Creating a backyard environment that encourages birds and animals to visit and linger provides a fabulous opportunity to observe the habits and antics of wildlife right on our doorstep. And of course, gives back a little that we have all participated in taking from our natural surroundings.
Water is a daily necessity for most birds. By placing the water off the ground and close to a high, protected perch, birds can visit the water supply in safety. Keep water clean to prevent the spread of disease.
Spring is a great time of year for gardening. Establishing a garden with ground-covers, grasses, shrubs and trees will create a 'layered' habitat for birds and animals. Using native plants in the garden will simulate native habitat, and be drought tollerant.
Dumping garden soil and green refuse might sound like a relatively harmless way to get rid of organic waste, but it is in fact extremely detrimental to the natural environment, and should be totally avoided.
Garden soil containing seed, tubers or remains of exotic plants discarded on roadsides or in gullies or paddocks has introduced severe infestations of weeds to the countryside. These exotic plants often become rampant and displace vital native vegetation, therefore completely altering the bird, animal and intertebrate populations of an area.
It is important for gardeners to be aware of the serious and permanent impact escaped exotic plants can have on the environment as the pleasant spring days encourage us to rejuvenate our gardens.
Top: Agave americana from Mexico has at times been a popular garden plant in Australia, due to its drought-tolerant characteristics, but thoughtlessly discarded, it reproduces rampantly and displaces all other vegetation [correction edit: I had initially incorrectly labelled this plant an Aloe species from Africa - many thanks to the reader who thoughtfully corrected me]. And bottom: Fresias, like most garden bulbs, will multiply unrestricted in the wild preventing native herbs and orchids from taking hold. Garden plants might look pretty in the bush, but they are weeds, and have no place outside of the garden.
As daytime temperatures rise, reptiles will leave their winter shelters and seek food and mates. The sudden sight of a lizard tail disappearing amongst garden clutter can evoke the same fear as that of a snake sighting in our living space. But if contact is avoided, lizards are harmless, and are excellent natural insect and snail controllers.
Most lizard species only become active when the air temperature is well above 15 degrees Celcius. Consequently, most species of Hunter Valley lizard enter a torpor (semi-hibernation) over winter. They will emerge to bask in the sun on warm winter days, but will rarely feed. As the daytime temperature becomes consistantly warmer, lizards will become active.
The Eastern Water Dragon, Physignathus lesueurii, that made its home in my fern garden earlier in the year, has returned after disappearing for the three months of winter, while the Bearded Dragon, Pogona barbata, that spent much of summer and autumn in my backyard woodheap, has also returned after a four month absence. Rainbow Skinks, Carlia tetradactyla, are also active in my gardens again.
I'm thrilled to have have at least three species of lizards living in my garden. Blue Tongue lizards also pay my yard a visit occasionally. I provide accessible water for lizards, and try not to disturb them as they bask and feed in my garden. My garden is still under construction, with no plants more than about two years old, which proves that there are lizards out there just begging for a bit of habitat.
My resident Bearded Dragon wanders off to feed in the adjoining paddock, returning to the safety of my wood heap in the evening.
Like most people, I'm not keen for snakes to make frequent visits to my backyard. But at the same time, I strongly support the right of snakes to co-exist with humans. Where possible, snakes will avoid contact with humans.
Discouraging snakes from lingering in your yard is usually as simple as controlling rodents, and eliminating rubbish, especially unused sheets of corrugated roofing iron. Most snake bites occur as the result of a person attempting to catch or kill a snake.
This venomous Eastern Brown Snake is well camouflaged basking in the brown grass on my footpath.
Wildlife Aid groups, WIRES or National Parks and Wildlife Service can usually put you in contact with a trained snake rescuer if you need a snake removed from your home, yard or workplace.
Turtles are on the move during spring, searching out mates. Long Necked Turtles, Chelodina longicollis, are common in the Hunter Valley, and at this time of year are fatally injured crossing roads.
If you can safely move a roaming turtle from the path of road traffic, do so. However, do not be tempted to relocate a turtle as they are territorial, and they know where they are going.
A Long-necked Turtle shelters in my garden overnight as it journeys in search of a mate.
Gentle butterfly love on my back lawn
And a bit of rough stuff in the bushes
Do you have any questions ?
My neighbours think I'm a bit peculiar stretched out on my belly in the paddock peering up the skirts of mushrooms, and my adult offspring think I'm more than a little odd when I get excited at getting up close and personal with Mrs Wolf Spider's hairy knees, but my grandkids think I'm pretty cool. Life's fun. And spring time in the backyard can be a real adventure. Get stuck into it!