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male bower birdThis is the boy, and it’s hard to capture his true beauty in a photo.  He is a beautiful satiny blue-black and his eyes really are that colour.

And this is the girl.  She came inside to try to steal tomatoes and couldn’t figure out how to get out again.  Her plumage is a dull olive but her eyes are actually more violet, like her mate’s.
female bower bird

They are a nuisance.  They are hugely destructive in the garden, with a special partiality to broccoli or cabbage or cauli seedlings – anything with that blue tinge to the foliage.  They also like peas and snow peas and tomatoes and they peck carrots right out of the ground.  And they are intelligent – smart enough to Houdini their way in through fences and gates and netting.  The males steal anything blue to decorate their bower – pegs, pens, lego, bottle caps – you have to be really careful not to leave anything valuable (like a sapphire earring) on a dressing table.

The female was sure I was about to take revenge, but those eyes are so beautiful, it’s hard to stay angry.

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flying fox

In our olive tree this morning, no doubt blown around in the wild weather of the last few days.  Anyone a better bat identifier than me?  Is it  a very young, small black flying fox (Pteropus alecto ).  It’s the right face and colouring, but it is only about 30cm long and they grow to much larger.  And it was all alone and usually they roost in colonies.  And it is the southern end of their range.  Perhaps it is a little red flying fox (Pteropus scapulatus) with very dark colouring?  That’s more likely for size, but still it wouldn’t usually be alone.

Both species eat mainly nectar from native forest species and theoretically only eat fruit as a last resort. They must only get pushed to that last resort around here at guava season because our guavas are the only fruit they regularly raid.

And I’ll gladly pay them in guavas in their hungry season for the work they do as pollinators.  Pollinated flowers drop viable seed.  Viable seed grows into trees that I don’t have to raise and plant, trees that are useful for timber and firewood and shade and beauty and stopping soil washing away and most important of all these days, breathing in carbon dioxide and out oxygen.

Whoever you are, I hope you find your tribe little bat. You and your kind are an important little part of the giant planetary life support system we share, and each little jenga block we remove brings the whole tower that much closer to crashing down.

flying fox2

“You can’t see me now can you. “

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snake in the sock drawer

Finally, finally it has started to get cool.  Not really cool.  Not cool enough to put to rest my nagging unease that climate change is here, already.

“Mean temperatures were highest on record through central and southeast Queensland down into northeastern New South Wales, locally on the east Tasmanian coast and Bass Strait islands, parts of the Pilbara-Gascoyne and West Kimberley regions of Western Australia, and patches of northern Arnhem Land and the Gulf Country in the Northern Territory. Most of the rest of the country had mean temperatures for April that were above average or very much above average, with just an area in southwest Western Australia and along South Australia’s west coast recording near-average temperatures.”  So says Bureau of Meteorology for April.  I am scared to look what it will say for May.  It has been up to 12° above average here lately, which is ok in May.  But 12° above average in January – my mind skids away from that idea.  It’s an el Nino year this year, and next summer looks like it could be a la Nina one, so that spike might not come for a few years.  But it would have been so so so very much easier to avoid it than it is going to be to prepare for it.

Like me, the carpet snake likes warm weather.  He (or she – we’re not that friendly) has not gone properly into hibernation yet.  She’s just decided to have a little snooze, in the sock drawer.  Lucky it’s bare feet and sandals weather still.

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curcumelons

There’s a fine line between pleasure and pain – and cucamelons, I’ve decided you are the wrong side of it. This photo was last year.  This year I didn’t plant any, and weeded out most of those that came up on their own.  I let one go over the bed the chooks were in, thinking they might keep it under control, but this week I decided they’re too risky and the whole lot came out.

Cucamelons (or mouse melons – Melothria scabra) were all the rage there for a year or two.  For those who missed it, they’re little, melon shaped cucumbers.  Very cute.  And very, very prolific.

Sadly though to my taste they aren’t a keeper.  They’re not bad, a slightly lemony cucumber flavour, but the flesh is like the seedy part of a cucumber – rather watery and the skin is the only bit that makes them crunchy.  I made several salads out of them but while I had Suyo Long cucumbers, or Richmond Valley Whites, or Continentals, there was no way I was going to use cucamelons.  I pickled a batch, thinking they might go well pickled on a cheese platter but they ended up soft and sour – not nice.

Permaculturists, and gardeners in general, have been guilty of evangelising quite a few plants that turned out to be invasive pests.  There’s a very fine line between the permaculture ideal of a plant that is so hardy, it grows, survives, and self seeds and needs little management, and the permaculture nightmare of a plant that is so hardy, it grows, survives, and self seeds and can’t be managed. How do you select plants that fall on the right side of the line?

