Refugee found squatting at deceased estate

Sound like a headline from the Daily Mail ?

Nesting box close to front verandah

The nesting box in daylight: am quite happy for this nearby resident to be overlooking us.

The ‘deceased estate’ refers to the nesting box which was previously occupied by a brushtail possum. Alas, only a week or two after taking up residency I’d found a cold, dead body on the road outside. While Mr S had tried his best to reassure me that it wasn’t likely to be ‘our’ possum, climbing up a ladder in daylight to peer inside the nest box confirmed the truth – the box was indeed empty.

But we now have a ring tail possum in residence.

We’ve had our troubles with the nest boxes in our Victorian garden, and much of it has been caused by the pest bird Indian Mynas. They effectively deterred the Rosellas and Lorikeets, not by nesting in the box themselves, but by making it uninhabitable for any other bird. The Mynas simply stuffed the box with so much rubbish and bullied any native bird that came near that, eventually, the native birds gave up trying. Over time we modified the boxes in so many anti-Myna ways, removing anything that a Myna could perch on and adding myna baffles (it’s said that they won’t enter a hole unless they can approach it straight-on from the front), but nothing worked to keep them at bay. Then I noticed that a possum had been trying to get into the box – he’d tried to push the baffle up out of the way and had also attempted to prize off the fascia to gain access to the larger, more possum-sized entry hole behind.

Maybe the possum would outwit the Mynas? We thought we’d give him the chance and remodelled the box for a final time, and moved it from the back garden to the front. As already mentioned, the brush tail possum, the first permanent resident, lasted no more than a fortnight before he was run over nearby, and the box has lain empty for quite some time.

Possum in nesting box

Grand designs: not the ideal sized entrance for this small ring tail, but does he care?

Yesterday evening, with the light just fading after another 40 deg day, Mr S called me outside. He’d noticed a head had just poked out of the nesting box, and very soon much of the body was visible too. He looks to be a ring tail possum this time, and I’m wondering whether he might even be the same ring tail that I happened upon two weeks ago, in the midst of the last heatwave. (Yes, it really is only around two weeks since the last heatwave.)

It was 2pm – when possums should be safely asleep in their nest hollows- and I found a heat stressed ringtail desperately trying to cross the blistering tarmac road. After every few steps he stopped and sat down on the hot road surface, frantically licking his paws to cool them. It’s hard to explain to a possum that, just like over hot coals, it might be better to dash across as fast as you can, so I got behind him in the road and encouraged him across to the grass verge, where he was able to reach the temporary safety of a nearby tree, and I then put down a bowl of water close by.

Whether our new resident is that same ring tail possum who was seeking refuge from the ghastly heat, I don’t know. Regardless, if there aren’t enough tree hollows in the bushland across the road, or even if they’re climate change refugees, we’re happy to take them if they’re happy to move in to a deceased estate.


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Filed under Environment, Native fauna, Uncategorized, Victoria

Why this heat gets on my nerves

The heat is on.

The heat is on.

So, Victorians are in their bunkers, under onslaught from yet another period of extreme temperatures. Tomorrow (Sun 2nd Feb) is set to be 41 deg C where I am at present. After the experience with the heatwave of just a couple of weeks earlier some may still be looking for ideas of how to keep cool as the mercury rises.

Excessive heat is more than just an inconvenience, it can be a very real danger to health, and those of us with MS have a different reason to dread these extreme weather events: heat exacerbates the symptoms of many – if not most – of us with MS. We already have problems with nerve impulse transmissions in the areas of demyelination (where we’ve lost the protective covering of the nerves) and the heat slows down the transmission rate even further. Our everyday symptoms typically worsen and symptoms that we thought we’d well and truly recovered from return to torment and tease us during times of elevated temperatures. Just a tiny increase (sometimes even less than +0.5 deg) in the body’s core temperature is enough to cause these sorts of problems.

While the rest of population may be still struggling to find the best ways to keep their cool in these extreme temperatures we, through the experience of having to deal with just ‘everyday’ temperatures throughout the warmer seasons each year, are likely to have already hit upon something that works for us. A favourite I’ve had that’s been holding up well for years is one of those neck coolers that was DIY-ed by enclosing water-holding crystals in a fabric tube. For use, it gets dunked in water until the crystals swell to fill the tube in a jelly-like mass, and then slapped around the neck for hours of relief (they really do stay wet & functional for so much longer than cloths alone.) Cooling vests can be made in a similar manner, even hat liners and such.

If you haven’t yet found a good way to stay cool MS Australia has an expanded ‘Top 10 ways to beat the summer heat’ , and a couple of weeks ago the ABC website published Tanya Ha’s ‘26 tips to beat the heat without air-conditioning’ on their Environment pages. Both worth a read for ideas that are accessible and easy to accomplish, that can make a big difference to anyone’s level of comfort during these ever more frequent hot spells.

