Backyard Buddies

Photo: Bill Mark Bell

B-mail July 2017

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Mistletoes and Mistletobirds

Mistletoes are a semi-parasitic plant that live off their host tree and are found all over Australia’s mainland. They have a bad reputation in some areas, but they also use their powers for good. They are often the only flowering plant during winter or drought in an area where their orange or red blossoms provide a vital source of food for wildlife. Their partner in crime is the Mistletoebird, digesting the soft outer flesh and depositing the seeds which germinate swiftly into a new plant.

There are ninety species of Mistletoe in Australia, of which seventy are native. They are often seen growing on eucalypts, banksias, wattles, mangroves and casuarinas and sometimes their leaves will mimic the host tree’s leaves.

Mistletoe fruit, flowers, nectar and leaves are food for koalas, sugargliders and possums, plus many bird species including cuckoo-shrikes, ravens, cockatoos, shrike-thrushes, bowerbirds, emus, cassowaries and of course the Mistletoebird which eats nothing else.

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Re-Wilding a Sydney Backyard

If you are sick of mowing your lawn and are yearning to get back to nature in your own backyard, Malcolm Fisher has some tips for you. From knowing literally nothing about Australian native plants, Malcolm completely transformed his Northern Sydney garden into a stunning native habitat haven, complete with fishpond and nesting boxes.

Here are some excerpts from his blog:

When I first came to Australia from the UK, I had a fondness for the environment but knew virtually nothing about Australian nature. Years later, when I moved from inner city living into a suburban house with a backyard, something special happened. Fascinating visitors such as Blue Tongue Lizards, Leaf Tailed Geckos and Possums provided magical wildlife encounters and my conservation passion, long suppressed, became reignited…"

A ban on toxic substances means that butterflies and cicadas can fly around more safely. Caterpillars are allowed to chomp away to their heart’s content. This type of garden requires virtually no watering; falling leaves don’t have to be swept away (as they provide natural mulch) and the local possums kindly provide their own brand of proprietary fertilisers…

I have also converted the “nature strip” of foreign grasses and weeds in the front of the house into a mini habitat area with Lomandras, Dianellas and trees. (again, this is now a mow free zone).”

You can read the full story here

Winter Wanderers

Grey Fantails Travel far and wide

Grey Fantails breed in specific areas but during winter they travel far and wide and are seen all over the country, except in very arid desert areas. They are hyperactive little birds, always on the move, and you will spot them in suburban gardens flitting from branch to branch in search of insects.

It is not a shy bird and will let you come quite close or even hop up to you. They are frequent users of backyard birdbaths, not scared of the bigger birds or even most pets.

Their colouring differs depending on where they live and some sub-species are significantly lighter or darker than the commonly recognised fantail.

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In Our Big Backyard

The freshwater crocodile is considered shy and generally harmless

To frighten a tourist visiting Australia, you need only mention the word “crocodile” to see the fear in their eyes. But as long as you stay out of their territory, crocs will not pose a threat to people. The freshwater, or Johnstone’s crocodile, lives in inland creeks, rivers, lakes and swamps across northwest Western Australia to northern Queensland. They feed mainly on fish and crustaceans but have been known to chomp on small mammals, birds and reptiles.

Unlike the aggressive saltwater crocodile, the freshwater crocodile is considered shy and generally harmless. The only danger is from a nesting female who is fiercely protective of her eggs and young.

Did you know the gender of the babies is determined by temperature?

Depending on the incubation temperature, eggs kept at 31- 32C will produce males and 28 - 29°C produce females. A temperature of 30 - 31°C will produce embryos of both sexes. Unfortunately for the croc, many eggs are eaten by monitor lizards and feral pigs. No wonder the mum is so aggressive on her nest!

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