My husband Rex and I recently did 3 weeks caretaking over Christmas/New Year at Eurardy Reserve in WA’s mid-west region. It had been 5 years since we had last been to Eurardy, and we were both impressed with how much work the new Reserve Manager, Sam Fischer, has already done around the property. We also checked out the extensive reveg areas that have been a huge and ambitious program of works at Eurardy over the last couple of years.
We knew it would be hot at this time of year but were unprepared for the heatwave we had during our stay.
It was 45º the day we arrived, 45º the day we left, and lurching between 40º and 50º every day of our stay except for 3 days towards the end that were only in the balmy low 30s. Whew!
Our daily routine began with a weather check, and logging in to the Field Safety System. On almost every day of our stay the fire weather warning for our area was either ‘catastrophic’ or ‘extreme’, which limited movement on the property and what outdoor tasks we could tackle.
Just to be sure, on most mornings I used to go out very early and check the sky in all directions for any signs of smoke, check wind direction, and have a good old sniff to see if I could smell any smoke on the wind as well. No harm in being vigilant!
We quickly settled into a work schedule that began very early in the morning to take advantage of the coolest part of the day. We also became creative with the resources we had on hand - for example the chooks needed a bit of TLC in this heat, they were looking pretty heat-stressed, so I started storing their drinking water in large containers in the cool air-conditioned solar power battery room near their shed, and used this cool water to fill their chook house drinking bucket.
Rex rolled his eyes a bit but I also did a mid-day run to put ice blocks (and sometimes some slices of cucumber!) into the chook's drinking water. You may laugh, but I did keep getting eggs even in the extreme heat which was pretty amazing!
One day I was surprised to find a bird in the chook house which I thought was a Bush Stone Curlew - it must have come in for water and/or food. It stayed all afternoon but flew out in the evening when I put the chooks to bed. The next morning at 4am I heard its eerie, mournful call echoing in the distance. I’ve never actually seen a Curlew before, and as I managed to get a photo I sent it off to our ecologist Ben Parkhurst to ID. He confirmed that indeed it was a Curlew and also told us that they are not common around Eurardy.
The extreme heat brought a lot of birds in to the water troughs. It also killed some budgies that simply fell out of the tree dead, so I set up an extra water bath in our yard for the smaller birds, on the ground in the shade under the tree.
I was rewarded by seeing loads of birds come in to have a bath and drink, including Pied Butcher Birds, beautiful Blue Breasted Fairy-wrens (or Variegated Fairy-wrens, not sure), budgies, honeyeaters, Magpie Larks, and I even saw the local Brown Goshawk just standing in the middle of the bath!
The outside tall water trough was constantly in use by the regulars - tall Emus, Red-tailed Black Cockatoos, Mulga Parrots, Ringnecks, Galahs, Crested Pigeons, honeyeaters, goshawks, Zebra Finches and Black-faced Cuckoo Shrikes.
During our stay we took the opportunity to drive up to Hamelin Reserve to have lunch with Reserve Managers Ken and Michelle Judd. It was great to catch up with them, hear all their news and plans, and see all the fantastic work they continue to do on reserve.
The extreme heat limited the hours that we could effectively work each day - after about 11am it was just too hot to work outside, even in the shade. The catastrophic and extreme fire weather warnings also limited the type of work we could undertake, but despite this we were happy to have completed the main jobs listed on the worksheet, and the chooks all survived!
Sam and his partner Stella arrived back from a well-deserved holiday and it was lovely to finally meet them and chat in person. Then it was exit handover and back home.