Category Archives: Inspiration from the Land- Members’ stories

A member’s Story

A Voice for Members
by David Klessa

We have been members of Land for Wildlife for nearly 8 years and remain committed to the broad objectives of ‘caring for country’ (aspects of which I shall return to later in this article). Having the sign on our gate is not so much a badge of honour, although we feel privileged to be members; rather, for us at least, it is a statement that we consider wildlife conservation and the protection of habitat to be a responsibility we have in choosing rural residency and lifestyle in the Top End. Not that we would have taken our responsibility any differently had we not joined Land for Wildlife; weed eradication, toad control and general upkeep would have continued as before but shared experience and the enrichment it brings by being members would have been missing.

Bird life

Retirement brings the advantage of more time at home to observe but, paradoxically it seems, less time for upkeep (falling energy levels!). We certainly saw new visitors to our place this year and our bird population was more diverse and greater (with the notable exception of magpie geese). Over the last 10 years or so, a section of our property has hosted hundreds of magpie geese generally from late October until late December which night roost in the tops of mature E.tetradonta and provide the safest spots. Watching them land in flocks at dusk is fun because it resembles a car dodgem show because it inevitably leads to bump offs and much noise. But there were much fewer this year and they left in late November. With the wetter start to build-up this year on top of our third highest annual rainfall last year, I suspect the floodplains have provided an earlier yield of wild rice and Eleocharis for grazing.

Amongst the newcomers was a pair of raptors and juvenile (grey wing feathers). One of these magnificent adults is shown in Photo 1 perched on our upstairs verandah rail. We think it is a Collared Sparrowhawk -can anyone confirm?

We have also been delighted to have a nesting pair of Rainbow Pittas for the first time. They seem to like the area around our pool which is densely shaded and has copious leaf litter under the tree canopy where they have built two nests (Photo 2). It’s fun watching them hopping about collect sticks and leaves for nesting with the size of the bundle in their beaks often dwarfing their heads – or is it only the male that collects and builds the nest? – can anyone help?

At the bottom of our drive, last month, we saw the arrival of a flock of around 20 Crimson Finches which spent time alternating between pandanus trees and a conveniently located puddle that served as a bird bath. We haven’t seen them for some years, so it was pleasing to have them visit us.
Weeds
Dealing with weeds at near ground level might be relatively straight-forward –  albeit hard work and, at times, back-breaking but what if the weed dwarfs all other surrounding trees rising to well over 30 m and throws out suckers which extend as far as 50-100 m from the parent tree. Yes, sounds like a nightmare and it has been with the presence of an African Tulip tree which was planted before we bought our property 20 years ago.

Photo 1: Mature Collared Sparrowhawk (?), February 2017 (© Meera Klessa)

Photo 2: Rainbow Pitta nest, December 2017

Not only does it have an incredibly high growth rate in the tropics (ie of up to 5cm in trunk diameter/year), their wood is spongey, weak, and prone to break in storms. There are also reports that the pollen of their attractive flowers is poisonous to wild bees. Under Queensland legislation (Biosecurity Act, 2014) the African Tulip tree is classed as a restricted invasive plant. If it has not been banned for sale or planting in the NT, it ought to be.
So, this year with time on her hands, we decided to act and were spurned on by meeting the tree surgeons who so aptly demonstrated their skills at the nesting box programme organised by Emma and Land for Wildlife earlier this year. The tree was duly felled in June and it was great to watch these guys working with crampons, rope, and chainsaws. All the wood was retained on site and placed to provide habitat/refuges for wildlife. The trunk was sawn to near ground-level and treated with glyphosate which has been successful in killing the root system of the parent tree. Before and after shots are shown in Photos 3 & 4.