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Filed under Health, Uncategorized, Victoria

Getting to know the locals

Superb Fairy-wren

Superb Fairy-Wren outside the bedroom window (Tas)

One of the exciting things about moving to a new area is getting to know the locals. We’ve already met and engaged with all our new neighbours and, as you frequently hear about Tasmanians, they are a most friendly and welcoming bunch of people. You’ll read more about these lovely people in later posts; they’ve already been so generous and helpful even though we have yet to move in good and proper.

But getting to know the locals – for me –  is not just about new neighbours and the new community around where we’re living, but also very much about making myself familiar with the flora and fauna of a new environment. Since I came to Australia from England at the end of 1987 I (thankfully) have never lost that sense of child-like wonder at Australia’s natural environment. I spend a lot of time – some might say too much time – distracted by it, particularly entranced by the bird and animal life in this country.

Eastern Rosella

Crimson rosella in the garden (Vic) – we have them in abundance

Moving to Tasmania means our local wildlife is going to be quite different to that which we experience in Victoria and, already, the visitors to our garden and the co-residents on our Tasmanian block have been diverting my attention from some of the more tedious tasks that I should probably be concentrating on instead!

I’ve already spoken of the unfortunate demise of a white-lipped snake in the vegetable garden, and a couple of days after that incident one of his elders (an adult of around 50cms) turned up basking in the sun beside the water tank next to the house. While venomous, it’s reassuring to know that they’re the least venomous of Tasmania’s three snakes and the white-lipped is rather a timid creature too, so as soon as he sensed me moving nearby he moved off into some cover adjacent to the tank and I lost sight of him. But he was back the next day, into the same spot close to the house. After a couple more days of our frequent human activity in that location it looks like he has moved on to a new home in a quieter neighbourhood.


This handsome skink in the garden seems blissfully unaware that he’d make a hearty meal for a passing white-lipped snake (Tas)

It’s easy to see why white-lipped snakes might be happy to reside in our garden; small lizards and skinks, one of the primary food sources of white-lippeds,  are to be seen just about everywhere! Every convenient surface seems to have a skink stretched out in the warm sun, and the sight of them in the firewood pile brought to mind one of those Japanese capsule hotels, with literally layers of skinks stacked high, heads and bodies poking out of many of the crevices between logs.

It almost goes without saying in Tasmania, but the pademelons come as part of the package deal, thumping the ground as they emerge from our woodland at dusk to graze on the grass areas near the house. Often six, up to a dozen, of these rather rotund looking marsupials visiting each evening, but not enough of them to keep the grass well enough trimmed without intervention by a mower.

Echidnas have been regular visitors to our garden in Victoria, digging their way in under the side fence, or sometimes daring to cross the road to reach our supply of ants in the garden, but our Tasmanian home apparently plays host to a Platypus that moves through the small rivulet in the woodland area of our block and has been seen in our neighbour’s dam.

visiting echidna

One of our visiting echidnas (Vic), with remnants of dinner left on his face

Birds too are refreshingly different. In Victoria our most common garden visitor has to be the chattering Crimson Rosellas, but in Tasmania we’re most frequently awoken to the gentler sounds of the Superb Fairy-Wrens on the large lily spikes outside the bedroom window. Herons, black cockatoos, a couple of varieties of robins, honeyeaters, the grey shrike thrush and wattle birds have so far visited our Tassie garden; the call of the bronzewings can be heard echoing up the valley, and I’ve also caught sight of the Tasmanian wedge-tail eagle just up the road.

I’ll miss some of our Victorian feathered friends when we make our final move, but the one bird I’ll be glad to leave behind is the villainous Indian Mynah, an introduced pest that has now overrun our eastern states.

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Filed under Environment, Native fauna, Tasmania, Uncategorized, Victoria

Mad as a Cut Snake

After more than four weeks away from our Tasmanian property, we were greeted with a few surprises on our return just after Christmas. The long forsaken vegetable garden (already overgrown as evidenced by the previous photos) was now thigh deep in weeds and grass; the ample Spring rains had also prompted previously unnoticed thistles to push upwards and outwards into an unrestrained burst of growth. The juncus across our wetland areas had multiplied and was now densely packed, tall, toughened reeds.  All remaining grassed areas across the 5 acres (bar the choice spots that the Pademelons like to graze) were now think and lush. The delicate flower heads of the grasses had shot skywards, effectively further doubling the height, giving the appearance of a shimmering ocean of pink with the seed heads bobbing in the gentle breeze. And the blackberries? I shudder at the thought of the task ahead of us.

