Nature NSW – Summer 2020

Gary Dunnett, Executive Officer

Conservation advocacy can be draining- and never more so than when we confront the perversity of political attitudes towards our environment.  Who could have imagined a month that started with a Premier proudly clutching a koala while announcing a hospital dedicated to the species and an Environment Minister loudly committing to doubling koala numbers by 2050, only to be followed by a truly Machiavellian piece of legislation that strips away the rudimentary protections afforded to the koala habitats in NSW.  The product of a Coalition floundering with their inability to reach consensus on conservation and climate change, but the stakes could hardly be higher for a national icon.

You would hope that such lunacy might be offset by regular ‘wins’ by the conservation movement.  A US election that sees a renewed global commitment to the Paris Agreement is not such a bad starting point.  Important as such periodic wins they are not enough to sustain my energy and drive.  Instead, my wellspring of hope tends to come from face to face encounters with native wildlife. 

The last couple of weeks has offered a few such encounters.  My home office looks out onto a tall Grey Gum with a deeply bowed branch.  An unfamiliar bump on the branch slowly resolved into a roosting Tawny Frogmouth.  It was only once I took a closer look that the presence of another three frogmouths, an adult and two juveniles, become apparent. 

Over the next week I watched the quartet preening, sleeping and squabbling the daylight hours away.  Most of the time the two juveniles sat huddled up to the female, but when it rained all four squashed together to maintain warmth.  For the first couple of days the parents would strike the classic frogmouth ‘I’m just a branch’ pose if approached.  By day three they took little notice of the intruder, either staring me straight in the eye or, more often, tipping their heads up and descending into sleep. 

Tawny Frogmouths are a relatively common species, and their low thrumming is one of the classic sounds of the Australian night.  I still take comfort in the fact that such a species not only persists but indeed flourishes in the suburbs.  There’s something right in the world when a baby frogmouth gets to give you the eye!

Another close encounter came during a recent visit to the tiny (0.6 ha), yet incredibly biodiverse Shiprock Aquatic Reserve on the Hacking River. The dive delivered all the biodiversity for which the site is renowned, including masses of squid eggs draped across the bottom.  I found myself face to face with several of the regular characters on the reef.  Scuttling across the bottom was a Sharp-nosed Grubfish, a tropical species that regularly appears in more southern bays and rivers.  There’s something slightly disconcerting, if a little goofy, about being watched by eyes that swivel independent of one another. 

There’s nothing particularly special about seeing a frogmouth in the backyard or a bunch of fish in the local river.  What I do find remarkable is that sense of connection that comes from experiencing these animals eye to eye.  Animals that depend on our custodianship of their planet, but also lives that help center us and renew our determination to cut through the madness.  I wish you a year where you find, and draw comfort, from connections with nature. 

Nature NSW Online  – Summer 2020

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