Photo 3: Before

Photo 4: After (beer drunk purely to demonstrate scale)

A Voice for Wildlife and Self-Help

I am sure I share the sentiments of Land for Wildlife members when I say that I was disappointed to learn about how devastating the fires around the Berry Springs/Darwin River areas were this year and how hard work in establishing and conserving habitat (and nest boxes) can be so easily destroyed and undermined by repeated annual hot fires. It is unacceptable that some members experienced damage to their properties and wildlife conservation by trespass. Likewise, it is intolerable that some cat owners should choose to allow their pets to roam freely with the resulting devastation to wildlife everywhere but especially on neighbouring Land for Wildlifeproperties. Lack of weed control by some land owners continues to cause problems to some of us but also to the greater environment.

I do not believe ‘the voice’ in support of wildlife conservation and everything associated with good decision making in land use planning, and sustainable practices in land management, is strong enough. However, I want to quickly add that ‘the voice’ should not come from Land for Wildlife itself, but from us……it needs to be ‘our voice’ as individuals, as an independent group, including non-members who also share our values and objectives. Land for Wildlife, as an organisation relying upon government funding, cannot do that job for us, and must not.
I have always been struck by how successful other interest groups such as the fishos and hunters have been, and continue to be, in putting forward their views and in fighting issues that might affect their lifestyles in pursuit of their interests. They gain media time and attention. We simply don’t.

So, I would like to propose a meeting of like minds, should they exist! I would be delighted to organise a meeting in February/March 2018 at which we might discuss the concept of self-help and its development, but I suggest we would need a quorum of at least 10 attendees to get the ball rolling. If you are interested, or simply want to comment, please send an email to humptydooer@hotmail.com marked ‘Self-help’ in the message title.

Have a great holiday, and all the best in the New Year.

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Enhancing Habitat Update

140 of our nest boxes are up in trees on Land for Wildlife properties from Darwin to Katherine! They are hoping to attract our Black-footed Tree-rats and food plants for them are also being planted on each nest box property.

After our fantastic workshops, members have been busy painting and installing the boxes. Boxes have also been installed at 3 schools- Girraween Primary, Howard Springs Primary School and Milkwood Steiner School.

Some members got friends and family together to install the boxes and soem even got a little help from Emma.

Emma (LFW coordinator) even got on the radio to talk about the project…

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These are just some of our nest boxes looking fabulous in their gorgeous host trees

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And then, the next exciting part has been checking out the boxes with our new especially designed nest box camera, with the help of the landholders and our Green Army team who are learning about surveying.

 

So far we have not caught any mammals live on camera but we have got Eucalyptus leaf nest material (very likely to be from the Black-footed Tree-rat), droppings that look like those of the Black-footed Tree-rat and some small identified fluff balls (to be sent for analysis).

We have also found some other gatecrashers using the nest boxes, including many geckos, grasshoppers, spiders and European honey bees.

Check out this amazing (non native) bee colony that took up a nest box at Alison and Mike’s property in Humpty Doo, and then moved on.

Bees in nestbox July 2017Nestbox 5 at 135 Jefferis Road small

So no live pictures of our Tree-rat friends but evidence of some and sightings from landholders of BFTRs outside the nest boxes! We are hoping to hear about motion sensing cameras we can lend to our landholders soon and will be checking on the boxes in 3 months time! All the data is being collated as well as a map of the location of every nest box!

Now we will wait and see if anything moves in over the next few months, while our Green Army are busy planting 15, 000 trees for the Black-footed Tree-rat ! (yes 15, 000) on Land for Wildlife Properties.

Land for Wildlife in Katherine

We are very excited to announce that this year our “Land for Wildlife Top End” program welcomed an 888 Hectare property just outside of Katherine into the program. The property is on Gorge Road and is managed by Mick Jerram for the owners who recently acquired the property. Mick is a very knowledgeable tour guide in the area who operates “Gecko Canoeing and Tours”.

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The beautiful property is now our largest Land for Wildlife property in private ownership and includes the Maude Creek. The landholders have appointed Mick to be their land manager and would like to manage the land as a wildlife refuge and possibly run an eco-tourism enterprise that would support the upkeep.

Land for Wildlife coordinator and botanist (and former coordinator) Greg Leach headed down to Katherine to assess the property and look at its wildlife habitat assets. This was done over 2 days and being such a large property only some of it was visited on the accessible tracks, which is why we ended up down there in the steamy build up- trying to catch as much of the property before it was too boggy!

