Gladiator skinks

Following my last post (Skink family?) on my cute Southern Water Skinks, web visitor Darian Zam told us of his skinks:

‘I have a lot of these. I thought having the screens fixed would stop them getting in the house and running around this summer. It didn’t and it’s worse than ever this year! It’s quite annoying. They poop on everything. I got some great shots of two battling it out dramatically last week — they were biting each other on the head and then flipping in the air together. It was a pretty dramatic fight over who gets to claim the back of the refrigerator, I believe.’

Intrigued, since my skinks so far seem non-aggressive, managing to divide territory quite amicably, I asked Darian to send some of those photos and with his permission I share these three below. Thanks, Darian!

The flipping over is clear and they contort like wrestlers, but I am astonished that they bite the head, not a soft, vulnerable part like the stomach. I wonder if many lose an eye this way.

Perhaps they hold firmly with their jaws — to flip — rather than bite?

I will now be on the lookout for battle wounds on my skinks, of which there are now five zipping about on the verandah. Glad my screens work!

Complementary colours

Summer is new growth time for the verandah’s Crepuscule climbing rose, which is also indulging in a second, lighter, flush of flowers.

The new leaves are a surprisingly bright clear red, complementing the green all around them, and contrasting with the pure papery white of the Mandevilla laxa blooms, with their turned-back cuffs  and neatly furled greenish-tinged buds.

The other red/green composition was formed by a Crimson Rosella, who flew in through the cloud’s veil to check out the bird feeder ‘window’ in my summershade wall of intertwined greenery.  They come now and then — just in case I’ve donated one of my rare and sporadic handfuls of seed.

Bird bank

Viewing the world through slightly misty and not very clean windows is a disadvantage when you want to take photographs of something out there.

In my bedroom, the rear windows face into a close bank, planted with, amongst other things, hanging rosemary and a prostrate grevillea. Birds love them.

An erratic tapping at the windows one morning revealed that a male Superb Blue Wren was making short sharp forays to land on an angled timber frame and then fly back to the bank. And again. And again. He was so persistent that I had time to fetch the camera.

Doesn’t he look fierce? I assume he was scaring off the male intruder in the reflection.

But now the little Blue Wren has taken to patrolling the lower sills of all my windows, fluttering and tapping and veering off and back again.

All of him is never still long enough for a camera click!

Then I noticed that the grevillea flowers had attracted another bird to the bank — an Eastern Spinebill. Sorry the picture is so hazy but I hadn’t seen one of these here before so the combination of camera ready and bird flitting was not to be missed.

Flirting with domesticity

Lately I have noticed that a wallaby mother and her joey have taken to sitting under my verandah. In fact she sits right up against the mud wall, under where my front door opens, so I walk over the top of her often. My verandah decking is pretty bouncy and noisy– as am I — and the screen door unavoidably scrapes out and back across the uneven boards, in order to exclude the slimmest snake when the door is shut.

Nothing fazes her, and I have become used to the glimpses of fur between the boards and beneath my feet. There is perhaps a metre clearance there.

So the other day, as I crossed the verandah and headed down the steps,  I was surprised to hear a deep snort/cough from behind and below me, and a heavy, panicky thud or two. I peered between the step treads and there was a very large wallaroo, now silhouetted near the sub-verandah opening. He saw me, gave another loud cough — almost a bark — and leapt away.

Of course I leapt for the camera, hoping he had paused. As he had, only a few metres uphill, and still inside the yard.

In the six months or so since the yard has been open, the few wallaroos about have rarely come inside. I love it when they do, as there is something about their long fur and their powerful build that is more ‘wild’  than even a big male kangaroo. To have one choose to come so close to the house is unprecedented, but to have him choose to go in under the verandah is astonishing!

It is bare dirt under there, raked clean of dead leaves only weeks ago, in readiness for the summer fire season. There is nothing to eat. I wonder — is he sussing it out for a shady spot for summer, or is he thinking of compromising his wildness, of flirting with domesticity?

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.

Suspicious sublet

My ‘guest accommodation’ is an ex-workshop tacked on to a shed. It is of corrugated iron, but lined, and comfortable; far enough from my cabin for privacy, close enough for convenience, and with pleasant orchard views and surrounds.

When I returned after my two months away this winter, I suspected a possum had moved into the roof of this section. Telltale tufts of insulation wool were sticking out from between the roof and the window awning, and a few floated about on the grass.

I checked inside and all seemed fine.

But as spring advanced, I noticed that the climbing roses were being allowed to put forth new leaves and even buds – at least from the height at which the wallabies can’t reach. I assumed the rose-loving possum must have moved on — or had been digested by the python.

