We were delighted when our friend told us, with a grin, there was “a terrific lot of construction work” going on around their bush place each night, because not so long ago there was none.
The nights had been silent
We too believe we’ve recently heard that familiar “knock, knock, knock” – in the middle of the night – for the first time in several years on our block. We had wondered if its maker had been a victim of the cyclone.
You’ve guessed it. The hammer bird, the large-tailed nightjar, can be heard again. I’ve written before of that strange knocking noise, which sounds just like a heavy stake being hit with a hammer. This is the hammer bird’s call, and since the breeding season extends roughly from August to November, one can assume its vocalisation has something to do with this.
Nightjars are incredibly discreet birds. The technical term is cryptic, meaning well camouflaged and hard to see when still. Their plumage matches so beautifully the dead leaves and detritus of the forest floor on which they nest that it is virtually impossible to see them unless they move. They lay two creamy, blotched eggs which are equally well camouflaged.
It is during the night they are busy hunting, flying skilfully after moths and other flying insects, dodging trees and foliage with the verve of a willy wagtail.
Our friend told us when they first arrived on their block they heard the knocking and assumed someone was working overtime building something. The neighbour they asked thought it was made by frogs.
Little did either realise it signalled the presence of a fascinating member of our wildlife. It is confined to tropical and subtropical regions and our damp. Forested country is perfect for it.
Threatened species day this year – September 7 – will be remembered as the day flying foxes (fruit bats), including two threatened species listed as vulnerable, grey-headed and spectacled flying foxes, were taken off the protected list in Queensland, meaning they can now legally be shot.
Yes, flying foxes eat orchard fruit if it is not netted, but this is because so much of the forest and the wild fruits growing in it which are their natural food have been destroyed over decades for agriculture or development. They have nowhere else to go to feed, especially here in the north where the remaining forests are still recovering from Cyclone Yasi.
Flying foxes can be noisy and their roosts smelly, but if there was more wild forest or scrub left there would be less incentive for them to roost in trees near human habitation.
Shooting was originally banned because of its cruelty. The high rate of wounding meant many animals died slow, painful deaths while their suckling young, left behind while their mother hunted, starved to death. This put a high moral price on produce and for caring people was abhorrent and unacceptable.
Netting trees is a proven and cost-effective solution, but long-term, planting trees for wildlife such as corridors of trees along creeks running through paddocks, trees planted on land which is currently ugly wasteland, planting clumps of native fruit-bearing trees which will shade cattle as well as feed hungry wildlife, including bats, would go a long way to solving the problem. Aesthetically, it would also be a bonus, both for residents and tourists.
In our climate, it is remarkable how quickly these trees will grow.
Some time ago we visited Tolga Bat Hospital where many bats, adults and babies, were in care, mainly having become victims of the paralysis tick. This is another result of shortage of their original wild food.
Anyone who has had anything to do with bats knows them as highly intelligent and gentle and, like so many humans, they like fruit.
With thought, our two species could co-exist, and in the process everyone would benefit.
It might sound fanciful in these desperate commercial times but an old farmer we knew always planted what he called “a bit extra” for the wildlife which would otherwise attack his crops. With land at a premium nowadays this may be difficult, but this concept did work.
Just a thought…
Wildwatch is provided by the Tully branch of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland: enquiries to 4066 5466 or 4066 5650. To contact the emergency 24-hour Wildcare hotline, phone 0439 687 272. Phone DERM on 1300 130 372 to report concerns about cassowaries and mahogany gliders.
Hammer bird 001:
SPOT THE BIRD: Confident in its camouflage in his woodland property, this hammer bird (large-tailed nightjar) allowed photographer Vic Dowd to come close. It hunts by night, catching moths and flying insects.
Spectacled Flying Fox – wings make a very effective raincoat – photograph Daryl Dickson