The Shortest Hike in the World

mantid

“Among the myrtles the mantids moved, lightly, carefully, swaying slightly, the quintessence of evil. They were lank and green, with chinless faces and monstrous globular eyes, frosty gold, with an expression of intense, predatory madness in them. The crooked arms, with their fringes of sharp teeth, would be raised in mock supplication to the insect world, so humble, so fervent, trembling slightly when a butterfly flew too close.” – Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals.

It’s past midnight and the party is still going strong. It happens every night and I’m never invited. Instead, I lie tossing and turning, listening to their high-jinks, romantic interludes and  occasional fighting. That’s what happens when your backyard is a jungle in a street of manicured lawns and trimmed hedges. The possums move in!

Brushtail Possum

Brushtail Possum

Though I live in a city suburb, my ½ acre patch of green is a haven for wildlife. My garden was a sanity saver when I first moved to the Brisbane area. While the house is very tiny and falling down around me, the garden is quite special. But there are some sacrifices to be made when sharing your life with wild creatures.  A decent night’s sleep and  encounters with highly venomous snakes  can be a couple of them. Like all good relationships there is some compromise involved, although lately I think I’ve been doing most of it! Occasionally I pitch my tent in the backyard, especially on hot evenings. I often hear more creature noises than when I camp in the bush.

This post is about the world’s shortest hike – a wander through my backyard. If you are an Australian reader, please forgive the descriptions of creatures that are common to you. It’s for the benefit of overseas readers for whom they might seem quite unusual. The walking track difficulty level is easy, especially for you as all you have to do is read it!  It can take me between 2 minutes and an hour depending on the  population of mosquitoes, how hot and humid it is  and whether or not I have my camera!

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell  was one of my favourite books as a child.  His tales of growing up in Corfu surrounded by creatures and his unusual family are highly entertaining. I gained comfort knowing that there was someone  as crazy as me about wildlife, even when it came to the smallest of creatures. I was one of those children who was  fascinated by insects. Back then it wasn’t the done thing for girls really. We were expected to squeal at the sight of anything “crawly.” I felt a little odd. Thankfully that has changed now.  Many years later, after my grandfather died, I discovered that in his younger days he was also passionate about creatures. Nana didn’t share this passion however, which is why by the time I arrived on the scene he had turned rather conservative.  Many people have heard of Steve Irwin. Well apparently my grandfather, Bill, was a quiet version of him. Grandpa used to catch venomous snakes by hand  to help  in the production of  anti-venom.  He loved all wild creatures and always  had a few of them about as pets even when he married and had children.  Perhaps there is a genetic component to this kind of behaviour? My own children had pet scorpions, giant rainforest cockroaches, centipedes and spiders!

So, let us begin the shortest hike in the world…

If you want to hear some quintessential Australian bush sounds then visit my garden. The droning of cicadas is constant most of the year. No, it’s not the pain and ringing of tinnitus – it’s the sound of hundreds of these little creatures. Usually I only see these  “shells” on tree trunks, but here’s a rare shot of a freshly moulted specimen.

live cicada

And here’s an empty “shell” after a moult.

cicada - shell

The only paper mail I seem to receive these days is bills. However, I’ve got a special mate now who helps me avoid even these.  He/she is my natural mail deflector. Not many posties enjoy delivering bills when a tree python is poking its head out of the slot. The ants’ nest also helps deter the poor postie.

snake

I wasn’t even aware that a few flying foxes were roosting high in my trees until a sudden heatwave stressed them. The poor suffering creatures  were extending their wings and moving up and down in a crazed state. I know how they feel! They eagerly lapped up the droplets of water I sprayed onto the foliage.  Unfortunately it was too late for some and they later dropped to the ground dead or turned into rotting corpses high in the tree branches. There is controversy over flying fox colonies here in Australia. The sound and smell of large colonies roosting in trees is extraordinarily bad. However, they are native to our country and perform a vital role in the pollination of native species of trees – some species even rely on them. It’s a tricky topic. They can carry Australian Bat Lyssavirus and Hendra virus although the incidence is rare. For this reason it’s  recommended that you don’t handle them. Read here for more information.