Australian bush food is wonderful – we grow finger limes and macadamias and Davidson plums and Burdekin plums  and lemon myrtle and Bunyas – but it isn’t going to happen that we live on bush food.  The long introduced European staples of peas and carrots are pretty safe from going invasive – they’re a long way out of their comfort zone.  It’s the others, the food plants adapted to  African desert countries or South East Asian tropical and sub-tropical countries that are both exciting and worrying. Olives are an invasive pest in the Adelaide hills. Taro (Colocasia esculenta) is regarded as an environmental weed in Queensland, New South Wales and south-western Western Australia. Passionfruit (Passiflora edulis) is regarded as an environmental weed in New South Wales and Queensland.  Queensland arrowroot (Canna indica) is an environmental weed in New South Wales and south-eastern Queensland. Coffee (Coffea arabica) is regarded as an environmental weed in south-eastern Queensland and northern Queensland.

Yet clearly, we aren’t going to give up drinking coffee.

And if we are going to drink it, it is going to be grown somewhere, and I’m a firm firm believer that out of sight, out of mind isn’t a solution.

The tests for me:

  •  It has to be really good to eat, so much so that it is going to be harvested.  So much so that I know that even if I were to be hit by a bus, someone would bother to come and harvest it (which is the case with olives or coffee or passionfruit around here).
  • The local wildlife has to not spread the seeds.  So either they love eating it so much that it doesn’t get to seed (which is the case with Leucaena or Queensland arrowroot or Taro around here), or they don’t like it at all.
  • I have to be able to grow it in a careful, close, watched way, well away from bushland, for a season or two to see what it does.

Sorry cucamelons.  You’re not good enough for number one. I’m not at all sure about number two.  And I gave you a season and you blew it.

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willy wagtail on nest

The figbird is not the only one nesting in our pecan tree, just off the verandah.  The wagtail makes such a classic, neat nest. Come on baby wagtails. Hatch in time to knock out the cabbage moths.

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fig bird

Can you see her?  This fig bird and her mate have built a nest in the pecan tree just metres from our verandah.  Males and females are supposed to take turns sitting but she seems to have been doing more than her fair share.  The nest has been riotously buffeted in a big storm, the noisy minors have taken noisy offense to the gentrification of the area, a goanna has had a go at climbing out along the branch, we’ve had a couple of 40° days and still she sits there stoically.

The eggs should by rights be hatching any day now.  No doubt they will eat my figs, and my mulberries and nashi but mainly they eat native figs and rainforest soft fruits. And then they deposit the seeds pre-fertilized with manure.

We have a very magical little patch of remnant rainforest at the bottom of the gully leading down the hill from my place.  The gully itself has some lovely big seed trees – native tamarinds, blue quandongs, deep yellowwood, sweet pittosporums, figs, hoop pines, red cedars – but it was logged half a century ago and it let lantana and rampant vines get a foothold.  Most Wednesday mornings this year I’ve spent a couple of early morning hours with a Landcare group clearing lantana.  We have thrown buckets of collected local rainforest seeds into the cleared areas but I suspect the fig bird will be much more successful than me at getting them to germinate and grow.  So I’m glad she is breeding her own workforce.

And meantime we get the exaulting experience of watching for babies – wonderful in pretty well any species.

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koala

Spotted on my morning walk, a fine fat fellow looking very relaxed in a tree right next to our driveway.  I don’t think it is a tree we planted but the one right next to it is.

Our daughter was given some tickets to Currumbin Wildlife Park on the Gold Coast a couple of weeks ago, so we took six month old grandson Teo for a day out.  And it was a very pleasant day.  But it was more interesting, and eye opening,  for me to see people reacting.  Sometimes I need to be reminded how privileged I am.

It is easy to imagine if you live in a city that wildlife is happily safely securely flourishing “somewhere else”.  You hear about extinctions but maybe you don’t get just how profound it is. Good solid science, not greenie hyperbole,  says we are now entering this planet’s sixth mass extinction, the biggest loss of diversity since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. In earlier mass extinctions, something up towards 90% of the world’s species went extinct.  Huge numbers.

