March 2013. Newsletter of Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife in Alice Springs

March 2013




Hello again Land for Wildlifers; and, as the heat of March slips by it's time for another monthly installment of wildlife news from the Centre. This month we take a look at some backyard reptilian residents and share with you some wonderful central Australian Eucalypts that might be worth a corner of your garden.

We'll also update you with all the latest happenings of our significant trees project as it gains momentum, along with all the usual book reviews and useful internet links. So enjoy the March edition of 'Irrante'  and keep those emails flowing into our inbox!


LFW News...

Our significant tree project continues to gain momentum, with coordinators Jesse , Matt and Bill  meeting Connie Spencer, Marg Friedel, Dick Kimber and Patel at Araluen Arts Centre late in February. Marg cleared up some issues encountered when the last tree register was put together, and the rest of the gathering quickly got to work mapping, cataloging and collecting vital statistics for several significant trees within the precinct. Dick shared some stories of the huge old River Red Gums - a remnant of the old Morris Soak drainage line - and the gnarled old Corkwoods - significant for Arrernte people that can be seen throughout the gardens and carparks of Araluen.

Following this first successful outing, on the last Wednesday of March we visited the old Melanka's site on Gap Road . We had a look at several River Red Gums along Gap Road, as well as some fine specimens of Queensland Bottle Trees and Lemon Scented Gums.  

For our next meeting, we plan to remain in the office and discuss the results of our two excursions so far and put together a plan for our next outing. Anyone who's interested in coming along should email us at the LfW office - - for the details. For those who might be interested in having a look at those trees at Araluen, follow the map below and you should find them, no worries.

GFW News...

After our call out to members for information on feral Spotted Turtle Doves last newsletter, we've received a steady trickle of reports from those still trapping on their properties in town. It's great to see people are still keen to be a part of this project - but we need more! If you know of people who would like to be involved, or if you need to update your own trapping equipment and general information, get in touch with us - we have information packages and a few traps just waiting to run out the door!

Two points of note in regards to dove trapping have emerged from people's reports. Firstly, the welfare of animals in traps is always an issue of priority. In hot weather such as we've experienced of late, if you can't regularly check your trap throughout the day, cite it in the shade with plenty of water available to keep trapped birds happy and healthy. Remember that shade will move during the day! You might need to rig up a simple shade shelter to ensure a cool morning oasis doesn't become a baking, bitumen melting desert by the afternoon.

The second point is that feral doves are increasingly being found south of the Gap - members in the Ross Highway area are sighting - and trapping - doves  more frequently. A population beginning a rural expansion......? That remains to be seen.


Articles and Contributions...

Wildlife Profile: Garden skinks in Alice Springs.
by Jesse Carpenter

I arrived home after a hot week of field work at Jervois last Friday afternoon; the only thing sticking to me more than the flies was some sweaty hi-vis and red dust from the road. Although it was still hot, you could feel the cool of evening coming on a slight breeze and almost hear the red gums sigh with relief. I sat down on the door step, under the shade of the veranda.

As I surveyed the sorrowful sight of a severely wilted vegetable patch, I decided my toes deserved to join the red gums in their enjoyment of the cool breeze. I unlaced my dirt-clad steel caps and with some effort, slid them off my feet. As I tossed them towards the limp mint stems  under the Ironwood, a brief scurry of movement caught my eye. Intrigued, and with my heat affected brain still in full field work mode, I couldn't resist having a closer look .........

That movement belonged to one of two species of skink that are common in gardens in Alice Springs and central Australia. Often small, cryptic and difficult to see, these backyard reptiles are likely living right under your nose without being noticed - just part of a thriving backyard ecosystem.

COMMON DWARF SKINK (Menetia greyii)

Above. A Common Dwarf Skink in an Alice Springs garden; well camouflaged against a background of sandy red soil. Jesse Carpenter.

Wide, dark lateral stripes from eyes to tail will help you recognise this tiny species of ground-dwelling skink. This species is found throughout Australia apart from the east coast and is common in most habitats in central Australia. Active by day, they are secretive reptiles, sheltering in leaf litter where they forage for ants and other small insects. If you're lucky, you may catch a glimpse of this species when they briefly leave shelter to bask in morning or afternoon sun.

To attract and maintain a healthy population of this species to your garden, provide areas with plenty of ground cover, by planting grasses and allowing some accumulation of litter and dead twigs and bark. These little lizards are not too fussy, and are just as happy under mulch in the vegie patch as they are in the bush.

