Mt Rogers Update - September 2010

During the night of 29th August the call of a Boobook owl wafted through the open windows. They’re apparently sedentary so perhaps a Mt Rogers bird was getting ready for spring or calling en route to hunting insects, arthropods and small mammals. Last weekend I was shown a possum’s daytime shelter in a nature-strip tree. Nuisances at times and an introduced, environmental disaster in New Zealand, it’s still easy to take their cuteness and presence for granted. Just imagine how many people would long to have the gorgeous colours of our “everyday” rosellas and King parrots flying through their gardens? How lucky we are to be so close to “the bush” and its species.

Have you seen the ACT Government’s adverts calling for comments on the future look and operation of our city? Be part of a vocal minority in this instance and send in your vision for Canberra’s future so planners and politicians are in no doubt that we value the bush and open spaces of our capital more than wanting Canberra to be like other cities. Call the Time to Talk team on 6205 8618 or 6207 6457 or visit There are topics such as Environmental sustainability, Liveability and wellbeing, Land use and planning and City form that have direct implications for caring for and appreciating an area such as Mt Rogers.

On 15th August fifty people signed up to plant shrubs and a few eucalypts in honour of a Guides Australia celebration. In liaison with Planet Ark’s Tree Day and with tube-stock from Greening Australia the girls and their families energetically dug into Mt Roger’s soil, added water crystals and teased out the young plants’ roots. Even though the soil’s damper than it’s been for years, the Guides have promised to water their plants until they’re established. Local species that should be more numerous have been added to our landscape. The weather wasn’t helpful. It was inspiring to see so many people helping to improve the biodiversity of Mt Rogers in this, the International Year of Biodiversity. Thanks to our Landcarers Ann, Kirsty, Olga and Flemming who were able to guide the Guides!

We’ve added a new plant species to the area’s list. Just wandering through the area west of a Cootamundra wattle monoculture I came across a Kurrajong tree. It’s only a bit taller than I and a bit more bent than it should be but this sturdy “cousin” of Bottle and Illawarra Flame trees should grow straighter now that fallen eucalypt branches have been moved away from it. Some of the older suburbs have Kurrajongs as street trees, there are some on Mt Majura and at CSIRO Discovery’s carpark. The “spectacularly large woody pods” from mature trees split open to show the seeds. Which birds ate and dispersed the seeds to give us this smooth-barked sapling with a tapered trunk?

Another mystery is the collection of Grevilleas to the right of the rough track up from the Bingley Crescent bus stop. There’s a wonderful range of colours between red & deep pink as well as the oranges, but who planted them and when? There are some locally occurring Grevilleas but I don’t think these specimens really “belong” to a purist’s idea of local!

Not far from the Grevilleas and the spring flowers near Woodger Place fences is a decaying pile of garden rubbish. It includes introduced grasses that been found on Mt Rogers as yet. The garden rubbish should have gone to Canberra Sand & Gravel at Parkwood but the dumpers are clearly of the opinion that “It’s only the bush” and “Who cares?”. Little do they know that there’s a community of people around Mt Rogers who do care!

Since beginning this series of observations there’s been more warmth in the sun and perhaps that has triggered the flowering of more species. Early nancy flowers are pushing through the grasses. They’re white and have rings of purple close to their centres. If you look at a series of the flowers you’ll see that there are differences. Unusually male & female flowers are borne on separate plants. Bulbine lilies are beginning to flower now from plump yellow buds. Dianellas are also lilies and we have planted several with the Guides funding. They’ve taken to Mt Rogers well over the years. As far as I know there were just two original clusters of these deep-blue flowering plants which have bluey-purple berries. I’ve had an unsuccessful search for ground orchids as both pink and blue species are in flower amongst the leaf-litter on Bruce Ridge near Calvary hospital.

We have lost several familiar trees as the result of erratic winds and storms. Presumably the roots have a less tenacious hold on soil when it’s saturated. I wonder if any trees whose roots are still in the soil will hang on to life by growing new branches from the horizontal from now on?

I wondered whether an earlier period of gales would dislodge the collection of twigs that passes for the Frogmouths’ nest. This happened in 2009 and the birds moved their nesting activities into a Schwarz Place tree. You can imagine my delight on 28th August, to see the incubation process had begun on the nest, in the fork of the large eucalypt where many of us stopped to watch the family in 2008. Apparently the male incubates during the day & the female takes her turn at night. I did have a brief look for the roosting female in the tree but it’s possible she’s further away in another eucalypt. Let’s hope the magpies near the Rechner Place Playground won’t take exception to our nest-watching over the 30 days it’ll take and when the young are nestlings.

Haven’t the dogs enjoyed the deep puddle that’s filled up as the gully drains towards this playground? The puddle’s partly caused by the drain under the path being blocked but also from the volume of water that’s draining off the side of the ridge. The water seemed beautifully clear as it carved a way across the new path’s gravel and flowed into the channel. Decades ago when the family had tadpoles we were able to come to this channel and collect “green slime”… the algal filaments which fed our temporary pets. More recently Magpie larks would use the channel’s mud for making their cup-shaped nests but that’s also long before the long drought period that might have ended

Also in this same area last week I saw a Fan-tailed cuckoo dive down for a hapless Apina callisto caterpillar. These are the dark moth-caterpillars which tunnel holes into the hard gravel and bring the granules they’ve cut up to the surface one at time. All their feeding happens in winter but they have anti-freeze in their bodies to protect them from the frosts. I can’t get excited about eating a slightly bristly caterpillar with such a strong chemical in its cells!

Aisha, Clare and Catherine assisted by Rachael did some more work on stubborn Serrated tussock clumps on 29th August. The three girls are working towards a Guides Centenary badge and Mt Rogers has benefited from their “community service” work. Prior to that they sowed New Holland Daisy seeds in the area where they removed first large group of ST tussocks. The seed came from Mt Rogers plants and the species is known to be a good “coloniser” of bare or disturbed soil.

We’ll hold another working-bee on Sunday September 26th from 09.30 to finish off this ST patch and possibly resume work against woody weeds which need cutting & dabbing. If you’re going to Floriade over the next month call in to the three gardens which offer information and ideas!

There’s the weeds display garden which shows the woody weeds we’re working against on Mt Rogers. The Australian National Botanic Gardens have a Five senses garden and then there’s The Kitchen Garden with ideas as well as a series of interesting talks or demonstrations. If you’re going at a weekend and want to avoid parking hassles drive to the University of Canberra carpark and catch the regular buses that travel from College street, through Civic & past Floriade.


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