Wednesday, 20 May 2015

An Eagle Perfect Day for hanging out the washing!

You might think that hanging out wet laundry to dry is an utterly mundane and boring task to be avoided if at all possible. Actually, it is probably your best chance to see some magnificent eagles navigating their territories as they soar from one thermal to the next.
Two eagles being harassed by an Australian raven. Picture taken by Chris Clarke, near Toolern Vale 2011-04-30. Click here for full resolution picture.
Last Sunday was a very good Autumn drying day, and as usual, I cranked up the Hills Hoist to capture the most sun, which means that I had to look up into the sky to peg things to the line... to see a pair of wedge-tailed eagles (Aquila audax) flapping along a hundred metres up, coming from the Gap Road area, looking for an elevator to Heaven. They found a small thermal over the Sandy Creek Road that helped them gain  some altitude. They flapped around a bit more and found a better one over the more open ground of the Two Hills Estate that did all the heavy lifting work for them as they took advantage of the warm rising air to soar in circles and figures of eight.

One of the eagles drifted off to the north west towards the Ranges when it reached two or three hundred metres - where I lost it in the sun. The second eagle continued rising overhead in the thermal - entirely without flapping - until it was so high I could barely see it before also drifting off into the sun over the Ranges.

Actually, this is the third or fourth time I have seen eagles this year while hanging out the washing. Good drying days are also good days for our plague of rabbits to come out to bask in the sun, and for heating the ground to form the thermals that make life easy for eagles to hunt them. 

I don't have a good camera for capturing events like this, so I have used some pictures from our sister website, Natureshare, to show what you might see on a good day for drying the washing.

Wedgetails seem to be quite social, as I often I see two eagles together, as I did Sunday, and earlier this year there were three together close enough to the ground that I could hear them having a conversation as they floated over. 

While hanging out the washing, I have also seen eagles being harassed by crows as shown in the Natureshare picture above.

Only about three weeks ago, I saw a large hawk or an eagle being pursued by three crows and a magpie or currawong (identified by white wing marks). The bird being mobbed wasn't large enough to be a wedge-tail, but could well have been a little eagle in the kind of scenario below, photographed by Jason Caruso, near Shepparton, 2013-03-23, where a magpie has just dive-bombed a little eagle (Hieraaetus morphnoides).
Little eagle after being dive-bombed by an Australian raven. Picture by Jason Caruso from Tatura, near Shepparton 2013-03-23.

According to Wikipedia, the magnificent Australian wedge-tailed eagle is amongst the largest eagles on the planet. Although not the heaviest species, wedge-tails hold the record for the longest body lengths (over 1 m - thanks to their unusually long tails) and wingspans (over 2.8 m). They are easily identified in flight by their conspicuous wing marking (shown very well in the top picture) and elongated diamond- or wedge-shaped tail as shown very clearly in the picture below.
An adult wedge-tail in soaring flight. Photo by Chris Lindorff, west of Warracknabeal, 2012-07-27. Click here to look the eagle in the eye and click again.
Given the frequency of group sightings, I would guess that at least one family of wedgetails includes Riddells Creek and surroundings in their territory, so if you do a lot of laundry and keep them in mind, you'll probably see them. If you are lucky, they might even land or nest on your property! Up close they are truly magnificent birds as James Booth shows:
This guy might be lurking to pounce on a rabbit. Picture by James Booth, between Whittlesea and Kinglake, 2013-07-30. Click here for full resolution view and click again.

If  you want to know more about these masters of the sky, Wikipedia and Birds in Backyards give good summaries of their biology. For a really close-up understanding of their life, I found an excellent life history study in Australian Field Ornithology. I'm sure you can find more interesting things about them by exploring Google for Aquila audax.

As you can see, hanging out the laundry can sometimes be a pretty exciting task if you keep your eyes oppen!

Monday, 11 May 2015

The cars and chasms of Barrm Birrm

What to write next about Barrm Birrm, I asked myself. 

I decided to talk with Lydia and Ellena Best, my neighbours up the road, and arranged to drop in one Sunday afternoon.

Ellena Best on the left, Lydia Best on the right
They've walked a lot in Barrm Birrm - what did they like in there? Ellena said she liked looking out for animals. Did she have a particular part of Barrm Birrm that she liked? "Where all the crashed cars are," she said. What would she say to someone to get them interested in going to Barrm Birrm? 
"I would say, if you're really interested in wild animals, if you go there often, you might see some. And if you like insects and butterflies and stuff like that, they might be there."
"I think it's authentic, untouched, sort of, the way you'd expect bush to be," said Lydia. Her favourite places: the dam, and the place where the dirt has eroded and there's gaps you can walk through.

