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Ultra-cute 'Lemon,' a brushtail possum in WIRES care.  Photo by Maree Evans with thanks :-)

Ultra-cute ‘Lemon,’ an orphaned brushtail possum who was in WIRES care. Photo by Maree Evans used with thanks 

Last week I was fortunate to witness an Inner West WIRES release of a young possum to the urban wild.   It was a fascinating experience.

The female possum named ‘Twistie’ is now 12-months-old & was brought into care as an orphan some 9-months ago. After being fed a diet of milk that moved onto fruit & then onto native flora, she was ready to be returned to the area where she was found & given a good start to life outside of care.

The tree was climbed by a man who obviously knew what he was doing, as he used ropes, pulleys & wore safety gear. He scaled the tree & found a suitable place to attach the possum box, which will be Twistie’s home for as long as she wants it.  Possums like natural tree hollows, but these are rare in the Inner West.

Possum in a nesting box fashioned out of a hollow tree.  A spy cam took this image.  Photo by Steven Richards used with thanks.

Possum in a nesting box fashioned out of a hollow tree. A spy cam took this image.  Looks comfy, doesn’t she.  Photo by Steven Richards used with thanks.

The opening of the box was faced towards the east, so she sees the morning sun & is protected from southerly winds.  How nice is that!

A bucket of fruit will be brought daily for six weeks to help her adjust & ensure that she has enough until she learns to survive on her own. Checking how much of the fruit has been eaten provides information for the WIRES carer, who will come periodically for anything up to six months post-release.

It is unknown whether Twistie will stay in this tree or move into another that she prefers.  Inner West WIRES have had great success releasing rescued possums from care, so I don’t doubt Twistie will do well.

Possums are Australian native Australian animals & are protected by law.

Possums are an arboreal herbivorous marsupial & carry their young in a pouch until they are around 4-months old.  They are nocturnal & also great pollinators, as they feed on leaves, buds, flowers & fruits.  They enjoy exotic plants & love rose petals, herbs & some garden plants.

It is easy to protect what you want untouched, like fruit trees if you have a possum around.   You can net trees & plants, especially in the vegetable garden. Apparently possums don’t like certain smells or tastes, so using a range of the following on a regular basis will help save your plants –

  • Sprinkling Blood & Bone fertiliser around plants.
  • Spraying with commercially available possum deterrents.
  • Make your own spray of water mixed with lots crushed garlic and/or fish sauce.

Possums stay in an area of approximately 100-metres in any direction & they need to be returned to the area where they were rescued.

The idea that a possum can be removed from a roof cavity & relocated many kilometers away to start a new life is incorrect. They will die if relocated out of their area. Possums are very territorial.  They suffer extreme stress if taken to another location. It is highly likely that other possums will attack them & this will result in death. Possums will also cover great distances attempting to return to their territory, which places them at risk of attack by dogs & by being hit by motor vehicles.

If a possum is in your roof, call in an expert who will set up a one-way gate, which allows the possum to exit at night, but be unable to return to your roof cavity in the morning.  They should check to ensure that there are not young possums left in the roof & permanently block access.  They will also install a possum box offering a viable alternative to your roof.

Using a trap is not recommended.  If caught, the possum panics & will try to escape even though it is causing injury to itself.  This can cause ‘trap nose’ – a severe injury sustained while trying to escape.

Even if you take the possum out of the area, another possum will very quickly take its place, so the best thing to do is call in humane experts if one sets up home in your roof. Then install a possum box & enjoy the nocturnal wildlife in your garden – that is if you are lucky enough to see them.  We have at least one brushtail possum & one ringtail possum in our immediate neighbourhood. It is rare that anyone sees them, but there is some excitement when they are spotted.

Lastly, WIRES is run by volunteers & relies on donations.  They are currently running a Food Fund campaign to help pay for the cost of the thousands of native animals they rescue.  Spring & summer are busy months.