flying fox

flying fox baby

Moving along, here are a few of my bearded dragon friends. When I first moved in I’d sometimes see large numbers lounging about in the sun doing a form of lizard yoga but it seems the neighbours’ dogs and cats have decimated most of the population. A huge old  blue-tongued skink  would regularly  get underfoot and startle me but it seems to have mysteriously disappeared as well. Highly venomous brown snakes commonly make an appearance so I try to stomp rather than tiptoe around the garden to give them enough time to slide away.

lizard

lizard 3

Blue-tongued Skink

Blue-tongued Skink

There are good reasons why my fruit and vegetable production is limited. George, the scrub turkey is one of them. The amount of excavation he can do in just a few hours is quite incredible. I’ve found a few metal tipped arrows in my yard which has me wondering if his days are numbered. I don’t think the local gardeners appreciate his activities. George also enjoys trying to roost on the edge of pot plants which doesn’t speak much for his intelligence level. The pots are much too small to support him and just topple over. Then he tries the next one and the next one until all the pots are turned over. I hadn’t seen him in months and assumed he had moved on or become Christmas dinner. After transplanting herbs into about 20 pots, I left them unprotected near my back porch. Pots must set off some kind of guided signalling system for George though and later that day I discovered him doing his little pot sitting experiment.

George

George

Here is my red-headed stalker. King parrots visit from time to time. This one flies past my window to gain my attention. He’s quite a character and seems  devoted to me for some reason. Now if only I was a female king parrot, we could have a very beautiful relationship happening. Sadly, I haven’t grown any feathers yet though.

king parrot

And here is one of my noisiest, most intelligent visitors  caught with an apple stolen from my lunch table. Apparently previous owners kept large birds in an aviary and I suspect this may have been one of them as it is extremely tame…and cheeky!

cockatoo

Superb fairy wrens flit around regularly. The females are a dull reddish brown while the male struts around his harem displaying a vibrant sapphire-blue head.

superb fairy wren

Silver eyes and a little honeyeater

Silver eyes and a little honeyeater

Double banded finches nest in my bush lemon tree. The long thorns help protect them from predators although it doesn’t seem to stop the evil-eyed currawongs who wait until the chicks are nice and plump before raiding the nest.

double banded finches

Rainbow Lorikeets

Rainbow Lorikeets

Noisy friar birds make a loud cackling sort of sound and are not the most attractive of species but I still find them very entertaining.

 Noisy Friar Bird

Rainbow lorikeets and pale-headed rosellas try to use this nesting box, however the feral Indian Mynahs tend to drive them away. There is a great deal of romance going on in my back yard. Perhaps I am a little jealous!

rainbow lorikeet

On the subject of Indian Mynahs, here are a couple of chicks that fell out of the above nest.

Indian Mynah babies

I discovered them when small birds in my yard were complaining. A python is the usual culprit,  however this time a brown goshawk was the cause of all the cacophony.

goshawk

At night I sometimes hear the washing machine “woo-woo” sound of frogmouths and the eerie calls of bush stone curlews can be quite mournful.

Frogmouth

Frogmouth

curlew

Unfortunately the introduced cane toad is the usual amphibian I see here, although on the odd occasion I spot native species such as these.

frog

frog2Butterflies frequent my yard also – monarchs, common crows, blue triangles, glass wings and many smaller species that I can’t name.

DSCF3219

Here is a brief selection of other small critters I see about. Termites have me crawling under the dark recesses of the house regularly. The house is on concrete stumps with metal caps, designed to prevent termite infestation, however due to the shifting clay soil,  there are areas that can provide access points for termites. The dark  environment under the house is a cool resting spot for snakes so it’s not my favourite job. Obviously I haven’t inherited ALL of my grandfather’s zeal!

Lacewing larvae emerging from eggs

Lacewing larvae emerging from eggs

caterpillar

caterpillar 2

moth

spider

Orb weavers are common in my garden and I often walk into their webs.

Orb weavers are common in my garden and I often walk into their webs.

I love spiders...

I love spiders…

Night flowering cactus still open at dawn is enjoyed by the honey bees.

Night flowering cactus still open at dawn is enjoyed by the honey bees.

Enormous beetle larva found in decaying palm trunk.

