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Backyard wildlife

09/09/2013

It’s been a very mild winter here in Newcastle. In fact it’s broken several records for monthly maximum temperatures and number of consecutive days when the mercury has topped 20°C. I’ve only been able to see my own breath on maybe half a dozen occasions this year.

This tawny frogmouth helps me out with the mice

This tawny frogmouth helps me out with the mice

The suburb in which I live is a mixed residential and light industrial one adjacent to the harbour. One of Newcastle’s notorious coal loaders is within stone’s throw of my front door (if it wasn’t for the metalworking factory in the way, that is) and the road system is divided so as to keep the twenty-two wheelers full of ingots and scrap iron away from university students on pushbikes and yuppies in their BMWs and SUVs. Both air and noise pollution can get pretty bad around here – the neighbour is always complaining about the coal dust in his swimming pool and my sinuses give me hell all year round – but there are several parks and playing fields as well as a patchwork of tiny bush reserves and a restored mangrove swamp full of flying foxes that act as another source of air and noise pollution. Fishing is good when a water pollution incident hasn’t resulted in warnings against eating any fish you catch. My own rental house has a small backyard – maybe 12 by 15 metres – that has been entirely concreted over with the most inept cementing job I have ever seen.

A skink takes advantage of our superbly laid concrete

A skink takes advantage of our superbly laid concrete

Cracks and holes in the concrete have allowed the growth of several shrubs and patches of grass as well as some much welcomed parsley, mint, nasturtium, oregano, basil and marjoram. Along with the inevitable Hills Hoist overhanging about half of the yard one corner is dominated by a substantial camphor laurel which is in the process of blocking the drains, destroying the fence, ripping out the hot water service and tearing down a corner of our bathroom. We have been telling the landlord about it for over a year but do you think he gives a stuff? If we tried bringing it down with the tools available to us it would doubtless do substantial damage to either this property or the neighbours’ as it fell, making us personally liable to the tune of thousands of dollars.

A tree frog descends to hunt bugs

A tree frog descends to hunt bugs

In order to minimise the reflected heat onto our unairconditioned and essentially uninsulated home we have allowed the plants poking through the broken concrete to proliferate as much as possible, providing habitats for various kinds of wildlife. This has its negative side – I catch a dozen or so mice in the house every year and a fat bush rat helped itself to a large share of last season’s passionfruit crop – but mostly we are treated to visits from a delightful range of scaled, furred and feathered guests.

Breakfast time for bluetongues on the back step

Breakfast time for bluetongues on the back step

The birds that make brief stopovers include the ubiquitous crested pigeons, mynahs, ravens, magpies, galahs, peewees, wagtails, currawongs, wattle birds and rainbow lorikeets but we also see the occasional silver eye, olive honeyeater, fairy wren, cockatoo, kookaburra, butcher bird, koel, tawny frogmouth, rosella or small raptor. We get flyovers from lapwings, pelicans, cormorants, storks, terns, kites, egrets, sea eagles, falcons, hawks, fighter-bombers and helicopters but to the best of my knowledge none have landed in the garden. I think I would have noticed if an F-18 had been roosting on the clothesline.

Baby bluetongue with hose and daisy

Baby bluetongue with hose and daisy

Apart from neighbouring dogs and cats we get brush tailed possums, flying foxes, tree frogs and several species of skink including the biggest in the country, the eastern bluetongued lizard. We’ve set up several refuges for bluetongues in the weeds and leaf-litter and have at least two permanent residents who hibernate over winter. This winter they didn’t get much sleep, the warm sunny days bringing them out to bask on the cement and forage for food in the undergrowth. Bluetongues are pretty laid back by nature but these two are completely tame and will take food from my hand. We have spoiled them to the point where they come to the back door each morning for their handout of minced meat, cheese, cherry tomato, strawberry or banana – depending on what we have handy.

Another cute little baby

Another cute little baby

Bluetongues are very omnivorous and will eat pretty much anything a human will as well as keeping the slugs and snails under control. They even help keep the mouse population down by seeking out their nests and gulping down the newborns. Every spring our backyard is blessed with the skitter-slither of baby bluetongues who scurry from cover to cover completely ignored by their indifferent parents.

This juvenile butcher bird would love to meet a baby bluetongue

This juvenile butcher bird would love to meet a baby bluetongue

By summer they are gone, either eaten by one of the various predators who love a baby as much as anyone or dispersed to find new living space away from their now jealously territorial forbears. This year they have arrived about a month earlier than usual and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a second clutch emerge before the first ones have moved on. I guess I should keep my eyes open for special deals on overripe cherry tomatoes.

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From → autobiography

8 Comments
  1. Loved IT as much as EO Wilson…when you can find all the answers to the mysteries of good and evil that do not exist in the backyard…haha…as perfects..&…as perfects…and…dam spellcheck…that…neverheardofaspergers….always good to find people who simply tell their truth…

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    • by the way not at all suggesting your writing is simplistic just that the flow of your truth is not hard for you @ALl that’s and l and an I BTY…

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        • Justcallmr..ALI..sillylittlelovesongs..Ily..si..seyes…nodoubtaleisterhad..a touch..oftheaspergrs2…not nearly..the..Same as classic..autismbutsimiliar…seyes..eme…

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  2. I’ve loved lizards since I was a boy, kept many as pets and even successfully bread Lacerta Viridis and really enjoyed reading about your pet blue-tongued skinks! I like that this post is a bit different, focusing on nature and on your home.

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  3. Reblogged this on Art of Eric Kuns and commented:
    I just want to recommend this blog to people. High quality writing about an array of topics. The author doesn’t say anything really about himself on his about page, but from reading multiple posts I’ve discovered he was a career activist, is an aboriginal, has a very seasoned and original point of view, and most importantly, writes beautifully. In this particular post he shared pictures of the blue-tongued lizards who daily come to his porch to eat from his hand. Wonderful stuff.

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  4. I;m generally not a lizard fan but those bluetongues are so cute! And so are the frogs. I love frogs.

    Someday I’ll write about the first time I got pecked in the head by a swooping magpie. It was an…interesting experience.

    BTW I accidentally deleted your mail that you sent me last night. Resend please?

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