Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Visitor

We are in the throws of a mouse plague in the Riverina.  Let me tell you it is not pleasant.  Being the softy that I am I usually rescue any mouse I find and let it go in the paddocks away from the house so it can live a full and happy life.  With the millions of mice in residence on Spring Rock, causing damage everywhere and eating the seeds as soon as Graeme plants the crops, I can hardly continue with my mouse catch and release practises.  Tristan, our large orange cat, has had his fill of mice and now basically ignores the hordes around the house yard and its environs.  Ambrosia and Neferiti have both caught their first mice recently and are keen to repeat the exciting event, but thankfully few mice have found their way inside the house.  They are in the ceiling and wall cavities though and their constant scuffling are drivng the girls crazy.  They rush around the room looking ceilingward, trying to figure out how to breach the walls and get to those mice!  So added to the mouse plague we can now include crazy cats, bouncing off walls, sometimes literally.  Life here is fraught at the moment.

With the increasing mouse population Spring Rock is now playing host to a large variety of birds of prey.  Hawks, falcons, kites, kestrels and even an eagle are all seen hovering over the paddocks in search of a small, furry meal.

The mice, who have a nose for an easy feed, have also invaded the chook pen, the aviary and the sheds and this has led to the new visitor we have here.  For weeks I just refered to the beautiful bird as a hawk, but I have finally identified the "hawk" who visits the galahs and pigeon and causes such terror in their little feathered breasts, as a Spotted Harrier. I used my Readers' Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds and my neighbour's input (she worked for the Australian Museum recording bird song and identifying the birds). He (or she but with the beautiful plumage I'm inclined to think he) still visits the aviary almost daily.   He lands on the wire on the roof and strikes a pose, attempting to look ferocious and gives the inmates of the aviary the evil eye.  There really is no need for him to go to all that effort.  Just his presence on the roof is enough to cause my birds to hunker down, assume the stuffed frog look and try to disappear into the scenery.  I either tap on the kitchen window to let the harrier know that he has been spotted (no pun intended, but it was a good one wasn't it?) and his presence in not appreciated, or if all else fails, I go out to the aviary to tell him in person.  I don't get very far before he realises I'm on my way and he quickly flies off for the trees close by.  He often returns a few more times in the hope that I'll either change my mind and open the door to his tasty snacks or at least leave him alone.  When he is convinced that neither will happen he disappears for thd day.  This is the signal for my three birds to go balistic.  All the pent up panic is now released to the sounds of screeching, scolding and mad wing flapping.  I usually manage to calm them down with a few gentle words, some tasty treat and the assurance that the harrier will never find a way in to their cage.

Lately the harrier has discovered a much easier meal to get  is mice and that the best mouse catching site is the lambing shed. He is doing his bit to end the horrible mouse plague by himself.  I just wish he'd bring some friends along.

We are still feeding our baby lambs and keeping them in the lambing shed so we don't have to trek the paddocks to find them.  We often meet the harrier when we are feeding the lambs.  I can just hear the harrier saying, "Are these humans everywhere?"  To say he is not happy to see us is an understatement.  At the first sight of us the Harrier panics and, even though we are no-where near him and doing our best to ignore him (it's a huge shed), he ends up flying up to the skylights, banging against the fibreglass and finally hanging upside down on a wire in the roof trying to look dead. The first time he did it he convinced me! Graeme went over to investigate and the bird took off, so now we just nod in his direction and let him get on with his dead bird impersonation.  Sometimes he is happy to stay there, batlike, for the duration, but more often he waits until we are fully occupied with feeding the lambs and quietly disappears.

So the state of the nation at Spring Rock is:
1 husband in charge of dispatching any poor mouse caught by the cats,
1 wife who is emotionally incapable of killing anything and feels guilty when she hands a live mouse over to husband,
3 dogs who ignore mice completly but will chase cats who are chasing mice,
2 inexperienced cats eager to catch mice but not dispatch them,
1 experienced cat who is all moused out,
3 birds who are too traumatised by the harrier's visits to do anything about the mice,
4 ferrets who have killed any mouse invading their cage,
12 chooks and 2 roosters who are all moused out as well,
14 bottle lambs in residence sharing their shed with countless mice,
1 overworked harrier who wastes too much time eyeing off the birds when his time could be better spent in the mouse (I mean lamb) shed and millions and millions of mice to be controlled by the very few Spring Rock residence who can dispatch mice.

It looks to me like we should be breeding ferrets and letting them run free around the house and sheds.  I might broach this subject with Graeme later today. What do you think?

 A Spotted Harrier doing its best to look ferocious.