Friday, 7 September 2007

#28 Springtime in the Backyard

Rarely is there a clear-cut distinction between the seasons in the Hunter Valley - one merely blends with the next. Autumn and spring are my favourite times of year, when temperatures are mild and nature is busy.

Superb Blue Fairy Wrens taking a bath in the garden

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.

Our homes, roads, shopping centres and schools have all displaced native flora and fauna, but with a little tolerance and understanding, we can all contribute to the welfare of the environment that we have altered to suit our modern lifestyle.

Spring is the season of regeneration and reproduction. Birds, animals and invertebrates are breeding, and plants are producing flowers and seed.

Birds in the backyard are a delight to watch. Providing habitat and water in a predator-free zone is the most effective way to attract birds to your garden. Cats and unruly dogs will dramatically limit the number and variety of native birds and animals that visit your neighbourhood.

Mr Magpie follows me as I dig my garden, and collects grubs and a wolf spider to feed his nest-bound chicks

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.

And of course, there will be lots of invertebrate activity in your garden with the coming of spring. Although most invertebrates are small, they have fascinating lives - observe them, and enjoy them.

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!


Esperance Blog said...

Cool grandmas are usually delightfully eccentric types; nature needs more of them. :)


Gaye from the Hunter said...

"Delightfully eccentric" - yes, Westy, that's me :) although I've been referred to as some not-so-complimentary terms at times, which just brings a smile to my face. My daughter has told me that she's pleased I'm passing on some of my "weirdness" to her kids - I know that's a compliment.

I love teaching my grandkids about the bugs and stuff that live in my backyard. I hope, when they are older, that they will still recall some of the fun and adventure had with Ma in the garden.


Denis Wilson said...

Great photos, and even better "story line".

You ought use the wonderful Caterpillar Question Mark photo as your "avatar" on your blog. Nice and anonymous, but symbolic of your efforts to educate people, via your blog.

Email me if you don't know how to upload an image for your profile, as I just had to re-do mine recently, so it is fresh in my mind.



Gaye from the Hunter said...

hi Denis,

I might consider that - thanks for the suggestion.

That beaut colourful caterpillar curled itself up as I brushed up against a spikey grevillea in my garden, and of course, I didn't miss the opportunity to capture its portrait.


David Midgley said...

Great post Gaye :). One small correction, your Aloe's from South Africa are actually Agave americana from Mexico.

Gaye from the Hunter said...

hi David,

many thanks for correcting my plant species error. I am always pleased to receive corrections as this prompts further investigation from me and therefore a broadening of my knowledge.

For others who might wish to know some of the differences between Aloe and Agave species, here is some appropriate reading:




David Young said...

Hi gaye,

I dont know what to say about this post, other than as I scrolled down the page I was more and more impressed with the photos you are getting. Some amazing work Gaye.
Always a pleasure to view your site.What an environmentally diverse place you live in.


Gaye from the Hunter said...

hi David,

thank you for your positive feedback. I'm glad you're enjoying my nature observations.

All the photos on my "Springtime in the Backyard" blog entry were taken with my 'point-and-shoot' camera (which is only 3.2 megapixels), so one doesn't need expensive or fancy equipment to produce pleasing images. Personally, I think nice images sometimes has a lot to do with the photographer's powers of observation, and the ability to 'see' the potential for a good photo. I lied down on my belly to get the turtle and lizard shots, and I think that gives an interesting perspective being at eye-level to the animals - if the turtle had been photographed from above, his 'smiling' mouth line would not be obvious. Mind you, I was most certainly not at eye-level with the Brown snake, but zoomed in from a reasonably safe distance.

Considering that my garden is new and still under construction, and that I live in a rural area that has been dramatically cleared, there does appear to be a diverse range of wildlife passing through (and living in) my backyard. I consider myself privelleged to share the creatures' space.