Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"Possum Magic"

Last night, while I was working in my study, writing last night's blog, I heard an amazing squabbling noise outside my window. The tree outside was shaking, and I heard thumping noises on the roof. Obviously Possums, I thought (I do not have cats around my house - the next most obvious cause of such "caterwauling" noises).

Anyway, I went out onto the back deck to look around the edge of the house, to see what I could find out about what exactly was going on. This is what I saw - from just a few feet away.
Two Brush-tailed Possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) hanging upside down (courtesy of their prehensile tails). They were gripping eachother, with their rear legs, or are they holding eachother "at arms length"? I was seriously puzzled (at first). Were they fighting? Or were they locked together in an embrace?

I took several photos, and they did not move. That gave me a clue. Surely, if they were two males fighting, they would have cut and run, or one at least would have taken the opportunity created by my distracting "flashes", to have escaped (assuming they were fighting).

I took another photo in the dark, of the area over their bodies, to try and determine exactly how they were hanging on. It worked. The answer is one has its tail wrapped over a tree branch, and the other had its tail curled over the edge of the gutter. (You can see a line on the underneath of the tail (of the animal on the left), where the prehensile tail has no fur on it. With the underside of that tail facing us, that means that the tail curls up and over towards the camera, i.e., the tail is hooked over the gutter.) So that explains the different angles of their bodies. It probably also explained some of the crashing noises and movement in the trees, as somehow one was in the tree, and the other one not quite in the tree, but actually suspended from the house gutter. Surely this is a precarious arrangement? The two animals were clearly gripping each other with their back legs, or rather holding eachother at a fixed distance. I left them to it (whatever it was they were doing).

Here is a photo of the head of the smaller Possum - (the one on the right). You can see the very large eyes, typical of Possums. The large ears, and the pink nose (with wiry whiskers) is also clearly visible. Their faces are generally regarded as being "cute". (Mind you, the much smaller "Ring-tailed Possums" are definitely cuter, in my opinion.)
A close-up image of the "hands" of the possum on the right of the photo clearly shows two "handfuls of fur" - so there had been some fairly active scratching and scrabbling going on there. The pad on the paw on the right hand side of the photo (the left paw) has also been scratched.
A few minutes later, there was another burst of squawking noises, followed by noises of feet thumping on the roof.

I went outside again, and they had left their hanging position (which I sort of knew, because of the thumping sounds). I looked around, and found this scene, up on the roof, overlooking the back deck.
Aaah, Mystery solved. Its "Possum Magic".
Clearly they had not been "fighting" - well, just a bit.

The two Possums, totally relaxed, were cuddling up closely, sitting on the edge of the roof, as if admiring the view of the night sky, together (until I appeared under their noses). Somehow, one feels inclined to caption this: "Did the earth move for you, Darling?"

I guess that some time in the winter, I can expect to hear the "pitter-patter of little feet" (on the roof).

Perhaps I should also acknowledge the title of Mem Fox's best-selling book - "Possum Magic"?

"Red-eye effect"
The severe "red-eye effect" is common with nocturnal animals, when photographed with "flash-lighting". I could have removed it, or adjusted it, but it seemed more normal to leave it as it is, as it is how we see them, when illuminated by car lights, or torches. In daylight, the Possum's natural eye colour is dark brown. But nocturnal animals have developed strong "lenses" in their eyes which accentuates the refracted light effect. Owls, perhaps the most extreme example, have bright yellow eyes, when seen with artificial light.


Anni said...

Amazing photos, Denis. I particularly love the fistfuls of fur... and the romantic shot, red eyes and all.

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Anni,
Yes, I was impressed with the fists full of fur, too.
Interestingly, just as your comment arrived tonight, there was a loud noise on the roof. Sounded like thunder on my tin roof. Nope Possums chasing eachother again. Followed by squeals and squarks. Its not easy being a lady Possum, apparently.

But that was what surprised me so much about the "luvvie duvvie" poses afterwards.