Black footed Tree Rat

The black-footed tree-rat Mesembriomys gouldii is one of the largest rodents in Australia, weighing up to 830 g. It is an attractive solid rodent with long shaggy medium grey to black fur on top, pale underside, large black ears and a distinctive long hairy tail with a white tip. The Black-footed Tree-rat is largely arboreal (tree-dwelling), using its long tail for balance. Typical habitat is tall forests of Darwin Woollybutt and Darwin Stringybark, with a moderately dense mid-storey of shrubs and small trees and grassy understorey.  They are fairly solitary, nocturnal animals, sheltering in tree hollows and pandanus stands during the day. Hard fruits and seeds are a major component of their diet, supplemented by grass and invertebrates and other seasonal resources such as nectar rich flowers. Breeding can occur year-round with a peak of births in the late dry season. Litter size is small (1-3 young).

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The black-footed tree rat is one species that appears to have remained relatively abundant in the Darwin rural area, perhaps because of fire regimes. Recurrent intense fires reduce the abundance of fleshy-fruited shrubs favoured by Black-footed Tree Rats, as well as the availability of hollow trees. Clearing for agriculture has reduced the extent of their habitat in localised areas including north-east Queensland and parts of the Northern Territory. Perhaps you have seen one on your block?

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Member’s story- Ray and Sue from Dundee Beach!

IMG_0123Ray and Sue joined Land for Wildlife after hearing about the scheme through Ray’s work colleague. He thought it sounded like a great idea and the couple joined up their block at Dundee Beach. Their block is in fact 2 blocks, one is 25 acres (around 10.8 hectares), where there are a couple of dongas made into a good sturdy bush dwelling with a deck which the couple bought in 2009. The other block, just next door and about 22 acres, (around 9 hectares) Ray and Sue purchased as a buffer block just over a year later, so they didn’t have to have any neighbours really near! They are pretty lucky as the lower end of their blocks becomes more low lying and lead into Melaleuca swampland which is in reserve. On one warm build up day Greg Leach and I from Land for Wildlife drove out to Dundee to see the block and make an assessment and join them up.

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Ray explains why they love being out bush on their block, even though they live in Darwin a lot of the time. “We just love being in the bush, if you are in town and a storm rolls in, you can’t really appreciate it, but here we can see the whole skyline and the storm roll past, you can see the pink light of sunset in the clouds.” “We can sit out and have a fire and watch the whole sky, the kids love coming out, it’s what it’s all about; we love the bush and the lifestyle.”

Sue said they started looking for a bush block a few years ago, they looked in Adelaide River and wanted something far away, but loved Dundee. “This is a special spot, when the old folks come up we watch the sunset, and we love that the sea is near, I am a mad keen fisho too”, Ray adds.

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A LFW assessment involves visiting the land to be put into the Land for Wildlife scheme and meeting the land managers, the vegetation types are present and intact, and the percentages of the land these make up,

We walked right around the blocks and down into reserve and found an array of bush tucker plants flowering or in fruit, including Buchanania obavata and Syzygium suborbicular

The land becomes thick with new Melaleca species and then into the reserve and swamp with large and beautiful Melaleuca viridiflora, casting huge shadows and making a wonderful cooler refuge. The whole block also has good breezes coming through. “I love my swamp, some people thought we were mad, but I love it.”” ”We don’t want to do anything with it, just have bush. My father in Victoria used to know all the tree names and I wasn’t so interested, but now I am older I am really into interested and want to know more.

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Amazing Cycads were flushing with new velvety grey leaves and orange mid ribs, they are quite sort after and seem a few have been pinched. The woodland is dense in some areas, from fire being kept out and all the mid story fruiting shrubs are a perfect refuge for wildlife.

Weeds –mimosa. “ I didn’t have a mission, but now I do, I am going to get rid of that mimosa.”

Sue and Ray say the only problems they have really are not being here all the time, so when they want to plant some shade trees in the cleared patch around the house they cannot water them. We suggest just fencing off a patch and letting natural regen do its thing.

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Land For Wildlife NEWS

Check out our newsletter- it was released just before Christmas and has some fantastic stories from members or more.

If you haven’t seen it click below on the front page. TOP NOTES_final Dec  2014cover_Page_01There are heaps more great stories archived in the newsletter area of the website.

We look forward to more exciting happenings this year and new members!

A virgin Virginia Block

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Land for Wildlife member David Rolfe tells the story of his 2 hectare block in Virginia-

In 1992 this was an undeveloped block of 2 hectares with a surprising range of habitats; a very rocky ridge with low savannah, a steep slope over a tumble of rocks, a sheltered area beneath the rocks and a wet season lagoon with a variety of melaleucas.