Above. A tiny specimen of a Common Dwarf Skink. Although this is a small individual, these lizards will get a little larger; up to 38mm from tip of snout to vent (roughly located at the base of the tail).  Chris Watson.

WALL LIZARD (Cryptoblepharus plagiocephalus)

Above. Sometimes called a Wall Lizard, Cryptoblepharus plagiocephalis is central Australia's representative of a genus of six, difficult to distinguish small skinks. Jesse Carpenter.

Wall lizards are arboreal skinks that inhabit living and dead trees. They can also be found on rock faces, in fence posts and garden walls, hence the common name. In this habitat, Wall Lizards shelter under loose bark, in hollows and cracks where they forage for insects, mainly ants and termites.

Active during the day, you'll often see this species running up and down vertical tree trunks and in and out of rock crevices - that may include the brick wall of your home. With a highly patterned body, they are well camouflaged, but if you search tree trunks and dead timber carefully, you should be able to spot one.

This species loves trees with rough, fissured bark and cracked, dead timber. By planting species like Corkwoods and Ironwoods and leaving some dead trees standing, you can encourage this bloke to set up camp in your backyard.

There are many other skink species you might encounter on a sunny afternoon in Alice Springs; too many to all earn a mention here. However, from tiny Menetia greyii  to a blue-tongue up to 40cm long, you can bet there's one - or even a few - hanging out at your place.

Photo Essay: Eucalypts in Blossom
by Jesse Carpenter

So I've been out on a few trips over summer and have noticed many of our beautiful central Australian Eucalyptus (and Corymbia) species in full bloom. Bright, gaudy and often attracting a scrummage of bird and insect activity, I'm sure this has not escaped the eye of many of our readers out there. What follows are just a few of those observations - sights that are still there for perhaps a few weeks yet, while the weather's warm.

BLOODWOOD (Corymbia opaca)

Top. A Bloodwood (Corymbia opaca) in full blossom can be a spectacular site, attracting swarms of pollinating insects and blossom-feeding birds. Close up, the operculum - modified petals of the typical Eucalyptus flower - can be seen lifting away to reveal colourful stamens (bottom). Jesse Carpenter

Corymbia opaca is the common Bloodwood found on the plains and at the bases of slopes around Alice Springs and the rural area. This is widespread tree, ranging from far northern South Australia, through the southern Northern Territory to the southern Kimberly. Take note however; there are several very similar species that occur in central Australia, including Corymbia eremaea on rocky hills and ranges and Corymbia chippendalei on the crests and slopes of sand dunes. 

RED-BUD MALLEE (Eucalyptus pachyphylla)

Above. Magnificent Red-bud Mallee (Eucalyptus pachyphylla), complete with sugar hunting ants. This photograph illustrates the species' most distinguishing feature - the bright red operculum. Jesse Carpenter

The Red-bud Mallee is a distinctive species that often turns heads when in full bloom. Even before flowers are fully open, bright red buds draw the eye. This species is more common north of Alice Springs on loamy sand plains and rocky rises. The bright red, pointed buds are not always as distinguishing as in the photograph above - occasionally buds they are a drab lime green, turning red as they age.

RIVER RED GUM (Eucalyptus camaldulensis var. obtusa)

Probably as big as they come in central Australia, the River Red Gum also has some of the most unobtrusive of flowers. Difficult to see amid the canopy, sometimes the only indication that the tree is flowering is the loud drone of honey bee swarms and the soft pitter-patter of falling operculums (from opening buds) on the car and driveway.

This widespread tree occurs in every mainland state on river and creek banks; from the Murray-Darling to the Kimberly. The central Australian subspecies is distinguished from others by its blunt-tipped buds and smaller growth habit. Their size and renowned ability for developing hollows makes them an important habitat tree in arid country. This is definitely one of the trees worthy of significance in central Australia.

Of course, following the flowering comes the ripening of seeds and now is a great time to collect and sow your own Eucalypt seed. Unlike many native plants, Eucalypt seed germinates easily under the right conditions. Follow a few simple steps (below) and you should have some success.