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The property includes rocky sloping hills with open Eucalypt woodland and a variety of stunning Bloodwoods, hosting many birds and lizards and further diversity of creatures within the rock crevices and floodplain areas. Maude Creek keeps water in it all year with lush riverine plants along its banks, and there are additional wet season creeks and overflows throughout the property.

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There is a likelihood that the Gouldian Finch could populate the area, with its grassy lower areas and rocky hills, and Mick is looking for assistance to try and document what fauna species are definitely found within the properties. Major priorities include the eradication of wild Buffallo and cows.

buffallos

The fabulous tract of land joins surrounding properties which are intact and vast in size, including the Nitmiluk National Park, which is managed and protected under conservation legislation; it is also actively managed. All of the above set the property as a very significant area for wildlife conservation and an important tract of land which connects and creates large scale conservation corridors.

There are a couple of LFW registered properties in the Katherine area, from the days when Greening Australia had an office in the town. With this most recent membership LFW has a significant representation, so we have set about to see how we can get more Land for Wildlife involvement in the area and held an information session for interested others.

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Mick would love to have management based training on the newly joined property and many landholders and the Landcare group were interested in getting involved. There was a call out for information on native plant propagation, fauna likely to be found and fire management information. At this stage we hope to host workshops next dry season and team up with the Landcare group to carry out new assessments, the idea is to set up a Katherine interest group made of community members..… so watch this space.

mick-and-sign

Schools for Wildlife

Local Rural Artist and Land for Wildlife member has been working with Howard Springs Primary School to create a giant wildlife mural. The beautiful mural is in the bold and colourful style typical of Marnie’s work and depicts a woodland and billabong habitat with many well known and loved native animals of the rural area making an appearance in their own funky style throughout the painting.  These include dingoes, wallabies, brolgas, emus, Comb-crested Jacanas, and Magpie geese and the lagoon is based on Girraween lagoon.

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The mural is 7m x 2mto and was made to encourage the appreciation and preservation of our local environment and animals that live around us. 5 students were chosen to assist with the project and went to the Wildlife Park to research our wonderful wildlife and a series of workshops were undertaken for them to draw and paint their selected critters for the scene.

The mural took 5 months to create and was opened on the 30th July by Gerry Woods. There were great local craft stalls, and Land for Wildlife had an information stall.

It is fantastic to see a school embrace such fantastic projects to pass on the message to love and appreciate the wildlife around us. The principle, Julie is very supportive and further art and wildlife projects are being designed.

img_9597The school has also joined up to Land for Wildlife as an educational member in the Growing Towards Category. Next year the students will be taking part in the Trees for Wildlife program and planting trees to restore and create Black-footed Tree-Rat habitat and learn all about these fantastic creatures and how to enhance habitat for mammals and other wildlife.IMG_9593.JPG

We are looking for other rural schools to join in with Land for Wildlife activities, particularly tree planting and creating nest boxes- so if you are involved in a school and would like to get everyone involved get in touch and we can provide more details of how this can work.

