Tag Archives: feral animals

Golden Wattle and Blue Skies

wattle in bloom

Wattle in bloom

The first sign of spring at SeventySevenAcres comes with the gentle buzz of bees, and blue, blue skies, as the wattle bursts into bloom, tree by tree.

There is something really special about stealing a couple of minutes in the middle of the afternoon to find a sheltered position in the sun on the lawn, to close your eyes and listen to the sound of the bees as they industriously buzz around the little pom pom flowers, and breathe in the heady, fresh-linen scent that fills the air from the glorious bright yellow blooms.

Don’t be fooled, though. Once the sun drops over the hills to the west, we know well and truly that it is still winter.

This winter has been particularly chilly, and we have burnt our way through all our reserves of firewood just to stay warm. This year saw several snowfalls at SeventySevenAcres, one deep enough to hang around for a couple of days (I know this is nothing in some parts of the world, but for us it was pretty exciting), but mostly we have had thick frosts and biting winds off the Australian Alps.

Many an afternoon has been spent wrapped up in front of the fireplace, with a good book and a warm cuppa, rather than braving the great outdoors.

Our veggie beds look like a mass of weeds, and will need quite some work before spring proper comes and we want to start planting out. I can see some very busy times ahead.

I’m also going to have to grow some resolve and get walking again. It has been too easy to decide it is too cold or too windy to go out regularly, so apart from some brief forays to collect kindling and admire how full the dam is at present, I haven’t really been out and about, and I can tell from how inflexible and unfit I feel!

Lyrebird by dam

a lyrebird beside the dam

A few good hikes up the mountain should fix that, but I’ve got to psyche myself into it first! And, of course, I’m so easily distracted by all the beautiful sights and sounds around the property. It doesn’t take much for me to stop and watch while some birds flit through the trees, or an echidna waddles by (like the one on the track this afternoon as I was driving home from work… sadly, by the time I had pulled my phone out to take a pic, he had waddled off into the bush and I didn’t feel inclined to chase him!)

Echidna

An echidna visiting our garden

Talking of our amazing wildlife, the wombat… sorry, The Wombat has taken up residence again in the wombat hole by the back gate. We are trying to give him lots of space at the moment so he doesn’t feel invaded, but have succumbed to leaving a few old carrots around near the entrance to let him know he is welcome. We will doubtless regret this later, but it is so exciting to feel that after, what, four years (!), he has finally decided we are acceptable-ish.

Of course, our girls (the ‘roo family) have been turning up regularly, but we are yet to see any sign of this year’s babies. That is always a moment of great delight, when we catch a glimpse of a tiny nose poking out of the pouch, or, amusingly, an awkwardly posed leg.

kangaroo and joey

One of our ‘girls’ last year with baby on board

The most common visitors at the moment, though, are the birds that regularly turn up for breakfast. Dusty, the Burrawang, will follow me from room to room, peering with curiosity through the windows, until I take out some left-overs from the night before’s dinner, and will rapidly be joined by an ever increasing array of feathered friends. The magpies are generally second in the queue, along with a family of crimson rosellas, and recently the kookaburra has been joining them on the grass, although the funniest thing I have seen of late was when he dived in and stole food right out of the beak of one of the magpies, without even pausing mid-flight!

We have had a little thrush (still to be properly identified) hopping around, too, along with the whole tribe of blue-wrens.

Later on the choughs and ravens arrive… quite a noisy bunch… and sometimes we’ll get a galah or two, or one of the big sulphur crested cockatoos.

I can never get enough of watching the antics through the kitchen window, and still wonder at our great fortune in being a part of this amazing place.

Don’t get me wrong, though, there are many things that interrupt this view of paradise… pumps that fail, our leaky house-water water tank that will need to be replaced soon, a driveway that is increasingly resembling a goat track, feral goats and pigs (and foxes), some expensive maintenance that is going to be quite tricky to get done… spiders, snakes and biting flies… and the ever present summer threat of bushfire.

All part of taking on a bush property.

But for now, I’ll take the promise of a pleasant afternoon scented with wattle, and the humming of the bees going about their business, with the sun on my face and a not-too-chilly breeze in my hair.

A beautiful moment in time.

wattle in flower

No quotes this time, but I did find a poem that included wattle… however, as it was about where a dying stockman wanted to be buried I decided against using it!

…coat of an elegant scoundrel…

My first encounter with foxes goes back to my very early years, visiting some friends of my father at their house in a small village somewhere down in the south-west of England. Who they were, or where the village was is lost to memory, and neither of my parents recall the incident, although I have very strong visual images of the house (red brick in a garden swathed in bushes), a walk up the hill behind the house (long grass, lightly treed), and the ‘nest’ with the cubs.

They were beautiful (as in the cubs, although I’m sure the friends were, too) and I fell in love, and to this day I cannot help but be beguiled by the beauty of the red fox, and how clever and agile they are, and every time I see one dead by the side of the road a deep sadness fills me, just the same as if I see a ‘roo or a wombat that has been hit by a car.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that foxes are a nuisance. I understand that they don’t belong in Australia. And please understand me, I don’t keep chooks for the sole reason that I don’t want to limit them to a small, fox-proof enclosure.

