Saturday, 20 December 2014

Hello from Coquette Point, a place for birds,

This week the little tern Sternula albifrons is once again nesting and flying over the Johnstone River estuary at Coquette point.

I photographed six birds sitting on eggs and watched them leave their nests to dive into the water only to return to the nests wet. The sea bath cools the parent tern in the blistering heat of the sand dune, in addition the parent terns captures water in its feathers which it brings back to the nest to cool the eggs.

The nest is no more than a scrape in the sand and over a period of 22 days both parents incubate the eggs. The chicks fledge within three weeks of hatching. So the newly laid eggs need three weeks, free of severe storms and human or animal disturbance, to hatch. Once hatched the chicks have the ability to move to the cover of beach debris or move higher on the beach in order to hide from predators.

Disturbance by humans or dogs will reduce the survival of the chicks. If you go down to the beach over the holidays please avoid walking above the high water mark as this is where shorebirds like the endangered little terns nest, by doing this you can help to ensure the survival of the little tern but also other shorebirds like the beach stone curlew which nests in the debris behind the high dunes.

I wrote to the Cassowary Coast Regional Council and expressed my concern for the fate of the Coquette Point little terns and the Council took immediate action with a press release with information about the little tern and asking people to avoid walking through nesting areas. " We can also help by keeping dogs on a leash in known tern nesting areas". The press release stated. There was also a reminder that the use of motor vehicles such as 4Wds, quad bikes and trial bikes is unlawful on all beaches in the CCRC.
Well done Cassowary Coast Regional Council and thank you to Damond Sydes for acting promptly to protect nesting birds and turtles on the beaches of the Cassowary Coast.

I saw six little terns nesting above the high tide mark on the dune, see photos, however there may have been more.

We saw other little terns performing courtship rituals on the beach. The males were making an engagement offerings of fish to the females. (Far more practical than a diamond ring.)

More little terns were out on the mud flats with two eastern curlews.

While further out on the sand bar still more little terns were sitting with lesser crested terns. As we counted the little terns we observed two lesser crested terns were mating, repeatedly.

Coquette Point is a habitat for birds but this 'bird sanctuary' can all disappear if we do not take care.

I was on the beach on Wednesday with a film crew from Wildcardmedia who are filming a documentary series in the Cassowary Coast. We walked out onto the sandbar and saw a dog, no collar, running along the mangroves.
I saw a man fishing out on a sandbar, some distance from the dog and guessed it was his dog. I approached the man and told him that there was a sign saying no dogs as the beach was a nesting area for endangered birds like the little terns and beach stone curlews.

The man said he did not see the sign and said he would leave immediately, he called his dog and then his son. I discovered the man's son had walked up crocodile creek with a cast net. I told the man I had seen a crocodile slide on the bank a few days before and there was a large crocodile warning sign at the entrance to the car park. The man called his son again louder, the boy did not answer, at that stage there was a little panic. The man called again, yet louder and the boy emerged from Crocodile Creek. They all left soon afterwards.

While there is a perception in most people's minds that all crocodiles have been removed from coastal waterways it is not so and it can never be so. The Coquette Point Wetlands is a large area of mangrove and melaleuca swamp with many interconnecting tidal lagoons. Before cyclone Winifred, in windy weather, I used to paddle  Crocodile Creek to gain access to the front beach at high tide. There were and still are very large crocodiles in these  mangrove lagoons. Debris from cyclones has since closed off Crocodile Creek to boats and now one cannot get access into the central swamp.

Last week Russell Constable photographed a small crocodile at Bramston Beach in a popular picnic area. Thank you Russell for sharing this photo it is a salient reminder that crocodiles are around and it is wise to be sensible when fishing and walking around waterways in northern Australia.

There were a number of other birds on the beach that day including bar-tailed godwits fishing for molluscs in the deep sand.

We saw three very brown birds, at first I could not identify them, when I tried to get closer they disappeared without a sound  seemingly mysteriously.

I believe they were wandering tattlers, but without being able to get a closer photo, I can only guess. There were grey-tailed tattlers on the beach close by and the difference in colour particular the brightness of the legs was defining to me. What do you think?

As we walked further along the beach we saw a flock of birds concealed in the beach debris ahead. As the film crew wanted to visit Etty Bay on the same day we decided to head back. As we turned the birds shifted out onto the sandbar, there were 45 Pacific Golden Plovers in the flock.

In the distance we saw striated heron fishing in the surf and we left him to his task.

We walked back alongside the river and watched some spectacular diving by crested terns fishing in the estuary. It was another beautiful day on the Johnstone River, although a little hot.

