Category: Blog

Ageing companion animals

Our lovely dog Della is showing her age. She’s had the tell-tale white whiskery face for some time but was as lively as ever until very recently. Perhaps it’s the first early signs of approaching autumn and that unmistakeable morning chill as we set off for the morning walk before the sun has properly risen. Whatever the cause Della has suddenly become a little less enthusiastic to emerge from her basket, and a lot less bouncy first thing in the morning. She’s also noticeably more stiff in the legs, especially her left rear leg which is clearly giving her trouble.

I mentioned it to Paul, our vet when I took Della in for her vaccination booster recently. He confirmed my suspicions. Della is showing the first indication of arthritis or rheumatism. Not yet serious, and medication not yet recommended but the day will come when she may need some pain relief. It seems none of us are immune to the ravages of age.

Since she was a rescue dog, we aren’t exactly sure how old Della is. The RSPCA thought she was about seven months old when we picked her out as our new dog to replace the lovely and recently departed Mona. We collected Della earlier than expected because she’d been able to have the necessary desexing op due to a last minute cancellation, so she was a lovely surprise Christmas present that year.

But in common with far too many rescue dogs Della’s biography didn’t make cheerful reading. She’d been found wandering the streets as a half-grown, thin, starving and fearful dog, who’d obviously been ill-treated. Why people want to mistreat animals is beyond my understanding, but they do, as we know. In spite of her timidity though Della was pathetically eager to please, but she’s remained needy in many ways. And even after so many years of love, care and security we have to remember not to surprise her with a sudden sharp movement that could be interpreted as the precursor to a blow. This is especially so if we are holding a broom or some other implement that might be likely to cause her pain.

Those early weeks and months of trauma obviously still run deep, suggesting animals don’t forget abusive behaviour any more than children do. They are sentient and emotional beings after all, so it shouldn’t be surprising. In the first few years there were several embarrassing encounters that saw Della highly distressed, shaking and frothing at the mouth in fear if a visitor – it was always a male visitor – came to the door. We can only assume the person – often a tradesman – resembled in some way the fellow who was responsible for the early cruelty and abuse she suffered.

Hopefully we’ll have Della for several more years yet but as winter approaches I can see there will need to be some adjustments to the daily walk routine. That might not be a bad thing since I’m not getting any younger either! And it’s certainly more pleasant to walk in daylight and sunshine than it is on autumn and winter mornings when the moon is still visible in the sky, and the sun is barely up.

And now there are three . . .

Green and gold frogs that is. In the bathtub near the small greenhouse-cum-potting shed that’s been a haven for green and golds for several years, and is also a water source for thirsty birds when they don’t fancy drinking or preening their feathers in the bird bath.

The latest wildlife rescue was a large frog who’d gone exploring in the raspberry patch, and then couldn’t work out how to negotiate the netting to extricate herself. We’re sure it’s a ‘she’ because of her size. Female GGs are bigger than the males. Rescue accomplished the obvious solution was to plonk her in the bathtub to join the two frogs already there. At least we think they’re both still there but days can go by when we don’t see them so it’s hard to be certain. Then just as we’ve decided they must have hopped off to pastures new, suddenly there they are, basking on the side of the tub, or hanging onto the wire netting that covers some of the tub, while enjoying the view. Neither of them seem too fazed when we walk past now so assume they’re got used to us and realise we pose no threat. Hopefully they’ll also get along with ‘big mamma’.

Heartening though it is to have seen and heard some GGs this summer, and been able to rescue a couple of them, we’ve not seen as many as usual. Not even squashed ones on the road – roadkill victims when they’ve been out partying in the rain.

It would be easy to lay the blame at the door of development for the apparent loss of these frogs given so much former farmland in the area has been sold for residential housing. It’s known that disease can all too readily be introduced through heavy vehicle movements, and on the soles of boots, and the amphibian fungus disease known as chytrid is still very much a concern around the world.