Because, around here, there are foxes.

It is quite possible that we don’t have a rabbit problem (touch wood) because of them.

Not that we see them very often, but there are signs that they are around. And a neighbour who keeps goats goes into overdrive when his breeding stock are kidding (just had to use that word) because of the trouble he has had in the past with the newborns apparently being taken by foxes.

In our early days here, too, we found an old rusty trap with a dead fox caught in it, much to my concern as I truly don’t approve of trapping, and I certainly didn’t want to find any more through the unpleasant expedient of stepping on one.

I know the neighbour has resorted to using poison baits, and I know he does it responsibly, with all the correct permits and so forth, and he always puts warnings in mail boxes. I used to worry about eagles scavenging on carcasses and getting poisoned, too, but I’m less concerned now since nothing much seems to scavenge on the foxes by the side of the road. Like wombats they seem to be there forever, slowly decomposing.

I know of someone else who tried humane traps, but the foxes were too smart, and he ended up waiting them out and shooting them, but that took a fair bit of patience and guile, too.

My reaction, though, when I glanced up while filling the kettle early the other morning to look right into the eyes of an old fella poking around the garden?

Camera.

Sadly, I couldn’t find the actual camera in time, so my phone captured a weirdly blurred image of something questionably a fox, mostly hidden by the reflection of the flash in the window. Artistic perhaps, but unconvincing.

Spot the fox... yes, he is there... try looking for two shining dots, his eyes, looking straight at me...

Spot the fox… yes, he is there… try looking for two shining dots, his eyes, looking straight at me…

By then he had wandered down to the compost bins, and my guess is he was hoping to find some rats or mice or something.

He was quite big, with a roan coat, mottled ginger and white, and a dark red brush, mostly white legs, and dark, intelligent eyes. He had seen me at the same time as I saw him, but, initially at least, didn’t react. It wasn’t until the phone’s flash went off that he showed any concern.

He didn’t wait around to find out if I had anything more in my arsenal than a flashing light, but disappeared up the cliff-face, as in directly up the cliff face (I mentioned their agility, didn’t I?), and off into the bush.

I’m not keen for him to come back, by any means, especially as I am weighing the pros and cons of getting myself a small herd of goats to help with weed clearing, but just seeing him reminded me of what amazing and beautiful creatures they are. And clever. I read once that it was possibly because they are so clever that people have an issue with them. We don’t like to be outsmarted!

Red foxes were introduced (on purpose) to Australia for sport hunting way back in the 1800s, and from there have spread right across the continent (except the far north) and are now pretty much prevalent in every state except for Tasmania, where, a couple of years ago, there was a massive hunt after one was spotted leaving a ship (Fantastic Mr Fox on holiday?). I don’t know whether that one was ever found, but wildlife authorities have now confirmed evidence of possible habitation and there is a huge program to try and prevent it getting out of hand. Originally, competition with tassie devils was thought to be the reason that they hadn’t naturalised there before, but the poor old devil is having its own issues at the moment.

Apart from being a nuisance to farmers and backyard hen-keepers, of course, foxes are a problem for small, native animals, which have not evolved to be wary of them. Their distribution can be seen to correlate with the decline of native species such as bettongs, bilbies, numbats, small wallabies, and quokkas.

Not good news.

While baiting and shooting remain the most widespread choice for management, research is being conducted on the reintroduction of native predators. Apparently, where dingoes have been reintroduced not only does the fox population decline, but native animal numbers start to recover. Its all about balance.

I like that idea.

The title quote, by the way, is from a poem by Margaret Atwood, which, in the way of Margaret Atwood, says it all:

Red Fox

The red fox crosses the ice
intent on none of my business.
It’s winter and slim pickings.

I stand in the bushy cemetery,
pretending to watch birds,
but really watching the fox
who could care less.
She pauses on the sheer glare
of the pond. She knows I’m there,
sniffs me in the wind at her shoulder.
If I had a gun or dog
or a raw heart, she’d smell it.
She didn’t get this smart for nothing.

She’s a lean vixen: I can see
the ribs, the sly
trickster’s eyes, filled with longing
and desperation, the skinny
feet, adept at lies.

Why encourage the notion
of virtuous poverty?

It’s only an excuse
for zero charity.
Hunger corrupts, and absolute hunger
corrupts absolutely,
or almost. Of course there are mothers,
squeezing their breasts
dry, pawning their bodies,
shedding teeth for their children,
or that’s our fond belief.
But remember – Hansel
and Gretel were dumped in the forest
because their parents were starving.
Sauve qui peut. To survive
we’d all turn thief

and rascal, or so says the fox,
with her coat of an elegant scoundrel,
her white knife of a smile,
who knows just where she’s going:

to steal something
that doesn’t belong to her –
some chicken, or one more chance,
or other life.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House