The slow-burn of summer

As school returns for another term and the holiday makers disappear, the car spaces return outside the local supermarket and a sense of normality is resumed. Some may have gone home earlier due to the extreme heat wave conditions and fire activity close to popular camping areas. Last week our weather station was recording outside temperatures in the high 30s with some days hitting almost 44 degrees Celsius which is unusual for this part of the world. But to be honest, what is normal these days? Regardless of your thoughts on climate change, there is no doubt our weather patterns are changing.

Any sign of green grass has been replaced with an extremely dry landscape which adds to the risk of fire with the long, brittle grasses scorched by the blazing sun.

February 7, 2019 marks the 10th anniversary of Black Saturday which was one of the darkest days in Victoria’s history and changed how as a community we dealt with the dangers of bush fire. ABC TV aired a documentary this week “The Aftermath: Beyond Black Saturday” stories of survivors and their struggles. Despite the horrors and heartbreak, that will always stay with individuals, there are the stories of hope and love; and lives rebuilt which pay testament to the ability of the human spirit to overcome. https://iview.abc.net.au/show/aftermath-beyond-black-saturday

Although I was not directly involved in the 2009 bushfires which during January and February destroyed many parts of Victoria, it was heart-breaking to hear of the 173 deaths, thousands of homes and other buildings lost, and the 400,000 hectares that were burnt (cfa.vic.gov website).

The scale of the tragedy saw more than 78 Victorian communities directly affected. The anniversary on February 7, marks the devastation of several towns including Marysville, Kinglake, Kinglake West, Narbethong, Flowerdale and Strathewen. The Country Fire Authority (CFA) ultised more than 19,000 members in frontline firefighting, incident management and support behind the scenes (cfa.vic.gov website). For a more detailed account of the fires it is worth visiting the CFA website to understand fully what these firefighters were up against on the day. Hopefully many lessons have been learnt from that event to prepare us much better 10 years on. https://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/about/black-saturday

Our move to the country has made us think more about being fire-prepared and to realise the real possibilities of a fire. The recent hot weather makes one nervous, especially when surrounded by dry, grass. But we are fortunate to have good neighbours who help out and keep others in the loop if there is a problem. We also have three CFA brigades reasonably close by. The former owners of our property were smart in setting up a sprinkler system around the house which pumps water up from our dam.

This past week has seen us concerned about friends who live at Grantville, near Western Port Bay, in Victoria due to a fire that got out of control in a nature reserve. For a week now, they have been observing a watch and act advice. While they have been relatively safe, it has been unnerving for them. Transport yourself to far-north Queensland and I have another friend who has been struggling with the impact of flooding with a record 1000mls over one week. Talk about extremes. Yesterday, we received 25mls in one hour and yet the nearby township only 20 minutes away got zilch.

Apart from being immersed in the weather conditions, my husband and I are always amazed at the wildlife and birds that live here. His discovery of a metre-long snake skin makes me not keen to meet the former occupant! I am finding the odd dead frog indoors who has sadly succumbed to being dried out because of the hot weather. Before it rains, I often find large, sugar ants busily running around on my front porch.

The extreme heatwave is hard on native birds, especially the magpies. The young ones take a while to work out that the silver tray is full of water just for them. We have also been watching a family of Willy Wagtails in their tiny, mud-built nest in the oak tree. Every time, I walked past the tree I would get dive-bombed by mummy bird to warn me off going near her three little babies. Today, we noticed that there is only one left in the nest.

From small palm-sized birds to majestic giants, we happened to come across a pair of wedge tail eagles in a nearby paddock last week. As we were driving past, I thought they were perched on a fallen log. We turned the car to go back for a closer look and found it was a dead sheep they were standing on (I imagine the sheep had died of natural causes). I was too slow to get a decent photo but they were magnificent to see. Several days later, while we at home enjoying a coffee outside, we spotted what we think is the same pair soaring across our paddock and perching in the dead gum tree. It was incredible to watch the smaller birds trying to scare them off. I also warned Friskie my cat to keep well away or he would end up as a tasty snack!

So life in the country is anything but dull; and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Roll on summer!

December 1 heralds the official start of summer in Australia but this month also saw the arrival of a summer’s worth of rain in 24 hours. Following our cold, frosty winter we have been enjoying some rather warm 30 degrees Celsius plus days in the run up to December. With the big downpour I started to wonder whether we should start work on an ark! Our builder says his shed wasn’t big enough for such a project but he would watch out for a dove with an olive branch. My husband’s response was, “The olive tree had floated away!”. It was a deluge.

 

Our driveway suffered a bit of damage so we are waiting for a professional to come in and remake the road for us. We have placed a couple of “witches’ hats” in the two holes to warn visitors.

My city slicker cat is adapting to country life and has a new activity chasing little bunnies who are game enough to come out into the open. However, the day after the big rain and being cooped up for a couple of days, Rambo spent his time watching the rabbit burrow near our rockery. He came back to the house and was scratching like crazy. I thought he had sat on one of the many sugar ant hills around our house and got himself bitten.  But no, looking at his dirty chest, he had stuck his head down the burrow and was infested with fleas. We usually use the slow release flea treatment that is absorbed into the cat’s bloodstream but this called for urgent action. We were fortunate to have some flea powder handy and the fleas were jumping in large numbers! A friend told me it happens a lot with rabbits and cats – and owners have to flea bomb their houses afterwards. I’m not scratching so haven’t resorted to that action – just a really good vacuum.

With the warmer weather, the snake sightings increase which makes me nervous if the cats are wandering around outside. My husband just called me outside to near the rockery where a rather large black/brown snake was slithering away. So I bring the cats in and they are not happy being locked up on such a nice afternoon. My camera is sitting next to me but when it comes to snakes I don’t feel so inclined to get that close to the subject matter.

Earlier this year we attended the Alternative Farming Expo at Seymour where we watched a snake handler do a display with various snakes found throughout Australia. It is part of a snake awareness education program, explaining the different types and how dangerous the different species are. We bought a snake bite first aid kit for our car. Tourniquets are no longer used and a wide crepe bandage is used to immobilise the affected limb or other body parts.  I did feel braver when watching someone who was experienced with snakes and did pat one of them when he walked around with one for the audience to touch. I took several photos but it was still unnerving watching these reptiles slithering on the ground. But there are very strict regulations for transporting snakes and some heavy-duty storage lockers in use.

 

Snakes are a protected species, so it is best to give them a wide berth when encountered. We have a dam near our house which we are told attracts snakes. Just like other parts of the world we learn to respect the wild things that we share this land with and use common sense when around them.