We’ll just have to cross our fingers and hope our ancient bathtub is providing a sanctuary for at least three green and golds, and they’ll choose to overwinter there, ready for breeding again come the spring.

Rosella rescue

It seems to be the season for wildlife rescues. The rescued green and gold frog is doing nicely and remains happily ensconced in his new bathtub home with his larger companion. We assume he must be much more relaxed and comfortable with life as he no longer jumps into the water the moment we walk by. All good there.

The latest rescue was an eastern rosella who made me jump when it crashed into my office window a few days ago. Birds have a habit of doing this, at certain times of the year especially, but I can’t ever remember a rosella doing so before. The windows weren’t even that clean! Plus most are adorned with discreet but rather attractive butterfly transfers – possibly placed there by previous owners as an optimistic deterrent to just this situation. If so it hasn’t worked too well!

Over the years several birds have either suicided flying into some of the windows in this house, or given themselves a very nasty headache before apparently recovering and flying off. The rosella was still alive, but undoubtedly suffering when I rushed out to check. He was on his back and very distressed even after I righted him. He was in no hurry to fly off either poor fellow but it was impossible to tell if he had injured himself internally.

I picked him up and sat outside on the deck with him perched on my knees while he panted and shook from shock and fright. Even so he was content to sit placidly and thankfully made no attempt to peck me with his small but powerful beak. It was rather a privilege to be so close to such a magnificently plumed bird and to study him quietly while he recovered. So light and so fragile and yet so graceful when in the air.

Thankfully Ross the rosella did eventually recover but it took the best part of 30 minutes during which time he did make rather a mess of my clothes. I took this as a good sign and that he was getting over the shock, and what the heck, they were due to be washed anyway.

He followed up by pooing in the water container I eventually brought out, thinking he might welcome a drink. He declined though, then declined any further contact with me. A good sign I thought and totally fine by me as it indicated he really was going to be OK. Sure enough he soon hopped to the edge of the deck and then half flew onto the driveway and then rather unsteadily into the magnolia tree.

I followed just to make sure he wasn’t still a bit wobbly, but no he had his confidence back and soon flew to another tree at the end of the driveway and then off. Hopefully he’s learned a lesson and won’t fly into windows again.

Frog rescue

I’ve come across some strange finds over the years when dog walking each morning. There are the typical, if depressing, bottles, cans, cigarette butts, food wrappers etc, and for which I’ve ensured there’s always a bag in my pocket so these offensive items can be removed, and dumped into the relevant disposal bin at home. But sitting in the middle of the road one day last week was a bright green juvenile green and gold frog. Bizarre.

Given the absence of any obvious suitable water habitat close by, how this frog came to be there will forever remain a mystery. His (or her) life was destined to be extremely short though if he remained on the road, so I picked him up and carried him home. Froggy didn’t even try to resist so maybe he was already regretting the adventure that had led him to this spot.

Green and golds are not uncommon in our area, despite being now extremely rare in most parts of the state. To the point where they are now a listed species. Until the campaign to stop failed timber company Gunns Ltd building its pulp mill, most people in the area were unaware the green and golds that happily hopped around their properties and basked in the sunshine, were in fact a threatened species. Such is the depressing lack of knowledge about our vulnerable wildlife among so many Tasmanians, or concern and care by successive governments.

Several years ago I’d researched green and golds for an article so I knew about their vulnerable status, and we’d got excited one summer a couple of years ago when we counted up to 12 of these frogs living in an old bathtub we keep topped up with water for birds and various visiting wildlife to drink from. By last summer though they had dispersed, as they do, not to be seen again until their growling mating calls are heard in spring. Disappointingly though there was no sign of frog life in our bathtub last summer, and there’d been none this year either thus far.

So young GG was on his own when I popped him into his new and rather murky watery home, unsure if he would stay, or even if he was actually healthy. At least I thought he was on his own.