$10 will feed a joey for 2-weeks, feed a wombat for 1-week & feed a brushtail possum for 2-months.  Donations of $2 & over are tax deductable.  To donate & for more information see – http://www.wires.org.au

There is also a FREE WIRES Rescue App available to download for iphone, ipad, Android & tablets.  The app gives advice on what to do if you find sick, injured or orphaned wildlife & also allows you to report a native bird / animal / reptile / bat that needs rescuing. For more information see – http://bit.ly/TzDX49

'Twistie' being set up in her new home.

‘Twistie’ being set up in her new home.  The nesting box is being fixed into the fork of this tree.

Mother & baby possum. Photo by Adey May used with thanks

Mother & baby brushtail possum. Photo by Adey May used with thanks

Brushtail possum out during the day.  Photo by Kim Sutterby used with thanks.

Brushtail possum out during the day. Photo by Kim Sutterby used with thanks.

 

 

 

 

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People have been asking me what to plant to attract birds so in an earlier post, Trees are Restaurants, https://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/05/27/trees-are-restaurants/ I said I would write about plants &

a gorgeous golden flower from a small Grevillea tree

trees that provide food for birds & other native animals.

This post is about the Grevillea, an Australian native. They are sometimes spelt Grevilliea.

There are about 360 varieties of Grevilleas. They range from ground covers to tallish trees. I’m no expert & others may say something different, but I think if you want birds into your garden quick smart, plant a Grevillea or 2 or 5.

Grevilleas are fast growing, look lovely, respond well to pruning by producing more flowers so they can be kept neat if that is a concern.  Many varieties flower for most of the year with peak periods in both winter & summer months.

The flowers of Grevilleas range from vibrant pinks, reds & oranges to subtle creams & yellows, so if you have a colour scheme in your garden, you can choose to suit.  The flowers themselves can be as tiny as a finger nail or 10 cm or longer & most are long lasting.  One Grevillea shrub or small tree can have a hundred or more flowers during the peak flowering period.

Because their roots are shallow they are not invasive to pipes, nor will they uplift cement or disturb kerbing.  They do not like having their roots disturbed & if this happens, they are likely to drop dead on you. I have not been able to successfully transplant a Grevillea & would recommend you choose your site well. Because their roots are shallow, they appreciate a cover of mulch to protect their roots from drying out.

Smaller Grevilleas are excellent in troughs & roof gardens where there is not too much soil. They grow well in all sorts of soils, including sandy soils, but don’t like to be too wet. They prefer an acidic soil in full sun. They are a great plant for low water requirements.

Robyn Gordon Grevillea - a small shrub

Bankstown City Council are running a program to bring the birds back by encouraging residents to plant bird-feeding plants. Grevilleas are one of those recommended.  230 different species of birds have been sighted in the Bankstown LGA. 16 of these are listed as endangered or vulnerable species in NSW, which is very sad.  Once these birds are gone, they are gone forever.  Pittwater Council has also decided that all properties should have an area at the back that is less cultivated & includes a variety of native plants to provide food sources & habitat for urban wildlife. They also recommend not removing dead trees & leaving hollow logs to provide homes.

There is no reason why we cannot do something similar, if modified somewhat to suit the higher density in some areas of Marrickville LGA. However, many of our gardens have sufficient space for planting many trees & shrubs.  One of my neighbours transformed their ¼ acre block from a lawn with a lemon tree to a spectacular haven for wildlife.  They used a mix of exotics & natives to stunning effect. Grevilleas make excellent trees or shrubs for small front gardens.

pink flowering Grevillea - small shrub

Many Grevilleas are hybrids now, which also ensures they grow well & flower prolifically. Grevilleas from Western Australia don’t do well on the east coast & visa-versa unless they are a hybrid.  Nurseries tend to stock plants that suit the local area, so unsuitability is rarely an issue.

