Emus and Dingoes and Roos Oh My

Spring Has Sprung — Would You Like Flies With That?

Allyson CrockettHere in Australia it’s officially spring, my favourite time of year.

The frost has gone. The days are getting longer and the nights warmer. I don’t have to light the fire every night — what a relief. Fires are wonderful on cold nights, but they’re also messy and time-consuming. And don’t get me started on the constant log-splitting …

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Now I’m getting my heat from the sun. And I’m making the most of it before summer, when being outside is like living on the surface of the sun. A slight exaggeration? Maybe, but when it’s 115 degrees outside in January, it feels like that.

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Spring is also the greenest time of the year here in the Outback. Many years we get all our rain in two or three big downpours, which causes flooding and damage. But this year we’ve had steady, regular rain that has soaked in and gone where it’s most needed. If a picture is worth a thousand words then these say it all for me.

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Keep in mind, this is outback South Australia. The driest state in the driest country in the world. In a couple of months, the scenery will reflect that statement more. But now … not so much.

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Of course, with the rain and the sunshine come the weeds. At this time of year, you can almost watch them grow. Right now they’re thriving, but soon they’ll dry out and die, providing great hiding places for the snakes and using my border collie’s coat as a seed-dispersing vehicle. Sigh … I’ll get my brush. At least the kelpie’s coat is like Teflon: nothing sticks for long. No wonder the farmers’ working dog of choice is the kelpie!

(My dogs have earned the nicknames Teflon and Velcro.)

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And in the spring the flies return. With a vengeance. I’d always assumed they die off in the winter, so where do they come from in the spring? Even out here, close to the middle of nowhere, you only have to think about cooking something and the flies are at the screen door, trying to get in. They have better noses than a pack of bloodhounds.

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There’s clearly something going on out there that no one ever sees. Secret fly hatcheries?

Australian flies must be some of the friendliest critters in the world. No shyness, no discrimination. They just love to get in your face, and everywhere else. In the summer, it’ll be too hot for them as well, but for now I’m seriously considering getting one of those silly hats with the corks hanging off the brim.

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Don’t laugh. Half the townsfolk are walking around impersonating beekeepers with their hats and net veils. The other half keep waving their arms around and talking to themselves.

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Even my dogs leap around snapping at things only they can see (but we can all hear the buzzing). The border collie won’t share his dinner with anyone. "It’s the flies," I tell my surprised visitors. "Ah, yes," they nod knowingly.

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Still, even with the flies, and the weeds, and daily dog-brushing, it’s a beautiful time of year. A time to be outdoors and to get things done, like, say, weeding and separating the dog’s coat from the more prolific grass seeds. Or just sitting in gratitude, and remembering why I live here.

And just look at the views I have while I’m doing it.

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Until next time, keep the faith …

Braxton The Cat Whisperer

Allyson CrockettSince Brax, the kelpie, has been featured in my last two posts, and his picture has graced my last three posts, it would be remiss of me not to tell you the story of this funny little guy.

 

Braxton the cat-whisperer

Just like all the other furry creatures here, he won the good-life lottery.

Smiling Brax

Life for him is a series of days and nights spent eating good food, exploring the wilderness, looking for adventure, playing, and sleeping.

Oh, and toys, toys, toys …

Brax with ball

But he didn’t always have it so good.

Rescued from his first caregiver — who decided he no longer wanted the work and responsibility of owning a puppy and had all manner of evil things planned for Brax’s demise — he was then shuffled between homes and people until he got lucky and ended up here, at Eagle Hill.

Brax and toy

It’s here that he found security and a stable home, and when you get right down to it, that’s all most of us really want.

When Brax first arrived, he’d never seen a cat before. I had my misgivings about taking him in, given the predominantly feline population of the house. But after a few days, and much sniffing between dog and cats, they warmed to him.

Well, warmed to him is a bit of an understatement. I already had a representative of the canine species, my lovely old border collie, Teddy. I’ll introduce that sweet soul in a later post.

Brax and Patti in the garden

So, my cats are used to having a dog around, but Brax seems to be a super cat-magnet, like he’s been dipped in catnip and the smell never fades.

The pictures say it all.

Brax and Patti

It’s not just his new friend, Minicat, who can’t leave him alone (see previous post for the story of Minicat).

My other cats seek him out to sit with him in the garden, or lie around inside; they can’t get enough of him. They bother him almost to the point of annoying him … almost. He loves them just as much, and delights in all the attention.

Brax and Jellie

It’s a rare moment when he’s by himself, without a cat close by.

Perhaps he thinks he’s one of them. He washes himself like a cat; he’s obviously been watching them and taking notes.

