Seeing is Believing

Seeing is Believing.

Seeing is believing, goes the saying, but sometimes things happen which makes you question that saying and when it does, you are temporarily (or permanently depending on what you are looking at) transported to a less certain frame of mind.

Last year, within a few days of one another, I was surprised to find unexpected creatures on the road.

The first, on Fogarty’s Gap road in Walmer, nonchalantly loping along, stopping occasionally to sniff the air, was a biscuit-and-white ferret. It quickly left the road on seeing me and did not reappear even with the super encouragement of my ‘Come and see what I’ve got for you,’ voice beside the bushes where it disappeared. It was a couple of kilometres from the nearest house. It got me wondering what happens to all those ferrets that go down rabbit burrows, make a kill and then go to sleep and never get recovered by their owners. So why do we not have a feral ferret population?

New Zealand has a couple of locations where ferrets have established self-replicating colonies and unfortunately feed on the chicks and eggs of the Royal Albatross. (Traps are now laid in and around the albatross breeding sites.) So perhaps we are just lucky that Freda and Fred Ferret haven’t found places like Walmer conducive to cohabitating and raising a family. (Or perhaps they just haven’t found each other yet?) Added to the twelve million feral cats in the country, feral ferrets would be yet another disaster for Australia’s smaller native creatures.

My next encounter of the feral kind happened on the road to Castlemaine just before the Moto-Cross circuit. A large grey-brown critter jumped out into the middle of the road and stopped. I stopped. We eyed each other for a moment, it then took off into the Maldon Forest Reserve. Mind racing, catalogue in the head double checking, ‘Sambar deer, India’ came the result, although the Sambar came here from Sri Lanka. Not sure why but perhaps it was for quarantine related reasons.

Fallow dear in the Muckleford forest.

Weeks later, the first reports came of deer sightings on the road near the old ruins of the Gower school. But not Sambar deer. This time they were Fallow deer. Think Walt Disney’s Bambi for this one. NOTE: I’ve just been corrected by a reader. Bambi was a White Tailed deer fawn – not a Fallow deer. Thank you Brett Parker. (Visit Brett’s web entry on deer and other intrusive species.) A group of up to twenty animals make quite regular evening crossings We do not know why the deer cross the road as it is the same sort of country on both sides. My theory on this one is that they move around over quite a large area because that is what deer do. (By the way, just received the first report of a driver hitting one, apparently only lightly and without damage or injury. So drivers beware.)

Sightings – apart the road crossings – are to the west, close to dams on Mia Mia track and the corner of Bell’s Lane track; and to the east – around the Lewis Road – Muckleford Road area, and closer to Maldon, on a property in Boundary Road and including the old pig farm orchard. (A lone fallow deer is often sighted hanging out with a small mob of kangaroos on the lower slopes of Mt. Alexander in Harcourt.)

In trying to trace the origin of these deer, we need to think back to the time when they were farmed in anticipation of a growing and profitable market. For various reasons the market did not eventuate and around the country we hear of deer being let out or not recovered when they escaped. We know that quite a large number of Fallow deer escaped from a Walmer property around ten years ago. (A local reports that ‘crazy moron feral shooters climbed over the gate and had a go at them and for that reason they broke out and ran away’.) You would, wouldn’t you?

The Sambar deer may have come from a property close to Newstead where a freak storm went along a section of Mia Mia Road around six years ago, uprooting trees which fell on the deer fences setting the Sambar free.

There are lots of other stories and theories including the migration of deer up the river valley to Newstead from the forested areas around Daylesford and Hepburn and then into our forest reserves.

What does the presence of deer mean for our grey-box forest areas? Well, apart from the Bambi or ‘cute’ factor, the presence of deer is not good. Any introduced species takes food from native animals. They destroy native habitat and eventually change or destroy the bush itself as did the early miners goats helped denude Mt Tarrangower.

Fallow deer need regular access to pasture so that they will probably always stay in bush close to developed farmland. The Sambar (and the Rusa) deer is different. Of the six deer species now existing in Australia, it is the one most comfortable living in our forest reserves, even to the point of feeding on the young leaves of eucalypts and indigenous bush species as well as native grasses and other herbage. Access to pasture is not necessary for their survival.

So, now that your deer and ferret sightings won’t be so surprising, there are other things. The small family of emus occasionally seen on the back-roads to Castlemaine, (does anyone know if they have raised young while running free?) or the often talked about but not-seen-in-recent-times goats on Mt Tarrangower, and Koalas are scattered throughout our region though not easily discovered, and you will likely get a sore neck searching.

And what about the now locally rare, very big Goanna seen on a back road near Baringhup? And do we take seriously the Big Cat paw prints reported near a dam close to Bells Lane track? (Maybe that’s why the deer cross the road each night.) Hang on, lets not speculate. Sticking to what we see is enough for now.

So, if you do go down in the woods today, take your camera – and a friend, and leave the dog at home with a bone. You could be in for a big surprise.

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