A Steve-filled Weekend
(To skip the personal story and jump straight to the tribute to Steve at the end of the page, click here)
I have just returned from a weekend away in Nelson Bay with my family and a few friends.
On the drive up, we were priveleged to see a magnificent, fully grown bearded dragon, but he was in the middle of the oncoming lane and there were four cars and a semi-trailer headed towards him.
I pulled over and backed up. There was no way I could get out of the car fast enough to get this lizard to safety and all I could do to try and save him was to flash my lights at the oncoming vehicles.
Let me backtrack a little.
It was only about two months ago that Irwin fever hit our family. Of course we knew who Steve was and what he was about. We knew that his passion was conservation and that single handedly he was doing enourmous amounts to help preserve an abundance of Australian wildlife.
But two months ago, someone brought a Crocodile Hunter video home from the rental library. Prior to that, all I had seen was his interview on Denton's Enough Rope. We were hooked. I was coming home from work, walking in on our two girls watching the Crocodile videos, and I'd just stand there with my work bag on the floor beside me until the episode was over.
Needless to say, our girls - aged 2 and 3 - love him. Personally, his passion re-ignites my own; one which was always there but far too latent.
A week later, the girls and I would be off down at the local creek, looking for fish, talking about insect larvae, seeing red algae and gross pollution and talking about stormwater traps and wetlands. We'd be looking for frogs, finding fungi and talking about how moss grows.
The allure of acting the Irwin part was all too consuming, and it was far too easy to play the enthusiastic Steve Irwin. My girls loved it and being able to see them look at their world through eyes of wonder is my sheer delight.
From then until now, the story hasn't changed. We'll talk about all manner of birds and you can see my recent post about the thrill of my daughter and I discovering a wallaby in our local park.
The passion's the same, but ever since those Irwin videos, the mindset is different. Steve was, and always will be, an inspiration - one that neither my daughters, my wife nor myself will forget.
If we backtrack a little further, I took steps earlier this year to try and involve myself more in that domain in which my passion is rooted - Australian fauna and conservation of our precious environments.
I had then in mind to contact Steve and Terri to see if there was some way in which our paths might meet; in which I could volunteer or become otherwise involved in the great work that the Irwins are doing.
It was not to be, as I did not make that contact. I did instead, find another route to applying myself in the conservation work of Australia's fauna and am in the beginnings of that process.
In the meantime, new information had been coming out about Klaus Emmerichs' 2005 photographs of a living thylacine in Tasmania. As you would gather from this blog, the thylacine is another of my Austalian fauna passions.
As the pieces of this search are coming together, I took the opportunity to finally make contact just last week with the Steve and Terri, to propose they conduct a search for the thylacine. I can think of no team better suited to the task with their dedication, passion, respect for plants and animals and their "can-do" attitude.
Which brings us to this weekend again. By some miracle, the first car veered around the dragon. The second and third also. When the semi-trailer approached, the lizard tried to jump clear, landing on the road's shoulder. The gust of wind coming off the truck blew the lizard further down the siding, with the fourth car well clear.
Now, with Irwin all too clear in mind, I jumped out of the car to head over and try to move this lizard further away from the road. I would have done this two months ago, two years ago, or two decades ago, but something about Irwin's pure adrenalin adds to the emotion of helping just one small animal keep out of the way of becoming road-kill.
Although the lizard was a couple of meters away, I felt he should be moved further, but I had nothing to move him with, and certainly not the skill to attempt to pick him up myself.
Rushing back to the car, taking cameras and children in turn, we headed over to get a good look at this beautiful creature. He was enourmous and puffed his belly out so huge, my girls were a little taken aback at his size.
Finally, with nothing other than a towel I managed to coax him to head away from the road, and finally he scampered up a tree.
Bearded Dragon (Pogona babata) - click to enlarge
This magnificent dragon nearly became road-kill. He's smiling at you.
Hiding in the grass, only meters from the traffic.
