Friday, 13 April 2007

Playing Possum…

For the past year, I’ve gritted my teeth and put up with the ravages to my apricot trees, plum trees and grape vines created by what seems to have been an ever-increasing number of possums. This has been a very real test of my values as a gardener and as a naturalist; I believe that I should share space with all the creatures around me until a natural balance is reached. The obvious parallel for a gardener is one’s attitude to insect pests and weeds; blast ‘em with pesticides and herbicides, or let nature find a predator-prey balance?
Possums in Australia are a protected species, which means I can’t shoot them, trap them or even move them off the property onto someone else’s. They live in a big pine tree on my driveway and (I suspect) the garage roof, and travels by aerial pathways all over the district; on power and phone lines, rooftops, trees and fence lines. Not having seen a single possum for decades, in the last year they have become a common sight after dark walking along the power lines to our roof top, or running and squalling back along the same route in the early hours of the morning. Walking down the backyard at night, bucket and torch in hand on the way to the rain water tank, I’ve come across mother possum, babe on back, dashing along the wire fence line back to the safety of the lemon tree. Moving a pile of bricks recently – to make way for more rainwater tanks – I’ve found a possum asleep wedged headfirst inside the stack at ground level. Perhaps the pine tree’s full? Moving him to the almond tree proved no solution; he shot up it, took the long route around the fence line, and disappeared into the woodheap.
While restraining an urge to shoot the damn things, I’ve wondered at the bigger picture that has brought them down here to the drought-proof Adelaide plains from the drought-stricken Adelaide Hills some kilometres to the east of us. What really set me thinking was the appearance of a small koala in the gum-tree in the front yard for a few days. Things must be bad in the bush for them to be down here risking dogs, cars and humans in their search for one of the few Eucalypt species that they find edible.
Other new visitors have also arrived lately; this time flocks of 40 or more corellas squalling over head just towards sunset. These are not a bird I’ve seen over the city in the five decades I’ve been outside, watching the comings and goings of the dozens of feathered species that live in harmony with me here in the backyard veggie patch.
So perhaps I should have expected the disaster that has befallen us in the chicken coop. The first sign was an insidious wave of disease racing through the newest members of our young flock of Australorp chickens, raised from fertile eggs under a broody hen. These diseases are brought in (I’m convinced) by the ever-larger flocks of non-native Indian Turtle doves that descend upon the chicken yard to steal chicken food. But it was the fox that came twice that finished off eight of the nine new birds; I’d become too complacent since the last episode a decade ago, believing that foxes has disappeared from this local area. Now I’m locking the hens in after the fox has bolted.
But old Mother nature is as tough on her own as I have not been; one possum found dead in a neighbour’s yard a few weeks back, and today, another found dead on the road just up from here, killed by a motor car. I’m glad that I’ve stayed my hand. Perhaps, after all, there will be a balance struck that I can live with.
Now I just have to figure out how to bring those fruit trees through the damage and the drought…

1 comment:

Kate said...

So sorry to read of the demise of your black chooks. It is sad indeed to see your little friends get sick and then to be taken by a fox. I bought 2 more chooks today - to make it back up to 4.That's a good number to be able to supply our mothers as well as ourselves.Will you try again ?