Nature notes from an Australian summer
Life on land
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Life on land
In a hard to discover and hillside nature reserve, the first animal we find is the Short-beaked Echidna Tachyglossus aculeatus,a Monotreme, and along with the Platypus Ornithorhynchus anatinus, Echidnas are the only egg laying mammals on earth.
There are four species of Echidna (just this one remains in Australia) and there are five subspecies of the Short-beaked Echidna, these are regional differences which can be significant. These are
The Short-beaked Echidna has a low body temperature compared to other mammals and is susceptible to heat stress.
Next, our attention turns to the riverbank, it is here where the threatened Macquarie Perch Macquaria australasica lives.The species was abundant until the 1920s and the populations that remain are now small and isolated. The usual culprits here, clearing river banks and river habitat, changing river flows, introduced species such as Trout, irrigation, over fishing, pollution from runoff from farmland, have all had a major impact on the many freshwater species in Victoria. Today we can add the severe impact of climate change to the fish’s problems.
The Macquarie Perch can reach a weight of 3.5 kilos around450 millimetres in length, today the larger fish are very rare. The fish is a bluish grey, sometimes a blackish colour and has large white eyes. The list of freshwater species in Victoria that are now in trouble is long and includes the River Blackfish Gadopsis marmoratus and the Trout Cod Maccullochella macquariensis.
Over the last few weeks the young frogs have started to emerge from the water to catch insects. Today it is warm, about 33 degrees Celsius and overcast, so the weather is unusually humid for this time of year and the season so far has generally been wetter. There is still a greenness here. In the shady warm light there are plenty of places for reptiles to enjoy the warming sun.
Next to the wetlands track we look for snakes, and here they are in the afternoon sun. First, we find a very healthy looking and plump Eastern Brown Snake Pseudonaja textilis. This is a very familiar snake as we had many on our own wildlife park reserve in Victoria. The Eastern Brown Snake is an egg laying or oviparous snake and adults can reach around two meters in length. And next we find some Copperheads.
The Copperhead Austrelaps superbus is a species closely related to freshwater habitats and these snakes feed on frogs and smaller lizards. The Copperhead is Australia’s most cool climate adapted snake (there is a highland form which extends its habitat above the snowline). Copperheads are viviparous and females give birth to an average of 14 young. Our Copperheads seem relaxed at our presence and remain coiled in the thick grasses just next to the path.
If you love reptiles as we do, you will know just how wonderful and varied these animals are. Australia is a paradise for anyone interested in reptile species, it is also home to some of the world’s most venomous snakes, and our two snake species here would probably fit comfortably in Australia’s top ten of the most poisonous. So the number one rule is to leave them alone and never attempt to harm them.
In Australia there are seven families of snakes, two are sea snakes. The five ‘terrestrial’ families are composed of 36 genera and 136 described species. There are 32 species of sea snake.
Leaving the snakes behind, now it is time to look to the sky.
We watch a pair of King Parrots Alisterus scapularis and they require forests with large trees to flourish. So Australia’s logging practices do these wonderful birds no favours.
Then, as always, or mostly always, is the chortling sound that so defines Australia, the Australian Magpie Cracticus tibicen. There is a family here with their young.
And the last, for this blog anyway, a Superb Fairywren Malurus cyaneus sitting on a wire. He is superb indeed.
We drove through parts of regional Victoria and on quiet rural roads we had not travelled before. On this trip we saw two dead Wombats by the roadside but not a single dead Kangaroo or Wallaby (a sad, but nonetheless, accurate measure of abundance). In all the landscapes we saw in this part of Victoria, and we looked at large vistas of now grassy hillsides that were once forest, we did not see a single Kangaroo, and we are very good at finding them.