Accessing river water during the El Nino

Global sea temperatures are going up and Antarctic ice is cover going down ... fast!
Global sea temperatures are going up and Antarctic ice is cover going down … fast!

It is likely we will have hot summers with severe bushfires in the Huon Valley this year and next.

The current El Nino is a strong one and record temperatures are being recorded across the globe.

Canada is having an all-time record wildfire season, Hawaii has burned like never before, and bushfires are making news across Europe.

What can the Huon Valley do to prepare?

Apart from the obvious, like removing potential fuel from around our homes, cleaning gutters and having a fire pump handy, Huonites need easy access to river water.

While we have several potable water suppliers in the valley, landowners are likely to need river access this summer or next to fill fire and stockwater tanks.

Dams are likely to dry out and buying potable water for stock is not viable in an extended drought.

(Our partially spring fed dam is already half empty and it is winter.)

It shouldn’t be too hard to cut landings into the river bank, much like an unsealed boat ramp, where people can back trailers down to fill tanks.

Not everyone is friends with a landholder who has river frontage.

Potable water suppliers may resist the idea but this is an urgent matter, potentially saving property and livestock.

The access points could be limited to being used only during summer, or drought. The landings could also double as canoe launching spots.

If access points can’t be created, alternatively, acreage holders could be given summer access to fire hydrants via a permit scheme?

The Huon River is a perennial river, we have no shortage of water, just a shortage of access.

Something for the Huon Valley Council to consider?

A spring fed dam in Judbury during a dry spell in winter 2020.
A spring fed dam in Judbury during a dry spell in winter 2020.

Another sound in the night

One of my hobbies is to record the sounds of the night around my farm, and also in wild country further west.

I recorded this sound a few months ago.

It is not a sound I have heard before, and I have been recording audio for several years now.

I suspect it is an owl or other bird, but I have not matched the sound to any online bird recordings.

The owl commonly found in this area is the boobook, which sounds very different from this.

This sound happened only once that night, and did not repeat on nights either side of the recording date.

I am keen to know – any ideas?

The ultimate huntsman spider experience

A few years ago I was running bee hives on my farm.

A couple of the hives failed during a dry summer, and it was a year or so before I retrieved the empty hives.

I put the hives in the back of my 4WD wagon, where they sat for two or three days before I unloaded them into the shed.

A week later my family decided drive to the beach for a nice day out.

There were two things my young daughters hated at the time.

One was my old 4WD, and the other was spiders.

My youngest daughter wanted to take our Corolla, but I insisted on taking the old 4WD so we could carry extra picnic and snorkelling gear.

On our way to the beach, just a couple of clicks from our house, a huge huntsman spider climbed up the windscreen in front of my wife.

My cranky daughter, already moaning about the car, became furious.

“I hate this car! I want to go home!”

We got rid of the spider and I assured everyone that everything would be OK.

Off we went.

Another 2km later and another huge spider crawled up the window on the passenger side.

My youngest daughter was now approaching apoplexy.

I said: “I’ll get rid of it, don’t worry! Then there will be no more!”

Turns out, about 10 huge huntsman spiders crawled out into the open that day, up the back of seats, up the sides of doors, and even on the ceiling, one by one, a few kilometres apart, as we drove.

And that’s just the spiders we saw.

Might have been more under the seats.

We made one of the several emergency stops on the rural road next to a residence.

At this stage, both my daughters were almost foaming at the mouth.

My wife had also become quite animated.

There were screams within the car, and I saw a curtain move to one side at the nearby residence as I barked orders.

I also was contemplating the likely prospect of a huge huntsman spider running up my leg while I was driving.

We made it to a service station in town where I bought a tin of insect spray.

I fumigated the car.

“There will be no more spiders,” I said again, but all trust and joy was lost.

We had to return home.

To the people in that residence, I apologise for disturbing your peace that day.

I wasn’t killing my family … honest!

I minted an NFT

The pursuit of the thylacine has taken me to strange places, both physically and mentally.

Subtle eye rolls and outright guffaws are expected responses to one’s belief that the thylacine still exists, but thankfully the older I get the less I care.

Regardless, knowing the animals are still here makes one resilient to the most passionate assertions of the extinction mantra.

More recently, a strange place I have visited is a thing called the NFT market, where digital tokens are made and sold, or more correctly, minted and traded.

NFTs are related to the cryptocurrency market.

I can’t quite get my head around it all, but I did learn enough to make an NFT, recently listed here …

Surely a unique clip of a Tassie devil balking at a thylacine cutout is worth something, right?