Brax and Joely

Not content with having just the loves of the cats, Brax is also obsessed with toys. If it’s furry and it squeaks, he loves it. He owns a huge toy box full of fluffy, squeaky, colored toys, and often has trouble deciding which one to play with. I’m always picking up and putting away the toys strewn all over the house. He's just like any other healthy, active two-year-old.

Let’s see then … toys, cats, fluffy, and squeaky.

Are you seeing some similarities here?

I may have worked out Brax’s attraction to cats, but what about their attraction to him?

Brax with Joely and Jellie

Is he a distant relative of catnip? Are they drawn to his gentle nature and pungent doggy smell?

Or is it just a case of Everybody Loves Brax? After all, it’s not only the cats who love him; everyone he meets falls in love with him — apparently his first caregiver was the only one who was immune to his charms.

Brax with Joely, Jellie, and Ruby

I think it’s his love of life and everything in it. His enthusiasm for living is infectious. Sure, he has his bad-dog moments, but he learns quickly and he’s a fun and lively housemate who gets along with everyone, even guests and visitors.

Brax with ball outside

It seems only fitting that after a chaotic and uncertain start in life, such a beautiful doggy soul has found himself the perfect home and family for as long as he needs it.

Even my cats will agree.

Until next time, keep the faith …

Brax on car roof

Brax and a favorite toy

A Canine-Feline-Human Love Story, Part Two: Minicat Comes Out

Allyson CrockettIn my last post, I told you how a hungry feral kitten got caught stealing food in the kitchen. And how—after watching us carefully from her room for a week or so—she decided we weren’t so bad after all, and stepped over the threshold to start her new life.

Kitten on rainbow bed

So, did she make the right decision?

You bet!

Once she came out of her room, there was no stopping her.

Just a few days later, she was bothering everyone except me. It took her a little longer to get used to me, but she did, and now she has someone else to pester.

Cat and dog sleeping

She’s starting to look like any other house cat, and with the amount of white in her coat, I think her father may have been some farmer’s domestic cat sowing his wild oats.

But don’t let that cute, furry, cat-suit fool you.

She’s very vocal (read: loud), very energetic, and no spider or centipede is safe when she’s around. Apparently, spider legs are not good eating. I keep finding little piles of them on the floor.

Cat and dog sleeping

In fact, no other creature is safe when she’s around. She has no concept of personal space—something my other cats value highly. She gets in everyone’s face. She’s like that bothersome person at the party who just won’t leave people alone—I think we’ve all had one of those.

But she’s also cute, funny, and very affectionate. Just when I’m thinking what an irritating little monster she is and trying to remember why I kept her, she does something so sweet or funny that it all comes back to me. This little girl needed my help, and she received an abundance of it.

Cat and dog sleeping

She’s come a long way since that last day in February. Her feral mother would be appalled to see her sleek, well-fed daughter wrestling with a dog for fun. When I see her lying in front of the fire all fat, happy, and warm, I know she’s thinking she made the right decision.

And when I see her like that, I know there was never a decision to make. From the moment she crept through the cat door looking for food, she was destined to become part of this happy, furry circus that I call family.

Cat and dog sleeping

What she didn’t know was that to become part of this furry family, she needed to take a ride in the car to the cat-doctor to have her cat-making equipment removed.

She’s cute and cuddly, but one of her is quite enough. Too much, some days.

Thinking she would transform into a yowling fiend for the entire hour and a half drive to the nearest vet, I steeled myself. She surprised me by being almost normal. Sure, she made a bit of noise for the first ten minutes, but then she settled down in her cat carrier on the seat next to me and dozed off.

Cat and dog sleeping

She livened up when I took her into the vet's, so I left her in their capable hands and quickly got out of there.

A few hours later, I enjoyed a peaceful drive home.

That was two weeks ago. I removed her stitches yesterday. They must have been heavy-duty, industrial-strength stitches to have held her together while she raced around wrestling everyone and climbing trees.

Cat and dog sleeping

Now she’s on her way to becoming a real domestic cat. She’s even learning some manners, and she’s almost stopped bothering my 17-year-old cat: there’s an uneasy truce between them. I spotted them sleeping together on a chair recently; that’s progress, folks.

The other cats are all young enough, and big enough, to lay down the law, and there’s enough room to mostly avoid her.

She’s still a little weirdo sometimes, but it’s my guess that’s the reason she fits in here so well.

