Friday, January 16, 2009

Living with wildlife-Snakes

Living in or near the bush is likely to lead to interactions with wildlife. In the past many people have resorted to shooting, poisoning and trapping as ways to control these so called “pests”. Others inadvertently terrorise their local wildlife (and possibly their neighbours) by allowing their pets to roam freely. Our attitude is, that we are caretaking this bushland for the period of time we are here and have a responsibility to minimise impact on the long term inhabitants.

The previous owners of our 96 acre bush block, bulldozed 12 acres with a presumed plan of developing grazing areas. Apart from the fact that this land is unable to maintain even small numbers of grazing stock we felt we could get by with around 5 acres and the balance would be better used by allowing regrowth to return it to bush (forest).

The development of gardens, orchard and buildings lead us on an adventurous journey full of opportunities to observe and learn about our fellow creatures. There have also been many challenges to be met, considered and solved.

Snake Adventures
We have so many snake stories, I wanted to call our place “Snake Gully”, but Heather objected feeling that some people may be less inclined to visit. We settled for the less phobic name “Tenderbreak P.F.”

So far, we have come across snakes in the house (whilst under construction), under the dog’s bowl (a baby), in the chookpen (he cleaned up all the rats), in the corella aviary (only seen above the entrance door after I had passed a few cm under him), in the dam (see photo), under bark in our garden retaining walls and dozens more around and about. However it was the sight of a 3 foot tigersnake leisurely sliding under our thick, water conserving mulch, that led to the idea of building a “snakeproof” fence around the veggie garden.

In the winter (2005) when the ground was softer, we built our 1500mm high weldmesh fence with 12mm holes for the first 900mm. The lower edge was buried to depth of around 150mm giving the fence the multiple functions of excluding snakes, rabbits, wombats, kangaroos, deer and any other veggie munching neighbours who wandered by. It was also designed to keep the dog away from those aforementioned neighbours. It would bring harmony to an area of possible conflict- our veggie patch.

We felt pretty proud of ourselves during that first spring, and were looking forward to our first bumper harvest of veggies, where we got to eat the bulk of them. We had to reassess our cleverness when a few days later Heather was surprised to discover a metre long tiger snake slipping around our corn stalks. We carefully guided it (from a safe distance) towards the gate. At the last moment however it slid under a large log that bordered our zucchinis. When I carefully pulled the log back (after demolishing the zucchini plants) we suddenly found ourselves confronted by two snakes. We reckon they had hibernated under that log over winter, as we were carefully building our supposed “snake proof fence” around them. They had accidentally been locked in!

Since then there have only been two other breaches of our fence. Heather found a baby snake (30cm) under the dog bowl. He may have fitted through the small holes in the weldmesh or been dropped by a passing kookaburra. The other occasion was when out daughter saw a snake “climb” the diagonal brace on the timber gate and slip over the top. Once he was in, she opened the gate and guided him back out. Later that day I reversed the gates to ensure diagonal braces were on the inside. (See photo of reversed gate). These events have caused us to use the term “snake deterrent” rather than “snake proof” when describing the fence. We also realise more than ever that part of the deal when living in a bushland setting is the possibility of coming across a snake. Being aware becomes a way of life.

The snakes that we have come across are either red bellied blacks (photo) or tiger snakes, both of which are venomous. Snakes are beautiful creatures that have no intrinsic interest in humans. Their sole aim in life is to feed themselves and go about their business in private. However if they feel threatened they will use their instinctive defensive strategy which is to rise, flatten out their neck and if necessary strike. A bite can be dangerous. Always be wary if near bushland, and keep well back from snakes. Never try and corner or catch one. If left alone, they will invariably disappear back into the safety of the bush.

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