Or, like the thylacine hunt (so far), am I on another possibly futile pursuit?

What I can assure is that if the NFT sells, some of the cash will be reinvested into extending my network of cameras, and into aerial surveys.

PS: I don’t want to encourage anyone into NFTs or crypto coins. While fortunes have been made and some NFTs sold for thousands of dollars, I am inclined to believe this guy is right …

Be careful where you camp

The Eiffel Tower ... beware burned out trees in the upper Huon Valley
The Eiffel Tower … ready to fall

Bushfires leave a legacy of burned out trees.

Trees that are burned through at the base like the Eiffel Tower wannabe above are common wherever there have been forest fires.

Many such trees are just hanging on to life. Others are dead. All are dropping limbs.

Be careful where you put your swag or tent, or park your 4WD.

This applies to the upper Huon Valley and anywhere else that has burned in recent years.

The burned areas from 2019 look ripe to burn again, with dried piles of timber everywhere and huge fallen trees lying next to new eucalyptus growth.

The good news is that the hollowed out trees provide homes for the wildlife that didn’t get fried in the fire.

Poisons, poisons … everywhere

I previously posted about the abundance of poisons found in carcasses lying around Tasmania’s rural areas.

Hunter-carnivores and scavengers eat the stuff when they prey on poisoned animals that are dying or dead.

I mentioned 1080 and the illegal organochlorines, but I didn’t mention rat poisons.

I discovered today that rat poisons are a huge issue in Tasmania …

There are smart ways to control pests. For rats, use traps.

Shooting is better than poisoning, especially if shooters use non-toxic bullets.

Here is the previous post …

Lead bullets, 1080 and carnivores

Tasmania ... wildlife could benefit from minor changes to pest control regulations
Tasmania … legislation could end the era of toxic animal carcasses littering the rural landscape

If you follow this blog and trust the author then you know two thylacines were alive in Tasmania in 2012.

Though extant, the species has not bounced back despite almost a century of protection.

It teeters on the edge of extinction in the remote parts of the island.

What holds them back?

Given the number of toxic wallaby carcasses left around rural Tasmania, it is hardly surprising this rare carnivore has not grown back in number.

As a farmer and shooter, I rarely use toxic lead bullets.

Nor do I control pest animals with poison baits.

Lead fragments in carcasses causes huge problems for carnivores.

Lead has been found in Tasmania’s wedge-tailed eagles, and in Tassie devils.

In the USA, they must give endangered condors chelation treatments to get the lead out of their bodies.

Bears and other animals are also affected.

The lead found in carnivores comes from bullet fragments left in the remains of animals shot by hunters.

Tests have shown that captive Tassie devils, fed the remains of shot animals, have more lead in them than wild devils.

Poison, usually 1080, has been used to control wallabies in Tasmania.

Devils have some resistance to 1080 poison, but quolls are less able to survive it.

Of course, with the thylacine, no one knows if they are resistant.

Organophosphates are used illegally to kill protected animals such as eagles and devils, because they sometimes kill lambs.

No animals have resistance to organophosphate poisons.

Pindone is a popular rabbit poison that might also be a problem for carnivores that ingest affected rabbits.

Recreational shooters would happily clear rabbits from a farm, so there are alternatives.

Farmers and forestry do most of the large-scale rural pest control in Tasmania.

Forestry contractors kill wallabies when seedlings are planted.

The animals are either poisoned or shot.

Farmers control wallabies and possums because they destroy pasture and fruit crops.

I propose that all pest animal control should be done by shooting, trapping and fencing.

For the sake of all Tasmanian carnivores, and human consumers of game meat, pest control shooting should be done with non-toxic bullets.

Lead shot has already been banned for waterfowl hunting in many parts of the world.

Some countries have banned lead rifle projectiles.

While non-toxic bullets are usually not as good as lead bullets in terms of efficiency, they do the job well enough.

I use a .22 rimfire rifle with tin bullets and they work fine. The accuracy is not red hot but it is good enough.

Unfortunately there is no non-toxic .22 rimfire cartridge available in subsonic, an otherwise ideal pest control cartridge for quietly knocking off pest animals around a small farm.

With lead bullets and 1080 poison removed, there would be fewer toxic wallabies or possums left lying around the state, and devils, eagles and quolls would benefit.

Humans and their pet cats and dogs would benefit too, because lead is toxic to anyone or anything that eats lead from shot game meat.

With clean meat lying around, instead of poisonous muck, the thylacine might even make a comeback.

