Possum wallaby woes

With the big dry affecting many parts of Gippsland in Victoria (Australia), the amount of feed for wallabies, possums and other wildlife has diminished.  So what do they do when there’s no fresh grass?

With drought affecting Phillip Island and no sign of rain on the long term weather forecast, it’s looking a bit grim for the hungry hordes of animals on the reserve out the back of our place.  When they run out of green grass, what do they do? Why, they come checking out nearby properties for any titbit that’s green and edible.

Here the wildlife can choose to browse any number of properties and farms.  However, many are fully fenced, located in suburbia, or don’t have gardens because they’re only occupied for a few months each year.  That leaves places where humans reside during summer, and who plant and tend juicy horticultural things in our gardens.

ONCE UPON A TIME …

Our house backs onto a reserve.  Once upon a time it contained mangroves, shrubs and tall native grasses.  Seawater flooded much of it at high tide.  Of course, it would’ve been loved and used by many animals and hundreds of different birds.

Then a moron came along and turned it into a farm, building a land bridge to stop the tide, and whacking in cows so they could stroll along eating what little grass they could find and trampling on the native grasses, plants and mangroves.

One day about 6-8 years ago (can’t recall exactly when), the moron removed the cows and allowed the land to go back to its natural state.  And wow, has it flourished without that constant trampling.  Unfortunately rabbits and foxes moved in.  The Council undertook a baiting program to remove foxes from the island, but you’ll all know what happens to rabbit numbers when there’s no longer any predators.

MARCH OF THE MULTITUDES

Rabbits aside, the wallabies moved in.  Then the Cape Barren geese built nests in the swaying grasses, along with ducks and purple swamp hens (affectionally called pukekos in our household, because that’s what I knew them as growing up in NZ).

A plethora of other smaller birds also became common, and the possums think life is akin to nirvana.  We’ve even got snakes, echidnas and blue tongued lizards.  It’s helped enormously that a few neighbours added a permanent supply of water in troughs along the boundary fence.

So a multitude of critters great and small now have water, edible food, and places to hide and sleep.  The price they pay for that is competition for food and having to tolerate annoying human beings on one side of the fence.  They get their own back, as you will see.

SUMMER TIME AND THE LIVING IS …

In early summer, the animals and birds are very well behaved.  They eat their grass, wild fruits and seeds, they drink the water, they blink at us from a distance, and in the late afternoon they may visit a human’s property for a sticky beak.

Come late summer, with no decent rain for a few months and grasses effectively dried up, many creatures are struggling to find enough to eat.  So they come a-calling.  Every last single one of them.

WHO’S BAD …

  1. Possums

Possums are by far the worst.  Scungy fluffy cute little critters they may be, but they’re incredibly effective at knocking off everything.

Last week, in one night, they ate the ENTIRE crop of the neighbour’s flourishing and massive passionfruit crop.  That was hard to bear.

You cannot grow herbs or fruits without them being decimated.  Same deal for any vegetables at all – including hot chillies – because they’ll be munched by rats, rabbits, wallabies, possums, pukekos and a few other lurking creatures I’m probably not aware of.

Possums also love flower seedlings, and any plant with pelagonium or geranium in its title.  They pull them out by the roots, leaving nothing to continue growing.

Normally wildlife don’t touch succulents.  But when possums get peckish, the succulent collection is prey to a horror story.  Mine sit on a table above wallaby height, and the possums have to get through a barrage of spikey yukka plants to reach them.  So at this stage, they’re relatively untouched.  The neighbour, however, has suffered a posse of possums having a late night party and knocking the pots off their shelf, followed by the indignity of being trodden on and nibbled.

ALL my geraniums have suffered badly.  The larger ones planted in the garden have been jumped on and squashed flat during a myriad of night time possum parties.  Then they chow down on any juicy new growth, leaving a few bare stalks.  If the geranium is in a pot, it finds itself upside down on the ground and pulled out by its roots.

  1. Wallabies

Next up on the Bad List are the wallabies.  Anything they can reach is subject to a taste test, then nibbled at until destroyed.  Even caught a baby wallaby on my back verandah chewing at a spiny spikey succulent.

When really hungry, they chow down on succulents of all kinds including our huge jade bushes, shrubs (irrelevant whether they’re native or not), pelargoniums, herbs and climbers.

