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The Scrivener: Front Door Dormitory

Oh delight! Brian Barratt is writing about the neighbourhood wildlife again. This time itís pesky possums, cute creatures with an in-built talent to make a nuisance of themselves.

If you wish to limber up your brain do visit Brianís very special Web site, The Brain Rummager www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

A family of six mice living in the gas-stove was bad enough. A tribe of five possums living in the roof was worse. I like mice, but had to hurry their departure by means of little wooden traps laced with peanut butter. I like possums, too, but had to call on The Experts to move them.

ĎMoveí is the operative word. As possums are a protected species, they cannot be killed. Nor can they be taken to another area to set up home in other trees or someone elseís roof. They must be caught and then released in the same area. All access points in the roof are then sealed, and your problem is solved. Ha ha!

Possums sleep during the day but conduct their raucous domestic and sex life during the night. Noisy galumphing above the ceiling told me that they were back, and still at it. The Experts diagnosed the problem. The wee beasties were not getting in through the roof, but via gaps in the foundations of the house and thence up the wall cavity. The tribe was again expelled and strong pig-wire netting was applied. Riddance? Ho ho!

They were back the following night, having chewed their way through the wire. Eventually, The Experts used the sort of steel mesh that supermarket trolleys are made of. That kept Ďem out.
Possums have lived in the shed for years. Thereís always at least one adult and sometimes a joey (juvenile). I donít mind them in there, because I havenít used the shed since the garden reverted to jungly bush. The possums weíve been talking about are the bushy-tail variety. Theyíre about the size of a cat, and can give a cat a good going-over in a fight. Thereís another type ó the ringtail is smaller, prettier, and more timid. Theyíre also the prey of cats. Ordinary, domestic, predatory, bloodthirsty cats, the curse of suburban wildlife.
We became aware that ringtails were moving in when we saw them at night, doing their high-wire act across the power and telephone cables which stretch from the pole over the road to the eaves of the house. Yes, I know ó in a developed country, those cables would be underground, but this is Australia. Shining a torch high into a liquidamber tree at night, Iíve watched ringtails enjoying a meal, with their tiny joeys clinging to their backs.

When I was clipping the camellia bush close to my front porch a few weeks ago, a ringtail suddenly rushed out from among the leaves, ran along the power cable, and disappeared up the liquidamber tree. That bush, which reaches up to the level of the eaves, has been a seasonal camping ground for blackbirds for years and years. I had no idea that a possum might be hiding inside it.

Yesterday, the fellow who does heavy work for me in the jungle called me out to see what heíd found. Heíd put his step-ladder against the camellia, climbed up, and there was the sleeping ringtail. The nest is completely invisible from the front door and porch, even though itís just a couple of metres away, slightly above eye-level.

Possum didnít panic this time. He simply moved across to the other side of the bush. When the power clippers were started up, with noisy revving, he still didnít scamper away. He simply climbed up and went to sleep on the brick ledge beneath the eaves. I have to confess that Iíve rarely seen anything so lovely in my garden.

However, there is a problem. Because the camellia had to be trimmed down, the nest is now open to the sky. There is very little protection. And today the ringtail is nowhere to be seen. That doesnít mean he isnít around. It just means heís moved to some other convenient dormitory.

I hope he comes back. Feeding bushy-tails in the shed, with pieces of apple in a gloved hand, was one thing. Having a delicate ringtail living in a bush right next to my front door, well, who could ask for anything more delightful? As for the cats which live in the street, Iíd rather have a family of mice living in my gas-stove.

Footnote for cat-lovers: On several occasions Iíve found the remains of beheaded, disembowelled ringtail possums strewn around the lawn. I phoned the Environmental Officer at the City Council to ask if this was the work of the foxes which live in the neighbourhood. He was quite adamant in his response: it is the work of ordinary domestic cats.

© Copyright 2006 Brian Barratt


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