Isle of Man highlights – (2) Wallabies gone walkabout!

One of the unexpected pleasures of a visit to the Isle of Man is the opportunity to see wild wallabies without all the expensive and tedious nonsense that is inevitable when flying from the UK to Australia. Native to temperate areas of eastern Australia, the Red-necked Wallaby – a.k.a. the Bennett’s Wallaby – was a familiar sight when we visited Tasmania in 2016. Amazingly, it’s also thriving on Mann, a small island in the middle of the Irish Sea between England and Ireland, around 15,000 km from its ancestral home.

Technically, the Manx wallabies aren’t wild but feral, being descended from captive animals which escaped from Curragh Wildlife Park on the north of Mann towards the end of the last century. The first escape happened in 1965:

“The first wallaby to escape from there was Wanda who escaped the first year the park opened. She wandered around the island for a year, true to her name, and returned apparently of her own accord a year later,”

Paige Havlin, quoted in Lucy Quaggin: Living In The Wild On The Isle Of Man, Huffington Post (Australian edition) 07/03/2017.

A pair of wallabies is reported to have escaped at some point in the 1970s, and in 1985 there was a mass breakout. In a daring exploit reminiscent of captured British servicemen escaping Nazi POW camps in World War 2, no fewer than eight animals are said to have dug their way under the fence, and disappeared into the swampy, wooded area surrounding the Park (curragh is Gaelic for willow scrub, the predominant vegetation type here.)

Seven were eventually recaptured, but the eighth remained at large. Maybe it joined up with 1970s escapees or their descendants, or perhaps with other intrepid adventurers that made successful but unreported bids for freedom? And in 1989 there appears to have been another sizeable escape, when storms brought down a tree that smashed part of the fence surrounding the wallabies’ enclosure.

I can only conclude that, in the Park’s early days, security was somewhat lax. Or to put it less charitably, the place leaked wallabies like water through a sieve.

The exact sequence of events will never be known for certain – and some of the accounts noted above definitely seem more fanciful than believable! – but clearly over the years sufficient animals escaped from the Park to establish a sustainable breeding population. In true Aussie style, the wallabies have gone walkabout!

The Isle of Man has few native terrestrial mammals: no deer to compete with wallabies for food, and no large predators that would threaten them. The climate is also agreeable, being quite similar to that of Tasmania where the species thrives. Conditions appear ideal, and the wallabies have taken full advantage of it.

Numbers at large on the island are difficult to determine. The animals are mainly active at dusk and during the hours of darkness, when they graze on grasses, willow and young shrubs. Counting them is therefore an exercise in educated guesswork. The best estimate is somewhere around 150 animals, but who really knows?

Although they have begun to move south through the island, the wallabies remain concentrated close to their original point of origin – Curragh Wildlife Park – particularly in and around the Close Sartfield Nature Reserve.

Joey!

The Reserve comprises hay meadows, grassland, willow scrub, woodland and bog habitats, and between May and July is graced with thousands of colourful orchids. It forms part of the Ballaugh Curraghs, a wetland of international importance and designated Ramsar site. Birds love it and so, apparently, do wallabies.

During our 2018 trip to Mann we made two evening visits to the Close Sartfield Reserve, and as the light began to fade we were pleased to see a number of wallabies going about their business. We thought we’d be lucky to see them at all, but in the event they proved impossible to miss.

Some wallabies were partially hidden in the long meadow grass, watching us curiously as they grazed. Others, including a mother with a large joey in her pouch, hopped happily through the woodland, stopping occasionally to peer at us through the undergrowth. My YouTube video offers a glimpse of the youngster, and captures some of the other action we witnessed.

As we made our way through the Reserve another wallaby bounded across the board walk directly in front of us, and then stopped to browse contentedly on gorse bushes. It seemed totally unperturbed by our presence. I guess the animals have become conditioned to camera-touting humans, and take us in their stride.

The Aussie ex-pats have become unlikely island celebrities, and any visitor with an interest in wildlife wants to see them. During our second visit we saw evidence of this in the form of a professional camera crew cruising the paths through the Reserve, hoping to get perfect footage of the Isle of Man’s most exotic residents.

At the end of our second visit to Close Sartfield, as we returned to our car in the gathering gloom, we spotted a wallaby chewing enthusiastically on the grass strip running down the middle of the unsealed track that leads back to the main road. It was a surreal experience: where else in the British Isles would drivers find their journey interrupted by a masticating marsupial?

I’m sure that any Aussies reading this will wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, wallabies are common and considered unremarkable Down Under, impossible to miss but easy to ignore. However, here in the British Isles they are other-worldly beings, improbable and exotic creatures one never expects to encounter outside zoos and wildlife parks.

And what Brit doesn’t want a glimpse of the exotic, to bring colour and excitement to his otherwise dreary existence?