Until next time, keep the faith …

Two cats outside

A Canine-Feline-Human Love Story in Two Parts

Allyson CrockettOn tiny white paws she crept, under cover of dark, while everyone slept …

She slunk in through the cat door, lured by the irresistible smell of food. Too small to catch anything but bugs, and now, too weak from malnutrition …

With her little empty belly overriding all her fears, and hunger making her reckless, she forgot everything her mother had taught her, and survival instinct took over.

But the food was so good. She grew careless and stayed too long. Daylight came. The other animals, the dogs, woke up. There were strange noises, smells, and movement in the house. She couldn’t make it back through the door to safety without being seen, or even caught, and eaten. She hid in an open cupboard, hoping to creep out the next night, and escape. 

Peek-a-boo Minicat

All day I kept hearing strange noises coming from the cupboard. The dogs, and a couple of my cats, set up camp on the floor outside the cupboard door. I figured it was either rats, or a snake. I didn’t want to deal with either, so I left the door open slightly, hoping whatever it was would make its own way out.

And it did. Minutes before dark, I heard my dogs barking at something just outside the house. Thinking it might be a snake I raced outside to protect them, and there she was.

A tiny feral kitten. The dogs had her cornered, but she was doing her best impression of a bigger, scarier cat.

Now, when I say feral, I don’t mean she was a stray, or homeless cat. Australian feral cats are descended from domestic cats, but that’s where the similarity ends. These cats are vicious killers, always striped – the original color of cats – and often growing much larger than their domestic ancestors. Most have never even seen a human, and most humans never see them.

They’re solitary, and nocturnal. They have adapted well to Australia’s dry conditions, and can survive for long periods without water; they get necessary moisture from their prey.

Living in the outback, I’ve only had a few fleeting glimpses of them. They are considered a major pest, and a threat to our native wildlife, which has very few, if any, natural enemies. Without competition, the feral cats have thrived. They’re hard to control, and they’ve caused the extinction of some species.

Minicat Chills Out

Still, I don’t hold anyone’s lineage against them, and this little one needed my help. I gingerly bent down to pick her up — more like grab her as she made another dash for freedom. Even at around four weeks old this baby was a wildcat and didn’t hesitate to sink her teeth into my hand several times. Little baby cat teeth and people hands are not compatible. The teeth won, ouch!

I took her back inside and offered her the good food. She’d been stealing the dry cat food from the container on the table. It’s what my cats snack on between meals. One taste of the ‘good stuff’ and she lost all interest in mauling my hands.

When I’d stuffed her full of mince, I put her in the spare room with a litter box and her own supply of food and water, and left her to calm down. Every day I’d clean her litter box — she used it, just like a normal cat — and three times a day I delivered fresh food and water, while she dived behind the furniture and watched until I left.

Minicat Meets Brax

After a couple of days I left the door open so she could see us going about our daily activities. Eventually she stopped hiding, and just retreated to a far corner when I fed her. A week later she was watching us from the doorway. A few days after that I caught her touching noses with my kelpie, Brax. 

Minicat and Brax Play

Brax has a way with other animals, especially cats. He’s a canine cat-whisperer. And he’d been sitting outside the spare room trying to see the strange ‘minicat’ that had come to live with us. I knew the kitten would interact with him first. She’d seen him almost constantly since she’d arrived, and she soon realized he wasn’t going to eat her.

Friends Now

We’ll leave it there for now, and in my next post we'll find out what happened when she decided it was safe to come out of her room. Did she make the right decision?

Till next time, keep the faith ...

From Large Lizards To Lounge Lizards

Allyson CrockettIt’s the winter solstice in my half of the world. The shortest day of the year, and the official start of winter. Just to make sure I know this, the weather is cold, wet and windy. A day to stay inside with a blazing fire. Now I’m starting to miss summer.

Up until a few weeks ago there were still a few lizards plodding around, but now they’ve all settled down for the big sleep till the temperatures rise to a more agreeable number. They may be on to something, right now I feel like crawling into bed and staying there for a few months.

Some people think Australia is overrun with poisonous snakes and lizards but the truth is, even out here where they live, we hardly see them.

Stumpy Lizard on the lawn

I do have a large lizard that lives in my garden. He’s what we call a stumpy-tailed lizard, or a shingle-back. These guys start to turn up everywhere in October when it’s mating season. You see the males following the females around, a bit like people really. Once a pair gets together they usually mate for life, unlike some people, and they find each other every spring. Once they’ve done the deed they go their separate ways until the next year. I’ve heard of people doing that.

My stumpy lizard, Clawde, is no exception. I don’t know where he spends his winter, but he spends most of his summer in my garden, eating my flowers, tomatoes, and anything tasty the dogs leave out on the lawn. He's been known to venture inside the house if the door is left open and he’s passing by. Perhaps he’s even in the house now, sleeping it off till spring. Who knows? He likes to keep to himself.

