AUTUMN PLUS TEN DEGREES: Mt Rogers, February 2014

On my not-always-regular-walks around Mt Rogers recently I’ve been able to hand out free copies of the newish booklet from the Conservation Council ACT Region, called Living next to nature: Being a good neighbour to the bush next door. There are some useful contacts’ websites listed on the back cover. Funding for the project came from the ACT Government’s Environment Grants and the Village Building Company. When you’re ready please pass your copy on to those who need the information, in the hope that they will come to appreciate ‘the bush’ as much as we do. 
As the weather seems to be autumnal +10 here’s some observations and notes from Mt Rogers based on the booklet’s ‘8 Ways to be a good neighbour to the bush next door’.
                1. Plant a bush garden. Most of us, whether close by or not, have at least some Australian species in our gardens. They help to attract native birds and butterflies though many birds are also adapting to the non-native plants being in our suburbs. Steve & Judy told me of a neighbour’s sighting of a wombat in their yard adjacent to the hill. Lyndon mentioned a similar visitor some years ago. It would be fascinating to think a wombat really is living in our area, as I’d have thought they’d need a larger ‘home-range’ than we can provide. Echidnas are occasionally seen in gardens. We have several small skinks in the compost heap and garden in mid-Flynn. The possibility of forking them makes me nervous about turning the compost.
                2. See nature in new places. Today I found a new effort by a toadstool which had pushed its way up through the gravel. No doubt the fungal spores had, like seeds and grass tussocks, been stimulated by the very welcome rain ten days ago. A green blush of growth rapidly replaced brittle beige grass stalks, but closer examination will show that the green often comes from the first leaves of dicotyledonous plants’ seedlings. Most of the flowering plants are ‘dicots’: that is, when their seeds germinate they push two leaves (rather than one) through the soil-surface first. Oat seedlings’ leaves, in contrast, begin by looking like new grass. They’re having to push through the dry remains of their parent plants. Mt Rogers folk often see new nature as they walk round. Some of the robins which have bred in the higher parts of the ACT may soon be returning to suburbia. We should see Scarlet Robins as part of that movement. Other smaller birds are re-forming into mixed feeding flocks checking out plants and the ground for insects and seed depending on their natural diets. King Parrots brought their young into the area about 3-4 weeks ago.
If there’s another hot day try seeing how Indigenous people care for their land in the National Museum’s On Country exhibition, which is free. However, the Old Masters exhibition at the same venue, an exquisite display of bark paintings mostly from the far north, has an entry fee.
                3. Watch your water. Until mid-February’s downpour the weeks of drought were obvious in nearly everyone’s gardens. After years of being urged to mulch now we were caught out by not realising how dry the soil below had become and how stressed some plants were. We’ve quickly learnt where to water and about the value of a steady trickle onto plants’ root-lines. Some plants responded to heat by allowing leaves to die-back; others shed leaves in an autumn flurry. Even some of the Cootamundra wattles in the thicket have died as others successfully competed for water.
Phil took his shovel and reopened the drainage lines to allow Mt Rogers’ water to soak through to the proscribed drains of the seventies.
4. Visit your local reserve. We care about Mt Rogers and are horrified to occasionally see others treating the bush and its plants without the respect that ensures a future for all species. Christine and Glen are preparing to trek to Maules Creek near Narrabri in order to support the local communities there as they battle the disdain of the NSW Government and the Whitehaven Coal mine’s invasion of Leard State Forest. There’s been a blockade against the mine for over 580 days bringing novice-campaigners and other people from all over Australia. There’s overwhelming evidence that coal needs to stay in the ground if there is to be any chance of a climate that will give us, and the planet, a future.
5. Plant a tree. Mt Rogers is doing well in regenerating new Eucalypts and Wattles from the ground’s seed-bank. The native plantings we’ve added are, mostly, doing well, flowering and producing their own seeds. Last Sunday saw Angharad, Ann, Pamela and Ivan achieving the first working-bee of 2014 by cutting and daubing woody weeds beside the gully and east beyond the Five-ways ridge. Removing the competition from what’s there is our way of ‘planting trees’. Margaret and Chris took away thousands of Verbascum seeds last week so there will be many fewer Mullein (common name of Verbascum) seedlings. Have you noticed that Privets are having a second-flowering this summer? We took out several whose berries would otherwise have been eaten and spread over the reserve and into gardens by birds. Heavily berried cotoneasters and pyracantha were present also and one shrub-sized tree that seems to be young Robinia. There are more of these invasive species in suburban gardens now than there are on Mt Rogers (apart from the small privets that have germinated in the last 12 months). 

If your neighbours want to earn free native plants the next Weed Swap is on 29 & 30 March at Canberra Sand & Gravel’s Parkwood landscaping yard. That company welcomes garden weeds and prunings for composting and mulching (including Agapanthus seeds which the birds will soon find!), at any time.
6. Reduce the flames. This spring-summer we’ve had more smoke haze than usual. ACT fire-fighters, including our ranger colleagues, have assisted interstate several times already. Garden maintenance, including watering plants thoroughly, plays a part in reducing fire risk as does having clear or guarded gutters. Eventually other areas of Mt Rogers will be subjected to Hazard Reduction Burns as part of the territory’s detailed Fire Management Plan. We have sent in details of ‘sensitive’ areas where unusual species are growing.
7. Join a Parkcare group. In the ACT an historical differentiation exists between Parkcarers who volunteer in Canberra Nature Park and Landcarers who volunteer in nature reserves and urban open space areas elsewhere. We all do the same work, have many links with parkcaring colleagues and often face the same challenges. Mt Rogers is managed by the City Services section of TAMS with support and advice primarily coming from Ginninderra Catchment Group based at Kippax. Mt Rogers Landcare holds working-bees on the 4th Sunday and 1st Monday of each month (tho’ December is holiday-time & January is too hot!). Should any families seek involvement for young children the Evatt-based Landcare-for-Littlies meets every weekend for a range of fun and learning activities near Spain Place.
8. Keep your pets contained. Mt Rogers is an off-leash area for dogs but part of the deal is that they are under control. When instincts take over, control can be difficult to achieve and, of course, we have a resident population of kangaroos to trigger dogs’ chasing behaviour when they’re spotted. Recently a dog was bitten by a brown snake. As a result of neighbourly kindness it was taken to a Hall vet. It’s possible that snakes’ movements have altered as a result of the erratic weather so we can no longer expect them to only be in the remoter parts of the reserve. Jarrad operates the PET AMBULANCE SERVICE from Holt. His number is 0448 789 039. He does not administer anti-venin but calling him may bring transport to a vet closer should your dog be bitten or need emergency treatment. As you’d know, domestic cats kill millions of native animals each year. Many of their owners can’t believe that their beloved pet could be part of that destruction process. Containment 24/7 is the suggested answer to this problem for responsible owners as cats learn to move without ringing bells on their collars.

Chris recently sent over two spectacular photos of the approaching storm. They, other photos, and previous newsletters are on the blogsite:

See you on Mt Rogers soon,

Rosemary,  Mt Rogers Landcare Group   6258 4724

Living next to nature: Being a good neighbour to the bush next door is available from the Conservation Council, phone (02) 6229 3200, or online at

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