Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bush Walking with Blackboys and Goannas

There are koalas in the trees and kangaroos hiding somewhere in the tall undergrowth, but I have no chance of seeing either because my eyes are firmly on the ground scanning ahead for snakes.

It has been raining and the grassy ground cover is tall and bushy. It could hide anything.

I pick up a stick that would give me precious moments of protection if I see a snake and then get attacked by an army of ants that have been using it as a super highway. I throw it back and take my chances with the unseen snake population. They can probably hear my big boots hit the ground and are slithering away from me as fast as they can.

This is the Freshwater forest very close to my home and as Australian forests go, it is not particularly memorable. It is mostly scrubby gum trees and it does not have great walking tracks, boasting only a rough dirt track dug in by tractor that becomes a muddy obstacle course of puddles after rain. I have never seen any of the reported eighteen koalas that live here, and only seen three kangaroos in a whole year.

What it does have is hundreds, or perhaps thousands of the curiously named Blackboys. They are short charcoal-black tree stumps topped with a mop of bushy green tendril hair and, depending on the time of year, a tall spike on top. Their real name is xanthorroea but they are also known as grass trees.

These plants love a good fire and thrive when burned regularly. The council obliges by setting fire to the forest every year and letting it burn through. It helps the forest regenerate and clears out the tall dry grass and most of the fallen branches. If there is an unplanned and uncontrolled fire, it will not be as dangerous because the most scrub most likely to catch fire by a stray cigarette butt or lightning spark, is already gone.

A myriad of birds live in this forest and return after the annual burn off. I have seen pink and grey galahs, silver throated kookaburras, rainbow lorikeets, lyrical magpies, yellow crested cockatoos, black and white butcher birds and many more. They are hard to see in the forest but they fly across my home and often stop to visit.

There are also snakes that survive this clean out as well as goannas and other lizards. I know because I have had a snake cross the great tarmac divide and come into my house. I have also had several species of lizard in my pool area. The koalas have visited our trees and we have holes in our grass that suggest bandicoots make midnight visits. One thing I had not seen, until today, was a goanna.

I have wanted to see a goanna ever since my husband told me he used to have one living near his letterbox. Today, there is a speckled goanna in the rainforest trees at the end of my garden.

Yet another Aussie wildlife dream has been fulfilled. Now I wonder what can possibly be next. I wouldn’t mind a visit from a frill-necked and gangly-legged water dragon, or maybe a small mob of kangaroos. When I mention this to my husband he insists we might see and elephant cross our lawn one day. Who am I to argue?

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