Thanks to the Green Army team at Land for Wildlife property Olive Pink Botanic Garden for sending in this photo of their recent catch – a Spotted Turtle-dove (Spilopelia chinensis). The unsuspecting wanderer ended up in a cat trap baited with sardines, while ignoring the nearby Spotted Turtle-dove trap set with seed (though didn’t partake in the dining experience). That’s right, caught in a cat trap. One must wonder…
A Crested Bellbird (Oreoica gutturalis) was snapped by the Land for Wildlife coordinator while hiking at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station on the weekend. The crested bellbird translates to ‘Panpanpalala’ in Pitjantjatjara and ‘Kwepalepale’ in Central Arrernte. This fun bird keeps a low profile and so isn’t seen often, but has an unmistakable call, which sounds much like the two Indigenous translations for its name. The bird is able to throw its voice, such that it sounds as though it is calling from another direction than it is actually located. From the walking track, it appeared to be calling from about 20 m away in a south-westerly direction but it was actually sitting in a Hakea lorea right by the track above my head!
Land for Wildlife is embarking on a new round of domestic cat monitoring and awareness in Alice Springs. This project will involve monitoring the movements of domestic cats when they are out and about, by kitting the kitties out with a GPS harness. We will also be trialling the use of small cat-mounted video cameras to see if we can get a visual idea of what the cats are getting up to, as well as scat analysis to see what they are eating.
We have plenty of cat owners in the urban area that are interested but we are lacking volunteers in the rural areas (Ilparpa, White Gums, Ross, Connellan, etc). If you have a domestic cat and are interested in taking part in the upcoming project, we want to hear from you – please get in touch!
Ph 08 8955 5222
This project is supported by Territory Natural Resource Management, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme.
Mulga Parrots (Psephotus varius) were seen foraging near the Land for Wildlife office earlier in the month. The scientific nomenclature, Psephotus varius, translates to ‘variegated mosaic bird’:
♦ Variegated from the Latin Varius, owing to the mixture of colours (especially in the male)
♦ Mosaic bird from the Greek Psephotos (inlaid with mosaic or precious stones), owing to the pattern of cheek feathers
Mulga Parrots are found in arid and semi-arid shrublands or woodlands, mostly where there is some significant ground cover in which to forage – eating the seeds of grasses, shrubs and trees, as well as flowers and fruit. Their numbers have declined in some parts of Australia, though the reason for their decline is unclear (may be vulnerable to predation by introduced mammals while foraging on the ground). While the occasional individual may be found in the Alice Springs township, they are more likely to be found in the rural areas.
They are one of the prettiest parrots in central Australia and it is easy to tell the sexes apart, as they exhibit sexual dimorphism (different appearance for males and females). The female is a little smaller and has muted colours in comparison to the bright emerald greens of the male. Mulga Parrots are monogamous, travelling in pairs rather than flocks. They breed in tree hollows or creek embankments in spring or after good rains, where the female is responsible for incubating the small white eggs.
By Bruce Simmons
Andy Vinter’s Bush Regeneration Handbook provides terrific practical information for anyone interested in arresting the progress of weeds, and Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) in particular, on their block, streetscape or local feature. So you might go there as a starting point if you are interested in ‘bashing the Buffel’.
My history with weeds goes back to early childhood times helping my father remove couch, three corner jacks and onion weed from our big three quarter acre block in suburban Adelaide. In spite of frequent ouches and an occasional protest, I think the rewarding experience of companionable times and visible wins became an entrenched part of my DNA.
When it comes to gardening and gardens I have never viewed invading weeds as all bad, though I think couch is the real villain in many ways and should be addressed with a big mental alert KEEP OUT sign! But most other weeds, including Buffel Grass, can be recycled as greens for the chooks, valuable compost or mulching materials… some are pretty nutritious for humans too I hear, though I haven’t explored that option seriously as yet.
Skilled weed spotting and assessment is a virtue and potentially a stick for one’s own back. My grandma always used to helpfully remind me “one year’s seeding, seven year’s weeding” and the message reverberates and drives me on in so many ways most days of the year. So I might decide to leave a weed to grow for a while for its potential recycling value but once its seeds start to mature I have an urgent or even an EMERGENCY bell ringing in my head. I’m confident those bells ring for many keen gardeners.
The bullying potential of Buffel Grass is unfortunately extreme. Over time, Buffel Grass muscles everything else out of its way even without the additional support of fire. The good news is that the native vegetation is not obliterated so much as hidden in seed form. With good conditions, and a Buffel-free zone, many interesting natives return in abundance to reward the worker. And from my experience they’ll stay on – so long as the Buffel is kept at bay!
I have always either pulled or mattocked out the Buffel Grass, depending on its size. Sometimes a spade or hoe works well on smaller plants in dry soil. I’ve not adopted poisoning but I know some very keen Buffel Grass bashers who do an effective regular hunt for ferals in their patch with RoundUp spray packs on their backs.
