Look in your own backyard

Blue Tongue lizardBy Guest Columnist Laurel Wilson

A couple of dozen people in green shirts were strolling through Mary Cairncross Reserve one morning last week – volunteers at the Maleny Visitor Information Centre. We were taking the opportunity to have a look around before the major renovation project starts. (The Rainforest walk will still be open, but the Information and Education Centre will be housed in a portable ‘donga’ for some months. A temporary café will be open soon, hopefully.) The Reserve is one of the major natural tourist attractions in the area, along with the view, over the road from the Reserve, of the ancient volcanic plugs, named by Captain Cook as the Glasshouse Mountains.

The Reserve is a 55 hectare patch of ‘original’ rainforest, of the type which covered the Southern end of the Blackall Range (as the local area is known) before Europeans cleared the land for timber and later, dairying. Fortunately, three sisters from the Thynne family who owned a farm in the area realised the value of retaining at least some of the land in as close to its original state as possible. In the 1940s, the land was willed to the local Council, on condition it remain as a natural area for recreation and education. So far, so good, with the Council even recently obtaining another area contiguous with the Reserve.

The Blackall Range is normally delightfully green year-round, and there are plenty of ‘Greenies’, including those who volunteer at the Mary Cairncross reserve, members and staff of local land care group Barung, members of Land for Wildlife, and for those with smaller blocks, Gardens for Wildlife, as well as what seems to be most of the townsfolk who strive to conserve the remaining remnants of bush as well as planting their own blocks and helping to plant and maintain native shrubs and trees on public land.

To take one example, there are dozens of pink cardboard triangles, each sheltering a native plant of some type, evident on the edges of the newly-opened nine-hole golf course which was developed on land known locally as ‘The Precinct’. Whether a golf course can be considered a ‘green’ initiative is the subject of some controversy in the area, but at least there is plenty of new native plant growth on the edges, along with some natives retained on the course itself.

With the amount of residential development evident in this area since we moved here some 14 years ago, it has become increasingly important to retain as much old growth as possible as well as plant new natives, not just for the aesthetics, but also to provide shelter for the many species of wildlife native to the area. The long-range plan is to develop extensive contiguous corridors of native bush.

Maleny local and passionate conservationist Susie Duncan is heavily involved in local group ‘Hinterland Bush Links’. The organisation, supported by Barung Landcare and funded by the Sunshine Coast Council and private donors, aims to connect pockets of remnant forest in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, extending from Caboolture to Gympie. This involves planting and maintaining native flora as well as weed control in established areas. Ultimately, these wildlife corridors could and should extend along the Great Eastern Ranges from Victoria to North Queensland – what has been called a ‘bird super highway’ for migratory species.

Bob and I have planted the banks of the little creek at the end of our block with native shrubs and grasses and neighbours on both sides have also contributed to these plantings, so for as far as we can see, this little waterway, which begins as a spring a few hundred meters to the west of our place, has a clothing of mainly native vegetation on both sides.

Even to a casual observer, the amount and variety of wildlife in this area is quite impressive. Mary Cairncross Reserve, for instance, is home to dozens of Pademelons- a small wallaby – which thrives in the shelter of the rainforest. I have often seen them at the Reserve, including the other day as we ‘Info Centre Vollies’ were strolling around. There is a great variety of animal and bird-life in the Reserve, as well as on the Range in general, including in our own backyard.

Even before joining ‘Gardens for Wildlife’, I was keen to plant natives on our block, with a view to providing food and shelter for wildlife. So far, we’ve managed to remove noxious weeds (eg three large Camphor Laurels, Lantana, Cobblers’ pegs, Plasmodium, Morning Glory – a constant ‘battle’) and develop a patch of rainforest trees at the end of the block. Last year, a biologist friend was very excited to recognise burrows of the endangered Euastacus urospinosus on our creek bank. This rare crustacean is found only on the Range, so we have resisted the temptation to go yabbying.

We’ve spotted Red-bellied black snakes quite frequently, also Green tree snakes, as well as what we think is a resident Carpet Python, though it might be its son or daughter or grandchild by now. They have a habit of finding their way into the ceiling space – the advantage of this to us is that there are no rats or possums up there. It gets a bit too hot in the ceiling space for the Python by August or September, so he (she?) decamps, via the verandah. At least, that’s where we’ve spotted them as they head to their summer residence. There’s often snake-skin evidence too, so perhaps we’ve had a family of them living up there? The pest control fellow, who was looking for termite evidence, not hunting snakes, brought about ½ dozen large skins down with him last time he was crawling around in the ceiling space. (Update – we now have a stereo pythons – one curled up under the front veranda eaves, and the other under the back veranda eaves. Both with very bulging bellies- probably a couple of rats have met their end.)

Haven’t seen any scary Brown Snakes around, though, thankfully. I like to believe what may be a bush myth that if you have Red-Bellied Black snakes, you won’t have Browns, as the former eat the young of the latter.

As for four-legged critters, we see (and hear) the Common Brushtail possums and have been visited by their bigger cousin the beautiful Mountain Brushtail. Bandicoots occasionally make an appearance, or leave their calling- card ‘potholes’ in the lawn. We think there may have been wild dogs on the creek when we first moved here, as our wuss of a German Shepherd was afraid to go down into the backyard at night. There are still wild dogs in the district, as the Council occasionally carries out a baiting program (wish there was a less cruel way to deal with them – the dogs, that is, not the Council). The Lace Monitor, bane of our neighbour whose chook eggs it eats, is occasionally seen, as well as Blue Tongue Lizards and Water Dragons.

Birds of several varieties can be seen from our back verandah, including the occasional Pheasant Coucal and sometimes at night, a Tawny Frogmouth. We also see Koels, Drongos, Kookaburras, Magpies, Butcher Birds, Brush Turkeys (who fortunately build their mounds on the bush block next door), Noisy Miners (well-named), Whipbirds, Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, Pale-headed Rosellas (fewer than there used to be) Rainbow Lorikeets, Wattle birds, Willy Wagtails, as well as smaller birds such as Thornbills, Finches and Scrub Wrens, though to see these I might have to stroll down to the end of the block to our small patch of rainforest. Butterflies are often seen flitting around as well – Orchard Swallowtails and Blue Triangles are two I’m familiar with. And once, even the rare Richmond Birdwing Butterfly. We’ve planted the host vine Aristolochia praevenosa to encourage these beautiful and endangered butterflies.

So, here’s a challenge for you – what’s in your backyard.

Here’s a selection of our block’s residents and/or visitors:

Little WattlebirdLeft – Wattlebird; Female KoelFemale Koel

 

Below –Rainbow Lorikeet, Kookaburra, Lace Monitor, Blue Tongue Lizard (above) Carpet Python (with bulging belly), Tawny Frogmouth

Rainbow LorikeetKookaburraLace MonitorCarpet snake with full bellyTawny Frogmouth