Clawde the lizard

I’ve seen a few snakes in the ten years I’ve lived here. All of them brown snakes, the most common, and the ones most likely to bite you.

A few years ago, I had one of these second-most-venomous-snakes-in-the-world stretched across my bathroom floor. This is the same bathroom that’s built under the veranda and fills with thousands of moths in summer. This brown snake wasn’t after moths, he was trying to get cool under my washing machine. There’s nothing quite like seeing a snake in your bathroom to get the adrenaline flowing and to get you rounding up the fur-kids and locking them in the house.

Brown snake in bathroom

Armed with a long-handled rake, I threw things at him (but not before I got a picture) and he came out of the bathroom, reared up at me and took off into the outback. In case you’re thinking I must be really brave, I’m not. I was terrified and had the shakes afterwards, but I had to reclaim my bathroom.

I also saw a large brown snake — a deceptively mild-sounding name — in the grass a few weeks ago. Now, this snake-in-the-grass was on his own turf, and sluggish because it was so cold, although he was a big one. Once again, I gathered up any curious fur-kids and locked them inside. Then I threw things at him until he went on his way. He was probably just looking to stock up on food before the big sleep but I’d rather he did it elsewhere.

Considering the number of snakes that must be out here, I’ve seen very few of them around the house. And I’ve never lost a dog or cat to snakebite, although I know people who have. And I’m sure my cats, at least, must have come across snakes when I wasn’t there to protect them. In fact, I often find smaller snakes chewed up near the back door.

My cats are very generous with their little gifts

I think my geese have a lot to do with our good luck regarding snakes. I’ve heard they keep them away; maybe it’s the noise, but aren’t snakes deaf? Whatever they do, it works. I keep a shovel near the house, and one out by the cars, but I haven’t had to use it to kill any snakes yet, and I’d prefer not to. There’s enough room out here for everyone, it’s just that some of them need a reminder to stay in their own area, and away from us. I’m happy to co-exist with the snakes as long as they abide by the rules.

A couple of lounge lizards

Right now, I only have to deal with the lounge lizards in my house. Every night, and some particularly cold days, there they are lying around on the chairs doing their best lounge lizard impressions.

They should be good at it, they’ve had a lot of practice.

Until next time, keep the faith ...

 

 

The Day the Geese Vanished

Allyson CrockettAlthough it’s quiet and peaceful here at Eagle Hill, there’s never a dull moment. Here’s a recent example of one of those never-dull moments.

My two dogs, Ted and Braxton, are free-range dogs. They have the run of the place and every morning at first light, they leave their cozy beds and go out to do their secret dog business.

They love to bark at the wild birds, and since the birds also get up at first light, it works out well for them. Maybe they planned it that way. Who knows? They’re always back in their beds by the time I get up.

On this particular day, they did their morning thing and I thought nothing of it. I got up, gave everyone breakfast and got on with my day. Mid-morning I went to check that the geese had food and everything was okay with them.

No geese. Calling here goosy goosy yielded nothing. Thinking back, I should have noticed how quiet it was out there. Geese are rarely quiet and I’m so used to the noise they make it should have sounded strange without it. Once I noticed the absence of geese, it did seem strangely quiet. Chalk one up for hindsight.

The distance from Eagle Hill

The geese are free-range too. In the ten years I’ve been here I’ve only lost one to a fox. They’re too big and bulky for a fox to make off with, and they put up quite a fight. Did I mention the noise they make? Anyway, they camp close to the house at night so they’re relatively safe.

The geese roam far and wide but always come back to home base, and they’re always within hearing range. There’s no mistaking the sound of those honkers, even when they’re on walkabout.

This day, there was nothing. No geese, no honking, nothing. I walked around searching for them, nothing. I took a walk out to the nearest water trough where they sometimes go. It’s quite a hike for short-legged geese but I’ve seen them out there before. Not much gets past me.

I even took a drive down the road. It was worth a try. My driveway is long, and the house is set back from the road, but I have seen the geese near the end of the driveway before. Maybe they found something interesting and wandered onto the road. Nope, not this day.

On the drive back in I was scouring the countryside for anything white. One of my geese is pure, clean white, and if he were out there I’d be able to spot him easily.

And then I saw it in the distance. And I do mean distance. It was just a tiny speck of white, but it was there. I stopped the car, wishing I’d thought to bring my binoculars. I watched the white thing. There! It moved! Did it move, or was I imagining it? Then it disappeared. Ok, not my imagination.