It was a fine afternoon. As we set off for BB, I didn't knowing quite what we would do and how interesting it would be for the girls. It was late autumn and not much was out. The land had that empty, dried-out, waiting-for-rain feeling.

I need not have worried. Lydia and Ellena's version of Barrm Birrm was pure thrill seeking, and I had to just hang on for the ride.

At first I was shocked and a little apprehensive. Then memory helped me out, memory of the back of North Balwyn, circa early 1960s, where the houses bled out to orchards, memory of the muddy and dangerous fun that was had at the boundary between suburbia and raw fields.

Fifty years later, I'm trying to be the responsible adult, "keeping an eye on things", but in truth, the girls are setting the pace. I'm back with damp smells and danger, making my way through a world larger than me.

We did indeed see a wallaby loping off at one point, but the afternoon was mostly about cars and gullies, and the afternoon light falling through the trees. Lydia, who has travelled through Barrm Birrm since she was a babe in arms, has the final word: 
"Just come and try it, and if you don't like it, that's fine, but I think you will."

Friday, 1 May 2015

Weeds of Barrm Birrm

Yes, it looks really good, but that robust, green, brilliantly coloured flowering thing will grow anywhere, and when it's not what's intended to be there, we call it a weed.  For Barrm Birrm, the bush on the hills behind Riddells Creek, a weed is anything that wasn’t here a couple of hundred years ago.

It's our responsibility, as people who care for this land, to knock these little critters on the head, so that they don't take over. Here' a short list of the weeds of Barrm Birrm.

Gorse. Ah, the hallowed heath, let us remember Britain, and Scotland, and the grouse amongst the gorse, and let us take our secateurs and snip and paint. We've very little gorse in BB, having spent $1400 of our money on a big patch last year, which is now looking very sick, but there's a bit of tidying up to do, and gorse manages to regrow from the seed bank for about 50 years, so it's a task for those with a long timeframe.

Blackberry. Of course, blackberry, but we're doing well with blackberry, and better than a lot of places around Riddells. We sprayed out a few areas at the same time as we had the gorse done. But for the patient, cut and paint is required at just about every point where the cross-slope tracks cross gullies, because that's where it stays damp.

Cootamundra Wattle appears on the middle slopes. It looks great in flower, covered with bright yellow, but boy does it get around – go to and have a look at potential for infestation across Victoria.

Sallow Wattle is another good looker that doesn't know when to say at home. A chainsaw will set it back, and workout each spring is bringing results on the lower slopes.

Sweet pittosporum is a native down in the Otways, where it loves the high rainfall, but here it just looks out of place. We've got it on the lower slopes just in from Gap Road. Handsaw and paint with RoundUp works well, chainsaw for the bigger specimens. This has now become a priority, as they're expanding their range, spread by birds eating seed.

You can buy Bluebell Creeper at the nursery, but when it jumps the fence, watch out! MRSC kindly gave RCL $1,800 last year to get the contractors in to knock off an outbreak at the North East corner of Barrm Birrm, on Gap Road. It coughed and spluttered and half of it died, but the other half threw off a pretty potent brew and kept rolling.

Our contractor, Indigwedo, did the right thing and came back and cut and painted, time consuming but effective. When they were done, having got familiar with the plant, I started finding other single plants a bit further back along Gap Road, and into a gully, so it's now on the hit list. 

Here it is looking lovely and green, but it's on its way out, because I've just cut and painted this specimen with Round Up.

I won't mention Panic Veldt Grass, because what do you do once it's in? However, it doesn't seem to creep forever, with the native grasses holding ground eventually, 10 or 20 metres in from Gap Road. "Edge effect" they call it, which is why keeping big continuous pieces of native bush is important.

There are few more culprits, but I'll finish with Agapanthas. I don't just get the "avenue of aggies" look, up the country driveways. If you must, plant the seedless variety, because the seeds are eaten and carried by birds far afield, and the plant is almost indestructible once it gets well-established.

You could walk past it and not worry, but seeing something like this nags at me. One day I'll bring my mattock on my walk and grub this one out.

Well, that's quite enough. Phone me up to go on our mailing list for weeding events, when you can come along and meet other people who know that doing the impossible just takes a bit of persistence.

Ross Colliver, 0411 226519, Riddells Creek Landcare