This site is all about the pleasure of living around wildlife. Just occasionally I get a reminder that not all of the ways we relate to wildlife, and they to us, are entirely positive. The sight of a Funnel Web Spider stalking across the laundry floor is the standard hint in that direction. The last week offered a couple of new twists on the theme.
Our backyard has a chook run and an aviary. There are a couple of chickens and up to a dozen Cockatiels in the two enclosures.
An inevitable accompaniment to keeping caged birds is the mice and rats that get attracted to spilt seed. These in turn encourage snakes into the yard, in our case Diamond Pythons and Green Tree Snakes. Neither pose a threat to humans so it is a pretty comfortable arrangement.
Its a workable arrangement as long as the snakes confine their hunting to the outside of the enclosures. This week my son found a python coiled in the corner of the aviary.
A few years ago a small Diamond Python slipped through the bird mesh and caught a finch. The finchy lump couldn’t squeeze back out through the mesh, which resulted in the snake becoming so entangled that I had to cut the wire to extricate it. It’s no fun having a cranky snake snapping at your face! With that experience in mind we dropped a bucket over this week’s python, slipped a sheet of cardboard underneath and carried it outside and put it in a nearby young fig tree.
The python was bigger than it looked all coiled up, nearly a metre and a half long. More surprising it was a Carpet Python rather than a Diamond Python. There is a debate about whether Diamond Pythons are a subspecies, colour variant or completely different species to Carpet Pythons. Whatever the relationship, the Carpet Python seemed positively serene compared to Diamond Pythons I’ve encountered as it slowly slithered up the tree. Perhaps the serenity had something to do with the Cockatiel sized lump in its midsection.
I took advantage of the snake’s calm demeanour and crept up with the macro lens. The only thing to bite me was one of the many leeches that have colonised the lawn over the wet summer. I could see the coarsely viened eye and the deep series of sensory pits along the lower jaw. The pits allow the python to detect infrared, a useful talent when hunting warm blooded prey such as birds and mammals.
The rain picked up in intensity and the snake had disappeared into the bush. I wasn’t happy about the loss of a Cockatiel, but hopeful that the meal might result in enough of a growth spurt to stop a return visit through the aviary mesh.
A few days later I was off to one of my favourite wildlife sites, Merries Reef, which is located between Cronulla and Kurnell. I arrived soon before an exceptionally high tide. Big tides concentrate the waders, shorebirds and seabirds into a small area that protrudes above the rising tide. It requires a wade through waist-deep water but the reward is getting close enough for some satisfying images. The fact that the birds are crammed into a small patch causes a lot of scuffles, such as a Caspian Tern taking offense at a wandering Sooty Oystercatcher.
A flock of Crested Terns were preening and sleeping away the high tide. One was behaving differently, bathing in the shallow water flowing across the reef. It seemed to be having great time, ducking below the surface and throwing high sprays of water overhead.
It wasn’t easy to see what was going on amongst all the splashing, but I got the impression that something was hanging off one of its shoulders. This was confirmed when it took off, circled the reef and landed in the middle of the dozing flock. The Crested Tern was trailing a length of heavy fishing line. It was about 60 centimetres long, knotted at one end and encircling the bird’s left wing at the other.
I felt sickened. There was no way I was going to be able to catch and disentangle the tern and there was no way it was going to survive the encumbrance. The bathing I’d observed was a futile attempt to get rid of the line.
I was a keen angler, reasonably skilled at fishing the Sydney rocks. Like all anglers I occasionally lost line to fish or on the bottom. I stopped angling after taking up scuba diving, in part because of the changed perspective that comes from close observation of animals, but largely because of the vast amount of discarded monofilament line I kept seeing on the local reefs. Protected from UV by the water above, those strands of lost line are a long-term hazard to divers and wildlife alike.
I eat meat and accept that others have the right to catch and eat certain species of wildlife. Likewise some wildlife are inclined to treat our pets as fair game, especially when if we are silly enough to confine them in aviaries on the edge of the bush. I genuinely don’t have a problem with people catching and eating fish. What I don’t believe we can ignore is the collateral damage caused by recreational fishing techniques. Weaving a tangle of invisible and virtually unbreakable line along our shorelines inflicts dreadful, if unintended, damage on a far wider range of wildlife than the handful of targeted fish species. Biodegradable lines, ‘no take’ marine reserves, collection of discarded line and improved fishing techniques are all parts of an answer we need to find for the sake of our wildlife.
Odds and sods