If you are out and about with a camera you never know from one day to the next what exciting things you might record. As I was opening my gate early for some tradesman, camera in hand of course, a little fluff-ball ran in front of me. Fortunately I managed to get a couple of photos before it disappeared, I have not see it since in spite of searching. Isn't it just the cutest thing!

It's a newly hatched orange-footed scrub fowl, how wonderful to see the renewal of a species, not that there is any shortage of scrub-fowls at Coquette Point.

I thought my ears had deceived me when I heard a leaden flycatcher call on Tuesday morning. Although I looked hard I was unable to find the bird. It was not until Thursday while trying, unsuccessfully, to photograph some dusky honeyeaters that I saw it, a female leaden flycatcher. Most unusual to have this bird arrive so early as it is normally March before leaden flycatchers return to the North.

The 'coquettish cassowaries' of Coquette Point are still up to their wily ways. Thank you Liz Downes from Wildlife Queensland, Townsville Branch for coining this phrase.

Early this week I heard Cassowary Ky whistling in alarm deep in the rainforest. I went to investigate and saw Jessie standing tall, Snout was watching from a distance while Ky was bleating a whistle like a lost lamb. Jessie moved on and Ky rejoined Snout and they all disappeared into the rainforest.

The wax jambu is in fruit and the cassowaries come every day to eat the fallen fruit from under the tree. Afterwards, Snout and Ky always have a swim. Interestingly,  I have never seen Jessie swim in this area.

It is wonderful to watch
Snout and Ky bathing.
 I could swear sometimes I hear Snout say, "Wash behind your ears and have you cleaned your bottom?"

Cassowary Hero also shows absolute devotion to his new chick. Without doubt the male cassowary is a model  dad. Cassowary Hero walks his chick along the road at the top of the Moresby Range to visit the Panama Berry tree every day. It is a hazardous walk for a cassowary.

Hero will jump high into the tree's foliage to pluck the ripe fruits to feed his chick. It is a strange sight to see these two cassowaries feeding under the wide branches of the Panama berry tree.

The red fig, Ficus drupacea is in full fruit and many birds are visiting the tree.

Yellow eyed cuckoo shrikes, metallic starlings and pied imperial pigeons are having a feast and in so doing knock much of the fruit to the ground where the cassowaries can enjoy the harvest.

The pied impérial pigeons first choice for the day's feasting is always the candle nut tree. They are arriving at sunrise and feast for ten minutes before moving onto the figs.

Another jumping spider species to add to my collection for Coquette Point. This little fella, below, is Bavia sexmaculatus, and he is a huge jumper. I had great difficulty in photographing him as he would jump vertically without any warning, at no time did I see him jump horizontally. The next day I found another one of the same species and size, only 2mm, and a juvenile.  I must thank Robert Whyte for identifying Bavia.

Robert also confirmed that Bavia are huge jumpers when adult.

Lots of Cosmophasis  species about, very small juvenile 1.5mm, C. micarioides right.

Cosmophasis micans male

A very large, 10mm female green jumping spider, Mopsus mormon, about the same size as the male I saw two weeks ago.

I watched her twinkle her legs and in an instant she released a silken lifeline to mastermind an
                                                                                    escape from the camera lens.


My friend Ian Laidlaw from the Palmerston has had a regular visitor and he is giving Ian lots of opportunities to hone his nocturnal photography. Absolutely wonderful photo of the male striped possum Ian, he's a big boy alright, thank you for sharing this photo.

Before cyclone Larry we regularly saw striped possums here at the end of Coquette Point, but after the 'clean-up', which widened the road and removed a lot of trees in the gallery forest along the road, we now no longer see them. However, there is still a good population in the Moresby Range National Park.

Pommy the cocoon has still not hatched. However, the central core of the cocoon is becoming darker. I check it out every night before I go to bed using the light from my mobile phone. I suspect, as it was a nocturnal feeder and formed the cocoon in the night, it will hatch at night and when it does we will find out what we have.

Etty B the green sea turtle, currently in the Mandubarra turtle rehabilitation centre, continues to gain weight. The Wildcard Media team who were here filming were very interested in the centre and spent some time talking and filming with Henry and Nellie Epong about their work.  The successful release of so many turtles is due to the dedication of the Mandubarra team, well done Henry and Nellie you are my heroes.

A postscript to last week's blog, the Queensland Minister for National Parks, the hon Steven Dickson has instructed his staff to replace the National Park Sign at South Liverpool Creek and to place signs on the little tern rookery at South Liverpool Creek.  Well done Minister the survival of this rookery will be due to your prompt action. Thank you everyone who wrote to the Minister and the Council about the Quad bikes running over the little tern rookery at South Liverpool Creek.

Cheers for this week,

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