On a recent Friday night, just after I had settled in after dinner…the phone!
Some of our heroic NPWS lads, returning to their truck after dark and after a hard day’s work on the firegrounds near Walcha, had stumbled across a baby Tawny frogmouth.
I organised to meet them in Uralla and an hour later, took possession of a baby bundle of fluff.
He had probably been fluttering about trying to escape the flames and he smelled strongly of smoke. First thing was to assess his physical state, no burnt feathers, eyes ok , feet ok, feisty as hell!
Next was a drink. A tube on a syringe and the right formula gives vital fluids and nutrition to his crop and is a life saver to a bird in shock and suffering smoke inhalation.
It worked, he is still with us and is due for release in a few weeks.
Frogmouths are often seen on a post at dusk, fluttering on silent wings across a road or heard thrumming away when one sits outside to enjoy the evening sounds. They are often referred to as OWLS but they are not.
They are members of the Nightjar family and do us a service by consuming moths, mice and one of their favourite foods, centipedes.
They are at active just after dusk and throughout the night they sit in wait for a movement that betrays the presence of their prey. They build a precarious nest in a tree fork or on a broad branch and there, commonly, two babies hatch and are reared. In daylight they are hard to spot as they point their beaks skyward, flatten their cryptic feathers and become a stump on a gum tree branch.
We endanger them when we fail to see them on the road at night. Attracted to danger by the oncoming lights which allow them to see a moth well ahead of our cars, the bright lights flood the sensitive cones in the eye and they are blinded as we approach. More common is poisoning as they pick up the dopey mice that we have poisoned. A poisoned mouse is slow and uncoordinated and easy prey for a froggie. Unfortunately one mouse is enough to kill them so it is important to take care when we lay poison. A mousetrap is kinder to our night time friends.
Our fauna in Australia is unique and if our future generations are to enjoy their presence, it is beholding to us to be aware and to take steps to preserve what we have left of this fortune that we have inherited.
Oh, by the way, as a baby Froggie looks a lot like Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street and this little fellow has a cranky demeanour as he tries to convince me that he is ferocious, I named him “SCRAM!!!” Oscar’s favourite word of dismissal!!
By Chris Baker
Originally published in Uralla Wordsworth