Enormous beetle larva found in decaying palm trunk.

bug

In the wetter months, fungi pops up everywhere, and I battle with mould growth over natural wooden surfaces and leather shoes and belts inside the house.  Here is a small selection. Please don’t ask me their names! If you are a mycologist I would be glad of some help here. Despite being ignorant of the name species, I do find fungi, lichen, moss and mould fascinating…except when they grow inside my house of course.  At the moment I have a leaking roof which has encouraged a few growths in the past. I’ll have to get it fixed before the summer storms arrive otherwise the poor 6 foot carpet snake (my excellent rat-catcher) that is living in the ceiling may move out!

fungi

fungi

fungi

fungi

fungi

fungi

cage-fungi

fungi tall

fungi

fungi

fungi orange

My suburb is often affected by smoke in the bushfire season. Here’s a pic of one of the worst days we’ve had so far.

Smoke from bushfires.

Smoke from bushfires.

From time to time, my neighbour’s cat pops by to visit. Unfortunately she eats many of my birds and lizards despite being well fed and fat.  Australia’s fauna are particularly sensitive to the predatory behaviour of feral cats which have devastated certain species and continue to be a threat to our native populations.

My neighbour's cat preys on my native backyard visitors...

My neighbour’s cat preys on my native backyard visitors…

Well, it may have been the shortest hike in the world but it was filled with more wildlife than I usually see on my long hikes. The resilience of our Australian wildlife in the suburbs constantly amazes me.

For interesting Australian backyard blogs  I enjoy check out:

berowrabackyard.wordpress.com

bushboy54.com

Here is a pic of a particularly vibrant sunset from my front door to finish our wander.  I complain about city living but  I am very lucky to live where I do and on some occasions it doesn’t even feel like I have left the bush. Thank you for taking a walk through my backyard with me. Until next time.

Sunset from my home in the suburbs.

Sunset from my home in the suburbs.

42 thoughts on “The Shortest Hike in the World

  1. For someone who lives in the tropics, this is rather interesting. Thanks for this. 🙂 If you didn’t write a caption on the second to the last photo, All along I was thinking, it’s just the normal fog. Love the burning sky photo, btw.

    • Thanks for visiting and commenting, Chyrel. I’m glad you found it interesting. Yes, the bushfires last year left us with heavy smoke for weeks. It certainly didn’t smell quite as nice as a fog! 🙂

  2. Wow! I’m on the other side of the world (Alabama) and feel like I’m there. Jane thanks for sharing your backyard. Your photographs are amazing.

  3. Great post, Thanks for the mention…I am most pleased that you have the same appreciation of our world Jane. Lovely photos. Your small patch is certainly full of life and love.
    bushboy 🙂

    • I’ve really enjoyed being invited into your own “backyard.” You helped inspire me to share my own surroundings with others. Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Looking forward to seeing more pics from Bushboy’s life. 🙂

    • I’m glad you could take a “walk” with me through my backyard. Yes, it’s a bit crazy around here sometimes with all the wildlife! Thank you for taking the time to comment. 🙂

  4. What an amazing backyard!
    I believe your green frog is probably an Eastern Dwarf Tree Frog (Litoria fallax) and the brown one an Eastern Banjo Frog (Limnodynastes dumerilii) aka Pobblebonk. We often hear Banjo Frogs on our walks down here but I’ve never managed to spot one yet, so thanks for the photo!
    I wish I had a really good fungi book with photos or coloured pictures to aid identification, not just line drawings and word descriptions. They can be tricky to find – fungi are generally not included in plant reference books – because they’re not plants! It’s a big gap in the reference section of libraries.
    : )

    • Thanks Dayna for the species identification! I’m not great with my frogs at all. I love it when others can help me out.

      Yes, I would love a really good Australian fungi identification book. I see so many interesting ones but it’s often hard to know where to start when searching online for their names! I get lazy and often use the wisdom of twitter experts! The museum is a good source of help too however I don’t like to bother them much as they probably have so many requests.

      Thanks for your help! 🙂

  5. What a wonderful place, and in a suburb! It’s easy to see why you love living there. I enjoyed seeing all of the wild things that I don’t get to see here. Cicadas we have, but I had never seen on recently emerged. Amazing!

