Naked Ladies and noises in the dark

Naked Ladies and noises in the dark.

Large numbers of the brilliant pink and leafless Naked Ladies (Amaryllis Belladonna) have enlivened our region this year both in their quantity and their seemingly darker and more vivid shades of pink, leading me to wonder whether this is the result of the lower monthly rainfalls and higher temperatures we’ve had this summer and autumn. The plant is not native to Australia. It originated in the Western Cape region of South Africa. It likes our climate rather more than most other introduced garden plants so it has little trouble jumping the fence and colonizing nature strips and the edges of bush land. It seems so inoffensive that I find I have trouble getting into my usual grumpy state of mind over plants in the wrong place or their possible threat to native habitat.

I might take this opportunity to mention the Cootamundra Wattle, which, though native to Australia, is not native to our local Box-Ironbark woodland. We are naturally impressed with this shrub when it is in flower, but a quick look around Maldon’s forest edge will show how it is successfully invading the lower slopes of Mt Tarrangower and to the detriment of smaller local Wattles, trees and small bush plants. This is a legitimate case to ‘not spare the axe’ and for pulling young saplings out when spotted.

Rutting noisy

If you happened to be deep in the Muckleford Forest after sundown in early April (unlikely for most of you) – you might have discovered that you are not alone. A bellowing sound would issue from the bush, sometimes close and at other times far off. You were probably not in any danger, but then who knows? It is the rutting season and what was once a small herd of Fallow deer when we first reported and photographed them in 2009, has grown and is now fragmenting into ever more small groups and new families. Stags are abroad in the darkness and making a lot of noise in their search for females.

It is the onset of shorter daylight hours and/or the arrival of new green feed, which triggers this sudden pre-mating splurge of activity.

Just a warning while we are talking about deer. Small groups of deer regularly cross the main road to Castlemaine and to a lesser extent, the Newstead road. (Deer have been appearing on the southern slopes of Mt Tarrangower for a year or more.) Suddenly being confronted with deer when driving is becoming a common occurrence and, unlike kangaroos which keep moving – albeit erratically – deer will prop in the middle of the road and stare at the oncoming vehicle which is unnerving for all. So beware!

Primitive Plovers

Plovers! Where are they? There used to be a pair of these eccentric birds standing on, or pacing slowly about the nature strips in many of our Maldon streets, but sadly and suddenly the numbers of these bizarre animals has been reduced. You might recall hearing their loud coarse screaming calls during the night or the early morning hours as they took to the air and did wheelies around the block. If you happened to be too to near to where the pair had laid their eggs in a depression on the ground you may have experienced the dive-bombing attack as they acted to defend their nest site. You may have also witnessed one of the birds running off seemingly wounded and dragging a drooping wing in the hope you would pursue them and so not discover their nest. This action has given them another name – Lapwing. The pair who lived near me nested at the edge of the CFA car park but a couple of years back, someone removed the eggs as they or someone had done the year before, and so the parents disappeared to who knows where.

Primitive is the only word one can use to describe the plover. They seem to live on a different planet, oblivious to the real world around them, especially when nesting. You may have seen the sign a farmer erected beside the back road to Castlemaine that read ‘Beware plover nest beside road’, and sure enough, just around the corner and at the edge of the tarmac was a plover sitting on her eggs.

Once hatched, the fluffy chicks are taught to hide and to remain absolutely still to avoid detection from overhead predators, mainly kookaburras and hawks. On the ground, snakes, lizards and foxes and last but not least, your moggy or crossbred fluffy mutt are the hunters. Yes, I have come to the conclusion that our pets are the biggest reason for the plovers disappearance, and that is very sad because we could do something about it. But we won’t – will we?

Please Bag the Cat!

It will one day be against the law to allow your cat to run free. For so much of our wildlife – birds, lizards and frogs – this day cannot come too soon. Adopt your local plover family as an enjoyable project, treating them with the same care you show to your pets. Keeping your cat or dog on your property and/or locked up during the plovers breeding season would be a great help. Our wildlife really does need your help.

Country Notebook articles are written by Richard Lee for his monthly newspaper column of the same name.

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