Jan Smith is a Redlands resident who has been a passionate advocate for conservation of native wildlife and the habitat they need to survive.
This story by Jan was originally published in the Courier Mail.
An afternoon in the bush
The snake slithered slowly across the lawn, satisfied with his meal of ringtail possum and pouched baby. That would keep him going for quite some time. Then he caught sight of the second twin ringtail that had scampered up onto a nearby branch.
Tongue flicking in and out, he watched her, wondering if he should bother with the tiny thing. He watched her, she watched him, mesmerised by the terrifying sight. Even though she was just a baby, she knew he was the enemy. Slowly the snake headed towards her. In the late afternoon sun his sinewy body shone, the iridescent colours mingling with the shadows beneath the tree.
The helpless possum clung tightly to the branch, still mesmerised by the sight of the snake slowly making its way towards her. Without her mother she was totally helpless. She had just been taking her first little steps out of mum’s pouch when the snake struck.
The snake hesitated, having caught a different smell wafting on the breeze as it blew gently past. His tongue flicked faster. What was it? Would it be an enemy? Even such a magnificent creature as he had enemies? They came from above. He stayed motionless with just his tongue and eyes moving.
A wedge-tailed eagle flew down towards a nearby tree. Its magnificent colours glowed in the setting sun as it stretched its huge wings for a landing. The eagle hadn’t seen the snake. It just wanted somewhere to perch, to soak up the last warmth of the sun before it set and the night wrapped its cloak of icy cold over the land.
The snake dared not move. It had caught the true smell of danger. Still the tiny possum shivered with fear as it crouched on the branch.
Apart from the sound of the leaves rustling on the branch as the eagle preened its wings, there was silence on the breeze.
The eagle would stay perched there, sleeping until morning. Hunger would once again gnaw at him, forcing him to go searching for food to take home to his female and young in a nest quite some distance away. He had flown too far to make it back before nightfall. Hunting had not been good that day. The two baby eagles that had not long hatched out were always ravenously hungry. He needed rest as he was not young any more.
As darkness descended, there came the sound of a door being slammed. A woman came out of the nearby house, stopping as she saw the eagle perched on the tree. She admired the huge bird, watching it settle on the leafy branch for the night. Suddenly, in the light from the house, she saw a movement out of the corner of her eye and spotted the orphaned possum. She picked it up gently, wrapping it in her cardigan to carry it into the house.
Knowing humans were nearby, the snake had no choice but to move and move fast to reach the bushes. With the darkness becoming heavier the snake made a dash for the bushes and reached them safely. He slithered into their depths, feeling safe at last. He was lucky. He had eaten a good meal of possum so he was content. He could sleep for several days as his body digested the food.
The eagle moved its head as a boobook owl had landed on a branch not far from his perch. Silently they stared at each other; the large yellow eyes of the owl took in the eagle but accepted that he was much too big to tackle for a meal for her and her family. She turned her head almost right round to see if she could find her first meal of the night.
Silence fell once again except for the sounds of the night birds. The eagle slept with one eye open, but the owl was wide awake, large eyes staring into the darkness which did not pose a problem for her.
Something moved near the chook yard behind the house. The owl’s keen eyes homed in on the movement and spotted a large rat. With feathers that made no sound as she flew, she took off over the ground towards it. With the rat firmly and noiselessly within her grasp she flew silently over the trees to take her catch back to her nest to feed her family.
The red fox slunk silently down the slope towards the hen house. The cunning animal quietly searched the wire fence for a way to get in. She needed food for her litter of pups that were growing fast. There was no sound from the house or the chook shed. She found a hole just big enough for her to squeeze through. With just one pounce she had a chook by the neck. She was halfway back through the hole when all hell broke loose in the hen house.
Lights came on in the house as the chooks started cackling and running wild in the yard but the fox was already out through the hole in the fence carrying her prize. Suddenly a huge sound shattered the air and the fox dropped to the ground, letting go of its meal.
The eagle lunged from the branch and took off, flying swiftly over the treetops. Only the snake was not bothered by the cacophony. Covered by the thick branches of the undergrowth he felt safe. He waited, motionless, until peace fell again, broken only by the sounds of birds that had been disturbed by the shattered silence.