Snakes!

Living on a property we see snakes (dugites and tiger snakes) fairly often.If we see them in the bush we ignore them and leave them be, if they are around the house  or chooks or other animals we often try to move them on to the bush. We had animals (chooks, sheep etc) inexplicably die which we put down to a snake bite, and have had a few incidences of the dogs catching one and ‘playing ‘ with it, which has naturally been stressful for us and the snakes who often died.

Dugite

Tiger snake near the back door

We built a ‘snake lake’ to attract them away from the house a few years back, and recently decided we wanted to be more proactive, so enrolled in a snake handling course with well-known Bob Cooper and it was so, so worthwhile! We learnt so much about snakes,  their needs, habits and fears, but also a lot about the bush and of incidental life lessons along the  way, for Bob also delivers Outback Safety and Survival courses. We really recommend Bob’s training.

We bought the snake handling kit from him, and within a week had a dugite in front of the gate to the pool and aquaponics, in fact nearly stepping on it! We put the training and the handling kit to good use, successfully and confidently capturing the snake, placing it into a bin and relocating it into the bush at the very back of our bush (a long way from the house!).

One of the things we learnt from Bob is that snakes can climb a considerable height. We knew they could climb a bit as we had seen them escape over the side of the chicken run, but he said if there is a snake in the house always check above the door way before you walk into the room!! Well, we saw this dugite climb between a wall and a down pipe to above our head height before started heading down and we retrieved it with Bob’s specially designed deep-vee hook. It was truly amazing to see! Here is a video of a snake climbing in Gladstone, using its body in just the same way as our dugite.

Seeing a snake so close to the house (2 metres from the front door and in a totally paved area we often frequent) was a real reminder that no matter what we do and what care we take, snakes are a part of living where we do. We haven’t seen one that close to our house for a while, and it is easy to become complacent, but this was a big reminder that they could be anywhere and to always be vigilant.

STOP PRESS: The very next day we have also caught and released a tiger snake that moved across the front veranda!

 

McCarthy Park Bee ‘n’ Bee- Bee Hotel

It is generally suggested that providing homes for native solitary bees like this helps nature as so much of their natural environment is being removed. Bee hotels also provide the opportunity to observe our native bees more closely- some are so small we don’t even give them a glance and often think they are flies. Native bees and wasps are also valuable pollinators, and there are thoughts that the introduced honey bee may take over most of their food source so there are moves to increase community awareness about them.

There is also an argument against using ‘made’ bee hotels- mainly because they bring together various species that may not usually reside in such close vicinity, and with that there is the potential for disease to spread. It also provides easy access for parasitic wasps such as the gasteruptiid wasp which lays it eggs in the nests of solitary bees, with their larvae feasting on the host eggs and food supply provided by the native bee.

We have had various ‘bee hotels’ around the place for a few years, but they have tended to be hastily put together so not very neat (although they were certainly functional with many native bees and some small wasps taking up residence!). On our property there are also an abundance of natural homes such as holes in tree stumps, reeds, bamboo etc. We decided however to provide a more attractive (to us) bee hotel in a better location so we could observe more closely, so the McCarthy Park Bee ‘n’ Bee was created on the front veranda using an old cupboard.

McCarthy Park Bee ‘n’ Bee

So far it has proved a success, with resin bees (Megachile) and masked bees (Hylaeus), and some small solitary wasps taking up residence (even while the hotel was still being finished!).

Hylaeus nubilosis in its nest in a clay hole

Small wasp perhaps closing its nest in a block of wood

A Hylaeus and another bee close by

Hylaeus using bits of wood detritus to seal its nest

 

Tawny Frogmouth nest!

We are so, so lucky! We just happened to be sitting on the front veranda (something we like to do but often don’t get the time!), and saw this…………..

Tawny Frogmouth in the middle of a hot day

Finding this quite odd for the middle of the day, we watched it move into the tree then went and checked it out with the good camera, and saw this………

Who are YOU looking at?

We were sure we saw a baby move around, but it didn’t show up in the photo, though it certainly looked like a nest! Next day we saw the baby again…….

Dad and babe

You have to look carefully, but under the dad’s beak and to the left of the inconveniently placed leaf, is a small white head, eye and beak. Apparently the males sit during the day and both parents sit overnight, according to Birds in Backyards

Needless to say we are quite excited and keep a close eye on them!

Winter time- orchard, bees and animals

It has been a fairly busy month or so tidying the orchard trees, preserving the bountiful lemons, and of course getting firewood for our wood fire!

We generally do a summer prune, and a fairly light prune in winter but there has been so much growth on most of the fruit trees that we have just done a fairly thorough winter prune on most trees. It was a bit late for the apricots so they have been left, but everything else was reduced in height to ensure they can be easily netted and harvested.

Pruned and tidied orchard

We have had some bumper crops this last season, so a good tidy up was certainly needed! Also most of the trees are now big enough to remove the metal surrounds we had surrounding them so the geese and turkeys didn’t damage them. This makes it so much easier to whipper snip, fertilise and generally tend each tree.

Couple of remaining surrounds protecting the growing trees

Our lemon tree has been thriving, as lemon trees so often do! We have cut many into wedges for the freezer (ideal for adding to a refreshing drink- whether it is just water or gin and tonic!), and made lots of Lemon and Mustard Seed Chutney to add to the couple of remaining jars from last year. This chutney is a real favourite of ours and used almost daily.

Lemon and Mustard Seed Chutney

We have also sowed our ‘clucker tucker’ areas, adjoining the chook run. This provides a good supply of green food for the poultry when we need to leave them locked up in their pens.

