Feeding The Yabbies
Standing by the top dam at Chateau de Liswar, after the tragic fires of last month, in January 2014, I had a strong sense of déjà vu.
It was early Monday evening, close to the road and the driveway gate and there were no signs of the tragic Parkerville or Stoneville bushfires of the previous day. Not even the smell of smoke, as a strong sea breeze blew up from the coast to keep the temperature down.
Lloyd, the Persian cat, had done a bunk – he had skipped out the back door after I put him inside, but I knew he would be back for dinner. Rather than trying to catch him, I decided to let his curiosity do it instead.
He followed me to the dam the first time I went down the bank, staying cautiously back behind the bushes, out of reach. I pretended to ignore him and went back into the house.
I chopped two carrots up very finely, returned and spread them around the edge of the dam. I was hoping the yabbies (small freshwater crustaceans) would come up to feed, before it got too dark to see them. Some of the goldfish I rescued last year were swimming about, their black and gold scales showing clearly under the surface of the water.
We had a terrible heat wave in January last year, (2013). Warren and Lisa were away and I was recovering from breast cancer surgery of the previous month, but hadn’t started my chemotherapy at the time.
The drought had slowly shrunk the bottom dam until it was little more than a puddle. The clay silt covering the bottom of the dam was about six inches deep, and it could suck your boots right off your feet. It was impossible for me to reach the water, even with my long handled “rescue” fishing net. It was actually a landing net, for trout or some such fish, with a very long, light aluminium handle.
Time was of the essence, if I was to rescue the goldfish before they had all died, and before my chemo began.
I had the inspiration of laying a big piece of carpet over the mud, which allowed me to wade into the dam, almost walking on water. It was quite a trick to walk into the dam without disturbing the mud and having it flow back above the carpet. I was able to get close enough to scoop and scrape the fish out of the last remaining pool, and from the silt in which they were becoming trapped.
I spent days sloshing about in the mud and muck, rescuing over 100 goldfish and two yabbies, by putting them into buckets and ferrying them to the top dam. I probably made twenty trips. Maybe a few more. I didn’t count them but it took me days.
I carried buckets of water by hand. I put square containers on a flat bed trolley and hauled them between dams.
I drove my little car down the bush track and parked on the dam wall. Then I loaded the square containers I had dragged up from the dam into the back of the car, and drove a couple of hundred meters to the top dam. There, I decanted the fish and water into a bucket, and carried it from the dam crest down the steep wall to the water’s edge and released them.
There were quite a few pictures posted to Facebook, including my triumph of goldfish pouring from the bucket into the dam, like a living ribbon of gold.
I also found a bobtail goanna almost completely immersed and stuck in the mud. I thought it was a piece of wood and grabbed it to pull it out of the way, while I was trying to get close to the water without getting caught myself.
It was still alive, but very dazed because it was suffocating in the mud. I took its picture and put it into a bucket with just enough water to wash it clean. Within a minute or so, it was rinsed and ready to go. I lifted it out.
After sitting still for about a minute, it very slowly walked away into the shelter of a small bush and some leaves. It was amazing! Its colours and mottled patterns let it blend in perfectly with the leaves and the red gravel of the Perth hills. It was virtually invisible.
After three or four minutes, it started to walk away. I watched it go. I have very, very good hearing. The bobtail didn’t so much as rustle one of those dry gum leaves. I have heard them scurry through the bush, making so much noise in the leaves and debris on the ground they are like a mini bulldozer. Not this chap. He quietly and imperceptibly left the scene of his almost fatal experience. I was pleased to see him go.
I lost only two fish, but my mobile phone came to grief when, on the very last trip, exhausted after a long day, I slipped and fell into the dam. Water and iPhones do not mix!
While I was going through my chemotherapy, after the rescue was complete, Lloyd and I would often go to the dam with minced up carrot to feed the yabbies already living there. They would appear promptly once the carrot hit the water, because they got quite used to us coming to feed them. They became less shy, too, about coming right out of the water to get their food.
Later, I did come to serious grief on the treacherous granite rocks, being unsteady during my chemo treatment and that brought my yabby feeding to an abrupt stop. The top dam was evaporating rapidly and it became far too dangerous to try to access the water’s edge, because the walls fall away very sharply.
As the twilight darkened, I kept watching the water’s edge. Over there! Was that a little dark shape sneaking up on some carrot pieces?
I didn’t want to move, in case I disturbed it. The sea breeze had strengthened and it was getting quite chilly outside. I shivered – which was almost unbelievable after the heat of the previous two days.
YAY! A yabby was backing down into the dam from the water’s edge, its prize securely held in its nippers. Then I saw another! I was happy and it was time to climb the steep bank and go inside. I have fallen into that dam too many times, to want to do it again.
The four hens had put themselves to bed and a quick check with the torch showed we had two speckled hens and two Isa browns. I locked their hen house, and the chook yard gate, to find Lloyd had come home for dinner. His curiosity about what I was doing in the chook yard had brought him undone.
I picked him up and we all three, Lloyd, Amber and I, headed inside for the night – where I knew Lloyd would patrol all the doors and windows in the vain hope of resuming his outdoor ramble.
He’s an inside cat after dark, and his constant mumbling as he wandered about the house only made me smile. Amber was purring, curled up beside me on the couch. Déjà vu? It was as if I had never left.
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