Friday, April 26, 2013

Returning rudis

One important eucalypt species that fringes riverine systems in southwestern Australia is the river gum or  flooded gum, Eucalyptus rudis. It is a relatively fast growing and long-lived tree which thrives and survives in waterlogged sites with heavy, acidic soils and tolerates salinity. Which is a bonus since these are the conditions along river banks such as those along the Swan River. At maturity it can reach 30 m in height and serves as important habitat for invertebrates, mammals and a vast array of birds. From southern boobook owls to striated pardalotes to rufus night herons,  many a bird will roost in the branches or seek a nest in tree hollows. 

Eucalyptus rudis fringing the banks of Canning River.
A shady woodland of flooded gum over a modified grassland. Pleasant for picnics.

Growing on unstable and eroded river banks does pose some risks, so when some severe storms affected the Perth region last June, many established trees were simply knocked down like matchsticks. Including this one at Burswood.

I grabbed a branch of nuts and sowed them in native seed raising mix, to them highly germinable within a few weeks and myself saddled with loads of seedlings (in clean soil [commercial brand meeting Australian standards] and pots, I'll add).

So - what to do... eight months on - it's been a slow, stealthy mission to plant out saplings along the river. Some saplings have been pulled up (ones marked with flagging tape), but the others, planted with stealth, remain in place and hopefully will grown on into magnificent trees. However, infrequent and ad hoc plantings will in no way arrest the severe, state-wide decline in Eucalyptus rudis, which is part of an overall woodland and forest tree decline in the face of threatening processes such as Phytophthora, insect defoliation and drought.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Put a frog on it ...

So may people today would rid themselves of their daily angst and frustrations if they just walked away from their computers or cars and dug in a frog pond.

Yes, to paraphrase Portlandia, put a frog on it.

I dug a pond in a few months ago. A tiny pond crafted from an old shell-shaped kiddies' sandpit, lined with the cuttings off an old inflatable kayak, and filled with mud, rocks and a selection of plants gleaned from the dredging of the local drainage canal down at a nearby park. So, there's the flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis, some weedy Bacopa monnieri (all, may I add, for sale at local aquarium stores), and I bought the edible culinary herb, Persicaria odorata and some Ornduffia parnassifolia to add colour and spice.  Because it's nice to have a little watery green feature in a backyard of otherwise grey sands of Bassendean.
Of course, this was an empty pond, bereft of frogs and waiting for Them To Come. Quite a few frogs do wander the streets of Bayswater. Motorbike frogs (Litorea moorei) and banjo frogs (Limnodynastes dorsalis) in particular stretch their legs on many an occasion and have found themselves in our yards. So usually it was a matter of waiting for a wandering frog to take up residence. In the interim, I did pop in a couple of white mountain cloud minnows (Tanichthys albonubes, an exotic species available on the day) in order to keep the mosquitoes down.

And that was that ..................       until the call came out in late November for homes for needy homeless tadpoles. A local was cleaning his pool for summer and found a batch of tadpoles needing rehoming in the local area (within a 5km radius). The local environment centre took these on and from there we picked up our new tadpoles. They took to the pond with gusto - or more just plain relief after a few miserable weeks in a deep, hot plastic tub. The addition of tasty lemna  made it perfect.

A tiny new froglet emerges.
A new froglet eyes off lunch
And within a  few weeks, new froglets emerged and took up residence in the ponds - yes, we bought a pre-fab fiberglass pond to accommodate the growing frog family and because the original clamshell sand pit appeared to have a slow leak.  And this time we popped in six western pygmy perches.

And then there was the need for a second pond as the number of emerging frogs swelled. And so now we are humble slaves to our new, free-range pets, planting more sedges and shrubs, topping up the ponds, putting in a small solar light to attract night insects. They feed themselves, although I still scatter in fish granules for the tadpoles and fish, and I do trust that they are making a dent in the local slater, mosquito and grasshopper population. As a reward, I get prime frog viewing and some pest control.

A tree frog friendly new home, complete with bungalow
Looking green and handsome

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Thank goodness somebody eats them


After a hiatus, I'm back. I guess the trick is to write short, achievable posts.

The bird baby season has just finished for Perth, and many of the spring youngsters have fledged from our garden. But one parent-chick pair is still lurking around - and that the black-faced cuckoo shrike (Coracina novaehollandiae).

They're strange birds. They fold their wings each and every time they land in some sort of odd display (Land. Fold wings over this way. Fold over the other way. Fold over the other way again.). And they have this strange, strangled, subtle call of Zeeee-ewwww. And they're curious and beady-eyed, but overlooked by most people because they don't really stand out as a strikingly unusual Australian bird (i.e. not brightly plumaged nor excessively and obtrusively noisy).

But they've taken to the shady copse of Acacia saligna I planted in the backard (called 'Saligna Grove') with gusto because this Acacia species is normally festooned with stinky Crusader bugs (Mictis profana: Coreidae). Sucking phloem sap and spreading a rust fungus and whatever mycoplasmas or viral pathogens, the hemipteran was reaching plague proportions, to the detriment of our shrubs.

A pair of furiously procreating Crusader bugs.

The stinky native bugs were causing a lot of damage to new growth and eventually to the whole plant, and it appeared that nobody was keen to eat them. Not even the hungry bee eaters would dare stick these vile-tasting things down their throats.

But salvation appeared in the form of a noisy, gurgling, baby black-faced cuckoo shrike. Attracted by their flapping among the Acacia saligna, we noted to our relief and delight that, at last, somebody ate the apparently distasteful Crusader bugs. Plucked fresh from the boughs of the acacia, wiped on a wire or branch, they're then swallowed with relish. Tuck in, we say! Help yourselves!. Don't stop at one!
The pale-faced youngster wants everything the parent captures.

The junior cuckoo shrike catches and eats a Crusader bug