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The Connection of Seasons

Walking with season's cover
The connection of seasons
by Di Lucas, Land for Wildlife member and local author
It is Yegge, the seasonal name given to this time of year, by the Gun’djehmi speaking Aboriginal people of Kakadu and Western Arnhem Land.  It is the time of year when the climate starts to cool down, the humidity should drop soon and the nights will be noticeably cooler.  Wattles bloom, filling the air with a thick blossom scent.  Unfortunately for some people wattles bring sneezles!  I’m not one of those people, I like to peer into the flowers to see what insects visit and then I take deep breaths to pick up the strong scent of these flowers. It seems to be a time of celebration in the woodlands. With sprays of yellow flowers from various wattle species, Kapok flowers  – ‘andjed’ (Cochlospermum fraseri);  orange flowers of the Grevillea pteridifolia – ‘andjandjek’,  Eucalyptus miniata – ‘andjalen’; pink flowering shrubs of Turkey bush  – ‘anbandar’ (Calytrix exstipulata),  ‘angodjmong-mong’ Gomphrena canescens (papery daisy shrubs). The woodlands are in song with the calls of many birds and insects.  If you happen to camp around these trees you are in for a treat. The bees are working hard collecting nectar to make honey and birds and bats are busy gathering nectar and insects from the flowers.
 The spear grass fuel loads are getting burnt, which makes way for new growth as well as leaving an important feeding ground for animals and birds.  Goannas, Bandicoots, Kites, Falcons, Night birds, Bustards find victims of the fires, whilst Black Cockatoos feed on spear grass seeds and fruits now the grass has been burnt.
 Near the floodplains, early morning or late afternoon one often hears then sees a large flock of Sulphur crested Corellas, cackling amongst themselves and almost greeting everything they fly across.
 There is still plenty of water on the floodplains but as the dry winds blow the water begins to recede. At the edges, delicate yellow lilies and the white fringed lilies reappear.  The larger waterliles ( Nymphaea species) are also in bloom, over the next couple of months they flower on mass across the floodplains and billabongs, a wondrous sight and scent to be experienced.
Brilliant sunsets depart the day across the floodplains now the dry season fires are with us.  In Kakadu the Yellow-water boat cruises allow you to experience this, or just standing at the boat ramp and floodplain viewing platforms at Yellow-waters or Fogg Dam and Darwin beaches, anywhere really, the sunsets are beautiful!
The migratory birds have moved on. The Magpie geese have young babes, as do the Partridge pigeon (red eye pigeons).  Wedge-tailed Eagles are ready to breed.
If you are out walking in Woodland country, or just around your block, look out for Billy goat plums (Terminalia ferdinandiana) they still have lots of nice fruits to collect off the ground.
During Yegge treat yourself to some walks in the bush to see what is going on; smell the waterlilies across the floodplains and billabongs; Catch some fish; Watch the birds eating nectar, you could even dip your face into a low flowering Grevillea flower and lick the honey nectar to see why the birds go crazy for this food, I think it is delicious.
For more details about birds and animals of this season, look at Ian Morris’s book, “Kakadu”, Yegge section pages 77-99, and Diane Lucas’s book. ‘Walking with the Seasons in Kakadu’

More Land for Wildlife near Adelaide River

A few months ago we welcomed Ingrid and David to the program who are added to the collection of Land for Wildlife properties in the Adelaide River and Robin Falls region. They have both spent their life-time as wildlife ecologists with a focus on macropods and  Ingrid managed a region of National Parks in NSW. First moving to the area in 2009 they are now committed to managing the incredible landscape they reside on permanently. Ingrid could not imagine living without a vast protected area of natural bush around her, as she has got so accustomed to this through her work. They have hosted wildlife studies on their property and hope to host LFW workshops in the future and build a network of like-minded people in the area.

Witte and Croft sign
Below are a few words that David has written about their property:

Our 427-ha lifestyle block is on scenic Dorat Road in the Robin Falls region near the township of Adelaide River in the NT. It comprises natural tropical woodland savannah that frames our multi-building habitation at the confluence of two Wet-season creeks. These are fed from the backdrop, a sandstone escarpment. We are remote and off-grid. Our challenges are wildfire, weeds and the variability of the intensity and duration of the Wet and Dry seasons.

Witte and croft view

We cycle annually from drought to flooding rain. The severity of Dry-season drought on land management is compounded by the frequent threat of wild fire from arson, whether malevolent or misguided, or failure to contain management burns on some neighbouring properties. We have therefore strengthened our bounding fire breaks by grading and annual control of overgrowing vegetation with some strategic early Dry-season burning along the inner edges. We sacrifice a broad strip of ground-cover along our exposure to Dorat Road to reduce its attraction to arsonists. As this strategy has matured we have been able to exclude fire from most of our block and aim for a fire frequency of no more than once in five or more years. The floods of the Wet-season bring a burden of weeds, including WANS like Gamba and Mission grasses. We target Gamba and Perrenial Mission grasses across the block and remove these and other weeds from a large buffer around habitations. Our success in the latter endeavour has restored riparian vegetation and improved biodiversity in flora (mid-storey vegetation) and fauna (especially birds).

