Visitors and Wildlife

by Margie Riley

‘Won’t it be wonderful’, we mused, ‘to be able to show them a snake, or that huge goanna that visits the chook pen, perhaps the echidna. Oh, and definitely the resident koala!’

We were confident that the wildlife with which we share our seven acres would oblige, after all we saw them almost on a daily basis.

My sister and her husband, imminent arrivals from England, were coming to stay for a hot Christmas, leaving behind them the cold and dreariness of mid-December Wiltshire, UK. They were visiting the south east corner of Queensland, Australia, where we knew we could provide the warmth. We were keeping our fingers crossed for the sun, since we were well aware that it’s not a given in our summers.

The day of their arrival in mid-December was hot and dry, the sun shone from a pure azure sky and the desiccated grass crackled beneath our feet as if frosted. We’d had a long, hot, rainless spell throughout October, November and into December. How we longed to show them our valley in all its glorious greenery.

We were full of family chat and the excitement of meeting after a few years’ and we strode off on a walk that first day to permit them to stretch their legs and to help rid themselves of the confinements and constraints of long-haul air travel. We walked down the track to the dam wall and traversed it marvelling that after all those months of drought there was still water for the animals. We gazed up at the imposing granite escarpment, topped by the Maiala National Park, which towers over our block. We provide the first permanent water for the residents of the park and any other thirsty travellers.

We peered up into ‘our’ koala’s favourite tree. Recent scratchings on the trunk indicated that he still liked that particular eucalypt. Not there…

‘Ah, perhaps he’s in this one instead.’ No.
‘Maybe he’s gone next door. You know how he likes the grey gum there.’

He was nowhere to be seen. We were not downcast as we had another six days or so at home with them, interspersed with visits to friends and family. Day two of their visit was equally non-productive in our search for native animals, although the birdlife was spectacular. The local flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos were screeching, shouting:

‘Look at that! Look at that!’

The rainbow lorikeets chattering and darting from branch to branch in their multi-coloured food-gathering dance; the kookaburras indulging in a cacophony whilst feeding their young; and the silliest birds, the plovers, taking umbrage at our cheeky insistence of walking within ‘cooee’ of their nests.

All was not lost in the animal search. We visited Australia Zoo on day three and saw koalas, kangaroos and wallabies, doves, parakeets, tigers, elephants, echidnas and more snakes than you can poke a stick at.

‘Oh no, what’s that?’

The rain started. We had two hundred millimetres of rain during their ten day visit, but it didn’t spoil our plans. It did, however, curtail the search for the wildlife.
The valley looked a treat, it came alive. The grass emerald green, thick and lush, and the cattle and horses — mares with foal at foot — living nearby were gorging on its richness and enjoying the sugar-laden summer abundance.

‘Can you believe it?’ we asked with wonder at the transformation from harsh brown stubble, to the lush sub-tropical feel and appearance.

My sister and her husband left two days after Christmas. As we drove out, the causeway from the valley was flooded and we clung, just that little bit extra tight, onto the car grab-handles as we drove carefully over it. The water wasn’t deep, but it was rushing strongly over the pavement.

Friends came to stay two days after my sister and her husband’s departure. He is a Queenslander; she a native of cooler Victoria, the Garden State.

‘Oh there he is!’ said she, when she spotted the koala, high up in his favourite tree. He remained there day until their four-day sojourn was up.

During the early evening of New Year’s Eve, the doors to the house were open. The weather was balmy, the mosquitoes still abed and the fans quietly circulating the warm air — a typical south east Queensland summer night.

‘I’ll just go and shut the chooks up for the night,’ I announced as I left the house to ensure they were roosting safely and to secure their pen.

When I walked back into the house I noticed a small, dark, furry creature cowering on the bench under the window inside the laundry door.

‘What’s this?’

It was a tiny bat. I remembered the cautionary messages about not touching any type of bat and we set about trying to encourage it to exit the house. This is not an easy task.

Bats’ radar ensures that they sense the slightest object in their path, and the landing net — useful for recalcitrant chickens (that’s another story), fish from the dam and other assorted creatures — didn’t work this time.

‘I’ll just stay here for a while,’ said our lady guest, who spent the half hour with her head buried in the cushions of a sofa. Eventually three of us managed to shoo the bat out through the open doors to the relief of all concerned, especially, no doubt, the bat. She sat up again once the all clear was given.

On the final night of their stay, while enjoying one another’s company, a good meal and another celebratory drink, there was a commotion on the back veranda. Zac, our dog, set up a tremendous racket, barking furiously.

‘That’s his “snake” bark!’ I remarked excitedly to my husband.

We bolted onto the deck. A very large carpet python had managed to slither up on to the timber decking much to Zac’s consternation. The snake was trying vainly to weave a path under his bed; no wonder the dog was perturbed.

My husband and I have this snake-catching lark down pat now.

‘I’ll go and get the stuff,’ he announced. He went to the shed to fetch the equipment — a piece of plastic electrical conduit with a wire threaded through it, and an adjustable noose at the snake end. This time of course I had to restrain the dog, not that he would attack a snake — he’s far too smart (or wimpy) for that — but because he needed reassurance.

Our guests watched from the safety of the house; inside and behind the closed back door. Once my husband had the snake’s head in the noose, I let the dog go and opened the sugar-bag kept for this purpose. We secured the bag with a zip-tie and the snake, in his temporary hessian home, was deposited in the shed.

My husband took our guests to the airport early the next morning. The python went too. It was in the bag in the back of the 4×4 with the suitcases, to be relocated somewhere safe away from traffic, and with plenty of water and a good alternative food source.
En route our lady friend, only slightly nervously, asked my husband:

‘The snake is quite secure in the bag, isn’t it?’

‘Oh yes,’ he replied, ‘just let me know when you feel it on your shoulder, keep very still — it won’t bite — and I will stop immediately.’

I rang my sister.
‘Darling, we’ve seen the koala. He has been in his tree every day for the past four days.’
‘Oh no!’ she exclaimed.

‘And we’ve had a bat in the house.’
‘Oh no!’
‘And we’ve had a huge python on the back deck!’

My sister’s memories of their ten-day stay in the valley were, no doubt, of the verdant country and the steady rain; the steep, thickly forested slopes, the copious bird-life and many domestic animals — but no sign of koalas, nor echidnas, nor reptiles. Our friends, however, would return to Victoria with tales of local marsupials, huge snakes and in-house bats.


Visitors and Wildlife as a PDF file with all the photos by the author.