Barred-Sided Skink (Eulamprus tenuis tenuis) - click to enlarge
The next day saw us tramping through the bush and down to the seaside. Having seen pelicans in the bay, and goby fish in the rockpools, our next critter was more along Steve's line of passion; another lizard.
I'm not sure of the name of this guy, but he sat nicely for the camera. Look at his gorgeous new copper-coloured tail.
[Note 14/11/2006: This skink was identified using Ken Griffith's book "Frogs and Reptiles of the Sydney Region
" which lists it as "uncommon" (Griffiths, 2007, p76). This one was found at Corlette Point
and from memory was in the range of 20-25cm which is considerably larger than the quoted 16cm in the book. In all probability I've over-estimated, but unfortunately the photos don't contain any information to give a sense of scale.]
The day ended more dramatically for my 3 year old, who had a tick lodged inside her ear. Convincing her to allow me to remove it with sharp tweezers was a battle. To her credit she was very brave, and thank you to the busy Poisons Information Service
staff for their telephone confirmation that antisceptic and painkillers was all that was required for the bush tick. (Phone 131 126 in Australia)
Nudibranch (sea slug)
Our final encounter this weekend with something less than commonly seen, was this morning at the same time at which Steve was himself filming in the sea.
Our sea critter was a beautiful nudibranch (or sea slug) which had washed ashore.
I was convinced it was dead, but when I lifted it up, it did in fact move and release a beautiful magenta ink - no doubt a stress response to deter predators.
The animal was huge - easily wider than the span of my hand.
It had two huge wings on its back and in fact the beautiful colouration in these photos comes from the underside of these wings. There were two extensions at it's head, forward of the eyes, and its eyes were on long stalks.
Earlier in the day, my daughter was overcoming her tick-induced fear of bushwalking by trudging through some bushland near our accommodation. En route, we found a magnificent bulldog ant, out and about searching for food.
I afterwards learnt from my daughter's "Nature in your Backyard"
book (which was with us) that it's always the females which are scouting for food.
The first one was gorgeous, and huge. I left the girls to watch it whilst I rushed to get a container. A colleage at work had caught one several months before and successfully kept it as a pet since then.
I had found in the meantime a wealth of information online about Australia's bulldog ants and endeavoured to obtain one for my girls.
Not content with just the one, we found ourselves a second - one for each child and these have come home in plastic food containers. The photos are poor because I dare not open the containers to take photographs!
These precious moments with my children and these beautiful animals will be forever treasured by us as Steve Irwin moments.
I know that no amount of words or prayers can bring Steve back to his loving wife, children and family, and my heart goes out to them.
Our prayers are with Terri, Bindi, Robert, Steve's family and his fantastic team at Australia Zoo.
Steve's passion for, dedication to, and love of wildlife of all kinds was unparalleled. May he remain an inspiration for generations to come.
I thank you Steve and Terri for bringing your passion to the front of Australians' minds and for holding dear that which we all collectively have been entrusted to care for.
May your life be a shining light for years to come.
My search for the thylacine is dedicated to you.
You can help with the Irwins' cause
Steve, Terri, their family and team at Australia zoo are dedicated to conserving the world's precious flora and fauna.
You can read more about Steve, Terri and their work at the website of their Australia Zoo.
There, you will learn that the Irwins are patrons of Wildlife Warriors, "a charity committed to the conservation and rehabilitation of wildlife and their habitat".
Whatever you do - get out there and help. Spend time appreciating our natural world and sharing it with the children in your life. Foster that sense of wonder.
Remember, when it comes to extinction, once gone is gone for good.
Other links where you can get involved
September 1 through to October 16 is Perth Zoo's seventh annual Night Stalk. Volunteers around Australia choose a tract of local bushland and walk through it at night with torches in hand to record the number and kinds of species of mammal found there. This is important work for evaluating the current state of affairs for Australia's marsupials and feral animals.
This page will be continually updated with new links.