Showing posts with label wildlife. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wildlife. Show all posts

Friday, 10 October 2014

Welcome Home "Diggers"

 Great news for conservationists (and conversationalists)! Two “lost” species are returning to our suburbs. The Long-nosed Bandicoot, a once common resident (but not seen in Manly Vale for 45 years) is amazingly, making a comeback. And the Brush-turkey..a rare visitor to Sydney in the last 20 years or so, is now strutting up and down my street (and many others) with “gay abandon”.

 Bandicoots, it seems, have benefited from targeted fox baiting and their numbers are bouncing back, as the population of this introduced predator is curtailed.  Brush (or Scrub) Turkeys, which were virtually wiped out by hunting and loss of habitat (apparently their tough and stringy meat provided many a family feed during the Great Depression) are also reclaiming their territory.

 Of course these great examples of wildlife resilience has stimulated a cacophony of criticism. Some churlish people baulk at the small v shaped holes that bandicoots make in lawns when looking for grubs...whilst the fact that Brush-turkeys build large nesting mounds doesn’t win them many fans (especially with the “English style” manicured garden brigade). The irony is , these “protected species”, vilified by some for their habitual digging, are benefiting us all by doing just that !

 A recent Murdoch University study has found that native digging animals (also including Bilbies,Potaroos etc) play a key role in promoting eco-system health. Their activities increase soil nutrition, seed dispersal and water infiltration.  Some foraging animals are also credited with reducing bush-fire risks by taking leaf litter underground. The diggings of feral species such as rabbits, in contrast, promote the spread of weeds and have a negative effect on the soil.

 Imagine how our landscape might have looked if we hadn’t systematically eradicated most of our native wildlife! (Australia has the world’s worst record for mammal extinction in the last 200 years). So please, embrace these lovely “diggers” give them some space, keep your pets away and make the wildlife feel at home!

Long -nosed Bandicoot (Perameles nasuta)

 A  nocturnal marsupial with large pointed ears and a long muzzle.  It is greyish brown in colour with a creamy white forefeet and under-body.
Habitat: Rainforests, woodlands, heathland, grasslands.
Distribution: from Vic to Qld borders.
Size: 310-425mm
Lifespan: around 2.5 years
Diet: Omniverous. Primarily beetles, ants, larvae, fungi, roots, shoots.
Breeds: July to March
Gestation: only 12.5 days (shortest of any mammal)
Litter: 1 to 5.  In a good year, females may produce up to 4 litters.
Predators: dogs, cats, foxes (and cars)
 An “isolated” population of around 200 can be found at Manly’s North Head and is listed as “endangered”.

Sadly, many Bandicoots fall prey to domestic cats (photo James Taylor)

Australia Brush-turkey (Alectura lathami)

One of three Australian “Mound Builders”- the other two being the mallee fowl and the orange-footed scrubfowl. It has deep black plumage, bare red head and neck, a broad flat fan tail. Males have a redder head and neck and a distinguishing yellow “wattle”. A chick looks similar to a quail and has brown feathers.
Habitat:  Rainforest and eucalypt forest
Distribution:  Australia’s east coast from NSW to Queensland
Size: 60-70cm body length.
Lifespan: 10 years
Diet: Leaf litter, invertebrates and fruits
Breeding:  Occurs from August to January. The male brush-turkey builds a large mound of organic matter up to 6 metres wide and 1.5 metres high. The females are attracted to a well built and maintained mound and one or more birds will lay eggs inside it. The decomposition of the vegetation inside the mound produces heat The male checks the temperature by inserting his bill and then adds or removes material to maintain a 32to 33 C degree temperature. After around 50 days the young brush-turkeys hatch and have to fend for themselves.
Female brush-turkeys lay between 20 and 30 eggs a year. (one mound may contain up to 150 eggs over a season)
Predators: Goannas, snakes, birds of prey, foxes, domestic cats and dogs. To protect themselves, brush-turkeys form roosting groups in trees.

And here's a view of a Bandicoot visiting my own Manly Vale backyard (after many years of endeavouring to create the right habitat for them!)  

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Lost Rocks of Sydney (Part 2)

The Dilema:

In “part one” of this report, we discovered that most of the lovely rocky outcrops, dotted around Sydney like gigantic unclaimed parcels, were in a “spot of bother”.

These hulking great edifices have been gradually entangled by deviously aggressive weeds. Most of them now lie ensnared, their original biodiversity choked and suffocating... or already expired.

One of the monumental “lost rocks”, on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, epitomised this miserable scenario.  It was besieged by the “Who’s Who” of invasive species. And these are the main culprits:- Fishbone Fern, English Ivy, Japanese Honey Suckle, Asparagus Fern, Lantana, Ochna, Crucifix Orchid,  Buffalo Grass, Mother of Millions.

