Who's at home in your backyard?

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Map your favourite green spaces

'Mud map' is a term that dates back to European settlement. When travellers met in the outback and shared their news and stories around the campfire they would often draw maps in the dirt to tell a story about where they’d been. When it rained, these became mud maps!

We’re working with brilliant local illustrator Liz Anelli to create some giant mud maps of Newcastle’s green spaces and we’d love to include your favourite places. By 'green space' we mean areas that have grass, trees, shrubs and other plants.

Watch Liz drawing her map in this video and then follow the instructions below to make your own.

Make your mud map

  1. Type the name of your suburb in Google Maps
  2. Zoom in so you can read all of the street names
  3. Take a screen shot and crop out anything you don’t want in the image and print it out at A4
  4. Trace the map onto a blank sheet of paper using a window as a lightbox
  5. Now you’re ready to take your map for a walk! Wander around your neighbourhood, marking on your map any parks, bush reserves, creeks, lovely big trees and beautiful front gardens you pass. Include your favourite places to play, climb, and ride your bike.
  6. Draw any wildlife you see, such as birds, insects, bats (or monsters that hide in hedges!).
  7. So that your map doesn’t get too fiddly, use symbols and create a key or legend to explain what’s what in your map.
  8. Give your map a caption to explain what it shows (e.g. My favourite green spaces in New Lambton)

Please email your finished maps to Liz at hi@lizanelli-illustration.com.

Here are some other things you can do to discover who's at home in your backyard.

Give a tree some love

Are you lucky enough to have a big tree in your backyard or close to your house? Maybe there's one on your street you love walking or riding past. Take a moment to visit this tree. Stop for a few moments and just watch. Notice how many different animals visit the tree and what they're doing. Why do they come to this tree in particular? How long do you think it has been here? What could be lost if it was cut down?

Large native and non-native trees support a huge amount of life in urban environments. They provide food, shelter from the elements and from predators, as well as boughs and hollows for nesting.

Notice how you feel after taking this moment to appreciate this tree. When you get home, write a letter to your tree telling it what you love about it and how it makes you feel.

Did you know that all of the trees on our streets and in our parks have a unique number? We call it an asset ID and it helps us keep track of all of the information on each tree, like what type (or species) of tree it is and how long ago it was planted. See if you can find your special tree on our Tree Map. What species is it? Roughly how old is it? What's its asset ID? You might also notice a link there to send the tree an email. Ask a grown up to help you type or scan your letter to send in your email.

Finally, do some research on your tree. How big does it grow? When does it fruit or flower? Where else does it grow in your neighbourhood, the city, Australia, the world? Check out The Atlas of Living Australia for help identifying your tree. You might even like to submit your observation to the Atlas.

Count the birds in your backyard

In your front or back yard, sit down on the ground, close your eyes and listen for a few minutes.

Jot down in a notebook all of the different bird calls you can hear, being as descriptive as possible (e.g. high pitch trilling, melodic warbling etc.).

Then look for birds all around you and make notes or sketch the following:

  • The size and shape of the bird (is it similar to another bird you know?)
  • Its colours and markings (e.g. stripes, speckles, bands of colour)
  • Its behaviour and call (e.g. soaring, swooping, flying in a straight line, calling repeatedly) 
  • Its location (e.g. on the ground or high up in the tops of the trees)

Then try to identify the birds you saw using the Aussie Backyard Bird Count app on a tablet or with a hard copy field guide.

Option 1: Using the Field Guide in the ABBC app 

  1. Select ‘Field Guide’ from the home screen.
  2. Pick the approximate size of the bird. There are common birds listed to compare them to. If you don’t know, select skip.
  3. Select an outline that best matches the shape of your bird from the silhouettes (scroll up to see all options).
  4. Select one or two colours on the bird. It is better to select fewer colours than putting in too many.
  5. View your results. You will see the name of the birds that match your search terms, a description, photos and a distribution map (where in Australia the birds live). If you click on the image or the map, you can enlarge them.

Option 2: Using a hard-copy field guide 

  1. A bird field guide is a book to help the observer identify birds. It is generally designed to be brought into the ‘field’ when watching birds.
  2. Field guides are arranged by taxonomic order, meaning all birds in the same family are located together. It is not alphabetical.
  3. Field guides typically include a detailed description of the bird and its behaviour, together with illustrations, photographs and distribution maps.
  4. The easiest way to ID birds using a field guide is to learn what family your bird belongs to. There will be a key in the front of the book. Look to see what picture resembles the bird you saw, it may not be an exact match.
  5. When you think you know which family your bird belongs to, locate the family in the field guide and look for the illustration of your bird, read the relevant text carefully and check the map to make sure it is likely to be found in your area.

Please email your bird count results to naturalconnection@ncc.nsw.gov.au.

Become a minibeast detective

Invertebrates (or animals without a backbone) are an extremely important part of the food web as they provide food for birds, reptiles, mammals and small marsupials. They help pollinate (or fertilise) flowers and disperse plant seeds. They also contribute to healthy soil structure by burrowing and aerating the soil.

Invertebrates are fairly easy to find as they don’t move very far from their homes. They're also a very good indicator of biodiversity.

  1. Take a small spade, a plastic plate or bowl and a paint brush to collect and record invertebrates from an area of leaf litter in your back or front yard.
  2. Dig up a little leaf litter with the spade and put it onto the plate for sorting. 
  3. Use the paintbrush to gently separate the invertebrates from the litter.
  4. Make a note or take a photo of each of the different species you find but don’t worry about counting all of the individuals of each species found.
  5. For help identifying the minibeasts you find go to the Australian Museum website.

If you like you can email your minibeast survey results to naturalconnection@ncc.nsw.gov.au.Have a look at the Backyard Buddies website to find out about things you can do to attract animals and beneficial insects to your backyard. Every little patch of habitat in an urban environment makes a big difference to our native wildlife.

All illustrations by Liz Anelli.