Something had changed inside, too: over each bed the ceiling lining had clearly been under stress. The double bed had a huge stain that went right through the mattress, and the top rug on the double decker bunks was bedecked with what looked like bits of nesting material.

Possums do mighty pees, so I could blame it for the stain, but the rest…? And what about the roses? Did I have a ‘live-and-let-live’ possum at last?

When I finally had a visitor willing to climb ladders and prise away roofing trims to investigate, the nest was there; in fact there were two, and full of scats large and small. They were not of possum origin, but quoll. In a way they were related to possums, as quolls eat them.

I had known a quoll was back, or visiting nightly, from fresh scats in the shed and on the verandah. A parmesan cheese wrapper got the once-over on the verandah the other night. I had assumed it was living in the shed, in the horizontal pile of old doors where my earlier quoll tenant had raised many young ones.

Clearly, this year’s quoll wanted better accommodation, with views. So until I can be sure whether it is a ‘she’, with offspring, no more can be done. If that’s the case, until the end of summer when the kids have come of age, I’ll have to turn away visitors or tell them to bring a tent. The beds have been stripped, moved, and plastic laid.

I need one of those signs they have in caravan parks and camping areas: ‘All visitors must call at office before proceeding further’. 

But at least I might get some roses this summer.

Leafy visitor

I’d just cut back the woody stems of the verandah vines — the ornamental grape and the wisteria. A scattering of brown tendrils and dry curling leaves had landed on the verandah and I began to sweep them off.

Only, one decided it didn’t want to be swept and began lurching away.

It was so delicate I’d have broken it with one unwitting blow, had I not seen it for what it was — a small leaf insect, one of the Phasmid family, like the stick insects.

I do have the CSIRO field guide to these extraordinary insects, but I can’t find this one.

Flared and flattened, curled and bent, blotched and pitted — what amazing camouflage! Not much use on this drawer I was airing, so I carefully let it cling to a stick and transferred it to the brown stems and remnant leaves from whence I expect it had come. The delicacy of its feet, especially the questing front ones! 

Nature truly is awesome.

Next G snake?

As if I hadn’t had enough trouble with the older generation of red-bellied black snakes, the established adults,  I now seem to have a new, cheekier generation.

The other day, over the top of my glasses, and my computer, I caught a dark movement amongst the leafy verandah screen.

A fluid, flowing dark movement — as only a red-bellied black snake has imprinted on my mind.

It oozed over the bird-feeder edge and down to the verandah boards. Now I have known — theoretically — that snakes could come onto the verandah and I have made a snake-screen door for that reason — I don’t care about flies!

But I had been thinking of the python — of tree snakes, harmless — not of my nemesis, the red-bellied black.

I stamped behind the screen door, complained loudly; it formed its front into an interrogative question mark and waited to see what was what in this strange terrain. And stayed like that.

I grabbed the camera, realised I couldn’t take a photo through the green shadecloth ‘screen’ door, so I scraped the door open, still ranting.’You’d think a person could have a verandah to herself — that wasn’t much to ask! I can’t believe you just did that! Is nowhere safe?????!!!!!!’

I took this shot.

Nobody likes a whinger. The slim and sprightly snake slid over the edge. I thought of all the times I’d padded about the verandah not in my gum boots, or lounged on the chaise longue — well, not often enough for the latter — too busy; but you get my point. I had felt safe on the verandah. Fool! I’d gotten complacent, yet again. Big mistake.

Rosey splashes

The birch tree may have had to wait for its Christmas decorations, but it was worth it. For a brief time four Crimson Rosellas bedecked its slender branches, the thin leaf cover hiding none of their brilliance.
A momentary adornment, as soon they were on the ground, sampling the seed heads of various grasses, waddling and poking about amongst the yellow flowers of the False Dandelion weeds. If I squinted, I could pretend I had a buttercup meadow.

Where brushes meet

brush-butterfly-1The native Brush Cherry (Szygium australe) in my garden is just opening its buds.

Somehow the word went straight out into the butterfly world, for within a day of this happening, a certain species suddenly appeared to claim those flowers.

I counted around 35 of these butterflies just on the sides I could see. They weren’t my usual Wanderer butterfly, so out came the butterfly book.
brush-butterfly-2What they are (I think) is Klug’s Xenica (Geitoneura klugi klugi, a member of the Nymphalinae family, sub-family Satyrinae). If I’m right, it’s a quaint semantic coincidence, as the species of this sub-family is also known as the brush-footed butterfly. 

Different meanings of ‘brush’ — but the brush-footed butterfly loves the Brush Cherry blossoms!