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the tour of my backyard! I’m often surprised by what manages to survive here. I am lucky that a neighbour’s yard adjoining my place is also a “jungle” as that gives the wildlife an extra large sanctuary. I am not sure how popular we are with the rest of the street though! I’m just hoping she doesn’t sell the block to a developer who wants to cut the place up or turn it into flats. That is what is happening to many of the larger blocks on our street. Thanks for dropping by and commenting. 🙂

  6. What a lovely walk… my goodness, so many beautiful photos! I loved the narration and i learned a lot. You have a real talent for writing. I truly loved reading this with my first morning cup of coffee. ~ Lori

    • Well, it’s almost midnight here and after reading your comment I will head off to bed with a smile on my face. What lovely feedback! I am very glad you enjoyed my musings and pics about my backyard. Thank you for the encouragement, Lori! 🙂

  7. Hi Jane, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post about the wild life which shares your urban space. Although I recognise some of the creatures from their Victorian cousins and have also encountered some from visits to Queensland, your subtropical environment is sooo different from Central Victoria where I currently live.
    I greatly admired your photographs. The King Parrot is stunning.

    • Hi Margaret, So lovely to hear from you! I’ve never been down to Victoria but hope to do so in the next year as I’d really love to see the different landscapes and wildlife down there. I am especially keen to see the Australian Alps.

      I’ve just had a quick peek at your blog and it looks very interesting. I must have a further read through when I have more time. I don’t actually know much about your area.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks! 🙂

    • Yes, I agree! It’s almost like they form the shape of a parent creature surrounded by the newly hatched larvae. The actual egg cases are only the size of pin heads and were laid on a ceiling beam of my verandah. Trying to take the picture while balanced on a rickety ladder was “interesting”. 🙂 That was the first time I had ever seen them emerging. Thanks for your comment! 🙂

  8. Great post Jane. We too have been enduring the mournful calls of the bush stone curlew. The wildlife keep me awake more than our human neighbours!

    • Thanks Amanda! Yes, the neighbours may have parties on the weekends, but the wildlife (especially the possums here) parties every night of the week! Amazing to live in a city and yet be surrounded with critters. I do see and hear more here than on my walks usually. 🙂

  9. What a gorgeous backyard. I only wish ours attracted this much wildlife. We’re working on it. Pity about the cats. We have 2 or 3 strays/neighbours cats that visit which I’m sure doesn’t help the wildlife. I love cats (we have 2), but they should be contained indoors.

    • Thanks, Cameron. At the moment I am possibly attracting too much wildlife in the form of termites! I have to keep an eye on my trees and house foundations in summer. I am disappointed about the cat as we have lost so many lizards and birds lately. It’s become much quieter. They truly are the ultimate predator. Like you though I really love cats as pets. I am more of a cat than a dog person. However, we have a family member who is allergic so we can’t have one as I would want to keep it indoors to protect wildlife. I am not sure I am too popular with the neighbours here… I think they blame me for the snakes. 🙂

  10. Thanks for this Jane – great pictures and a fascinating array of wildlife! I have to agree about brush turkeys – they certainly aren’t too clever judging by the behaviours of the flock of them in my backyard at the moment!

    • Hi!
      Thanks for reading and commenting. Nice to hear from you! Yes, brush turkeys are not the brightest of creatures. I do my chooks are geniuses compared to them! You have a flock of them in your back yard? Knowing the amount of mess my one visitor makes, I can imagine what chaos they are causing in your block! Amusing creatures, but oh so silly! I’m glad you could drop by. 🙂

    • Hi Robert!
      Thanks for reading and such lovely comments. I just had a peek at your blog (the Girraween pics) and commented. Your photos are beautiful! So much better than my amateur ones. You are not far away in Toowoomba. We may even bump into each other on walks one day. Thanks again! 🙂

  11. Pingback: The Shortest Hike in the World | Pollinator Link

  12. “We were expected to squeal at the sight of anything ‘crawly’ … Thankfully that has changed now.” In light of your recent encounter with the grey huntsman, you may have to revise that. Okay, I couldn’t resist; actually you’ve got some nice sharp spider pictures here.

    • Thanks very much, Stephen, and it’s great to hear from a new follower. I’m pleased you found something of interest in it enough to want to share it. I’ve never been to Singapore. Best wishes. 🙂

    • Hi!
      Thanks very much for your comment and for following my blog. I’m glad you found something of interest in it and it brought back some happy memories. I look forward to checking out more of your own blog posts when I get a chance. These days I don’t have as much time for the blogging world as I used to. It’s been a hectic year in many ways. It looks like you’re having plenty of great adventures and enjoying life! Best wishes. 🙂

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