Category Archives: Pest animals

Face to face with ferals

I’ve had two feral encounters in recent days.

First, with a Red Fox cub in Providence Gully. It loped across the road in front of the car and then its curiosity allowed me to capture a couple of hasty images before it trotted off. An adult fox would not have allowed such an opportunity. Red Foxes are significant pests, preying mainly on rabbits but also on native fauna including possums, gliders, dasyurids such as antechinus, as well as ground dwelling birds. I see them regularly during my rambles.

Red Fox cub, Providence Gully, 30th December 2020

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The second observation was that of a House Cat, most likely of the feral persuasion – this time deceased!

The skull, lacking the lower mandible, was found in an area that is important for White-throated Nightjars. This ground nesting bird is a regular migrant to the Muckleford bush and would be vulnerable to cat predation. While cats feed mainly on mammals – like the Red Fox rabbits are a major part of their diet – they also take Sugar and Feather-tailed Gliders and birds. I very rarely see feral cats in the bush, although I’m sure they see me regularly.

Cat skull, Mia Mia Track area, 30th December 2020

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Here to stay

I’m a little sheepish about today’s story.

Common Blackbirds are not a native species, one of the first birds of European origin that was deliberately brought to Australia, introduced to Melbourne in the 1850s.

It is just one of a host of exotic species established in Australia and ranks with the House Sparrow and Common Starling in terms of its spread across the eastern half of the continent. While blackbirds favour urban environments they will establish anywhere that provides sufficient cover and can be found in bushland remnants across the district. This one, a male, is just one of many in the neighbourhood – pictured here feeding on olive fruits in our front garden. While no doubt responsible for the spread of European Olive the ‘horse has well and truly bolted’ and both species are here to stay.

I’ve included a couple of Crimson Rosella portraits to balance the ledger … although their perch of choice is a Claret Ash!

Common Blackbird raiding olives, Wyndham Street Newstead, 3rd May 2020

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Immature Crimson Rosella

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Footnote: Peter Cuffley kindly provided this information on Claret Ash.

As a keen social historian, I thought you would be interested in the attached item I found while researching the Austin family in Victoria and Somerset. Brothers James and Thomas Austin, after migrating from Somerset to Tasmania in 1837, moved across to Geelong and district. They both acquired or leased large areas of land and in 1851 James was the second mayor of Geelong. Having made his fortune, in 1856 he went back to Somerset and purchased the historic Glastonbury Abbey estate. In 1861 his brother Thomas and his family travelled to Glastonbury and lived there until their return to Victoria in 1864. His letter to the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria is an interesting document, especially his bizarre statement, ‘and the wild English rabbit I have in thousands.’ While he is often blamed for all of our rabbits, they were actually introduced in earlier decades. Strangely, the rabbit was not native to England as suggested in the letter, but was introduced by the Romans. It is thought they were established in the wild in Britain by the 12th century. Thomas Austin died in 1871 and his wife Elizabeth went on to found the Austin Hospital.

While the Claret Ash, Fraxinus oxycarpa ‘Raywood’ is not indigenous to Australia, it does qualify as a kind of ‘honorary Australian’ tree! It is a seeding variant discovered circa 1910 in a group of assorted Ash trees at a nursery at Aldgate in South Australia’s Mount Lofty Ranges. Tullie Cornthwaite Wollaston and his gardener Mr. J. Gates purchased the plum coloured ash and planted it at ‘Raywood’, Wollaston’s property at Bridgewater. All of the Claret Ash trees in Australia and overseas are clones of that one seedling. The property ‘Raywood’ was developed from the 1930’s as ‘Arbury Park’ by the Downer family. I photographed the house and garden in 1984 and it is in my book, Traditional Gardens in Australia.

Many thanks Peter!

A feral sneaks in …

In and around Newstead we have a number of ‘exotic’ birds – more aptly termed introduced or feral species, however, they rarely feature on the blog.

In the home garden there are House Sparrows and Common Blackbirds (the focus of an ongoing battle!), but thankfully no Common Mynas or Common Starlings – the latter two are well entrenched locally and can sometimes be seen passing overhead.

One of the less unwelcome ferals is the Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis. Non-birders are often surprised when they find out that Spotted Doves aren’t native. They have a certain charm and a very beautiful voice. A pair has turned up over the past year and now shares the gardens along our street with a number of pairs of Common Bronzewings and the occasional Crested Pigeon.

Male Common Bronzewing, Wyndham Street Newstead, 17th December 2019

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White-browed Scrubwren

Spotted Dove

Yellowfeet and the fox

This was my second close encounter with a European Red Fox in recent days.

I imagine the Yellow-footed Antechinus population in this gully is constantly on the lookout. A number of the tiny dasyurids were darting about until the fox arrived whereupon they all made themselves scarce.

European Red Fox, Sandon State Forest, 24th December 2017

Yellow-footed Antechinus, Sandon State Forest, 24th December 2017

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Watching me, watching you …

If you sit, as I do whenever I can, patiently and quietly in the Australian bush you’ll witness a myriad of fascinating happenings. Rarely will there be drama, mostly it’s just the comings and goings of different animals engaged in their daily ‘business’.