Clucker Tucker

We recently purchased some more guinea fowl which were added to one of the clucker tucker areas to get accustomed to our place. In another week we will let them out to join our others, who free range the property.

New additions

As if there aren’t enough mouths to feed, we have been including a pair of Pacific Black ducks who are regular visitors to the dam and now the food supply!

Wildlife joining in

And another major bee event- we moved our Langstroth from the front paddock because with all the tree growth it is now in pretty constant shade, and hadn’t really thrived over the warmer months. We used the same procedure as when we moved the Warre some time ago- the hive was closed up one evening when the bees were inside, strapped up and tied to a trolly, and moved to its new location nearby the other hives.

Moving the strapped up hive

The hive stayed closed for three days, and a bush placed at the entrance. When the entrance was opened, the bees are forced to reorient due to the bush in the entrance. So far so good, there is coming and going from the hive and even bees taking pollen in. The plan in the warmer weather is to transfer the frames from this Langstroth to the new horizontal hive which was placed behind it ready. The horizontal hive uses all Langstroth components so is easily interchangeable (unlike when we have transferred to or from Top Bar and Warre hives), and has the huge benefit, like the Top Bar, of not needing to lift a full super. Unlike the Top Bar though, it will be easier to manage, and harvest, as it uses the Langstroth frames.

Horizontal hive ready for the transfer

Eagles and foxes!

Well, if it isn’t one predator it is another!

One morning at 7am after letting all the poultry out for the day, we saw a fox checking them out. It was daylight, though only just at this time of the year. Needless to say we were not happy.

Next day, there were two eagles perched in a tree overlooking the wandering poultry! Now they are a predator too, and we have certainly seen them take our poultry in the past….. but……. they are a native Australian bird, indigenous to this area…… and so majestic! So of course the camera comes out, and numerous photos taken.

A pair of eagles watching the poultry

 

Needless to say, in the last two weeks since seeing the fox and the eagles, we have lost two geese and two turkeys, and everyone now needs to stay locked up in their pens for their safety!

Native insects galore!

Over the last couple of years we have noticed a lot more native insects such as the leaf cutter bee. This summer has been unusual weather in Perth (currently it is cool and pouring with rain….. in January!), but we have seen (or maybe just noticed) so many insects.  Here are just a few:

The Blue Banded Bees are out in force at the moment, and love the purple morning glory flowers.

Blue Banded Bee -Amegilla (not sure which one)

These little sweat bees are tiny! The males congregate on the end of a dead twig to roost at night, and then leave in the morning to find females, coming back to the same spot to roost.

Lipotriches flavoviridis

Lipotriches flavoviridis

Quite a few different bees and wasps are using the bee hotels (and holes drilled in the veranda rails!).

Different types of bees use different material to seal their nests.

Masked bees- Hylaeus nesting in wood.

And then there are those who have made homes in the clay blocks. There are a couple of different types here, the Hylaeus that uses a cellophane type material to seal its nest, and the Hylaeus nubilosis that nests in clay (often the abandoned nests of potter wasps or mud daubers. This one used the clay from the area around the hole to seal its nest. This series of photos shows top left- 4/12/17; top right- 15/12/17; bottom right 27/12/17 and bottom left with the hole sealed)-28/12/17.

Masked bee- Hylaeus nubilosis

And of course there are some who will just find anywhere!

A Hylaeus has used and sealed the holes in the handle of a whipper snipper!

It isn’t all about bees! There are lots of other interesting insects around:

Hoverfly

Wasps nesting, possibly Flower Wasps of some sort

Close up of roosting wasps

Orange Potter Wasp

Braconid Wasp (White Flank Black Braconid)

Christmas spider

Leaf cutter -Megachile

Daddy Long Legs Spider nest

Small wasp using the bee hotel

Ant Lion Lacewing

 

Black cockatoos

The black cockatoos visit McCarthy Park regularly, both the red tailed and white tailed, and they never cease to impress with their noise and size! Usually it is quite small flocks that come by, but occasionally we get a very big flock like this one. Check out our post on Instagram here! Or on Facebook here 

Black cockatoos

The Carnaby’s Black- cockatoo is endangered, so we are thrilled they feel at home here, even if it is only for short visits.

 

Native bees

The warmer summer weather brings a lot of native insect activity, particularly the many native bees we get here in Western Australia. We have seen quite a few different kinds over the years, blue banded bees, resin bees, leaf cutter bees and these masked bees. Today, I set the camera on a tripod n front of the latest bee hotel, pressed record and returned 15 minutes later to find the top hole completely sealed. The video is amazing, really showing the perseverance of this small insect (it is alas too big to post, so a snippet of the end is all that we can post).

masked bees

Video of masked bee sealing nest

Leefcutter bee

Over the years we have seen the circular holes made by the leafcutter bee, but for the first time we had the camera on hand and photographed this amazing native bee in action making a nest inside a hole in the mortar between the bricks of our house. the location is a surprise, as it is right by the spade and tap that we use regularly in our front garden!

Heading for the hole with its neatly cut piece of leaf

Heading for the hole with its neatly cut piece of leaf

Entering its nest

Entering its nest

Twisting upside down to get into position

Twisting upside down to get into position

Leaving the nest ready to cut the next piece of leaf

Leaving the nest ready to cut the next piece of leaf

It was a fascinating process to watch! It took about 5-10 minutes to source and cut the leaf (not sure where from as it seemed to fly over the house). This is despite a rose bush being right next too it, which is often used and had some of the tell tale circular holes cut in it already. Once it entered the nest, it took about a minute or two before it flew back out.

Wonderful!