One of the delights of living in a rural area is the fact that you get to experience so much wildlife right on your doorstep, literally on your doorstep. It’s not just wild birds, which I’ve written about many times, but numerous other creatures not usually found in the suburbs. But there’s one creature, out of all the others, that sometimes elicits the most ‘frustration, for want of better word. That creature is the Echidna. I think the Echidna is a marvellous animal, as much of an enigma as the Platypus, but it’s frustrating because of the reaction it gets from our two Labradors. Put simply, they go bananas whenever they spot one.
Now when your dogs have been part of your life for nearly a decade, especially, Labradors, you get to know them pretty well and the nature of their bark signifies what they are trying to communicate. When it comes to Echidnas, it’s a very special bark that immediately alerts you that they have spotted an alien. The ‘alien’ is always a common Echidna. We have several that come and go throughout the yard and that of our neighbours and when one is spotted, we get the usual warning. The Echidna is simply such an unusual creature that it clearly baffles and worries them no end. The first time that they spotted one, it was from our veranda and they just stood there barking, not daring to get close.
It was only when I went to remove the Echidna did they work up enough courage to come close, but still wary, which was good, as I didn’t want any pricked noses. As an aside, it’s truly amazing how quickly an Echidna can burrow into even firm soil and then wedge themselves in so solidly that you don’t want to tug too hard in case they get hurt. People have said that Echidnas roll into a ball when frightened, but every one that I’ve encountered just digs in. Most of the time the Echidnas roam about at night, but we have our fair share that go about in the daytime as well. Our yard has numerous holes where the Echidnas have burrowed looking for food and these holes are always sniffed thoroughly if they happen to be new.
We have a wire fence surrounding our piece of land to keep our two hounds within, but this rarely stops the Echidnas, as they simply push their way under the fence as if it were but a minor inconvenience, which it clearly is, given how easily they move about. The Echidnas wander all about the adjoining properties and we usually get a clear warning when one is in our neighbour’s yard. I have no idea how the hounds know that one is about, as they may be sound asleep on our veranda and suddenly it’s on. It could be noise or scent, I really don’t know. It’s especially weird when an Echidna is in our front yard and the hounds seem to be immediately aware of its presence.
The most recent encounter happened to be in our front yard, near one side, and the ruckus that ensued was fair warning that an Echidna was about. I thought that this one was in the backyard, but the hounds were fixated on something to the side and front of the house. So when I went to have a look, I didn’t see anything until I detected some movement from the corner of my eye and, sure enough, it was an Echidna. The Echidna had partly buried itself into the ground and, every time that the Echidna raised its head, the hounds would start barking madly and it would dig down once again. Surprisingly, it didn’t appear to be concerned about me as I crouched very close by while observing. We weren’t getting anywhere this way, so I took the hounds inside so that they couldn’t disturb the Echidna and I went back to see what it would do.
Within a few seconds it became active once again and worked its way out of the hole. I was quite surprised that this Echidna didn’t seem to mind my presence at all, as all the others have refused to move if I was anywhere nearby. In this instance, I was less than a metre away, crouched down and keeping still, even though I was moving somewhat with the camera. As I waited and kept taking photographs, the Echidna became more active and eventually climbed over a small log and began to move on. As I crouched and waited, the Echidna moved towards me and then got too close for further photographs, as it virtually went between my legs into the nearby scrubbier part of the garden next door. I’m not sure what it thought of me as it gave a short sniff of my shoe in passing but, by staying still, it didn’t appear worried at all.
I thought that was quite an interesting afternoon break, but the two hounds perhaps thought otherwise as they were totally worn out by the back and forth running and fretting, though one did go back to ‘alien’ watch until she was satisfied that things were safe once again. One thing I did note from my collection of photographs, is that the Echidnas (both from Cradle Mountain and the north-east coast of Tasmania) are all of a much lighter colour than the ones we see in South Gippsland. Perhaps it’s to do with the colours of the respective landscapes. And I almost forgot…
I hope that everyone has a very enjoyable and safe transition to the New Year.