Things That Go Bump in the Night

During the past week (end of June!), a young couple in one of the holiday flats complained about excessive rustling in their kitchen cupboard and accused me of harbouring mice. I conceded the possibility, especially as there are always a few field-mice about, but normally they don’t make much of a racket; they are discreet and rare visitors that simply leave their calling card in the form of black droppings.

With the help of a LIVE mouse trap we caught 3 of these visitors the first night. They looked like mice but I’d never seen mice here before, apart from the dainty, tiny field-mice and was reluctant to give these creatures the ‘chop’. They had sparse, very sparse hair on their tails, which ended in tiny tufts of hair. I released them in the bush.

Next night a further 2 were caught and then released. The lady (with a new adorable baby girl in arm), was getting a little irate with my enthusiasm for their mice, and when her husband caught a further co-habitant of their flat he took it and the trap to the Fisheries and Wildlife Office. In all, there were seven caught. Prompt and very helpful identification established these creatures to be: BROWN ANTECHINUS, commonly called MARSUPIAL MICE, and he returned with a photocopy of their life story.

I quote:

‘All Brown Antechinus males die at the age of about eleven and a half months in the course of a few frenetic days at the end of a brief annual mating season. Males become increasingly aggressive as winter progresses and their aggressive staccato bursts of ‘chee’ vocalisations are heard more and more frequently as the mating season approaches (August in southern Australia). By this time males can be seen fearlessly racing about in search of females. (Even in cupboards!!!) At the end of this period, not one single male is left alive. Death results from the stress associated with vigorous searching for a females, mating and the extensive aggressive encounters between males. It appears that stress hormones reduce the effectiveness of the immune system, leaving the males to succumb to parasites of the blood and intestine and to bacterial infections of the liver. Not being aggressive, females avoid this extreme syndrome and may survive to breed in a second year.’

Immediate questions raised at the Abode Flats were: Can a similar reason be assumed for the fact that males die younger than females, and is it better to be careful and live longer. Or??? (We were not talking about tobacco here!…)

We also have native SOUTHERN BUSH-RATS at the flats, (as well as LONG NOSED BANDICOOTS, various possums and a multitude of colourful birds!). Again they are a welcome addition to my guest list. It is important to explain that these attractive creatures are NOT common rats. I quote: “The Australian Bush-rats are true native animals. Although they belong to the same genus as the repulsive introduced rats, these native rats have been inhabitants of this continent for many thousands of years. The native rats are clean and quite attractive little animals, with soft glossy fur. Being exclusively bush-dwelling, never found in the cities, or in garbage, severs or other man-made sources of disease, these mammals are as clean as any other bush creatures”.

They are indeed attractive creatures and after explaining their differences from RATTUS RATTUS (and this is easy with their rounded faces, shorter tails and darker colourings), people often come and report sightings of these outside their flats with a lot of satisfaction and joy. ACTUALLY they are so cute and fat, that I have caught myself thinking” ‘How would they be in the pan??’

Possums are often accused of being dirty, smelly nuisances, but I find them here at the holiday flats to be cute, friendly, harmless and cuddly. They can easily be convinced to eat fruit or bread out of one’s hand. Actually one of the delights of showing the possums to my visiting younger guests is to teach them how to SMELL a possum. Firstly make sure they are engaged in eating; stroke the animal with one hand and at the same time press your nose into their fur. It smells for all the world like a clean wool-wash. After all, they live in trees, hardly ever touch the ground and are never close to anything dirty. The trouble starts when homes are built badly and the possums ‘discover new homes’: – and pee through the ceiling. Don’t blame the possums, FIX THE EAVES!!!

At times I feel like a ‘caretaker’ in a little piece of Paradise. You ask: ‘How do pets fit into this Garden of Eden? One of the most amazing things is that despite the wealth of NATIVE AUSTRALIAN ANIMALS at the holiday flats, DOGS DO FIT IN!!! Of course, ONLY because they are strictly inside and if outside, ALWAYS on a lead. I feel it is a little like the reverse of a bird-cage; the admirer and/or predator is inside and safety behind glass and the big, beautiful world is OUTSIDE – FREE, UNAFRAID, NATURAL, AND AT PEACE.

If you also want to make sure that you do not condemn to death some of our unique and beaut creatures, I suggest you buy a live mouse-trap. I do not have shares with the company quoted, but they will sell you one of their contraptions willingly.

Should you first encounter with one of our marsupial mice or smaller gliders be the offerings of your cat, you can quickly ‘smell a rat’ if the assumed mouse CLINGS to the fur of the playful cat, (or you!!!) rather than runs away. Grasp and release the native animal, smack the cat and SAVE THE DAY.

Peter Kurz
Supplier of Live Mouse Trap: Bellsouth P/L (03) 9796 7044

Local Heroes Urgently Needed

Lyrebirds are courting and preparing to mate at this time of the year. The female prepares a nest on the ground, hidden amongst free-ferns, on a stump or between rocks. And if all goes well after 6 weeks incubation, she produces one little babe, that has to stay another 6 weeks in the nest. There is an active breeding colony down Mullet Creek. The courtship is easy to watch as the male bird, selecting all the loudest and clearest bird calls around, mimics these and spins them into a wonderful non-stop, one person, orchestral performance punctuated by its own ‘clucks’. I always smile when I hear him as he is so keen to impress that the perfectly imitated calls blend together. He must breathe in and out on the low and high notes? Once you are close enough to watch, the swishing and flinging of his superb lyre tail is something that becomes unforgettable. Even when the bird strolls behind a fallen tree the tail will still be seen, calling and courting with an aesthetic beauty that surely must impress the ladies. The ladies are there, scratching in the leaf littler, apparently unaware but without doubt (knowing human nature) checking out this strutting male.

The trouble in 1992 is FOXES. Because of the rapidly increasing number of rabbits and the nearly total cessation of hunting for fox-skins, (nobody wants to be seen in a fur coat nowadays), these introduced, highly intelligent hunters have increased to plague proportions and are wiping out nearly every clutch of ground-nesting birds. If the potential mother is lucky she will fly and escape but the brood’s doomed. C&E claims to have no money, and can’t look at the problem.

So when my guests told me with excitement about a lyrebird making a nest in a tree 40 feet up, along the Double Creek Nature Trail, we all thought ‘this one will beat the foxes’. There was a daily report on the progress, home building is never easy, especially if every mouthful of twigs and sticks has to be carried from the ground up in stages from branch to branch (hop, hop) – but she did it!!! The euphoria turned into consternation once we thought what would happen to the fledgling. Can it fly after 6 weeks?? I don’t know. HOWEVER, again there is a long term solution to this perplexing problem. We have an active MALLACOOTA GUN CLUB that advertises club meetings, etc. in the Mallacoota Mouth. And again, hunters say that they are environmentalists (‘MIND YOU, NOT GREENIES, OH NO’), but certainly in touch with nature. Would it be possible for the members of the gun-club to elect to help out threatened feathered friends and have an intense campaign of eradication of foxes around Mallacoota?! There couldn’t be a better challenge, as foxes are everything a hunter dreams of, nearly equal in intelligence, totally unprotected, not too far from home, a pest, wily and cunning, making a pretty good trophy, AND certainly will earn the hunter a big THANK YOU from humans and other Mallacootians. The GUN CLUB could outstrip our LIONS CLUB in popularity!!! For a start there are foxes in the gully behind the Adobe Flats and I offer a reward of $50 for every fox destroyed. See you there!!!