I’ve double fenced many areas, which the weeds have taken advantage of because it’s that much harder to reach over and pull them out.

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Baby wallaby drinking from our dilapidated birdbath
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Young wallaby in the reserve – “it wasn’t me …”
  1. Pukekos

Don’t actually mind pukekos.  They just mosey around and mind their own business, pecking the tripes out of the lawn to find juicy bugs.  They’re murder on water sources though –  dig up plants and poop into the water rendering it undrinkable for anything.

  1. Pheasants

Yes you’re correct, pheasants aren’t native to Australia.  Neither are dogs, cats, rabbits, foxes and a squillion other creatures the Brits left us with (yes, I’m from English/Scottish stock so this failure to think things through might’ve had something to do with my ancestors, but I like to think they were smarter than that).

Two pheasants escaped from a (now defunct) local pheasant farm some years ago (see my previous post).  Ferdinand was the original escapee and somehow Felicity has done a runner as well.  We’re very grateful – he was a lonely boy without her.  Figured a snake would’ve got them in the intervening years, but they’re actually alive and well.

They like to scratch through the soil, digging up grass and plants and leaving bare dry earth in its place.  It’s a nuisance, but at least they’re not eating my remaining precious plants or stealing lemons from the neighbour’s lemon tree.

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Ferdinand pecking in the backyard

END OF GARDEN CAPERS

So there you go.  We love the wildlife deeply, even have a possum box on the back verandah, but I really wish they’d go visit someone else’s property.

In the meantime, I continue to learn the lesson to only plant things they hate to eat, and buy all my fruit and vegetables from the supermarket.

Crabby crustaceans

As part of the Sketchbook Project, an idea for painting crustaceans – crabs mostly – came to fruition.

When wandering through the wonderful Daisu in Melbourne, I chanced upon a small ream of blank music paper. Being a devotee of paper, I thought it’d be useful for a painting. Duly purchased, I popped it into my stuffed-to-the-gills craft cupboard for future use.

The Sketchbook Project was a good reason to fish it out. My initial thought was to draw musical notes and paint a creature over the top. The idea evolved into two pages showcasing crustaceans and shells found on our local beach on Phillip Island, plus a way to incorporate tiny shoes that weren’t too obvious.

Getting it done

Fortunately I learned music for decades in my youth, so crafting clefs and notes wasn’t too difficult. It did give me an appreciation for composers though. How tedious drawing all those notes. I haven’t played either tune on the piano – I suspect it’ll be very discordant.

Sourcing sea urchins and shells was easy as I’d collected them from our beach over the years. The tricky part was determining the best ones to use. In the end laziness won out and I used the first ones that came to hand.

I had a number of very fragile upper “shells” from deceased sand crabs so used those as a main point of reference. Sadly some shells didn’t make it through the process – you only had to move one and it’d shatter. Bit crushing really (I do like the odd pun).

Soldier crabs scatter themselves along our beach in their millions so it was a case of sneaking along to take photos. I’ve recently bought a Canon digital camera with 65x zoom so it’s brilliant for sneaky photographing of creatures in the distance. Can’t be bothered fiddling with changing lenses and all that fanatical cleaning, so this was an excellent compromise.

And so the drawing developed. The music paper was surprisingly robust and didn’t buckle too much until I went to adhere it to the journal (as you will see below). Still, it was better than painting watercolour on the actual journal pages – they’re such poor quality, they buckle if you happen to sneeze.

The drawing of the Sergeant and Lieutenant Soldier Crab is about four times actual size, while Monsieur Sand Crab is actual size. Call this artistic license!

Here’s the finished paintings.  Oh, and by the way, see if you can spot the shoes.

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Sand crab

Firstly the initial idea is worked out …

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How will the music around the crab work?

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Then it’s drawn in more detail and the first washes added.

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The music is left in pencil at this stage as I don’t want the notes to show under the crab.

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More detail is added and the notes are drawn in waterproof black pen.

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And here’s the final sand crab painting.

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Soldier crabs & sea urchins

Again, the detail is worked out first.  The final pencil drawing comes together.  At this point I have shells, sea urchins, crab shells and the iPad all clamouring for space on the desk.

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The final pencil drawing is copied over in black waterproof pen.

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The washes and detail are slowly added.

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And the final painting …

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