  1. Collect the ripe, unopened gum nuts from your chosen species.
  2. Place them in a paper bag and within a week or so they'll dry out, open and release the seeds. Eucalypt seeds are often tiny (depending on the species) and the nuts contain a great deal of woody chaff as well as seeds. You should be able to distinguish the chaff and discard it. If not, contact us for more information.
  3. Sow the seeds in individual tubes or seed trays. Use a light, well-drained sandy mixture; potting soil mixed with coarse river sand usually makes a good recipe. Don't bury the seeds too deeply. The general rule of thumb is sow as deeply as the depth of the seed, usually only a few millimeters. 
  4. Place the sown seeds in a warm place and keep moist, but not too wet. Right now, the weather should be warm enough without you needing to do anything else. Germination time can vary depending on species and conditions, but you should have results within 2 or 3 weeks. Don't be disheartened if not all seeds grow - there are always a proportion of seeds that will be infertile. 
  5. Treat the newly emerged seedlings with care. Keep them moist, but be careful not to over water. Remember these are arid zone plants and roots will quickly rot if too wet. Dappled sunlight is good, especially if days are still hot and sunny.
  6. The small, usually rounded, seedling leaves (cotyledans) will give way to more recognisable Eucalypt foliage as the seedling grows. When seedlings are large enough to be 'pricked out' with your fingers, transplant them from seedling trays to tubes of pots. Be careful not to damage new roots.
  7. Grow them on till roots fill the tubes (or pots) and plant them out in your backyard. Take note of the potential size of the species you're planting; a sapling River Red might look nice shading your veranda, but in 20 years time that veranda might be damaged by falling limbs.
  8. Enjoy your lovely trees for years to come. 


Home range, activity and sociality of a top predator, the dingo: a test of the Resource Dispersion Hypothesis

Thomas M. Newsome, Guy-Anthony Ballard, Christopher R. Dickman, Peter J. S. Fleming & Remy van de Ven

Article first published online: 4 March 2013 

The idea that groups of individuals may develop around resource patches led to the formation of the Resource Dispersion Hypothesis (RDH). We tested the predictions of the RDH, within a quasi-experimental framework, using Australia's largest terrestrial predator, the dingo Canis lupus dingo. Average dingo group sizes were higher in areas with abundant focal food sources around two mine sites compared with those in more distant areas. This supports the notion that resource richness favours larger group size, consistent with the RDH. Irrespective of season or sex, average homw range estimates and daily activity for dingoes around the mine sites were significantly less than for dingoes that lived well away.  Assuming that a territory is the defended part of the home range, and that territory size is correlated with home range size, consistent with the RDH, the spatial dispersion of food patches therefore determined territory size for dingoes in our study. However, although sample size was small, some dingoes that accessed the supplementary food resource at the mines also spent a large proportion of their time away, suggesting a breakdown of territorial defence around the focal food resource. This, in combination with the large variation in home range size among dingoes that accessed the same supplementary food resource, limits the predictive capabilities of the RDH for this species. We hypothesize that constraints on exclusive home range occupancy will arise if a surfeit of food resources (in excess of requirements for homeostasis) is available in a small area, and that this will have further effects on access to mates and social structure. We present a conceptual model of facultative territorial defence where food resources are available to demonstrate our findings.   


Find out more about feral cats and their impacts; go to

Community & Events...

2013 Photography Workshops
20 April 2013, 9:00AM
Charles Darwin University
Contact: Ivan Kobiolke Photography
Phone: 0418 108 909

Harmony Day 'Big Day Out'
Be part of Alice Springs Town Council's and Multicultural Services of Central Australia's Harmony Day celebrations by coming along to 'Big Day Out' celebrations, including multicultural costume parade, food stalls and performances by various multicultural groups.

20 April 2013, 4 - 8 PM
Council Lawns, Todd Street
Contact: Community Projects Officer
Phone: 8950 0505

Alice Springs Courtyard Sessions - Warren H. Williams in Concert
28 April 2013
Olive Pink Botanic Gardens
Tickets $15 (members) or $20 (non-members). Children under 12 free.

Photo Competition...

Those fantastic shots of local wildlife just keep pouring into our inbox, with this month's pick of the crop coming from Andrew Crouch. Andrew snapped these beauties of a Wedge-tailed Eagle on Mt Gillen during a recent climb to the high point of town.

These great pictures show what appears to be a young bird, with lovely golden plumage around the head, neck and wings. As the bird approaches breeding age, it will slowly molt into dark blackish adult plumage. 

Great shots Andrew! Thanks for sharing them with us.

So that's all for another month folks...

Thank you to all our contributors during March and all those emails and questions we've received during the past month. It's your thoughts, images, problems and ideas that provide the inspiration needed to produce this newsletter. So keep up the good work; we're certainly looking forward to another productive month.


Jesse, Chris, Matt & Bill
March, 2013    



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