees on once-barren Windgrove, ‘in the process he, himself, has been transformed by the land.’


‘Still-a-life’ — Sculpture by Peter Adams

Drying out roos

After six inches of rain in a week, all of us here on the mountain were fed up with the incessant wet.

When the sun came out on Saturday, so did the hoppy animals.

It dries out quicker in the open, like in my yard, so the roos and wallabies crowded in for drying space. I did my washing, with the solar power batteries bubbling away again, and they lolled about.

Obviously a week of rain favours the bitey critters that annoy these furry ones – not to mention the scourge of leeches that proliferate in the wet weather.

So when they weren’t sun-snoozing, they were scratching. No matter to them where they lolled — or where they scratched.

In a wide variety of poses, their efficient claws were put to use on their very flexible bodies.

In a way, it felt like I’m running a resort, a gym-cum-sun spa, for macropods.

Weatherwise roos

The carport on my old shed has been adopted by the roo family as a favourite shade spot, now that spring is feeling like summer more often. It’s nicely dusty too, so they can swish their tails and roll about to help with the annoying insects.

The magpie attendant is there for the same purpose, I assume, to their mutual benefit.

Of course it’s less convenient for the roos when I park the ute in there, but being adaptable creatures, they simply lie underneath it. 

I have already learnt to check for echidnas under there before I get in and start it up, but so far the roos move off when I actually reach them.

And when the hot weather creates a sudden sunshower, as it did the other day, the nearest garden tree or shrub will do for them and their maggie mate. I do wonder if it’s the same two roos and the same magpie.

Willy Weavers

My friend Christa doesn’t live in the bush, but on her rural suburban riverside block she observes an astonishing amount of fascinating natural phenomena.

The key is that she is keen to watch — and to wonder. Plus she takes great photos.

As her wildlife is often quite different to mine, she sees things I am not likely to. This one is so special I’ve asked her permission to share it with you.

She was drawing ‘immense pleasure’ from watching a pair of Willie Wagtails building a nest under the verandah roof outside her bedroom.  In fact, they would wake her up with their chirping and flurrying.  

To her surprise, she realised that they were using cobwebs as the main building material.

‘They arrive with threads wrapped around their heads, then wipe the head on the nest, all the while wriggling inside, checking for the right fit.’

‘They also use bits of grass and seem to put them on the inside. I think the nest grows about 1cm per day. By the weekend, it might be ready for eggs.’

But after the weekend Christa emailed the sad news. The Willie Wagtails had abandoned the nest on Saturday, after all that complex weaving.  

‘During the day, once or twice, they still defended the yard against crows and magpies. There was also a curious thing happening with two Willies. A larger one came and bullied the nest builder out of the nest, then briefly hopped inside it and left. Perhaps that bully is the reason for the now deserted nest. It still is a beautiful construction and I’m happy I could watch the process.’

To me, it looks almost like felting. And it is a great pity the Wagtails broke up before they could occupy it and start a family — but I warn all owner builders that this is a possible outcome!

Close encounters

I have now completed a lattice gate to prevent the wallabies from coming onto the verandah and eating the plants from there.

A few do still come up the steps and nibble what they can reach from there, so the summer vine cover is not as advanced as it should be.

 

This one couldn’t be bothered climbing the steps, but for several hours the other warm day, while the shade lasted, lay right at the foot of the steps. As it happened to be a washing day, I went up and down the steps and past the lolling lass quite a few times. My stepping over her tail occasioned no more than a flick of an ear.

So far none of them have jumped over the gate, so I am enjoying my beautiful Crepuscule climbing rose, blooming in profusion along my verandah ‘windows’ once more, munched bare though it is from below.

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.

Flower roos

Beneath the new green leaves of the birch trees, the fading yellow jonquils and Erlicheers and the fresh yellow and white daffodils — whose name I’ve forgotten — quietly clump and multiply and delight each year. The iris aren’t so prolific.

I was amused to see the kangaroo family choose this little grove of flowering bulbs for a munch and a snooze in the sun. They are quite delicate in eating the native grass between the bulbs without flattening much.

I am so grateful that they don’t fancy bulb leaves or flowers!

The joey had been asleep in the centre of the flowers, but popped up to peep over and check out the world as I watched. Not too tough a life in this refuge.