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It adjoins two largely uncleared bocks, one is 2 hectares, another is 11 hectares, and both of which include the lagoon area as well.

Most of the block is uncleared. With some difficulty a part of the block on the ridge was cleared for the house, a shed and enough of a landscaped area to see the snakes coming across the lawn! Sadly, some of the original species (snakes, goannas and quolls) have disappeared because of cane toads, and development of course. There was also a lot of feral grasses which had to be eliminated, but this also meant that finches lost a source of food, and they are now not common.

However, there are plenty of wallabies and bandicoots, and a great variety of honeyeaters and fruit eating birds. Scrub fowls have also set up a mound at the edge of the garden and owls frequent the rainforest trees. There are a variety of flycatchers and varied trillers regularly visit. Seasonal visitors are the Emerald Ground Pigeon and the Torres Strait Pigeon. In the wet season swamp Rajah Sheldrake ducks and grebes nest and raise young.

Some areas have been planted with rainforest and native fruit trees, and these are now nearly mature. As far as possible native plants from the NT or north Australia are used for planting. There is a shade house used for propagation and for vegetables and fruit trees such a bananas and paw paws.

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Two small ponds have been established and a bog. Another small bog is to be completed.

Some future plantings will involve understory plants, grasses to attract finches and plants to sustain and develop habitat for butterflies and moths. Ongoing maintenance includes the removal of invasive trees that threaten to overrun the original vegetation or with other adverse effects: Black Wattle, Cassia, Alphitonia, Neem tree and Curry tree.

David signed up to Land for Wildlife in 2013

Jasmine Jan- A member’s and artist’s story

Jasmine has allowed us to use her fabulous art work to promote our Land for Wildlife, Top End program. Most recently Jasmine hosted our aquatic plant workshop. We have a made some posters featuring her (above painting) to go out in the rural area to tell people about the program and what those gate signs mean! Here is her members story –

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 An obsession with wildlife, a love of the bush and a desire to own a property with a natural water feature was the drive behind searching the weekend newspapers real estate guide for years. Then one day a small ad appears in the classifieds section and reads “105 acres at Lambells lagoon, bushblock with wet season waterhole. Put your house in the middle and never see the neighbours”.

 

We got in the 4WD drove out to the place and discovered it literally was just a bushblock with no development on it at all. For me it was like a blank canvas or a fresh clean sheet of watercolour paper just waiting for an artist to create something with it.

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This block was a bushland oasis completely surrounded by mango farms and market gardens. We drove the 4WD onto the property following a natural clearing through the bush as there was no driveway or track in. It turns out the natural clearing was a drainage line for the wet season waterhole. We pulled up on the edge of an amazing flooded paperbark billabong that was bristling with white waterlilies and our jaws literally dropped.

 Jasmin Jan- Honey EAters

It was three years before we started building on the block. It was the best thing we ever did. The block is just a mecca for wildlife and as a wildlife artist I was soaking up inspiration from every direction. It is not unusual for me to experience a David Attenborough moment whilst working in my studio/gallery which sits on the edge of the Paperbark billabong and acts as a huge bird hide. One highlight was watching a pair of Black-necked Storks teaching their young one how to fish in the shallows of the billabong literally 8 metres away from my studio verandah. Another memorable moment was canoeing in amongst the reeds and waterlilies to discover a pair of Green Pygmy Geese leading their group of 6 ducklings away from me.

 

It is fascinating to see the changes taking place at this waterhole from the dry season to the build-up and into the wet season. Not a day goes by without me feeling grateful for the amazing lifestyle that we enjoy living on this piece of paradise.

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One of the things we do enjoy is showing people our little piece of paradise. It almost seems criminal to not share our amazing place with others who can appreciate and enjoy the joys that a natural bush block can bring.

Check out Jasmine’s website at http://www.jasminejan.com.au/

Member’s story- Chris Bink’s Howard Spring Block

Chris Binks

This is the first in a series we will post to the website of member stories! Chris only joined this year, but has helped at our stall at The Tropical Garden Spectacular and come to both workshops and wrote this story for the last newsletter. It is great to hear about people’s land and how they manage and love it, so here you go, We would love your stories  too-

Chris Binks- Howard Springs, Joined Land for Wildlife 2014

I purchased 5 acres in Howard Springs approximately 10 years ago. The block was predominately cleared and had maybe a dozen mango trees on it. It was choked with mission grass which aided an intense fire which killed off some of the mangoes and burnt 4/5 of the block and nearly the pre-existing shack.

