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.

Flash droughts are the new norm

A young devil on the prowl ... we have had a few around this year. Only one had obvious facial cancer
A young devil on the prowl … we have had a few around this year. Only one had obvious facial cancer

This story about flash droughts is interesting.

I am seeing a worsening drought-like effect on my southern Tasmanian farm.

That is anecdotally, as I don’t keep soil moisture or rainfall records.

This blog has already canvassed the fact that Southern Ocean wind speeds are increasing.

Data shows it is getting warmer too, but thankfully much more slowly here than the northern hemisphere.

Regardless, wind + warmth = more evaporation.

Which means dry soil, and hence dry plants.

We had a week of drizzle recently and the ground was dry almost the moment the rain stopped.

The water just evaporated off the ground in the relentless wind.

Having had a burst pipe to my dam, losing all my collected spring rain, we have not had enough rain since to raise the dam even an inch, and this is in a supposedly wet La Nina year.

Growing vegetables this year has been almost futile.

The ground is rock hard. Keeping it wet would use up all our potable rainwater tank supply.

Installing a bore is the only answer for future food security on our farm.

When will mainland wheat crops start keeling over from the combined effect of drought as global warming progresses?

Thankfully, it has been damp enough this year to at least keep Tasmanian bushfires at bay, so far.

Come the next El Nino year, that will all change, big time.

Record polar vortex last November

The southern polar vortex
The southern polar vortex. NASA image

We had powerful gales in southern Tasmania in December, after a fairly wet early November.

Gales are hardly abnormal here, but these seemed special, anecdotally speaking, based on my 10 years on the farm.

In Judbury, the grass up the hill was pressed hard against the ground for three days in footage from my trailcam video.

A tree fell locally and killed two cows.

Even when it wasn’t a gale front, it blew hard.

There was plenty of drizzle in December, but it evaporated off the soil. Very little soaked in.

Interestingly, the southern hemisphere had a record strong polar vortex event in November 2020 before the gales.

The polar vortex is the wind that spins around the earth’s poles at high altitude.

When the vortex is strong and cold over the South Pole it brings rain to Australia’s East Coast, and low temperatures.

When the vortex is weak, it brings drought, heat and fires.

I am unsure if the vortex brought the gales, as the vortex is 30km high, separate from land and ocean winds.

But it does affect the weather in complex ways.

Here’s the kicker, 2019 was an unusually weak vortex year, with sudden stratospheric warming.

The 2019 Australian fires were a true disaster.

Right now the North Pole is having a vortex breakdown, something that happens more often with global warming.

This brings unusual blizzards to some northern hemisphere countries, and when that happens climate change deniers say: “Look, it’s getting colder!”

What they don’t see, unless they look for it online, is the huge lump of heat over Greenland that forms during vortex breakdowns.

If you have been paying attention, you’d know Greenland ice melt has been off the scale in recent years, and being a massive ice sheet sitting on land, it’s melt will raise global sea levels.

We live in interesting times.

Sounds of the Weld

I don’t know what this sound is, some type of owl?

Tried listening to YouTube clips of owls and other birds and none of them match.

It was a persistent call, going for at least half an hour, but sometimes just for a few minutes.

I recorded it in the Weld Valley in the evening and early morning, and have also heard it recently at night in Judbury.

Don’t recall hearing it before in my 10 years in Tasmania, but I do tend to pay more attention these days, maybe I just missed it.

Gibbons? 🙂

Paddock Life

Those who cross paths with a thylacine tend to go silly, with their new life quest being the pursuit of visual evidence to prove they aren’t a fringe-dwelling nutter.

So far, despite the wonders of affordable no-glow trailcams, camera drones and what-not, Tasmania’s surviving thylacines have remained elusive, leaving witnesses gibbering to anyone who’ll listen how the animals are still here, but without the witness being able to provide actual proof.

Fortunately, the pursuit of tiger evidence is not without its rewards, even when tigers don’t show.

Our hidden cameras and evening wanderings with a Canon SLR have picked up several devils, some of which do not have facial cancers, eastern bandicoots, feral cats, wombats, wallabies great and small, echidnas, possums with their young, eagles, and other birds.

The big devil in the picture above does unfortunately appear to have a lump on its jaw, but it is hard to know if it is a cancer or the jawline.

The photo is interesting because it demonstrates that sheep aren’t too fussed by them being around, although the youngest lambs might disagree, as three of our late ones simply disappeared this year.

Meanwhile, we wait patiently for the thylacines’ return. It has been a long eight years and I hope they hurry, as I can’t live forever, and battery purchases for my trail cameras are sending me broke.

For those of you who read this at the time of posting, have a great Xmas.

Tasmanian Life