Eventually of course life finds a way – or at least it always has up till now.  Evolution starts with the species left and diversifies, because in diversity there is resilience.  But in the meantime life is pretty skinny.  And the “meantime” is longer than my poor little human brain likes to contemplate. I can only really care, personally as opposed to philosophically, as far as maybe my great great grandkids. But I’d really really like them to see a koala happily munching gum leaves.  I’d really really like them to have the magnificent experience of sitting at the headland at Point Lookout watching whales breaching as they migrate north to give birth.  I’d like them to catch guppies in a creek and marvel at water skaters and spider webs. I’d love them to know there are tigers and lions and gorillas even if we never see one. It wrenches my heart to imagine a world where “once upon a time, there used to be big pure white bears that could catch fish to eat in the frozen icelands of the north pole”.

Greenies get bad press for creating a fuss and blocking “development” about saving “some frog somewhere”, as if this is a ludicrous and extreme concern.  But we are looking square down the barrel at losing 90% of the world’s species.  Each one of them food for or a predator for another one, the loss of one setting off chains of reactions that spread like one of those massive domino art pieces.  And somewhere in that array of dominoes is the human species feeling all chuffed and superior and forgetting that loaves and fishes are plants and animals and part of that 90%, just like us.

Protectors at Maules Creek in north western NSW have just managed a huge effort over the long weekend, camping out in the cold, walking long distances through the night to get around road blocks designed to stop them,  nearly 100  arrested, to hold off forest clearing contrary to its conditions of approval (ie illegal) by Whitehaven Coal till an injunction could be obtained from a court. Leard Forest has nationally-listed and critically endangered tree species, home to nearly 400 species of plants and animals including threatened and endangered species. That’s the choice – more coal, or one less domino down.

And then, last week at the Australian Local Government National General Assembly, Griffith Council moved that ALGA write to the State and Federal Government requesting it to intervene and determine that exploration and mining of CSG in agriculturally productive land not be permitted. Motion: Lost. Moyne Shire Council sought the support of the National General Assembly in opposing the exploration for and extraction of Coal seam, tight and shale Oil gases in Australia. Motion: Lost. Gunnedah Council has moved a motion asking the Federal Government to retain the primary responsibility for the approval of resource projects, coal seam gas in particular and provide regulation which best preserves and protects our natural resources. Motion: lost. Rural councils that see the extent of the devastation of both natural environments and farming lands are being outvoted by city councils that see only places like Currumbin.

And the saddest thing is, there is no need for this mass extinction.  It’s not a massive comet or a huge volcanic eruption blocking out the sun.  It’s just being a bit too slow to react to the very real threat. It’s being suckered by a handful of beads for the world.

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turtle and eggsWe have a star bath.  It’s a heavy cast iron bath in a very unfashionable shade of green with a fireplace under it.  It sits out in the open with a clear view of the wide starry sky, and on cold winters nights we fill it up and light a fire under it.  A glass of wine, a candle, a hot bath that stays hot for as long as you like and a zillion stars.

It does’t get used over summer and fills up with leaves and rain, so it’s always a bit of a mission at the beginning of winter to clean out the bath.  Today we emptied it, pulled out a big pile of leaves, and there she was.  I don’t know how this turtle found her way to our bath.  We’re a bit of a distance  in turtle miles from the creek, and it’s all uphill.  It felt quite mean to disillusion her – she must have thought she was the smartest turtle in the country to find such a good place to settle down and start a family.

A knowledgeable friend says they take 80 days to hatch and the mother just leaves them to it. She pulled her head in and refused to discuss the matter. So we relocated the eggs into a pile of leaves in a tub with a bit of water in my shadehouse, and the mother headed off at turtle pace.  And the stars were amazing tonight.

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baby antichinus

This morning, lying in bed with my cup of coffee (yes, I get coffee in bed every morning), a mother antechinus ran along the window ledge with four babies clinging to her back, and dropped them into my handbag.  A few minutes later, she was back with another lot, and another.  In total, there were twelve babies, dropped into my bag.  And she was off.  Handbag day care.

Now what do I do with a dozen, very cute baby antechinus in my handbag?

If you’re reading this in an urban area, or outside Australia, you probably haven’t met antechinuses. Antechinuses look a bit like large mice with a pointy nose but they are actually marsupials, more closely related to koalas than mice.  They are mostly insectivorous, so they don’t raid the larder and they specially love cockroaches, and baby mice. They don’t smell like mice do, and they don’t chew cables, but they do love making nests in odd places, and they steal and shred clothing (for some reason they particularly like knickers) for making their nests. And they’re not house trained. In urban areas cats have eliminated them, and though they’re not particularly endangered in the bush, they are native and protected.

The babies won’t survive on their own.  But I need my purse and keys and…

So what’s a good wildlife protector to do?

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