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Through trial and error, speaking with various people and groups, (including the Bushfire Council) I slowly but surely all but eradicated the mission grass as well as hiptus and the odd clump of gamba grass. Spear grass is now the dominate grass species. Concurrently I also stopped getting the block slashed, possibly the vector which introduced the foreign grasses in the first place. Many native trees started appearing on their own accord when the slashing had stopped, they say the Australian Bush has a long memory.

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I’ve planted 60 to 80 native trees and shrubs a year for the last 5 years, as well as a few other non-native trees such as tamarind and mango. I like to plant mainly natives as they are often hardy, water wise and quick growing. I’ll generally water the new plants either by hand or by reticulation for a Dry or two but after that you’re on your own. Having dug post holes in the Dry I know there is moisture in the soil from about 600mm down, a layer of clay below this aiding the water retention. If they can get their roots into this they’re generally away.

It is not my intention to try and return the block into what it must of looked like prior to being cleared. I do like the orange grevillea and Pandanas which appear to dominate the area when the land is allowed to rejuvenate on its own accord, but if I was to remain true to what was originally here that means I couldn’t plant beauty leaf or salmon gums or many other species that I’ve taken a liking too but aren’t endemic to the area. I feel it is easier and more cost effective to protect what natural bush we have left rather than trying to recreate what has gone. Often I feel intact native land is cleared haphazardly, all tied into politics, bureaucracy and kowtowing to big business.

 

I remember the neighbour, who had been there for 25 years, saying he wished he had planted natives, his house being obscured by towering Poinciana’s and African mahoganies. For me the middle road is best, I love many of the native trees but I also don’t mind eating a mango straight from the tree in season, the flying foxes don’t seem to mind them either.

Aquatic landscape and propagation workshop!

lagoonAquatic-Weeds-Poster-2013_webLast Saturday a fantastic workshop was attended by over 30 Land for Wildlife members, held at Jasmin Jan’s beautiful 105 acre bush block, between Humpty Doo and Lambell’s lagoon.  It was a pretty warm day, but the venue and serenity of the drying lagoon was very unique. We all now have rain and aquatics landscapes in mind, after being inspired by the talks and demos- so lets hope it rains soon!

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The block is in a horticultural zoning and was saved from being bulldozed about 12 years ago by local member Gerry Woods (and others). When it could not be used for horticulture it was sold in a private newspaper advert and Jasmin and her partner became the lucky owners. They  have slowly built a dwelling and a studio over looking the large lagoon that takes up about 20 acres. They have worked tirelessly at managing the land, keeping it free of weeds and feral animals such as pigs, which damage the water margins and eat many water plants that other native animals rely on. Pig hunters can also be an issue and they try and keep these away too! There are still many cane toads,  but the lagoon is a refugee to a huge number of native water birds, turtles, fish and many other animals. Jasmin feels very strongly about protecting native wildlife and the block is not fenced.

Walk at JAsmins

We started the workshop with a walk along the lagoon edge to see the different landscape types within the block and to hear about some of the management issues and tasks and enjoy the feel and composition of the land.  We then came back to the art studio area, which is surrounded by wonderful art pieces inspired by nature and wildlife..

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Dave Wilson, aquatic plant expert then gave us a talk about the various local aquatic plants used in ornamental or functional ponds, including native Taro (Colocasia esculenta) , an edible fern (Ceratopteris thalictroides) and many other wondrous plants of our waterways. His website www.aquagreen.com.au has stacks of information, species lists and articles.

NAtive taroHe also talked about the importance of  not letting non native fish into our water systems and  how to have a pond with non natives, if desired, and not let them into the local environment. A great point of interest was how to make natural swimming pools with various different filter plants . Dave has sent us a detailed document he wrote on Natural swimming pools. Click here to read it.  They look amazing! This is an example below-

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 Belinda Townend from weeds branch and Greg Leach from Greening Australia then gave a presentation on aquatic weeds, how to identify them, how they spread and why they are good to manage, and what a view from the studio- over the lagoon!

Prop workshop

After smoko, we had a fantastic session about propagation techniques from Yvette Brady and looked at marginal and other plants, sowing seed, but particularly at cuttings.

Yvettte presents too

Yvette plant

All topped off with lunch and a chance for members to meet each other. We can’t wait for the next workshop and would like to thanks Jasmin Jan for hosting and her constant support of the program and allowing us to use her art work in the website and promotions. We would also like to thanks all of our presenters who gave up their Saturday!Sterculia seeds

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Voluntary Conservation for Top End Native landscapes