GUEST BLOG: The world according to Milky Bar

When I started this blog one of my first posts was about Milky Bar, a cat who visits our garden most days.  I’ve been quite busy since we got back from New Zealand, what with Christmas coming up fast and me not having bought a thing yet for Mrs P, so I invited Milky Bar to write this week’s post on Now I’m 64

But just to be perfectly clear, I take absolutely no responsibility for anything he says.

*

Hello everyone, my name’s Milky Bar!

Hello everyone, my name’s Milky Bar.  At least, that’s what Old Man Platypus calls me, but what does he know, eh?  Him an’ his missus are weirdos, that’s for sure. They gives names to all the cats what visit their garden, call ‘em after types of chocolate!  That’s why I’m Milky Bar, see. An’ then there’s Malteser – he’s a good pal of mine, knows who’s the boss – as well as Minstrel, Oreo an’ Mars Bar.  Not to mention Toblerone, of course.

Me and Malteser. He knows who’s the boss around here: me!

Toblerone!  I ask you, what kind of person calls a cat ‘Toblerone?’  Poor little mouser, no wonder he don’t show his face round ‘ere no more.

But what’s in a name anyway?  Old Man Platypus thinks callin’ me Milky Bar gives him power over me, thinks if he shouts out my name I’ll come runnin’ like some lapdog.  But I won’t. Cats don’t do that sort of thing, not this cat anyway. 

Here I am, planning how to catch a goldfish. Malteser watches the master at work!

Like I care about him, which I don’t, obviously.  I just sit an’ watch him makin’ a fool of himself.  Laughs at him I do, all this “Ooh, what a lovely cat you are, Milky Bar” an’ “Ah, what a little cutie you are, Milky Bar.”  Yuk!

I think he secretly wants me to move in with him at Platypus Towers, like some mistress or his bit on the side.  No way, José. I mean, if he’s serious about this relationship he needs to work at it, buy me stuff an’ all. You know, he’s never once opened a tin of tuna for me, or bought me a packet of Dreamies!  The man’s a total waste of space, that’s what I say.

Who’s a pretty boy then? Ah, that would be me, the one and only Milky Bar

One time he accidentally drops some pellets what he feeds to the goldfish in his pond, then watches to see if I’ll gobble ‘em up.  Maybe he reckons I won’t even notice, that I’ll think them pellets was meant for me. Me? Fooled by some lousy fishfood? I don’t think so!

I’m tellin’ you, Old Man Platypus ain’t got a clue.  If I was writin’ his end-of-term report I’d put “Must try harder” an’ give him a D-minus.  But only if I was feelin’ generous, like.

Sometimes, when it rains, I have a “bad hair day”

What makes it worse is he can be a good bloke when he wants to.  There’s this rabbit what lives in an ‘utch at the bottom of the garden.  Ugly thing it is, ears like a donkey. But Old Man Platypus thinks it’s wonderful, calls it Attila the Bun.  Attila the Bun, get it? No, neither do I.

Attila the Bun. Ears like a donkey, but Old Man Platypus reckons he’s wonderful

Anyway, Old Man Platypus is always out in the garden talkin’ to that rabbit, tellin’ him what a fine fellow he is.  Like the rabbit can understand him, I mean rabbits ain’t clever like cats, are they?

An’ every day he gives this Attila a massive pack of fresh food.  I tell you, that rabbit eats like a king … if kings eat carrots an’ kale an’ cabbage an’ cauliflower an’ celery an’ spinach an’ sprouts an’ watercress an’ lettuce an’ beetroot an’ broccoli an’ rocket an’ apples an’ pea shoots an’ pears.  Not to mention mixed leaf salad, whatever that is.

That rabbit eats like a king, but does Old Man Platypus ever give me tuna? NO, NEVER!

So that’s why I don’t come on too friendly with Old Man Platypus, ‘cos he ain’t serious about me.  I mean, if he was serious like, he’d cut back on stuff for that wretched rabbit an’ give me a nice big bowl of tuna.  Or salmon, of course. At a push I’d even put up with cod, but no, even that’s too much trouble for Mr Parsimonious Ratbag Platypus.  Fishfood, that’s the extent of his generosity where yours truly’s concerned. Huh!

Madame Platypus ain’t much better.  Always creepin’ up on me and pointin’ her camera in my face she is, tellin’ me not to move an’ to look straight into the lens an’ to tilt my head on one side so I look extra cute, an’ never, ever to blink. 

I like to hide under trees and bushes, an’ keep a lookout for them Mice-With-Wings

Sometimes her camera lens is clickin’ away like a flamin’ flamenco dancer playing the castanets. How’s a cat supposed to sleep with all that goin’ on? I tell you, if I had any credit left on my cell phone I’d ring up the cops an’ get her arrested for disturbin’ the peace.

OK, I admit it, she said I could have some of her photos for this blog.  Good job too, means you can see what a fine lookin’ feline I am, most ‘andsome mouser in the neighbourhood.  So Madame Platypus has her uses, only don’t tell her I said so. I mean, we wouldn’t want gettin’ above herself, would we?

