An agronomist once told us to destroy the Carex grasslands in our Home Valley, “nuke it”, he said, “burn it then spray it then burn it again, that’ll get rid of it”, he gestured enthusiastically, “it’s rubbish, your sheep won’t eat it”.
I thanked him for his time and promptly ignored his professional advice – thank goodness I didn’t pay for it.
Carex isn’t loved around here, on the farms of the Snowy. It’s missing from most farms landscapes now. In fact it’s so uncommon that it is now considered an endangered ecological community.
Carex is it’s genus name – people call it cutty grass. It’s a fitting common name – run the long, straight leaves through your fingers in the wrong direction and you can slice your finger open in one of those deep wounds that takes a second to bleed and an age to stop.
Carex is a tall and rough, tussock–type grass. It typically grows in the floor of valleys wherever the water flows. It slows down the water movement through the valley – the dense grasses hold the water up, deflecting its potentially eroding energy.
The agronomist was right – our sheep don’t eat it, or at least they don’t eat the grass. But in spring when the growth is fresh and green the sheep skip from tussock to tussock sweeping the sticky flowering heads into their mouths with their thick but agile tongues.
In autumn and in spring, when our chubby ewes lamb down their tiny babies, they often do it among the Carex tussocks, hiding their bright white babies from potential predators. And on a windy day ewes place their lambs downwind from a clump of Carex.
In summer and autumn, the shade provided by the Carex tussocks creates a micro-climate where pockets of green grass can still prosper when the rest of the paddock is brown. Our sheep search between the Carex to find these succulent remnants of spring.
In all seasons the Carex provides sheltering habitat for Brown Quail, Golden Cisticola and Superb Wrens. They take to the sky when the dogs play together in a game of leap and chase.
Yesterday, while walking with the big dog in the Home Valley Pepe found a mound of fluffy duck down feathers. He stuck his long Maremma snout into it and snuffled – it must have felt lovely on his inquisitive nose and, to a dog, it probably smelt fabulous as well.
Finding this beautiful fluffy pile made me find out about Wood Duck nests. Wood Ducks – they are the ones where the male has the lovely chocolate brown head – nest in large hollows in eucalyptus trees usually near water. At Highfield each year they nest in astonishingly tall twin Blakley’s Red Gums that tower over the Carex-nestled main spring-fed dam.
The parent Wood Ducks line their nest hollow with copious amounts of down that carefully conceal their precious eggs. Incomprehensibly, soon after hatching, the fluffy ducklings launch themselves from their nursery hollow to the ground where the adults lead them to safe, dense vegetation and then onto water. Our Carex grasslands provide such protective cover to the newborn fluff-bomb ducklings.
Each year the numbers of Wood Ducks increase in the Home Valley – we are very glad they like the Carex as much as we do.
Audio produced by Gretchen Miller, sound engineering by Judy Rapley.
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