Anyway, don’t take my word for the perils of lead bullets, read the advice from the USA’s top national parks authority …

South-west still dry despite La Nina

Rainfall to February 2021
Rainfall to February 2021

There were high hopes the La Nina would bring a load of rain, but the Weather Bureau’s three-month anomaly map for Nov/Dec/Jan 2020-21 tells the story.

The south-west’s drying trend appears to be continuing.

At least Tasmania didn’t burn this year (yet), as it did in 2019.

The Wandering Foxbat (an aerial video YouTube channel) toured the south-west after the Gell River fire, here’s their graphic footage showing the charred Tasmanian moonscape …

You can see some of this country before the fires on the same channel here …

Sad to think how much wildlife was lost, as there were three major wilderness infernos at the time.

Maybe these fires were the final “bullet” for the thylacines?

New study says thylacines died off in the 1990s. But they are still here.

Image and data from the thylacine study "Extinction of the Thylacine" Barry W. Brook, Stephen R. Sleightholme, Cameron R. Campbell, Ivan Jarić, Jessie C. Buettel
Image and data from the thylacine study “Extinction of the Thylacine” Barry W. Brook, Stephen R. Sleightholme, Cameron R. Campbell, Ivan Jarić, Jessie C. Buettel

A study of the more convincing thylacine sightings over the past 100 years found the species did not go extinct in the 1930s, as is the common mantra, but probably died off in the 1990s.

The researchers said there was a chance the animal still lives in Tasmania’s remote areas today.

As someone who owns a farm which borders the south-west wilderness, I can say two thylacines were alive and well in 2012.

But first, a quote from the study: ” … if the species is indeed now extinct, (this) occurred much later than the commonly held date of 1936. Indeed, the inferred extinction window is wide and relatively recent, spanning from the 1980s to the present day, with extinction most likely in the late 1990s or early 2000s. While improbable, these aggregate data and modelling suggest some chance of ongoing persistence in the remote wilderness of the island.”

Interestingly, the authors found that thylacine sightings or other evidence was reported almost every year in Tasmania. To quote again: “The final database comprised 1237 entries (99 physical records, 429 expert sightings), with observations from all years except 1921, 2008 and 2013.”

I had believed the animals were extinct when I moved to rural Tasmania in 2011, so it was a shock when two thylacines visited our farm for a short period in 2012.

If they were still around in 2012, having survived decades of bounties, bushfires, angry farmers and in-breeding, then they are probably still out there now.

Yes, it is hard to believe, but even in the early days of white settlement these animals were rarely seen, it was only the trappers that brought them into public view.

What’s more, with devil numbers at a historic low from the ravages of facial cancer, and prey animals such as wallabies historically abundant, there’s every chance thylacine numbers may now increase.

Thylacine studies have been wildly different in their findings.

One mob in the USA crunched the numbers and found that the chance of thylacines being alive today was more than one in 1.6 trillion.

Another scientist matched credible eyewitness sightings with ideal thylacine habitat and found a correlation so powerful he believed people were actually seeing thylacines.

The problem with thylacine studies lies in the saying: “Garbage in, garbage out.”

None of these studies include, for example, my own experience, and no doubt there are other witnesses who have not come forward to officially report a sighting.

Eyewitnesses don’t want to be ridiculed, some simply don’t want the attention, some fear that reporting a thylacine might endanger the animal, and others fear that proving the existence of thylacines would empower the Greens.

There may also be cases where these animals have been killed, on purpose or by accident. People aren’t going to report that.

So with all this missing information, researchers are left with only some data to put into their studies.

As I said, when I moved to Tasmania I assumed thylacines were long gone.

When two animals that yip-yipped like hyenas started knocking off our chickens at night I at first refused to believe they could be thylacines.

The animals came at least three times, though we heard the loud and distinct call between the two animals only once.

And yes, we have had quolls, devils and possums disturb the chickens. This was very different. They were not feral dogs.

I have obliquely mentioned the yip-yipping animals to locals over the years, usually to receive the equivalent of an eye roll.

Rather than “go public” with the story I decided to wait until the animals returned and set off my camera trap, so I could present real evidence.

Unfortunately, the animals never returned, to my knowledge anyway.

The chickens are fenced off now, so there’s no longer that incentive for thylacines to visit. We haven’t mysteriously lost any lambs or sheep over the years either (EDIT – we lost three tiny late-born lambs last year but there was a big devil around at the time).

The only local who took my story seriously was a chap who works in forestry, and he believed me because he thought he saw a thylacine at a remote forestry area, and he has seen footprints in these areas.

That’s data that’s also not in the studies.

Tasmanian Life