Stranger Danger

Stranger Danger.

Stranger danger; big time. Imagine you are looking through the kitchen window at your young children – or grandchildren – playing in the backyard. Suddenly, a dark shadow slides across the scene. You lean forward and look up to the sky. Something you’ve never seen before is hovering, swaying in the gentle breeze. A creature hangs beneath its single giant wing, looking down at the kids. What do you do?

Wedge-tailed eagles nest.

A friend living in a house close to the middle of a hundred-plus acre paddock on Mt Back Road behind Mount Tarrangower was recently surprised to hear shouting somewhere outside. He walked around the building scanning the property and the horizon but could not see anyone. Then the shouting began again, giving direction to the source. He looked up into the sky. There, above a valley running down from the top of the mountain was a lone para glider, circling slowly, floating on an updraft, a beautiful example of human technological achievement. But not everyone thought it was wonderful. Circling the glider were Maldon’s pair of wedge tailed eagles and far below them in a big gum tree was their nest and this year it contained two chicks.

We cannot give you exact details of what the eagles did but we know that they came in very close to the flyer and were definitely harassing him. Sufficient to say that they scared the para glider person who did a lot of yelling which we presume he did in an effort to keep them away. Our informant tells us that as far as he knows, the flyer has never returned.

This pair of Wedgies has lived on the mountain for many years. Each year they select an existing nest from one of three locations. Sometimes, it will be the same nest for two consecutive years, the following year they will move to one of the other nests. We don’t know why. Their closest neighbours that I am aware of are a pair who nest at a location between Walmer and Harcourt and a second pair nest west of Baringhup. There would be others.

We most often notice eagles circling high up, riding updrafts while travelling huge distances. As you can imagine, they can’t just nest comfortably in any old spot. They would attract too much attention. Eagles are a symbol of freedom in many countries of the world.

Magic mountain moments

This story got me thinking about the mountain generally and in particular, the likely ‘stranger danger’ to our big ‘wind-break’ behind the village.

We should not take the mountain for granted. It has happened before. Old photos tell us how it was once denuded of trees as they were cut down to feed the demand for fuel at the mines and for the residents; and herds of goats and cattle wandered freely feeding on the low scrub and meagre herbage that remained.

With a growing population and easy access from the cities, Mt Tarrangower will increasingly becoming a valuable recreational asset so that we can expect more activity there. We accept that the Maldon Folk Festival and the annual car Hill Climb enjoy the Butts, the venue at the base of the mountain. In recent times, a mountain bike track has been established which borders the road from the top terminating at the Butts facilities at the bottom. Orienteering groups sometimes use the mountain. Many local folk and visitors walk on the mountain enjoying the health benefits while also being exposed to a mini ‘bush experience’.

Preserving this tiny mountain is important. The only negative aspects of human activity that I observe on my frequent walks are things that can – with a little effort and maybe proper signage – be overcome.

This first negative is the too regular presence of unaccompanied dogs. Most often this is in the early morning, probably when the dog is first let out at home. A dog’s natural inclination is to go out and wander the streets checking smells and if lucky, chase the occasional homeward-bound cat. Too often these animals discover the mountain and in particular the kangaroos and wallabies who live there. I’ve seen the same dog three mornings in a row careering every which-way and for nearly an hour, in pursuit of one of the small family mobs of kangaroos. The dog will usually be out of control, that is, any effort to attract its attention or divert it goes unnoticed. I have often encountered one of the same dogs trotting homeward in the town, happily panting with its tongue hanging out as it hurries on it’s way hoping perhaps, to get back inside the yard before it’s keeper discovers its absence.

The message here is ‘please ensure that your dog remains permanantly and securely on your property and that it only leaves under your supervision’. Some might ask ‘why does it matter?’ to which the simple answer is that apart from the damage to the mountain ecology, these small mobs get used to the walkers and are not usually afraid. One can sit and observed them up close and this gives the watcher great pleasure. When dogs chase these animals they become wary of both humans and dogs and more often than not will already have moved off before the walker even gets to see them.

But there are many more reasons not to have animals crashing around the bush. Here is a short list of some of those reasons. Twice, a sudden bursting out of the grass of the tiny secretive ground dwelling bird, the quail, has surprised me. This robust but dainty bird nests on the ground making its eggs and young vulnerable to the crushing feet of fast moving mammals as well as the early morning hunting dogs, the feral cats and foxes. Add to this the tiny mammals that should (or might) still be there, phascogales and dunnarts, along with the still common echidna and that rare wandering visitor, the koala. (I have watched an old koala drinking at a dam in the Muckleford Forest and thought how vulnerable it was to a dog attack.) And when was the last time a goanna was seen on the mountain?

Then there’s you and me

Desperate 4×4 drivers can be a cause for greater concern. There is a track on the far side of the mountain which leads down off the main road that goes up to the top, which provide 4×4 owners with a ‘grunt’ experience. It’s steep and ‘dirty’ and getting more dirty as time passes. The deeper the wheel ruts the more the boys seem to like it and they love attaching their winches to a tree to get them out and going again. I noticed that at one tricky spot, the granite boulder poking up between the deep ruts showed signs of heavy bashing by metal suggesting a possible spark and fire hazard. A sign pointing north and which reads ‘To: Sandy Desert /Tanami Track/Finke River Road via Mildura, might encourage them to find a more suitable location.

Our mountain is not large. You can drive all around the base of it – 12.8 kilometres – well inside half-an-hour. ‘Stranger danger’ can take many forms but the main danger might come from population pressure. Maldon and district residents should keep this in mind. The mountain is a truly valuable asset whichever way you look at it. We should look out for it as we would look out for our family.

Suggested reading: Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country by Chris Tzaros (CSIRO Publishing)

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

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