Irrante - The Newsletter of Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife in Alice Springs

February 2013

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Welcome...

G'day folks! It seems time for the mandatory, was that February already??? Indeed the year is flying by so far. To start with this month, it's great to have some good news to share.

Many readers may already be aware, however the coordinators and everyone in the extended Land for Wildlife family send our warmest congratulations to Des Nelson 
who recently received one of the country's top honours for his service to botany, conservation and the environment; Order of Australia Medal (OAM)!   Des received the Medal  of the Order of Australia in the General Division, recognising his nearly sixty years of dedication to the understanding of plants in Central Australia.  We're proud to count Des as one of our longest standing Land for Wildlife members, and a frequent advisor on many thorny questions regarding Central Australian botany and taxonomy. Congratulations Des, and here's wishing you many more happy years of practising botany and conservation in Central Australian as well as writing historic treatises about people, places and events in early scientific days in the Alice! 

From well-earned recognition, to a case of well-deserved egg on face. We have a correction to last month's newsletter. Chris Watson's Rainbow Lorikeet article incorrectly identified the sub-species found around Australia's eastern and southern coast as the nominate race haematodus. Of course, many readers immediately picked this up and we were flooded with emails, quite correctly pointing out that in fact the main Australian sub-species (other than the Top End race rubritorquis) is moluccanus. The nominate race is limited to the West Papua islands, western New Guinea, and (confusingly) southern Moluccas. Chris apologises unreservedly for any confusion. We've had him out in the yard pulling Buffel Grass ever since.

LFW News...

The Land for Wildlife coordinators have had the first of many planned meetings with the Significant Tree Group at the end of January, and it was a solid start. We will keep you up to date with the development of the project, but the only news at the moment is that it is off the ground, and the group will next meet in late February to assess some of the significant tree nominations around the Araluen Precinct.

In making the Central Australian Land for Wildlife family as inclusive as possible, we have been trying to find residents in the Tennant Creek region who might be interested in becoming flagship properties for the program in that area. We already have a number of properties that have been signed up for some time; both the Tennant Creek Airport and Pistol Club have had their initial assessments completed and are fully registered members of Land for Wildlife. If you know of anyone up north who you think may be interested in joining us, or perhaps you have friends living in the urban part of Tennant Creek who might benefit from having Garden for Wildlife membership, please let us know, or pass on our contact details, and we'll head north with our clipboards at the ready!

GFW News...

Good news for gardeners this month came in the form of a message from the Greening Australia office in Darwin. They have had a few extra boxes of the book Native Plants for Central Australian Gardens (reviewed in our Bookshelf section), sitting around in their office and they are keen to find them a good home. Land for Wildlife have freighted down a few boxes and are now able to offer them to members at the greatly reduced price of $28. As it is coming up to the best time of year to be planting new things in your garden, this is great timing. The book was written by Felicity Forth and Andy Vinter, so your purchase also helps to support the local NRM publishing community. Get your orders in soon or ask for at your favourite bookshop in Alice as there is a limited number of these books and another print run is unlikely any time soon.

We've experienced something of a decline in the number of feral Spotted Dove reports coming in from members across town. We're fairly sure that this is not because we have managed to eradicate the blighters. If you have these birds around your area, and you have the time or inclination, we're always keen to hear anything about where their numbers may be up or down. We'll be running some more of our trap-building workshops through 2013, so keep an eye on the events page for details if you need to build a trap, or would like to build an addition to GFW's existing loaner trap collection.

Articles and Contributions...


Wildlife Profile: Stimson's Python Antaresia stimsoni.
by Chris Watson


(above) A Stimson's Python found on the road west of Areyonga. While snakes may often initially adopt a spectacular and confrontational pose such as this, it is a response to being surprised, which is often misinterpreted as aggression, when it is actually defensive body language. Left alone momentarily, this snake quickly resumed a less alarming posture and went about its day.- Chris Watson

After a recent report of a python that was killed by residents in Alice Springs before the snake-catcher could arrive to relocate the animal, we thought it might be a good time for a closer look at one of the more common of these reclusive species.