I have read that hybrid Grevilleas are not so good for the birds as they are not used to having so much food.  I admit to ignoring this in an inner city environment, as I truly believe there is a shortage of food for wildlife rather than a glut.  They are competing with cement & plants that do not provide food. I highly doubt they will have obesity problems if we provide some more food sources for them.

I had suspected that possums eat Grevillea flowers & a Google search has confirmed my suspicion. Those who read this blog may remember that I have mentioned that a baby Ring-Tail Possum moved into a nearby street tree last year.  Well, of course he/she would.  There are palm seeds & Grevillea flowers galore at our place so he/she is probably stuffed.  The good news is there is no damage, no poo, & all our gardens are left alone.  Even the ice-berg roses (which possums apparently adore) in a front garden are untouched, proving that if there is sufficient food, the exotics are left alone.

There is only one small problem with Grevilleas that I am aware of.  Some people find the foliage irritating & bare skin contact with them makes their skin itchy. This is something to take into consideration if you have small children.

Which Grevillea to plant? Well that’s personal taste. The nursery will advise you on what grows to what height & the colour of the flowers. There is a Burke’s Backyard Factsheet that lists & describes Don Burke’s choice of the 13 best Grevilleas – http://www.burkesbackyard.com.au/factsheets/Flowering-Plants-and-Shrubs/Dons-Bakers-Dozen:-13-Best-Grevilleas/2102

Basically, if you plant a Grevillea, the birds will come & this can only be a good thing.

golden flowering Grevillea

Stunning trees at the Opera House end of Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens

50 years ago the Sydney Basin had extensive habitat for urban wildlife.  There were Sydney Blue Gum High Forests along the ridges from Crows Nest to Hornsby.  Today this species of tree is on the critically endangered list.  Despite being on this list, I know that 4 x 61 metre (200 foot) Sydney Blue Gums were chopped down for a development at Wahroonga last March.

The woodlands of the Cumberland Plain between Parramatta & Penrith are almost gone with the community fighting Blacktown Council unsuccessfully to prevent the removal of more 100 plus-year-old critically endangered trees for 2 football fields in Glenwood last April.  Not to be left out, Penrith City Council recently approved the removal of more than 300 hectares of the critically endangered Cumberland Plain woodland from the ADI site for a new suburb to be named Jordan Springs.  The community are protesting this too, yet 10 hectares of trees have already been removed.

There were salt marshes & fresh water swamps on the western side of Botany Bay.  Most have been filled in & developed for the airport, for golf courses & for housing.  Even our back yards have changed with a trend towards paved, concreted gardens or covered with decking.

Anyone aged 50 & over who grew up in Sydney will know just how much Sydney has changed.  I played in a natural creek in amongst thick bush where there is now a 6-lane highway.  In another family home, a horse lived 5 doors down.  Many people owned chickens & grew their own veggies.  Most ¼ acre blocks had multiple tall trees & they were not looked upon as a threat to life & property.  Admittedly, there are still suburbs where gardens are heavily treed, but I maintain the do-it-yourself renovation trend has been to remove these trees & neaten gardens.  Leaves are a problem for many people.

Our governments are pushing for massive population growth & demanding more development for housing.  As the population increased, our green areas decreased as well.  I think it is likely that these remaining green areas will also come under threat of development.  I remember reading last year that the proposed light rail through Rozelle & Leichhardt intended to use parks along the way for stations.  There was an outcry from the community & I think the parks have been left alone in the final plan.  As I write this post the TV news is talking about the loss of Sydney’s ‘green belt’ to development of high-rise units.  It’s non-negotiable despite opposition from great chunks of the community & many Councils.

Port Jackson Fig trees provide homes for possums & food for birds & bats

Housing developments are generally not built with significant green areas & space, like they are in London & New York for example.  When trees are used, they are often ornamental & of small stature.