He kept very much to himself, and if we did happen to spot him basking on the edge he quickly dived in before we got too close. We noticed his colour was darkening though. Perhaps that was something to do with the water . . . ? Then a few days ago we noticed there were two green and golds sunning themselves on the edge. One was significantly larger. Had it been there all winter unbeknownst to us? Or was it a recent arrival?

Mature Green & Gold frog (Lituria raniformis)

So now there are two, and while the juvenile is still rather timid, the older one is quite laid back and sits on the side quite unconcerned when we walk past. Hopefully their tenancy will last the summer, but after that who knows? Where these frogs go during the cooler autumn and winter months still remains something of a mystery so far as I’m aware. We’re just enjoying having them visit.

Feasting on fruit

‘Tis the season of harvesting summer fruits. The raspberries continue to produce, and will do so for at least another month given the autumn fruiting variety hasn’t got underway properly yet. Picking them occupies around an hour of my morning, and I can see another round of jam-making may be required as the freezer is already well stocked. Jam-making is my man’s domain though. I rarely eat it.

As we’re also keeping an eye on a friend’s place at the moment, harvesting the bounty from their apricot tree is also on the agenda. It’s a well-established tree and it’s loaded, but it’s a case of beating the birds who must also be keeping an eye on every apricot, plum and peach tree in the district that’s not netted, ready to swoop in for a feed the moment fruit looks ripe enough.

We suspect the possums have also paid this property a visit, and if they go away to tell all their mates trees can be stripped of fruit overnight. Rather anxious that doesn’t happen so we’re picking apricots that still aren’t quite ripe. They’re swiftly achieving the juicy state though while laid out on baking trays on our kitchen counter. As of yesterday more half-ripe apricots are also spread out on paper on the spare bed!

Next it will be a case of beating the birds and possums to the greengages, as these plums are ripening fast too. I’m convinced birds are attuned to the berry and stoned fruit season, and once they’ve had their fill of one variety, they move on to the next. Certainly they seem to have become bored with boysenberries. I’d given up on picking ours believing it a waste of time because pesky blackbirds, starlings and magpies were nicking so many, but when I walked past the vines last week I was surprised how quickly I managed to fill a container. So I reckon the birds have moved on. Apricots are now flavour of the month, and next it will be greengages – unless we can beat them to it!

A Long Goodbye

Scattering the ashes of a friend who died suddenly and unexpectedly around 15 months ago wasn’t the preferred way to start a new year, but that’s how Stuart’s wife and a few of his friends chose to do it on the day that would have been his birthday – 2nd January.

Blame COVID for the long delay. Julie wasn’t able to travel from her teaching post at Indonesia’s international school due to travel restrictions in both countries, so she had to wait until she retired at the end of last year before she could pack up and return to Tasmania. She and Stuart had lived overseas for well over a decade and while he’d come back and was doing up the house they still had here, Julie wasn’t quite ready to finish working. Then COVID hit.

Stuart and Julie were neighbours at our previous property, and among the few that came along to the Happy Hour I decided to organise before the second Christmas we’d lived in the area. I pinched the idea from my mother, who started her pre-Christmas Happy Hours after my father died. Over the years these occasions had grown from a few neighbours along the street coming along for drinks and nibbles, into a regular fixture on the calendar that also included family and other friends.

I borrowed the idea because I didn’t like not knowing our neighbours in our semi-rural suburb, and my working life at the time didn’t leave time for socialising. Over the years our pre-Christmas Happy Hours also became something of a fixture and it was definitely a great way to get to know one’s neighbours!

Being of a similar age to us Stuart and Julie became good friends as well as neighbours, and another friend Marilyn and I kicked off our European trip staying with them in Portugal. An extended holiday courtesy of long service leave from our respective jobs, and what a memorable trip it was.

So it was great to reconnect with Stuart again when he came back to Tasmania and follow the progress on his house renovations, as well as hear all about his intrepid travels around the world. He was also a lover of vintage cars, which he regarded more as an investment and only to be driven on high days and holidays – and definitely not when it was raining!

