Flying fox community news August 2019

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Article by Tyron de Kauwe, Natural Areas Conservation Officer, Sunshine Coast Council

Welcome back for the August edition of flying-fox community news.

As with last year’s August edition, now is a fitting time to provide you all with an end of financial year flying-fox stocktake.

I mentioned last issue that over 35,000 little red flying-foxes frequented the Sunshine Coast from February to Easter. Over 20,000 of these were spread between Aragorn Bushland Reserve and Emerald Woods in February. Vidler Court and Hardie Buzacott each had around 6,000 at the same time, but luckily due to their size and location, these sites were able to accommodate the extra visitors without causing extra distress to the other species and nearby human residents. See flying-fox stocktake graph below.

‘Tis the season to be prepping

If you live along the coast or near a known roost site, now is the time to start preparing your garden and yards for the arrival of the flying-foxes. There are some measures you can take in your own yard to make living alongside flying-foxes a little easier.

If you experience an individual or small group of flying-foxes feeding at night in your garden, this will likely occur until the tree has finished fruiting. If you do not want them feeding in your backyard, remove the fruit manually or properly net the tree to make access for the flying-foxes difficult. There’s a lot of information around how to best net your trees, but below is the best advice for fauna-friendly netting, to avoid any wildlife becoming entangled.

What to avoid:

  • Monofilament netting—if you can fit a finger through the holes, they are too large and wildlife can get entangled.
  • Dark coloured or black netting—wildlife cannot detect it properly at night.
  • Unsecured drape netting—not only does this restrict the growth and flowering of the tree, but having the net loosely draped provides a high risk for wildlife to become entangled as they move along it.
  • Touching or trying to free entangled wildlife.

What to do:

  • Use products such as Hailguard or Coolaroo, which have very fine meshing
  • Place wax fruit bags or old garden pots around ripening fruit to prevent prying eyes (and hungry mouths) from investigating and having a nibble
  • Use white or light coloured netting to ensure wildlife can see it at night
  • Secure netting over the garden bed or tree using tension poles to ensure the netting is taut and it allows for normal growth of the plant
  • Call the RSPCA Hotline on 1300 ANIMAL or Bat Rescue Inc. on 07 5441 6200 to help rescue entangled wildlife.

There are simple, non-harmful deterrents which may be of assistance on your property, such as:

  • Creating a visual/sound/smell barrier with fencing or hedges with plants that do not produce edible fruit or nectar-exuding flowers
  • Planting a buffer of low vegetation such as shrubs, providing a screen between your yard and roosting/feeding trees
  • Placing predator decoys (e.g. owls) or reflective/shiny deterrents (e.g. CDs or aluminium foil strips) on verandas or in trees
  • Keeping food or habitat trees trimmed
  • When landscaping, plant fruit or habitat trees away from your home (or don’t use these plants at all).

How do I live alongside flying-foxes?

This question is the MOST important question in human-wildlife conflict and it is also the one asked the least. Probably because it’s complicated. So too are the issues though…

For some people, living near flying-foxes causes significant anxiety, lack of sleep and loss of social life from not being able to use their back yard due to the noise or the smell of the nearby bats. For others, there is no greater joy than having front row seats to observe the interactions and squabbles of their complex social structure.

This difference in opinion can sometimes exacerbate the conflict further, by putting neighbours at odds with one another and dividing a community.

So how do you live alongside flying-foxes? They are the most important species for plant pollination, but they make lots of noise and smell.

The answer depends on individual tolerances. This relationship is no different to any other relationship people have. If it’s not working out, you have three options—learn to live with them the way they are; try to make mutual changes until you reach a compromise; or realise that you cannot make it work, and part ways.

On the surface, the first option seems the most straight-forward—teach everyone to love flying-foxes. Show them all the cute pictures and videos, tell them how important flying foxes are to the environment, and they’ll have no choice but to be overwhelmed with gratitude and love for these amazing creatures.

Unfortunately, things are not this simple. You cannot simply ignore the very real impacts they have on the wellbeing of some people.

That leads us to the second option: compromise.

But how do you reason with a wild animal and make them change?

Simply put, you cannot. Not with any certainty at least.

Flying-foxes have very large brains compared to their body size, with intelligence equivalent to that of a domestic dog. But they are wild. They do what wild things do, and they do not realise they are impacting humans.

This is where habitat modification and deterrents usually come in. Removing weeds in an area, trimming trees and using canopy-mounted sprinklers (amongst other techniques) have all been very successful in excluding flying-foxes from buffer zones adjacent to residences.

For some people living near a roost who have sensitive hearing and a strong aversion to the smell of flying foxes, the buffer may not be enough. Also the flying fox are still nearby and if your issue is droppings on cars and back yards, this may continue.

What then?

Well, there are two parties in this. Private landowners are well within their rights to perform actions on their own properties to help mitigate the issues. I would even go so far as to recommend this course of action.

Research has shown that double glazing bedroom windows to reduce the noise experienced at fly-in time makes a significant difference to the impacts experienced. Methods as simple as using a car cover or pool cover can reduce the impacts of droppings, or for those who can, build a carport to protect your car. Furthermore, changing your routine slightly, like not hanging clothes outside overnight can greatly reduce potential mess on clean clothes.

These measures are often overlooked as effective and empowering solutions. If you, or anyone you know are experiencing issues, there are measures that can be taken to modify your house or routine that will improve the situation.

What if I simply cannot deal with it anymore and there is nothing that can change that?

This is where it gets tricky! Sometimes hard decisions need to be made. If compromise has not worked and there is no way to predict with 100% accuracy how wildlife respond, then potentially there may be the option to move.

If all the management actions have not suitably mitigated the impacts for you or your family, leaving could be an option. This is not giving up, or failing, or “letting them win”, this is realising that there may be a better situation out there that does not cause you distress, and taking positive action to try and improve your life.

Bats in Focus

Swooping into the world of echolocating bats, this month looks at the yellow-bellied sheath-tail bat ( Saccolaimus flaviventris). As the name suggests, these bats are usually distinguished by their yellow belly fur. While the colour of the fur on their back is always jet-black, their belly colour can vary from a creamy yellow to pure white (see picture below).

This laid-back looking character is often found in small colonies of a half dozen, but have been found in groups of up to 30 in tree hollows and occasionally in abandoned nests of sugar gliders.

The males of this species have characteristic gular throat pouch (kind of like a pelican’s throat pouch) that is thought to play a role in marking territory.

They forage for insects by flying high and fast over the canopy at heights of 20-25m off ground. My grandma always told me I would get sick from eating while I run around, yet these remarkable bats actually eat “on the wing,” meaning they eat their prey while flying! How clever is that?!

This species can be found across the majority of mainland Australia, but can be hard to come by due to their size and feeding habits.

The main threat to this species is the loss of hollow bearing trees for them to roost in. If you have old, hollow trees in your yard, please don’t knock them down because they no longer flower—they are likely to be home for a number of our small, native critters. If you don’t have any hollows in your yard, consider placing a microbat-box on a tree, or simply hang an old gumboot upside down off a branch, to provide extra shelter for our furry friends.