Saturday, 1 November 2014

Hello from dry and dusty Coquette Point,

While the dry weather continues the first indication of the season's change came this week when the winds turned to the north-east. With only hot gentle breezes the northerly winds have  increased the humidity.

In the mangroves Sonneratia alba is in the last throes of flowering and already the seed pods from the first flowers are maturing.

The helmeted friarbird was so overjoyed with the flower's sweet nectar and the feast of insects that he burst into a morning call  celebrating the bounty.

In the early glow of dawn hundreds of insects were buzzing around the ephemeral, nocturnal blossoms before the warmth of the sun would induce the stamens to fall and cover the mangrove mud in white lace.
The air was filled with the sound of insects hungrily gathering the rich nectar from the flowers.

Another mangrove beauty, the holly-leaved mangrove, Acanthus ilicifolius, is also flaunting its bountiful nectar and  its rich purple flowers are a magnet for insects.

The vibrant orange-red colour of this pandanus fruit are a favourite of the cassowaries and while the fruits are dropping the birds visit the tree four or five times a day.

At last we have photos of one of the sets of new cassowary chicks. The photo below was taken by Nellie Epong ten days ago as the birds crossed the road into the Moresby Range National Park. This is the same area that Jan Shang saw them this week and again they were crossing the road, photo below. Thank you Nellie and Jan for your photos.

I believe this young Dad cassowary is Queenie's sibling Don. The wattles, casque and neck markings match those in photographs I took of Don last year.

Nellie also managed to get a good photo of the large subadult cassowary which has been seen on a number of occasions. I believe this subadult is a chick of Brown Cone from 2012. This cassowary has not been given a name as yet so I would appreciate some suggestions. Please, You can go to comments at the end of the blog.

Matriarch Cassowary Jessie is moving from the Coquette Point Wetlands to the mangroves at the estuary and then through the nursery orchard and into the mangrove area along the river. I have had a brief glimpse of her on a few occasions this week but each time I saw her she was travelling quickly.

Snout and Ky are still together and they regularly come into the nursery to drink from the ponds before returning to the rainforest.

Below: I saw cassowary Snout waiting in the rainforest for Ky to finish drinking. At first I thought Snout  had left Ky and when I walked down the rainforest track to check, he was there waiting for him.

Ky came running into the rainforest and walked off with Snout.
There are a lot of poison walnut seed, Cryptocarya pleurosperma in the cassowary scats this week.

The Damson Plum Terminalia sericocarpa is in flower. The lime-green new growth flush of this tree can be seen across the face of the Moresby Range. The dry weather should result in a massive fruit set.
Little varied triller was chasing the pollinating insects which were attracted to the small flowers in the canopy of the Damson.

The Beach Almond Terminalia catappa, below, is also in flower and the thick carpet of leaves around its roots are nourishing the tree.

The fruits of the native olive Chionanthus ramiflorus are ripe and starting to fall.

Cassowaries are visiting the tree every day.

Black bean, Castanospermum australe is in flower. 

Some of the strangler figs are fruiting and the fruit is quickly eaten by the yellow-eyed cuckoo shrikes.        
This year I have only seen a flock of five Pied Imperial pigeons feeding around Coquette Point and they are not roosting here.
Over the past ten years the PIP numbers, roosting and nesting at Coquette Point, have slowly decreased.

It is such a thrill to watch the PIPs feeding and calling in the tree tops.

One of the November PIP counts will be held at Ninney Rise and will be an Open Day for anyone interested in taking part and enjoying an afternoon in the cool breeze on the wide verandas of Ninney Rise. For more information ring Angi 4068 7099.

A very large green sea turtle was delivered by the Girringun Rangers to the Mandubarra Turtle Rehibalation Centre this week. The turtle was very old and it had been found floating in the Hinchinbrook Channel.  The turtle had its eyes closed and when Nellie placed her finger on its head the turtle's eyes half opened. Girringun Ranger Neil showed Henry Epong the damage on the turtle's shell.

Although the turtle received intensive care it did not survive the night.

Our increasing demand on the natural world has caused a dramatic decrease in wildlife populations. The migratory birds which use our beaches to feed and rest are one of the most severely impacted. While every Australia enjoys going down to the beach it is essential, for the continued existence of migratory shorebirds and resident waders, that some beaches have restriction on the activities allowed.

At Coquette Point the beach is only accessible at low tide by foot and the adjoining forests are listed as part of the World Heritage Wet Tropics Region. The dunes and beach are an important nesting and feeding ground for resident waders and migratory shorebirds.

On Wednesday afternoon I was walking on the beach when suddenly I heard a dog bark the next minute the pied oyster catchers were running in alarm followed by the beach stone curlews which ran from the dune area where I believe they are about to nest.

Out on the sandbar I had just photographed the pelicans resting in the sun. As soon as they heard the dog they jumped to their feet and huddled together. The resting terns immediately took to the sky.

All the birds displayed fright and flight as a reaction to the dog's barking. I had not noticed this extreme reaction when it was just humans walking quietly along the beach.

I approached the dog owner and the dog ran at me growling. The man steadied the dog with his hand. The dog was on a strong lead and was wearing a muzzle. I thanked the man for having the dog on a lead and he said, "If I didn't there would be no getting him back". I asked if he had seen the birds in a panic running from the dog's barking and told him that Coquette Point was a place where migratory birds came all the way from the Arctic to rest and in some cases breed. He was not aware, he said, in spite of the signs at the entrance to the walking track. I explained that many of the waders had not bred over the last few years due to disturbance while breeding. If they do not have chicks this year or next we are looking at the last generation of waders on this beach.

What I saw clearly showed that the bird's reactions to a barking dog was extreme and both the pied oyster catchers and the beach stone curlews left the dunes and flew out onto a sandbar. The pelicans took to the water and the terns flew to another area. The other smaller shorebirds all left the area. There are only a few beach areas along the Cassowary Coast where people are asked not to walk dogs, ride vehicles or horses. If this request is ignored then we really are looking at the last generation of waders on these beaches. They have already gone from all the other beaches.

When the people with the dog left I watched the shore birds resume feeding.

Bar-tailed godwit was digging deeply for a meal, then he ran along the beach chasing a wave.

Grey-tailed tattler fished in a pool in the mangroves.

Common sandpiper ran along the mudflats looking for a worm.

Lesser sand plover looked for a crab at the water's edge.

Pacific golden plovers searched the mud flats for a mollusc or two.

Everywhere the terns were circling overhead or lined up on the sandbanks.

On the water's edge the resident waders hunted for dinner. Little egret and white faced heron fished in the same pond.                                            A brown phase striated heron fished in a corner pool.

On a fallen melaleuca a grey phased striated heron played hide and seek, for a while before running down to the water's edge to catch dinner.

I walked to the end of the beach and was delighted to see the mountain spring still running strongly. The water was cold and sweet. I sat and looked out to sea as a small sailing boat passed in the distance.

It was growing dark as I returned and I noticed the red-necked stints and sand plovers were all moving up onto the sand dunes for the night.

The whimbrels had returned from fishing along the Johnstone River and were settling down  for the night with the gull billed terns.

The beach stone curlews had returned to the sand dunes as the sun set over the Johnstone River.

Until next week,


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