Between adventure travelling around the globe, representing Australia in tai chi championships, renovating his house, landscaping his garden, and developing his talent as an artist, painting Tasmania’s wilderness, Stuart packed more into his life than most of us do. His final journey, at his request, was down the Tamar, in sight of the Batman Bridge. Vale Stuart. We will miss him.

Summer ’22

There were serious doubts summer was not going to arrive in Tasmania this year, but with a few days left before we wave December goodbye there are signs of optimism. Warmth and sunshine also spells optimism for ripening boysenberries, raspberries – and tomatoes – all of which looked to be in serious jeopardy a few short weeks ago. For all it being a first world problem, no berries for Christmas would have been horrible to contemplate, and while the tomatoes will be later than usual there are encouraging signs they will be ready earlier than we first thought.

So for the next few weeks it looks like 5.30am starts to walk Della dog before a quick breakfast and then out to pick the berries in order to beat the worst of the heat. Just as well we’ve almost eaten our way to the bottom of the freezer. The winter months have seen it steadily emptied, and defrosted, so it’s ready and waiting to receive this year’s bounty in my usual collection of recycled and assorted containers.
There should be plenty of berries to share with friends too – even if I reckon the birds are not playing at all fair and stealing more than their share of the uncovered boysenberries. The wretched blackbirds aren’t at all fazed by the foil-wrapped used loo rolls strung up on the vines and swinging in the breeze that I fondly hoped might deter them. I may as well not have bothered. Sigh.

For all it’s supposed to be a time of rest and relaxation summer is always busy if you grow vegies, or have fruit trees that need harvesting. All this produce needs to be picked and processed, and some of it preserved for the winter months, so while I love the warmer weather and the extra hours of daylight, I cannot agree that summer is necessarily a time when the living is easy! Come winter though there is nothing more satisfying than knowing there’s a well-stocked freezer to rely on when preparing the week’s menu.

Well underway – at last!

After way too many stop starts in the writing routine, this stalled project is now firmly on track and underway. I managed to divest myself of a couple of commitments recently and my brain had a gear change. It’s allowed me to be much more focussed on progressing this book.

For three days a week the phone is switched to silent, email checking is cursory, and no appointments are made, so the designated days can be dedicated to writing. Sorry friends, but please remember I’m no longer available for these days any more! That’s the theory anyway. Needless to say there has been the odd and unavoidable hiccup in my new regime, but at least some deadlines have been set as well as some short and long-term goals for 2023. The pressure is on.

My mentor and a writing friend have read the first 20+ thousand words and given feedback. That’s helped to keep me on track. Currently working on the next 20+ thousand – which is the reason this blog has been rather neglected.

Now it’s back to the book . . . .

Roadkill madness

Have we reached a tipping point I wonder, in a realisation and an awareness – as well as hopefully a collective horror – about the staggering number of wildlife being exterminated on our roads?
It’s not like the issue of roadkill is new. Some of us have been urging drivers to slow down on Tasmania’s roads for years, especially between the hours of dusk and dawn when our mostly nocturnal wildlife is active. There have been multiple letters to editors over the years, from both locals and tourists, appalled at the number of roadkilled bodies lining the roadsides. There have been multiple pleas from wildlife champion Greg Irons from Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, begging people to please show caution, and to slow down, especially when driving at night or early in the morning.

It seems that people are finally waking up and finding their voices. Certainly I hope so. Suddenly there seems to be an explosion of community groups forming around the state determined to halt the carnage. Primarily in their own locality, but also more widely. Facebook pages have been established. Tamar Valley Wildlife Roadkill Initiative and Friends of Summerleas Wildlife are just two of them. Posts are being shared. The ‘likes’ are increasing. While the graphic photos being posted can be confronting, (they’re meant to be) they are also having some success in mobilising people to be more aware. And to encourage them how to be involved.