One of its curious features is the confusion over its name. You may see the name misspelled as Stimpson's Python, which is an easy enough mistake to make. It's named for a Dr. A. F. Stimson, a prominent biologist at the British Museum in the 1960s and 1970s. You may also hear it referred to as Children's Python. This is actually a separate species with its own set of confusions relating to its name. Many assume that Children's Python is so named for the placid nature and small size of the snake, making it a good pet for children. In fact it was also named for a scientist, John George Children, who also happened to work at the British Museum, albeit more than a century before Stimson. Children's Python Antaresia childreni, is only found in about the top third of the NT, so it is unlikely to be encountered around Alice Springs.


(above) Appearances can be deceiving; he may look big and scary but this is a generously cropped image. This species rarely exceeds 1m in length and this one was only about 60cms long and barely thicker than my thumb - Chris Watson

Stimson's Python should be fairly easy to distinguish from any of our venomous snakes by its large, angular head, and distinct neck. The blotchy patterns down the length of the snake are unlikely to be confused with any of the venomous snakes found around Alice Springs either. Having said that though, the disclaimer must be inserted that any snake can be misidentified, and they should all be left alone until the arrival of a qualified snake-catcher. It is mainly nocturnal, but will occasionally be found out in daylight, as the photographs here illustrate. On cooler days it may be found sunning itself among rocky areas, its preferred habitat.

Like most other pythons (with the notable exception of the genus Aspidites) Stimson's Python has a fairly obvious row of heat-sensing pits visible along the exterior of each side of the lower jaw. While this suggests a diet of warm-blooded prey, Stimson's Python is an ambush predator and will eat large skinks, geckos and other snakes as well as small mammals and frogs.


(above) A Stimson's Python makes a meal of a Desert Tree Frog Litoria rubella - Glen Marshall.

In Central Australia the species is often associated with waterholes, but it can also been found far from water. It is not known as an arboreal species, but may enter tree hollows in search of prey.


They can be kept as a pet as long as an appropriate license is issued by the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the NT,  but if you want to see these animals in their natural habitat, it is often as simple as going for a slow drive after dark on a warm night on any quiet road outside of town. They may be attracted to take up residence in human dwellings if they are drawn there by an abundance of prey species. As with many other snake species, rodents will tend to draw them into an area, so if you don't want to share your accommodation with them keep, food scraps, chicken coops, and aviaries well away from your living area. 


(above) In camp kitchens, snakes may be attracted to cooling cooking implements, like these gas burner rings - Chris Watson

On the other hand, if you don't mind sharing your house with a friendly snake, they can be an innocuous and useful housemate if left to their own devices. I used to work in an office in town that had a very friendly office snake who was particularly fond of the heat generated by a variety of office appliances; he could usually be found coiled up inside a photocopier, hugging the contours of a computer and at least once he surprised me when I answered a telephone and he refused to relinquish his grip on the receiver.


(above) A Stimson's Python on receptionist duties - Chris Watson

All in all, he was not bad company.


The snake-phone number for Alice Springs is 0407 983 276; keep it on your fridge and program it into your mobile. If you encounter any snakes around the home, it is safest to keep pets and children away, and observe the snake from a safe distance while you wait for a professional to safely relocate the animal for you. 


Mice On The Move
by Chris Watson & Jesse Carpenter

Just in the first two weeks of February, a few Land for Wildlife members have started to notice mice coming into their homes after an absence of many months. I caught ten House Mice in 2 nights at my place and I hadn't seen them at all where I live in the last 10 months.


