Inside job

  • Posted on: 14 November 2020
  • By: MrWurster

After the cold winter that killed a lot of our lambs we changed a few things, which I've talked about previously. Some of the changes included having the lambs later, now in October rather than August. I also built some extra shelters, planted a hedge windbreak and moved some massive hollow logs into a quiet corner out of the wind.

The last few years when its lambing time, every night when we round the sheep up and usher them into the secure paddock. Normally they first go and find what feed I've brought in for them, then they amble off to the protected corner to sleep it off until I let them out again.

But not this year, to my puzzlement. It's been quite mild, only a couple of rainy nights, not too cold. This year the sheep are choosing to group and sleep away from the protected hollow. I'd gone round and filled up the nesting spots with straw, all very cosy. Why wouldn't they use them?

The penny dropped yesterday, when an overprotective sandpiper dive bombed me. They are new this year.

Slowly we've been planting out trees and cover in the goose paddock, where we lock up the sheep. Gradually the mining pit has become more lake-like, less of a scarred eyesore and something more green and pleasant. It's not just us that think its an improvement. We've gradually acquired Pacific Black Ducks, Herons and Ibis, and what looks like a Pygmy Goose couple (which are supposed to be further north). And for one glorious afternoon a Rainbow Bee eater. ( Look it up. Its one of the most beautiful birds in Australia.)

And this year Sandpipers. And they have built their nest up in the protected sheep's corner. I suspect they have driven the sheep mad with their incessant chattering and divebombing, and for some peace and quiet the sheep have chosen to sleep somewhere else.

The Sandpiper offspring have emerged. Only once I have seen the three young Sandpipers together. They go under cover as soon as their parents call, and their parents call as soon as they see me...or anything else!

At the same time the geese pair up and become broody. Each year its been a disaster of some sort, and this year the tradition continues. A fox got in, killed a few nesting geese, the rest abandoned their nest to sleep on the water safely. The crows stole the eggs....we finished up with one gosling, from some twelve nests of up to eight eggs each.

I had done some autumn work on the electrics, moved the transformer, ironed out some short-circuiting and put in a much better earth. As a result, contact with a live wire gave the trespasser a substantial jolt, and I had been confident a fox wouldn't scale in. Which means a hole. It took me a day to find it...a new hole dug under the fence.

We have had that before, but most of the fenceline sits on mining spoil. You can't get a pick into the ground for rocks, and its very hard to dig or scrape a hole. Shaking my head at the determination of foxes, I plugged the hole with 100kg of heavy rocks, and added rocks to the flat-to-the-ground wire curtain to weigh it down further.

From then on, every morning and night I would do a perimeter check. The next day there was a new hole, but no geese killed. Why would the fox dig a hole and not collect a meal? The next day another goose was killed. It was after the second one the rest of the geese gave up their nests.

Cursing, I repaired the damage, collected the remains, and was just standing there trying to come up with a plan. In front of me was one of the pit walls, a good 5 metres high. Freshly dug into the wall was a refurbished wombat hole. wasn't a fox digging in! It was a wombat, digging its way in and out of the paddock. Every time I blocked the entrance it was still inside the paddock, and it would dig its way out again the next night. The fox was then using the entrance to get in and out.

Getting out is a lot easier than digging in. The flat heavy chicken wire comes out up to 30 cm, taut and fixed to the ground. Anyone starting to dig in would probably hit the wire and move on, and I found a few abandoned exploratory holes. But on the inside you start at the fence and burrow down and out.

I think what happened to break the cycle is that one morning the wombat stayed outside the paddock, I blocked that entrance, and it hasn't got back in again.

What I can't resolve is how the wombat got in the paddock to start with.

The good news is that the geese regrouped and five pairs set up new nests and are still on them now. Later than normal, but we might see some more goslings yet.