Yesterday as I sat in the Sandon bush, I spotted a European Red Fox loping along the floor of an erosion gully towards me. Moments after spying the fox it spotted me and stopped in its tracks, remaining motionless for a good two minutes until I made a slight movement with the camera. The fox immediately leapt up the wall of the gully and turned to face me, again for a minute or so before sauntering off. All around me nature continued its gentle rhythm – a Yellow-footed Antechinus searching for prey, a Common Bronzewing left its perch in a massive Grey Box above me to forage on the ground and a Rainbow Bee-eater exploded from its tunnel.

European Red Fox, Sandon State Forest, 20th December 2017

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Yellow-footed Antechinus

Rainbow Bee-eater

Common Bronzewing

A sense of danger

Birds, and other animals for that matter, are always on the alert to potential danger. Last weekend I had a very close encounter with a European Red Fox, nearby the waterhole I’ve been visiting in the Rise and Shine.

Foxes are extremely cunning, wary and dare I say it … beautiful animals. This fox appeared in my peripheral vision a few moments before it spotted me sitting quiet and motionless near the waterhole. I suspect it was treading a well-worn path in search of prey – this tiny water source has attracted a constant stream of ‘fox tucker’ since it was created by the last rain event. The fox was unperturbed, merely looking at this curious stranger, before trotting off on its rounds. Moments later the birds resumed their visits.

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European Red Fox, Rise and Shine, 14th March 2016

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Bronzewing

Common Bronzewing

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White-winged Chough

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Willie Wagtail

Not these little black ducks

Pacific Black Ducks, like many birds, are extremely wary of humans and other potential predators. As the Loddon shrinks to a series of barely connected pools, pairs of these ducks can be found at regular intervals along the river. Whenever they see me they usually disappear at great speed in a flurry of wings. Not so this pair, spotted last weekend downstream of the highway bridge. They must have a family of youngsters, judging by the nervous and wary demeanor of the parents, the ducklings presumably disappearing into a nearby rush bed upon my arrival.

It’s not only people to be worried about – a few minutes earlier I spotted this European Red Fox hunting among the riverside vegetation. Blind in one eye it still has potential to wreak havoc on the local wildlife.

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European Red Fox on the Loddon

If we had our time over again …

The European Red Fox Vulpes vulpes was introduced to Australia in the mid 1880s for recreational hunting. It might have seemed a good idea at a time when there was little regard for its potential impact on native wildlife, but with the wisdom of hindsight it can be seen for what it is … an unmitigated disaster.

I wonder what reaction the first fox released into the bush provoked from the local bird life. Nowadays birds are alert to the danger – as evidenced by the behaviour of a small party of White-winged Choughs that I observed on Friday evening at Green Gully. Initially I was intrigued by the apparently odd behaviour of one chough, as it clambered up a eucalypt, flapping its wings excitedly. That’s when I spotted the fox – busily sniffing the ground – perhaps picking up the scent trail I had left a few minutes earlier. The choughs then made a number of aggressive swoops over the fox, before it spotted me and trotted off.

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Red Fox swooped by White-winged Chough, Green Gully, 23rd October 2015.

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Picking up a scent trail.

Ground dwelling birds are especially susceptible to fox predation, one of the reasons that we have lost species such as the Bush Stone-curlew and Grey-crowned Babbler from the Newstead district since the 1970s. Other species, such as the Brown Treecreeper, which nests in small hollows, generally above the ground and the Rainbow Bee-eater which nests in earthen tunnels that are often inaccessible to predators, are doing OK.

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Brown Treecreeper

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Nice crest!

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Rainbow Bee-eater, Newstead Cemetery, 23rd October 2015.

More garden visitors … not all welcome

The lure of water and the last of the summer fruits is attracting a range of birds in the garden at the moment.

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Immature Crimson Rosella, Wyndham Street Newstead, 1st March 2015.

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New Holland Honeyeater … with fascinator!

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White-browed Scrub-wrens are a welcome resident.

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This one seemed interested in the last of the mulberries.

All of the above are welcome – unfortunately a small flock of House Sparrows has also arrived in recent months. They are quite aggressive towards the smaller birds such as firetails, wrens and scrub-wrens … might be time for a campaign!

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A bloody House Sparrow!

A pair of ‘barn’ owls

Here is the barn …

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The barn at Righetti’s, Yandoit.

and here are the owls.

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Southern Boobook pair, Yandoit, 16th May 2014.

A pair of Southern Boobooks Ninox novaeseelandiae have been resident in this beautiful barn on the Righetti property at Yandoit for a number of years. Most evenings, just on dusk, they appear together at an open barn window, prior to heading off for an evening of hunting. The massive accumulation of dung and pellets under the roost showed evidence of a diet mainly of mice – Boobooks are great at pest control in farming areas, eating spiders and crickets, along with small mammals and birds.

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Pellets and dung accumulation below the roost.

Unlike our other local Ninox, the Powerful Owl, Southern Boobook males are smaller than the females. The size difference in this pair was evident.

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Female Southern Boobook.

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Male Boobook – more slender and slightly smaller than the female.

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The wise old owl!