(above) Spinifex Hopping Mouse Notomys alexis. Certainly not a feral, and easy to identify from those long hind feet. - Chris Watson

While some might be bothered by having scurrying rodents about the house, not all of the mice, or mice-like creatures, you see around your home are necessarily feral House Mice. There are a few subtle differences between our native rodents and the introduced species, but these can be difficult to distinguish to the unpractised eye. Probably the two most common contenders for a mistaken identity, are Sandy Inland Mouse Pseudomys hermannsburgensis, and Desert Mouse P. desertor


(above) Desert Mice Pseudomys desertor. In this image you should be able to make out the pale or reddish eye ring which is usually distinctive on this species - Jesse Carpenter


(above) Stripe-faced Dunnart Sminthopsis macroura, mouse-like but this animal is actually a marsupial and a carnivore - Chris Watson with thanks to Hayley Michener for dunnart wrangling.

An important thing to note before looking at other points of identification, is that all of these small mammals have various arrangements of foot and toe pads on their soles. These are well-illustrated in both of the further reading recommendations that we provide at the bottom of this article, so if you encounter a road-killed animal or one stuck in a trap of some sort, checking the arrangement of pads on the soles of the feet is a reliable way  to separate them. If you can manage to photograph the soles of the feet for later comparison, so much the better.

The Sandy Inland Mouse has longer ears and tail relative to body length than a house mouse, and  no notch in its upper incisors. House mice have a notch at the back of their upper front teeth that is palpable if you scrape your thumbnail along the back of the front teeth, but I wouldn't recommend doing this on a live animal.  House mice also have a distinct 'mousy' smell which you may be familiar with if you have ever kept pet mice, or if you have had an infestation in a dark corner of your shed. While younger house mice may not have a strong smell, they usually have an identifiable scent. By contrast, native rodents have a cleaner, earthy smell. Sandy Inland Mice also have prominent 'pop-out' eyes and always exhibit a distinct line between a sandy brown upper body and the pale/white underside. These colour changes are not always a reliable indicator though as there are always colour variations within populations, but as a general rule House Mice will exhibit a gradual change down the body between the brown upper and the pale underside. The Desert Mouse has a fairly obvious pale, reddish, eye-ring which should make it fairly easy to separate from most feral House Mice.



(above) Sandy Inland Mouse Pseudomys hermannsburgensis. - Chris Watson

There are also a few species of dunnart that may cause some confusion, but these carnivorous animals belong to a different group to the rodents, known as the dasyurids. The important difference is that all dasyurids are marsupials - mice aren't.


(above) The tiny, jelly bean-sized pouch young of a Lesser Hairy-footed Dunnart Sminthopsis youngsoni - Jesse Carpenter

Although dunnarts are tiny little mouse-like creatures, the Dasyurid family also includes the much larger quolls and even the Tasmanian Devil as well as the former Tasmanian Tiger. Some dunnart species have a noticeably thicker tail during periods of abundance as they store fat reserves. This may be absent during lean times though, and is not necessarily a reliable indicator. A good distinguishing feature of the dunnarts (and all of the dasyurids) is their teeth. Being carnivorous, they lack the prominent incisors at the front that make the rodents distinctive, and have a large array of small pointy teeth - perfect for catching and holding a variety of invertebrate and small reptilian prey.  


(above) The dental armoury of a Stripe-faced Dunnart Sminthopsis macroura. At this range, easily distinguishable from the prominent dentition of  rodents - Jesse Carpenter.

So there are plenty of small mousy creatures that are likely to be around your home and not all of them are introduced. If you find any of these creatures around your property and are having difficulty identifying them, we'd love to see any pictures you manage to get, and we can pass them around and see if we can get a positive identification for you.

In the meantime, perhaps you can switch to some non-lethal trap designs if you find you are getting a few native mice around your house. There are plenty of websites which provide ideas for these, including the ever faithful "bottle bucket trap", but if you do a Google search for "non-lethal mouse trap" you should get plenty of ideas. On a more artistic note, you'll find some whimsically creative non-lethal trap designs at the following link, and if you have the urge to experiment with any of these we'd love to hear if you have any success.

