The hierarchy of harrassment

23/12/2014

Some days there isn’t much to see, other days it just doesn’t stop. The other day was one where it didn’t seem to stop, from the moment Jambo and I dropped into the creek to the when we hauled ourselves out 40 minutes later.

We often come across ducklings with mother duck and the pantomime in which Jambo charges up and down the creek while mother duck puts on the “injured wing” routine as her ducklings flee is so common as to go unremarked. Ducklings are brilliant at diving and spreading out so that they all pop up a few metres away from where they started, which is generally enough to confuse a predator. But I’ve never seen an adult duck do this, till today.

I’m guessing this fellow is old enough to have mature plumage but still young enough to use duckling tactics when threatened. We came across him in the beck, high upstream. Most ducks this point fly away; was he injured? He didn’t look to be in any discomfort.

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As soon as Jambo went after him, though, he took a deep breath and …

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Under he went, for a good 5 or 6 metres. When he did surface he kept a flattened profile, before diving again and making another few metres.

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It was all hugely interesting, and no ducks were harmed the process.

And that would have been enough for one walk, but there was to be more fun in the gasworks. The grass has been slashed, possibly just regular ongoing maintenance but perhaps part of the preparation for the forthcoming land clearance. The cut grass has exposed the small critters that creep, squirm and slither, resulting in the arrival of many more birds of prey than has been case in the last few weeks.

A pair of black-shouldered kites consider this to be their territory and haven’t taken kindly to the recent arrivals. I’ve seen a brown falcon down the drain and patrolling the bamboo by the rail line, but today he thought he’d try the pickings in the gasworks. The first I knew of it was an angry screech from one of the kites; his mate arrived and they soon drove the falcon off and into the fig trees over by the Hamilton Business Centre. This rubbish picture shows three tiny specks in the sky. It was very exciting in real life. Honest.

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And that, too, would have been enough for one walk. But wait! There’s more!

The falcon, harried into the fig trees, turned from bullied to bully. A huge bird rose out of the crown of the fig with great wafting wing flaps. At first I thought it was an eagle, but I think from the scale (to the falcon) and the tail profile that it’s a black kite.

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And see that smudge at bottom right? It’s the brown falcon, heading out of the sun. Tora! Tora! Tora!

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The black-shouldered kite hung back. I’m surprised at how often this hierarchy works itself out: a willie wagtail will harass a magpie and a magpie will harass a goshawk but not a willie wagtail; a brown falcon will be harassed by a smaller black-shouldered kite but will itself harass a much larger black kite.

And a cairn terrier will always hassle a duck.

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A long, slow job

18/08/2014

Some years ago the cub reporter at the Centralian Advocate was despatched to cover the local Crafts Council’s annual exhibition. Looking at the rows of crochet work and the felting, the yards and yards printing and knitting, the cub began her article with the immortal words “Hours and hours of tedious work went into this year’s annual Alice Springs craft show”.

I was reminded of that line when I saw the guys fixing up the creek next to the gasworks. It’ll take a long time and a lot of work before they even know exactly how much time they have to spend and work they have to do. The ELGAS mob moved out at the end of June; there were a few late nights with cranes and trucks but then, one day, there was no KOFM wafting across the creek in the early morning.

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A section of the drain was sandbagged off while they fossicked around. I don’t claim to have any understanding of the science behind the process (I assume it’s related to the monitoring that’s been carried on over several years by the EPA) but, out of all the possible places to start working, this was where it began.

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If you look downstream from the Chatham Road bridge you’ll see them down there most mornings. Because of the time of year they only get a wee bit of sunshine before 7 am, then the sun disappears behind the trees on the northern banking. It must be bloody cold work.

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As I say, I’m no scientist and I’ve no idea what they’re actually doing. All I know is that it involves drills and probes and some goo getting pumped underneath the concrete, then all the cracks sealed up.

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When I asked about the process I was told by a young lad that it was “environmentally friendly”. I had to suppress a smile; he was so nervous and guarded and had been told “If anyone asks, tell them it’s environmentally friendly. Especially if it’s some nosey old git with a terrier”. I hardly expected him to say anything else, I just wanted to know what the process was. Never mind.

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It took them about three or four weeks to do one section of slab. At this rate they’ll be there all year; I mean, look at that Grand Canyon-like fissure. In the words of the Centralian Advocate‘s cub reporter, they’ve got hours and hours of tedious work ahead of them.