One day I climbed on the special table where Old Man Platypus feeds them Mice-With-Wings

An’ to be fair – me, I’m always fair, of course I am – Old Man Platypus has his uses too.  He likes watchin’ them Mice-With-Wings, puts out food for ‘em on a special table, even has a water bath for ‘em. 

Here I am on a bad hair day, drinkin’ from them Mice-With-Wings’ water bath

Typical, ain’t it, food’n’drink for his little feathered friends, and nothin’ for yours truly. But I forgive him ‘cos I loves drinkin’ from that water bath, I do.  On a good day you can taste ‘em in the water, them Mice-With-Wings!

Old Man Platypus don’t do much gardenin’, says he’s got a bad back, but really it’s just ‘cos he’s an idle bugger.  So, ‘cos he don’t cut back the bushes there’s places for me to hide an’ watch the Mice-With-Wings.  Luck me, eh?

Sittin’ on the water bath, watchin’ out for Mice-With-Wings

I caught one once I did, big as a rat it was, more like a Rat-With-Wings.  I tell you, there was feathers everywhere. Tasted OK too, though ‘cos I’m a cosmopolitan kinda cat I prefers tuna.  But that day I felt real great, goin’ back to my roots, showin’ the world just how it’s done. Milky Bar, King of the Urban Jungle, that’s me. 

I’m the King of the Urban Jungle. Here I am, roaring (or maybe yawning?)

Anyway, I’m gonna stop now.  This bloggin’ business is hard work, so I needs a snooze.  An’ some tuna. Are you gettin’ this Old Man Platypus, do I have to spell it out, I needs tuna.  That’s right, T-U-N-A … TUNA!

An’ I needs it now, so be a good chap an’ nip down to the shop an’ buy me some.  About a dozen cans should do nicely. Until next week, that is.

Here I am, the most ‘andsome mouser in the neighbourhood. I’m very modest too. An’ I LOVE tuna!

Postscript: If you’ve enjoyed The World Accordin’ to Milky Bar, please click on “comment” and tell Old Man Platypus. If enough people tell him they like what I’ve written maybe he’ll let me have another go! With love from your new Best Friend Forever, the cat what always gets the cream (but never any tuna), the one and only Milky Bar. 😺

And now, a message from Old Man Platypus: Milky Bar isn’t the first cat to claim ownership of our garden, although he is the rudest. Old Man Platypus indeed! Click on the link below to find out about Sid, a much politer cat who used to visit.

Why I’m not a twitcher

Recently I’ve posted several pieces about birds and birding, and I guess the casual reader might have concluded I’m a twitcher.  Nothing could be further from the truth. In day-to-day conversation most people use the words “twitcher” and “birdwatcher” interchangeably, but this is completely wrong.  To be absolutely clear: I’m not, never have been, and never will be a twitcher. Neither is Mrs P. Capiche?

Twitchers may enjoy seeing wild a Eurasian crane, which is bouncing back in the UK after a reintroduction programme

So just what is a twitcher? 

Twitching is … “the pursuit of a previously located rare bird.” …. The term twitcher, sometimes misapplied as a synonym for birder, is reserved for those who travel long distances to see a rare bird that would then be ticked, or counted on a list. … The main goal of twitching is often to accumulate species on one’s lists.

SOURCE: Wikipedia, retrieved 25 August 2019

Twitching is anathema to me. It sounds like a sad and lonely activity undertaken primarily by sad and lonely men who really need to get their priorities in order. 

Sadly, no self-respecting twitcher would give this wood pigeon a second glance

Twitchers appear to care little for the bird itself, but are obsessed by the chase.  For them it’s all about the quarry. Once a particular species has been seen and ticked off in the appropriate book or list they quickly lose interest and move on to the next challenge.  It’s as if by seeing the bird it becomes their property, theirs to log and then ignore as they immediately consign it to history in favour of the next target.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see a rarity, to get the chance to study in the flesh a bird that most birders have only read about.  But it gives me just as much pleasure to spend a quiet moment watching an everyday bird like a wood pigeon or a bullfinch as it does to glimpse a rarity. 

Sex and the City: peregrines mate on a ledge at a local disused cotton mill. Twitchers and peregrines in simultaneous ecstasy?

Even if it’s as common as muck, a bird is still a masterpiece of nature.  Birds are tangible evidence of evolution in action, sculpted from bones and flesh and feathers.  I love nothing more than to marvel at their very existence, to learn about their lives and to enjoy their antics as they go about the everyday business of living.

Twitchers, it seems to me, are doomed to a life of unhappiness: they have never seen enough birds, or the right birds, to bring them the satisfaction they crave.  Mrs P and I, however, live in the moment, enjoying the starling or the sea eagle or whatever else comes our way, taking simple pleasure in the wonder of nature. This to me is what birding should be about, not pursuing a quarry species to the ends of the Earth and then all but forgetting it once it is seen. 

Twitchers, please don’t dismiss the bullfinch just because it’s a common bird

There’s a book in here somewhere, Zen and the Art of Birding Contentment perhaps?  My next project, maybe?