ARTISTIC & NON-LETHAL MOUSE TRAPS

 

Further reading;
A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia
by Peter Menkhorst & Frank Knight (3rd edition)
Oxford University Press 2012.

Field Guide to the Rodents & Dasyurids of the Northern Territory
by Jeff Cole & John Woinarski
Surrey Beatty & Sons 2002.

Bookshelf...

Native Plants for Central Australian Gardens
by Felicity Forth & Andy Vinter 



This book, produced by Greening Australia in 2007, is still a timely addition to your gardening books. It is approaching the ideal time of year to be planting some new natives in your garden, and this book will fill you with ideas for colourful and hardy local plants to match to soil types on your block.

The book includes sections on water harvesting and use, and includes information on planning and designing your garden to maximise your use of slope, soil type, sun, drainage, and the many other variables of your property that can affect how your garden grows.

Whether you are interested in developing a colourful wildflower display, having some hardy shade trees, or simply reducing your water bill, this book will show you the way. It usually retails for around $33, but at the moment it may be a bit hard to come by through local vendors. Fear not! Land for Wildlife have just secured delivery of a new shipment that were being hoarded in the Darwin offices of Greening Australia - the cheek! We have liberated a few boxes of the books from the Top End, and will be able to offer them to Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife members at a better rate than the usual retail price. We will also be encouraging local booksellers to get this volume back on their shelves in time for planting season, so remember to ask for it at your favourite book shop and if they don't have it, ask them to ask us for some.

Drop us an email at lfw@lowecol.com.au if you're interested in securing a copy. You can pop out to the LFW offices on Isotoma Road or we may be able to organise delivery next time we are coming through town. 


The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time
by Jonathan Weiner

 

Far from providing the definitive "eureka" moment for Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, the famous finches that he encountered on the Galapagos Islands certainly influenced his thinking, but were just one piece of a large puzzle that he had been circling for much of his adult life.

In fact, Darwin had not even detected the relatedness of the many finch species that he collected on the islands, until it was pointed out to him back in London by the great ornithologist John Gould. Darwin's historic On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life
, would be another 20 years in gestation before finally being published in 1859.

Jonathan Steiner, in this Pulitzer Prize-winning book, shines a spotlight on the 20 years of work by biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant. Residing for extended periods on Daphne Major, one of the most inaccessible islands of The Galapagos, they have accomplished the sort of long-term scientific study that Darwin could never have completed during his brief stay. Their work illuminates the full elegance of Darwin's theory, and shows that far from operating over long periods of geological time, given the right circumstances, evolution can sometimes occur so rapidly that we may observe it in action.

Published by Vintage, usually retails for around $25 



Webwatch...

The Birds of Paradise Project finally online from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
http://www.birdsofparadiseproject.org/


Mr. Percival Visits Kulgera Roadhouse
http://www.abc.net.au/rural/content/2013/s3680338.htm

Feral Feline Control
http://theconversation.edu.au/feral-felines-managing-their-impact-on-native-fauna-11757

Photo Competition...

This month, Alice Springs Field Nats president and Garden for Wildlife member Barb Gilfedder has delivered a couple of stunning images of a young Gould's Sand Monitor Varanus gouldii, found in her back yard. We seen a few of these tiny hatchlings getting about the garden around the LFW office, so it seems that the time is right for these reptiles to be hatching at the moment. Keep your eyes peeled, and your cameras at the ready.

Thanks Barb, you're setting the bar high!





(above) 2 images of a very young Gould's Sand Monitor Varanus gouldii - Barb Gilfedder.


That's all for another month folks.


Please keep those photo competition entries rolling in - you have another 5 months of snapping before we judge the competition just before the Alice Springs Show. A big thank you to all our contributors, without your amazing efforts this newsletter might whither away, so please keep your ideas, images, and articles coming in.


Cheers,

Jesse, Chris, Matt & Bill
February, 2013.

 


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