The Solution:  The small team of volunteers from Rock Face Renaissance gradually worked to remove the weeds, rescue the surviving endemic  plants and rejuvenate this cascading colossus of historic stone. Never in the field of weed removal, were so many green bins filled, by so few.

The Result?

Resurrection, resuscitation and renewal!  A beautiful stone feature has been revealed after years of neglect and what’s left of the indigenous flora and fauna has room to breathe once more. 

Check out these before and after shots:-

This was then..

And these are now...!
It's amazing what was hidden beneath all those weeds
The native flora shines through!
Concealed "treasures" revealed!
On top of the rock, some Lomandras have survived underneath a carpet of weeds!
And a tiny Acacia Terminalis (Sunshine Wattle) germinates.

If only more of Sydney’s "lost rocks" can be saved before it’s too late. If you have any examples of rocky outcrops in need of salvation or require help with some rock

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Tongues out in the suburbs.

  To live in Warringah and still have “dinosaurs” roaming around your garden is something of a modern day miracle.  But Eastern Blue-tongue lizards have somehow adapted and to some extent, flourished in the Sydney suburban sprawl. Blue-tongues (there are six types across Australia) are the largest member of the skink family and grow to around 60cm in length. They love eating the slugs and snails which abound in most backyards and will also eat caterpillars and beetles making them a boon to gardeners.  

  Blue-tongues are shy, gentle, harmless creatures that love to bask in the sun. They find shelter under rocks, in woodpiles or in discarded drainage pipes. Their vivid blue tongue is just a “bluff” mechanism to frighten off potential predators. So, if threatened, they’ll poke it out, hiss and look as intimidating as possible.  They also use their tongue to “smell” the air for food. They don’t like being handled so it is best to just let them be and observe from a distance.

The female of the species tends to hang around home base but the male will roam across an area the size of approximately 15 house blocks keeping visiting several “ girl friends” on his rounds.  Unlike most reptiles, Blue –tongues give birth to up to 25 live young (usually between December and January and four months after mating). The baby Blue-tongues (about 14cm long) can look after themselves straight after birth but are very vulnerable and can easily fall prey to Kookaburras and other predators.  If extremely lucky, they will live up to 30 years in the wild.

To help them survive, don’t ever use snail or slug pellets (if they eat snails that have taken the snail baits, they will, themselves, die). Ensure that there are some un-manicured areas of your garden (ideally planted with endemic native grasses and shrubs). Also watch out for them when you are in the car – they love sunning themselves on black tar roads and driveways. Most importantly, keep dogs and cats away at all times, they are very bad news for these docile creatures.  To me, the occasional glimpse of a Blue-tongue is always a source of great joy and wonder. They provide a living connection to this timeless land. 

Juvenile Blue-tongue

Monday, 27 May 2013

A Night on the Reptiles.

  The Southern Leaf-tailed Gecko is a beautiful creature that can sometimes be seen clinging to the side an exterior wall and has adapted fairly well to the encroachment of suburbia. It is native to the Sydney Basin and is fairly common in the Northern Beaches region. Not surprisingly it’s named after its rather curious leaf-shaped tail which could be mistaken by predators for its head. If under threat, it can drop this tail, which serves as a decoy by continuing to wriggle. The tail is also used to store fat and sustain the gecko through the winter months. If you try and pick one up, they will deliver a sharp squeal but they are completely harmless to humans and, in fact, do us a great service by eating spiders and cockroaches. 

 Geckos hunt by being completely still and stealth-like ...basically allowing their prey to come to them...they will then move with incredible speed to catch and devour their meal. They are nocturnal which means they only come out at night and like all geckos, they have specially adapted feet that allows them to adhere to most surfaces.  

 The leaf-tailed gecko is a master of camouflage, adapting it’s colour to the rocky surface it clutches to. It has amazing copper hued eyes with a fixed lens that enlarges in darkness. Most geckos can’t blink but their eyes are 350 times more sensitive to light than the human eye.  Reproduction is by laying one or two eggs in a crevice which hatch in around nine weeks. Gecko’s are very vulnerable to being hunted by cats, as are some of our other nocturnal wildlife such as ringtail possums, so please keep your prowling purrer in at night!

Footnote: The Asian House Gecko is a foreign import that arrived in by Brisbane by sea in the 1980’s. Since then its numbers have exploded and it is estimated that its population already numbers tens of millions in this country. It has become a pest species that impacts harmfully on native gecko populations because it transfers disease carrying mites. So far it hasn’t reached Sydney but it is heading our way.

An infant Southern Leaf-tailed Gecko (adults reach around 15cm in length)