It was a cool, still day. Even if the white thing were just a piece of paper that had blown out into the paddock, with no breeze, it wouldn’t disappear.

I drove home, parked the car, and proceeded to march across the paddock, accompanied by two happy dogs, and two of the more adventurous cats.

The Dump, where the geese vanished to

The white thing I’d seen was in front of a pile of old cars and other scrap metal that someone had dumped out there years before I moved in. We all referred to it as The Dump, makes sense, right? It’s a good 10-15 minute hike from the house (past the trough where they go on their long walks), and too far for the geese to go on their wanderings.

But, as I got closer, the white thing appeared again, and darker shapes started to become visible. Goose shapes. What in the world were they doing out there?

I could see they had no clue how to get home, and they didn’t get there by themselves.

It was a slow walk home, and from the way they avoided the dogs I had a good idea of how they got out there. Geese don’t talk but their actions told me all I needed to know.

Brax and Jellie, the cat, enjoying their walk

It seems my sheep dogs’ herding instinct got the better of them, and with no wild birds to chase and bark at, they turned their attention to the only other birds around, the big noisy ones they live with.

I hate to think what might have happened to them if I hadn’t found them. Out there, alone at night, is no place for four slow-moving, flightless, meaty birds, as big as they are.

Happy geese home at last

Perhaps my dogs were revealing their true feelings about the geese. After all, they did take them to The Dump, and leave them there.

Naughty boys.

Until next time, keep the faith …

Too Much Of A Good Thing Is Not Too Good

Allyson CrockettAh, beautiful life-giving rain.

I know it’s a boring cliché to talk about the weather, but when you live in the driest state, on the driest continent on the planet, a few days of rain is an exciting event.

Since I last posted we’ve had a couple of days of rain, and it’s raining as I write this. Not such a big deal when your annual rainfall is 30 inches or more. But when it averages just 11 inches, and you rely on rainwater to survive, well, you can understand why I’m so enthusiastic about it.

Around here, we have a love/hate relationship with rain. There are times we go months without seeing a single drop of it. That’s when we’d love to have some, and that’s when I like to watch movies featuring lots of rain. Those lucky people, how I miss the sight, the sound, the feel, and smell of it.

Rain benefits

And then, there are times when we get almost our annual average rainfall, sometimes much more, in the space of two days. That’s the hate part of the relationship. We desperately need the rain, but sometimes Mother Nature gets frisky and gives us too much all at once.

I live between two creeks. These creeks are usually dry, and form part of the road. But when we get a lot of rain in a short space of time, those creeks become raging torrents and there’s no way out until they subside.

Creekbed after flooding

Dry creek beds cut through the country around here, carving the land into odd-shaped pieces. They’re our natural drainage system and have evolved over thousands of years. They’re all connected and do a great job of transporting excess flood water to the nearest lake.

But, alas, all the floodwater from up north has to pass through, as well as the rain we’re getting.

Not only is it messy and inconvenient, big, fast-moving water can do some serious damage.

Creek bed after flooding

A few months after I moved here in 2006, we had over 9 inches of rain dumped on us in 24 hours. The landscape and infrastructure were ill-equipped to handle it and chaos ensued. Roads were torn apart, and steel bridges were smashed and turned into twisted metal as the huge wall of water surged through, widening the creeks and permanently changing the local geography.

Enormous uprooted trees bobbed along the creeks like driftwood. Even when the water receded a week later, it wasn’t safe to drive through the creeks. Most were full of debris and much deeper than they were before.

People were left stranded for days. The power and phones were out. Groups of animals were isolated where they’d moved to higher ground. Many washed away when the floodwaters gushed through suddenly, to become a part of the wreckage we had to clean up.

Since then, we’ve had flash floods, usually every year, but nothing of that magnitude. It’s not something I care to experience again.

Ted in dry creek bed

I can live with the minor disruption of flooded creeks and not being able to get out for a few hours. The parched earth readily soaks up the water and the damage is minimal. The benefits of the rain far outweigh the annoyance.

This year, it seems the rain is being kind, and falling gently and regularly. No flooding, just a bit boggy for a while. My tanks are already half-full, and tiny shoots are giving the countryside a lush green tinge. Of course, they’re all weeds, and I’ll be grumbling about them before too long.

But for now, my world is cool, green and wet. Much more user-friendly than the hot, brown and dry land of a few months ago.

Dogs in waterhole

Winter isn’t my favorite time of year, but this one is shaping up to be very pleasant. I’m not even missing summer yet; perhaps I’m getting old. Although, if you ask me in a month or two, when the frost sets in, you’ll likely find I’ve changed my opinion somewhat.

Until next time … keep the faith.