Tree species such as Prunus & Ornamental Pear are being planted as street trees because they have a straight growth habit, have thin branches which can be easily pruned & do not have a shade canopy.  However nice they look, especially in autumn, they do not provide food or homes for birds & native animals.

Urbanisation has removed much of the food sources our wildlife depends upon to survive & has made many species of birds & animals extinct or placed them on the vulnerable, threatened or endangered species lists.  For most wild birds & animals, it is not as simple as finding somewhere else to live as each has their own territory & do not take kindly to interlopers arriving as they are a threat to the limited food sources.  Generally they fight until one either dies or leaves.

Yesterday I read an article about possums in last weekends Sunday Herald 23rd May 2010 – “There is an epidemic of possum napping as an increasing number of residents illegally trap the troublesome marsupials then dump them in city & suburban parks.” Unfortunately, because of territories, this is usually a death sentence for the possums.  People who are caught can be prosecuted under the Cruelty to Animals Act.

2 large Palms in an Inner West front garden

If a possum has set up home in your roof space, WIRES can humanely trap them for you & take them outside to an appropriate tree.  This is not something which should be attempted by anyone but trained experts.  Not only is a terrified possum quite capable of putting you in hospital for a few weeks, you may inadvertently leave possum babies behind leaving a bigger problem for you to deal with later.

The thing is, if there are decent trees for possums to live in, they are happy to do so & won’t be looking to live in your roof.  Making roof space secure against possum invasion is easy & quite cheap with the benefit that birds like Indian Mynas won’t use it either & rats & mice are also kept out. Snakes too.

Last year a very young Ring Tailed Possum moved into a street tree near us.  No one but us knows where it is & we only do because it visits us occasionally.  It causes no trouble in the neighbourhood other than eating a few petals.  There is no noise, no poop on cars, no damage to property.  The only evidence is the occasional collection of small branches.  My neighbour is pleased with what she thinks is my cleanup work.

Just today a good friend said, “Why would you want possums in the area?”  My answer was because this is their home too.  Living next to a park, he undoubtedly has many possums scampering through his garden & street at night & he sleeps through it. They make no negative impact on his life. Possums are only a problem if they set up house in your roof & this is something easily & cheaply managed.

It is my opinion that Councils should be planting street & park trees that provide food & good homes for urban wildlife.  Not always, because certainly there are some streets & roads where another type of tree is more appropriate, but on the whole, trees should be chosen for their ability to provide food & homes for our wildlife.  I don’t think Councils can rely on the residents to do so.  However, I also believe Councils have a role in encouraging residents to plant bird & wildlife supportive trees/shrubs/plants on their property via education & community programs.

Developers should not be able to have DAs passed without significant green spaces as a requirement.  It would be nice to see real creativity in new buildings. Glass & brick blocks do very little for the landscape.  Roof gardens, gardens on different levels, buildings which are set back from the street so there can be green space in front where cafes/restaurants can set up tables or where shoppers can meet, have a rest etc.  Research has shown shoppers spend an average of 11% more in green leafy shopping strips, so this change in design has a real potential to make significant money for businesses.

Corner of Marrickville & Victoria Roads

I digress. Suffice to say, there is going to be a lot more development, especially high-rise residential.  As this will decide what the city will look like for the next 100 years, now is the time to say no to the ugly blocks, the cold modern glass. We should demand apartment buildings that provide a good lifestyle.  We also have a responsibility to design developments with urban wildlife in mind. It doesn’t take much.  Plant the right trees, ensure they flower & plant so that something is in flower for each season.  Plant undergrowth at different levels, use both shrubs & native grasses & dispose of the wall-to-wall, corner-to-corner cement.

Unfortunately, none of this is likely to happen unless the community make it really clear this is what they want.  In time, I believe we will all want it because global warming & the Heat Island Effect is going to bring this to the forefront of the mind of the majority.  Essentially, it’s going to get very hot. Then we will notice that most of our street trees give little shade & there is a proliferation of cement.

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