Our long-term goal is to provide wildlife-friendly habitat across our block by sustaining its natural diversity bred by a variable terrain, enhancing the diversity of ground cover and mid-storey vegetation by suppression of wildfire and weeds, and protecting wildlife from harm from hunting or adverse land uses.

Corymbia ptychocarpa (2)sm

Corymbia foelscheana sm

Breynia cernua sm

More Land for Wildlife in Adelaide River

We are welcoming more members every week who manage their land for native wildlife. Before we covered the story of Lloyd Beck from Adelaide River. Also in the region we have welcomed 2 other LFW properties in The Robin Falls region. Here are their stories-

Keith and Rick joined land for Wildlife late last year and shared with us their story-

Petit, Keith and Rick LFW sign (2)

Our place ‘Marumba’ ( good place ) its an Aboriginal word from the Jagera  (Yagera) people of  SE Qld where Rick was born.

sign keith and rick's

 We purchased the land 3 years ago after seeing a it advertised in the classified section of the NT News. Its outside Adelaide River near Robin Falls. Just under 140acres (63 hectares) of native bushland and no evidence of being farmed which appealed to us. There is a rocky ridge that crosses the block from north to south and from the top we look over the flood plain to the east and toward Litchfield NP in the west. We have a sheltered valley between the two long rocky ridges. There is a good mixture of habitats from treed areas to open grassland, hills, flood plains and numerous wet season billabongs.

Red leaves Keith and Rick's to house

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We are setting up an off the grid life from scratch, building using recycled materials as much as possible, we are always after old corrugated. iron, collecting rain water in tanks and using solar power. making as little impact on the planet as possible. We like to think of our place as a sanctuary for wildlife so no longer allow domestic pets such as dogs.

0ver the last 18 months we have been hosting volunteer helpers from around the world through Helpx and Workaway websites its been a fantastic experience to share our place, meet some amazing people from 18 to 68yrs and have the extra help.

One of things we love about being in nature with no neighbours is that we can spend all of our time not wearing clothes, which feels the more normal to us and allows us to feel more in tune to the surroundings

We recently started a Facebook page. ‘ Marumba – a good place’ if you want to see more of our place.

termite mound- keith and Rick's sunset keith and rick's sunrise keith and rick's

Mike is another newly joined member of Land for Wildlife in the Adelaide River region. He manages a beautiful piece of rocky Warrai country with a small creek running through it, and it is his primary residence in the Robin Falls regionMike sign

The vegetation is continuous with uncleared bush that eventually joins Litchfield National Park to the west. The 150 hectares is managed for wildlife conservation and includes stunning plants typical of the region including  Corymbia dichromophloia,(small fruited boodwood) Corymbia dunlopii, Eucalyptus tectifica, Eucalyptus tintinnans,(Salmon Gum) Owenia vernicosa, Calytrix brownii, Gardenia megasperma. Erythrophleum chlorostachyus (Ironwood), Corymbia foelscheana.

Gardenia megaspermaThere are also plenty of fruiting plants on the lower slopes and lush riparian flora on the creek edges. The creek edges have been enhanced planted to restore the riverine margins and the inner 20 acres of the block is burnt with a documented fire strategy of patchwork burning, but beyond this fire is harder to manage due to unprescribed burning.

Wrigley Creek 98.7% of the land is calculated to be remnant vegetation with a small area around the house assigned to productive plants and a dam. Only a few problems with Mission grass remain and a cane toad population which is being managed. There are regular sighting of water monitors, echidnas, dingos, wallabies/ wallaroos, fruit bats and many reptile and bird species; but unfortunately it seems the mammal species has declined in the last 8 years; very occasionally a pig or cow may wander through.

Mike trees

 Land management activities are often assisted by an informal group of friends and nearby landholders who enjoy being part of the process of conserving a valuable landscape.

Dry Season view2