Just add water! Mt Rogers Update - Late February 2008

The extraordinary rainfall patterns and quantities of our 2007-8 summer have had remarkable effects on ‘the hill’. The renewed vibrancy of the trees suggests that some soil-moisture has been restored. Some of those Eucalypts noted to have died have sprouted new shoots from lignotubers just below soil-level. Many small native plants have flourished with the rainfall. We came across several species as we prepared to remove weeds. Weeds have thrived also.

A core of dedicated workers have pulled quantities of Prickly lettuce Lactuca serriola out of the best native vegetation areas to give young forbs a chance to grow and flower after the rain and in the relatively cool warmth of this strange summer. It’s said that our lettuces have been derived from this plant which originated in Europe and Asia. “Earliest grown lettuces bore close resemblance to this weed, as shown by 6500-year-old Egyptian wall paintings”.** The worst part of our weeding was probably working under the dead Cootamundra Wattles. Luckily stoic weeders took on this specialisation as part of the task.

The old trees are easily dismissed as eyesores, fire-hazards and untidy. However their importance as shelter and habitat is noticeable on Mt Rogers where Wrens use them often and Robins and Fantails survey from them. ‘Bush’ which has “mess” (leaf litter, twigs, bark, decaying logs and fallen branches) on the ground harbours a range of invertebrate animals as food for insectivorous birds, reptiles, insect-eating mammals and, in other woodland areas, frogs.

On dewy mornings bare branches are more obviously adorned with complex and beautiful spider-webs. One type incorporates a layer or two of mesh finer than fly-wire mesh. Pauses during misty walks will bring on the wonder that a spider can create such perfection and appreciation of the hours it took to complete the web.

Our other target weed, St John’s Wort Hypericum perforatum, grows best in full sun so our efforts were concentrated amongst rank, introduced grasses. Our aim was to remove this year’s growth before the seeds had ripened in the capsules. Later we will need to spray the rosettes of leaves which will emerge in spring. Many species from this, mostly European, family have weed potential, having escaped from gardens. The orange-flowered native St John’s Wort has had a successful flowering season.

At the base of the trunks of quite a few trees and clinging to banks is a successful native ground-cover, Climbing saltbush,  Einadia nutans. Perhaps it draws water from rain trickling down trunks. It forms a dense ‘mat’ with insignificant flowers. By now its orangey-red berries have probably been eaten ... but by whom?

Returning to the Prickly lettuce … it would be comforting to think that the thousands of seeds that have beaten us for this year will be collected and eaten by ants when they drift to the ground. I noticed a 2.5 mm ant carrying a seed and suspect it was a example of what really happens on a wide scale. Some plants must each produce thousands of seeds on the premise that many will never survive to germinate for the next suitable growing season.

Do you remember the numerous caterpillars that criss-crossed the gravel path during the spring before making pencil-diameter holes to pupate in? I’m almost sure some of the moths seen flying on recent days were the Day-flying moths Apina callisto that normally emerge in April. Let’s hope this is a benign case of inappropriate timing. In many parts of the world climate change is causing disastrous effects when birds have produced young early and before their food-source caterpillars have hatched out or the reverse has happened…early caterpillars with no young birds’ appetites to control how many leaves they eat.

Butterflies have been active this season with several usual and common species flying. The small Grass blue butterflies were numerous a few weeks ago. There are over 20,000 species of moth in Australia. No wonder it’s difficult to identify those we see, especially the little beige ones which favour grassy places.

The Frogmouth family we’ve been observing seem to have had their young disperse by now. Even the parents haven’t been in their favourite Schwarz Place Eucalypt for several weeks. Three young were reported at the nest before they fledged. It’s quite an achievement to have a successful breeding event and their presence in our area generates much interest amongst observant walkers.
On 10th February I was surprised to find at least two Superb Parrots quietly feeding amongst Eucalypt leaves high in the ‘Avery Place’ trees. They were targeting lerps, the sugary secretions of leaf-eating insects. A few hours prior to that an injured Superb was reported near the track between the tanks, but couldn’t be found later. The parrots ‘should’ have flown back towards Booroowa by then – my last sighting in Flynn was on 21.01.08. Members of the Canberra Ornithologists Group visiting Mt Rogers during the ‘season’ reported a flock of 100 individuals. Mt Rogers continues its reputation as a Superb Parrot hot-spot in the ACT.

Apart from the above I think bird-life has been subdued recently. Only larger birds were really evident. Perhaps this is about to change as there was quite an active mixed-feeding-flock of Wrens, Grey fantails and Thornbills around today. There were usually a few Wrens around especially near the carpark. One male was very attentive towards his own image in the car’s wing-mirror. We can expect to see summer migrants passing through our area over the next few weeks as they prepare to move away before cooler days set in. The Common Bronze-wing pigeons continue to “Boom” from usually-invisible perches. Try to locate them if it’s sunny as their wings show the origin of their name in the glorious multi-coloured sheen of the feathers.

There were several reports of snakes this season and I have taken photos of Dragon lizards. Has anyone seen Blue-tongues around this summer? Perhaps reptile-behaviour will be altered by the temperature variations we are experiencing. I’ve heard that the animals’ emergence from hibernation depends on night-time temperatures. Since we’ve already had several unseasonably cool nights will the reptiles retreat into hibernation earlier than normal? 

Mt Rogers is, fairly uniquely, an area where dogs may be walked off the lead. As such it is an invaluable space for most members of the Mt Rogers community and the wide range of canine ‘personalities’ who enjoy its nature. Before giving dogs their freedom to explore, please ensure they readily come back when called so any enthusiasm for approaching others isn’t mis-interpreted. 

Julie Palmer the new Ginninderra Catchment Group co-ordinator has had a walk round Mt Rogers as part of her ‘getting to know’ the catchment schedule.


**  Low, Tim. (1985) 'Wild herbs of Australia & New Zealand.' North Ryde, Angus & Robertson.

  • Ginninderra Catchment Group  6278 3309.
  • Canberra Connect  13 22 81 for problems such as rubbish dumping in the carpark, anti-social behaviour, condition of tracks.
  • Crime-stoppers 1800 333 000 for motorcycles.

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