Recut of central path

An accidental death soon follows recut of first path

Looking back at that last photo of the vegetable garden it’s pretty difficult to even see what infrastructure might already exist under all that growth but, after tackling some of the other priorities first and having waved goodbye to visiting family, we were left with a couple of days to see what potential treasures could be unearthed. I’d hoped we’d be able to have the paths carved through between the beds so that I could at least access and work on individual beds so ‘Mr Sarah’, dressed with gauntlets and gumboots, boldly set-to with a whipper-snipper.

The process, pretty difficult through such dense growth, started slowly but uneventfully. But not for long……

Kerthwack.  Thump. Splat.

White lipped snake

White lipped snake. Image source: Peter Robertson/Museum Victoria

I was summoned to inspect a casualty. A juvenile White Lipped Snake, of about 35cms had apparently been minding its own business in the undergrowth and got whipper-snippered up. It was beheaded in one stroke, with a further two body pieces being unceremoniously flung from the head of the machine.

A cut snake indeed. But cut so quickly that he didn’t even have the opportunity to get mad. I inspected the head and saw that the eyes were still wide open and staring at me accusingly, and a past experience compelled me to utter some sort of apology for contributing to his death.

No, it’s not the first time I’ve found myself apologising to a snake. Last Easter, on the other side of Bass Strait at our residence in Victoria, Mr S was dismantling a pile of logs at the base of one of our magnificent old eucalypts when he unearthed a slumbering tiger snake.

Echidna by tiger snake residence

Perhaps Echidna knew Tiger Snake was underneath these logs. We didn’t!

The autumn weather was already pretty chilly and the Tiger Snake had probably settled in for the coming winter, not expecting to be so rudely awoken.  Being so close to our front door we hoped to encourage him to move on to a more suitable spot – we’re just metres away from the boundary of Monument Hill Reserve, with just a road width between us, so Mr S hatched a plan to encourage him to shift. We set up an artificial rain shower and, from a safe distance, aimed the hose at him, just a very gentle shower at first, then turning into the equivalent of heavy rain. It took about an hour of ‘heavy rain’ to actually get him to move, and then he was only game to slither into the relative safety of a few nearby shrubs, still in our yard.

Oh well.

Over the next few days I’d just keep an eye open as I moved between the front door and my van, and sometimes I’d even acknowledge our resident tiger snake with a few words of greeting, even though he remained hidden in the shrub, unseen. I somehow knew he was still there and I became quite accustomed to knowing he was close at hand – I was always alert, but not alarmed. 

One sunny day, seated at the computer, I happened to catch sight of a car as it drove past our house. It went past, but then reversed back into my field of vision, the driver winding down his window, looking straight down at the bitumen, before moving forward again and driving off. As I raced out into the road, I already knew what I’d see, before I’d even reached the spot. Yes, it had finally been a warm enough day for our tiger snake to seek out a better home, but not quite warm enough to enable him to move swiftly enough to evade harm.

Yes, he’d been run over (and the driver was clearly amazed to find a snake crossing the road so late as at the end of April), and when I reached the snake he was just hanging on to his last moments of life. Just enough time for me to look him straight in the eye and offer a heartfelt apology before he died.

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Filed under Environment, Native fauna, Tasmania, Uncategorized, Vegetable garden

Monument Hill Management Plan

Four of us from BEAM got together early yesterday morning and had a breakfast meeting – but without the breakfast. Recently released is the Draft Monument Hill Management Plan – Mitchell Shire Council but it’s only open for public comment until 10th January.

Anyone interested in submitting should get their skates on. There’s  so much that needs addressing, but not so much time before the due date.

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Filed under Environment, Kilmore, Uncategorized, Victoria

No-dig garden beds – an overly literal interpretation?

The infrastructure is all there – 8 or 12 raised garden beds set in a Pademelon-proof enclosure. However the previous owner’s interpretation of the no-dig garden bed method seems to be overly literal: the whole lot looks like it’s probably suffered neglect and abandonment for most of the 4 years that they lived there!

Previous owner's interpretation of 'no dig' garden beds!

A literal interpretation of ‘no dig’ garden beds!

We couldn’t get past the gate, let alone find a path between the beds, until after a brisk attack with a whipper snipper to clear a couple of tracks into the plot.  I did manage to hand weed one of the beds, which must have been in use a little more recently, as I unearthed a number of strawberry plants (far left of the pic below), all still looking reasonably healthy.

Partial path cut through; strawberry plants  resurrected

Partial path cut through; strawberry plants resurrected

The other beds are going to take some serious work to restore, as the grass and weeds are so deeply entrenched that I could neither pull them out or cut down to the full depth of their roots. I had time between the lengthy showers of rain to take the growth of one bed back down to about 10cms with shears, and I think I’ll be following my nephew’s advice and smothering them with carpet/blanket/heavy newspapers, with the hope that they’ll break down over a couple of months or so.

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Filed under Tasmania, Uncategorized, Vegetable garden