“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!
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.
And here’s an empty “shell” after a moult.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
On the subject of Indian Mynahs, here are a couple of chicks that fell out of the above nest.
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.
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.
Unfortunately the introduced cane toad is the usual amphibian I see here, although on the odd occasion I spot native species such as these.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.