When tackling a new field of established Buffel Grass I have a sturdy old Toyota HJ45 tray top to which I add galvanized iron ‘hungry sides’ so that I can pile, stomp and add more and more Buffel Grass until I have a ‘decent load’ ready for mulching or composting. It takes me in effect a full day of steady labour, generally spread over a few vigorous Buffeling sessions to get a load. Sometimes I’ve been lucky enough to have my sister Jenny help or I find a fellow traveller who shares some time with me clearing a patch and filling the tray. Hopefully they feel as good as I do about the experience. I’m confident it will stay memorable!
What to do with your Buffel Grass once removed? I have taken a few tons to the Alice Springs Community Garden as a major component of our new plots. Combined with cow manure, watered and covered with a layer of compost it composts down, virtually without any regrowth, while veggies grow above. I have also used it to mulch our fruit trees, piling it up 50 cm or more. Neighbours have simply heaped it up with very little subsequent regrowth. I’m not inclined to simply leave it where it’s been dug up as logically I’d expect a lot more new seedlings from leaving the seed heads on the soil.
To keep Buffel Grass from coming back there’s no alternative to eternal vigilance. I do a monthly feral hunt around our block and along Schaber Road verges where residents and I have cleared all the Buffel Grass. After the recent heavy rains we’ve had a heap of new seedlings come up. But if you can see it as a bit of friendly competition and rewarding exercise then there’s no problem with keeping on the job.
Every year it gets a bit easier, especially if you extend your Buffeling to include a few extra metres beyond your natural boundary. The only question for me then is whether or not to surrender to my keen desire to strike further into enemy country! Giving in and going further is generally met with appreciation from grateful neighbours, some of whom have been encouraged and strengthened to become more passionate Buffel-hounds themselves.
I’d be curious to learn if the new environment attracts more wildlife. Certainly, we have many birds and lizards on our property and a diversity of flora on our verges that we couldn’t have imagined on our arrival to Schaber Road twenty plus years ago.
Many happy outcomes from a rewarding addiction.
~ Bruce Simmons
Plants utilise a variety of defence mechanisms to ward off predators, with chemical defence being the most common – there are more than a thousand poisonous plants in Australia. Harmful components range from fruits and seeds; to roots, bark and leaves. The toxicity of plants usually increases with higher CO2 levels and during periods of drought. Plant toxins include harmful organic compounds (e.g. hydrocyanic acid and cicutoxin), alkaloids (e.g. atropine, hyoscyamine and strychnine), saponins (which damage cell components), oxalic acid (crystals), lectins (e.g. ricin), toxalbumins (abrin) and cyanide.
Plants can be toxic to pets and small children, with some plants even proving to be toxic for adults too. Ingestion of fruit stones, berries and seeds can lead to serious intestinal blockages and they may contain toxic compounds that are harmful to animals. Symptoms of poisoning range from fever and vomiting to muscle tremors, staggering and seizures. Many more plants lack specific poisonous characteristics but cause allergies, such as skin and eye irritation, from pollen. The poison recipient (i.e. human adult versus child or species of animal) as well as the dose and the circumstances of ingestion, are factors that influence whether a plant will be poisonous or not. For example, avocados are edible (and delicious!) for humans but are poisonous for dogs. A poisonous plant that has been introduced to Alice Springs is the White Cedar (Melia azedarach), which has fruits that are toxic to children but are regularly eaten by birds with no side effects.
Other introduced species that are poisonous include the Pepper Tree (Schinus molle var. areira), Desert Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia gilliesii), Coffee Senna (Senna occidentalis) and Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum). Native species such as Pituri Bush (Duboisia hopwoodii), Boobialla (Myoporum acuminatum) and Swainsona (Swainsona canescens) are also poisonous. Poisonous plants do not share a common attribute to make identification easy – they can be a variety of colours, scents, and forms. The best safeguard is to know your plants – research your garden and find out what you are growing. You can find a basic list of poisonous plants in the Northern Territory at the NT Government website or a national list for pets through AEC Vets. There are a range of books available, such as ‘Australia’s poisonous plants, fungi and cyanobacteria – a guide to species of medical and veterinary importance’ By Ross McKenzie.
It is recommended that plants with seriously poisonous components are not used in new plantings around yards with children or pets. If they exist in your yard, you may wish to assess the risk of the plant (which component is poisonous and to whom) and consider replacing it with an alternative non-toxic native plant. If retaining plants that have poisonous seeds you could remove the seeds as they appear. It is also advised to teach children not to put any plants in their mouths – education regarding the hazards posed by such plants may prevent misfortune. If poisoning is suspected, contact the Poisons Control (Ph 08 8922 7341) and seek medical/veterinary attention immediately.
Despite the dangers posed by some plants, they’re weird and wonderful and we love them – just don’t get on their bad side!
It’s a bit chilly here at the Land for Wildlife office this morning! Frost has made for a refreshing bird bath. Stay warm Alice Springs!
Land for Wildlife and the Australian Plant Society braved the cold at the Alice Springs Show on the weekend to help give advice on planting local natives. Land for Wildlife were also selling books and talking to show-goers about a range of local conservation topics. We are now contacting potential new members to assist them with their properties and expand the network of members. Thanks to everyone that popped by the stall – we hope that you had a great time!