Letters to editors are good, and Council road signs reminding drivers to ‘slow down for wildlife’ are also good, but a relatively new and effective strategy being promoted by a southern Tasmanian group is posters. They have a range of different ones to choose from and they’re popping up on fences and gates across the island. Thanks to a committed team of volunteers and wildlife carers these posters are being ferried around the state. They all have a photograph of a pademelon, a wallaby, a wombat, a masked owl, a Tasmanian devil etc and a simple message that asks drivers to slow down because everyone deserves to arrive home safe and sound at night. And the cost is modest at only $16 each. Order from Friends of Summerleas Wildlife

It’s a fantastic initiative and already there are three along our road. It’s certainly not the only strategy to help protect our vulnerable wildlife, and I cannot say in truth that it’s proved 100 per cent effective yet in my area, but it’s a start and will hopefully prompt more people to be alert to our furred and feathered friends when they’re driving along regional and rural roads, because as the posters remind us: we all deserve to arrive home safely.

Dear Prime Minister Albanese

Just before the opening of the 47th parliament I emailed the following letter to our newly-minted PM. Labor was after all largely elected because they promised much greater action on addressing the climate crisis, even if many of us want and expect more than the 43 per cent cut in emissions by 2030. That’s not enough and is also why we want and expect the PM to collaborate with the Greens and the teal independents to achieve a more realistic target and time-frame. For the sake of the planet – and our country – I hope he does.

“It’s true you’ve not wasted time since winning the May 21st election, and you’re to be congratulated on mending some fences with our international neighbours, but your approach to the climate change issue leaves a great deal to be desired.

Many of us were heartened and encouraged by your comments during the election campaign indicating your willingness to work collaboratively across the political spectrum to end the so-called ‘climate wars’.
So your latest, and may I say, somewhat belligerent, reported position is bewildering to say the least. It’s also deeply and distressingly disappointing. If Australia is to move forward from the pariah status it rightly earned under the Morrison government, immediate and meaningful action on climate is essential. There is literally no time to lose. Climate change isn’t some vague nebulous future threat to our country or the planet. It’s here. It’s arrived. Just like the 98 per cent of scientists warned us it would decades ago, and who begged us all to act. And to prepare. Now it’s very nearly too late. We’re in the middle of it. The evidence is here for all to see. Catastrophic floods, unprecedented bushfires, damaging winds and storms, and harsh droughts. All have increased in severity and frequency. And they will continue to do so. The physical impact on the land and the environment has been, is, and will continue to be, horrific. The social and economic impacts from the destruction of lives, homes, businesses, and health is immeasurable. And it will only get worse.

And then there’s COVID. Arguably also a symptom of climate change. The wilful and greedy mismanagement of our global environment has resulted in the emergence of serious diseases. Scientists warned us of this probability too. With the warming climate some of those diseases are now being experienced in many more regions, and affecting many more people. Australia is far from being immune to this threat.

And yet Mr Albanese, now you are Prime Minister, you no longer appear inclined to work collaboratively with those so-called ‘teal’ Independents, and the increased number of Greens MPs. You claim a mandate for your government that has a majority of two. Please remember Anthony, these Independents – and Greens – are MPs who were elected because voters in their electorates are demanding our federal government acts on climate change. And acts immediately. And that action MUST include a swift transition from the fossil fuel industry we know is a major cause of the climate mess we’re now dealing with.

Please remember those Independents and Greens secured a vote of a good 30 per cent of the national vote. Labor might have secured a slightly higher percentage of votes, but still in the 30s, with the Liberals/Nationals securing a total somewhere in between. Your majority therefore is slim and cannot seriously be described as a ‘mandate’.

For all our sakes, and those of future generations, please waste no more time. Climate change is above political ideologies. We expect you and your government to work with those ‘teals’ and the Greens, say no to more coal mines, to close existing ones as rapidly as possible, and ensure those working in mining communities are able to transition to the cleaner and greener employment opportunities in the renewable technology options that abound in this country.

There’s literally no time to waste.

Images courtesy of Pexels