Saturday 3 January 2015

Welcome to Coquette Point 2015,

Is this orange-clawed fiddler crab looking into the future, or just seeing himself?  The orange-clawed fiddler crab has an unknown future in his habitat on the muddy shores of estuaries. While these areas are essential breeding grounds for the fish we eat they are also prized for tourism and port development and contaminated by the pollutants from farm and industrial runoff. Unfortunately, orange-clawed fiddler crab like many of the species that depend on healthy waterways face an uncertain future.

The monsoon trough has at last dropped down over northern Australia and the Wet Season has started at last.  As we are sitting well below the monsoon trough line we are experiencing high temperatures, doldrum conditions, 90% humidity and light to zero winds. A measure of the amount of moisture in the atmosphere was the enormous ring around the sun on Tuesday morning. On the water for most of this week there has been glassed-out conditions.

Glassed out conditions at the mouth of the Johnstone River on News Years morning.

On Wednesday afternoon, the last day of 2014 I walked around to the front beach at Coquette Point to see what shore birds were about. As I walked out onto the beach I saw a number of terns diving for fish in the river, Little, crested and gull-billed terns and on the sandbanks whimbrels and common sandpipers were poking their beaks into the sand in search of a feed.

As I walked down past the new shorebird sign and out onto the front beach a cool 15 kts easterly blew up with the incoming tide and as I rounded the spit I saw the sandbar was covered in birds. There were no dog prints in the sand and without dogs on the beach the birds had the confidence to rest on the sandbank at the mouth of the Johnstone rive.

I saw the pied oyster catcher family out fishing, and past them a number of greater sand plovers, a pair of bar-tailed godwits were in the surf line and beyond a great number of terns, little, lesser and greater crested as well as gull-billed terns.

I sat on a log watching the pied oyster-catcher family. The parent birds were teaching the young  how to probe the sand with their beaks for molluscs. The young birds can be identified by their grey legs.
A Pied Oyster Catcher family day out on the beach

I walked along below the tide line well clear of the resting shorebirds and on the front beach the sandbars were also covered in birds.

More crested and gull-billed terns, bar-tailed godwits and a lot of Pacific golden plovers.

I counted over 100 Pacific golden plovers
feeding with other migratory shore birds on the sandbars off the front beach at Coquette Point.

On the rocks at the far end of the beach I saw two beach stone curlews, wonderfully camouflaged against their environment.                                                                    

A common sandpiper was hunting nearby which brought the count to four of these birds on different part of the beach that day. I noticed this common sandpiper had a feather askew on his right side wing.

On my return I saw a juvenile lesser crested tern harassing its mother for a feed. She obviously thought it was time he found his own and whatever  she said to him he took to the air and went fishing by himself over the estuary; kids can be so demanding.



In the shallows little egret was standing on a lump of mud looking into the clear shallow water with the utmost concentration.

Suddenly he dashed into the water frenetically hunting his fishy prey.

 With incredible speed he plucked a fish from the shallows, not once but twice.

As I walked back through the mangroves I saw two grey-tailed tattlers fishing alongside the river amongst the mangrove roots.

One of the tattlers suddenly looked up. I did not see a shadow but there in the sky above white-breasted sea-eagle was watching the birds feeding. Before I could look down the grey-tailed tattlers had disappeared into the mangroves.

The big tides last week have deposited a fresh covering of sand around the Hibiscus tiliaceus roots. With the hot weather this week the flowers are falling early and the new sand is covered in fallen hibiscus blossom.

Alongside the hibiscus the sea lettuce, Scaevola taccada is in blossom and setting seed. The fruits of the sea lettuce are eaten by cassowaries and you will find cassowaries on the beach at this time of the year when these fruits are ripe.

The green of the Wet Tropics rainforest is splashed with bright red as the flowers of the flame tree Brachychiton acerifolius open in the hot humid air.

In the swamps and behind the sand dunes the fruits of the beach pandan, pandanus tectorius, are falling. Another reason for the cassowary to search along the beach front for food, pandanus fruits are a favourite cassowary food.

At the moment Cassowary Jessie has a smorgasbord of fruits to choose from. Syzygium aqueum is still in fruit and flowering again and Jessie visits the tree every day.

Then she has a choice of the now ripe fruits of the damson plum, Terminalia sericocarpa, pandanus and fig fruits.

Snout and Ky have been feeling the heat this week and are spending a lot of time in the nursery runoff pond.

Jessie seems to have given up on Snout and I have not seen nor heard any encounters between them this week.

Cassowary Hero and his chick are still walking in front of the houses on Coquette Point Road. Hero walks the chicks in front of the houses rather than along the road and only risks encounters with vehicles when they cross the road.

A number of cassowaries have been hanging around the Nind's Creek Bridge. A wild mango tree is in fruit on the eastern side of the road, at this point, and I am told Cassowaries Hope, Queenie and old Clara are virtually camped under the tree gorging on the fruit.  Bill F. shifted a cassowary sign to this area to alert road users and to hopefully prevent a vehicle encounter with a cassowary.

20 Pied imperial pigeons are feeding in a flock on the fruits of the damson plum, toy wood and fig tree.
It is easy for the cassowaries to collect a feast of fruits as the pied imperial pigeons knock as much fruit to the ground as they eat with their wonderfully strong wings.

The PIPs are very fussy and will only eat the ripest of fruits.

The male PIPs have been engaged in extreme vocalisations  and displays this week. The male birds have been inflating their chests and fluffing up their neck feathers while flattening their beaks against their chests in ever increasing calls of 'woo woo woo woo WOO WOO'.

At times the PIPs head disappears into his chest feathers. The female listens and watches but I have never seen her moving closer to the suitor.

The pied imperial pigeons form monogamous pairs for the breeding season.

Right: pied impérial pigeons display in the white- wood tree, endospermum medullosum.


Around midday the outside temperature is in the high 30s and I have noticed many of the birds congregate in the shady branches of the big strangler fig tree, ficus drupacea.

In the picture from top, pied impérial pigeon, right adult metallic starling, below two juvenile metallic starlings.

Common Koel in Damson Plum, note ripe fruits.
There have been frenetic calls from the common koels this week and lots of chasing. The birds were moving so quickly in the trees and often within the canopy that it was difficult to see what was happening. I was fortunate to be able to follow the adult male and saw he was aggressively chasing a young male which was just losing its juvenile feathers. In the picture below the adult bird was making deep screeching noises scaring the daylights out of the young bird.

The young common koel screeched in alarm when, possibly his father perched on a branch above him.

The chase extended all over Coquette Point, when they left here Ruth heard them in the damson tree behind her home at the top of the Moresby Range.

The beautiful tail feathers of this juvenile common koel can be seen in the photo below.

It is quite extraordinary how much the young male common koel looks like a pheasant coucal which is one of this cuckoo's hosts.

The pheasant coucal is nesting at the moment and the birds are frequently calling with what sounds like something between a small dog barking and a cough. At other times they have a long penetrating and echoing deep call.

Adding to the soundscape at Coquette Point the cicada birds have returned. Two males and one female have been hunting in the paperbark trees, melaleuca leucadendra, most of this week. Ruth has also heard them at the top of the Range.

 The cicadabird has two distinct calls. One a frequent low tweeting note and if you are lucky you will see  and hear it making the other call for which it is named.
I watched the cicadabird with beak closed shiver its whole body and emit a peculiar buzzing call somewhat like the noise of a cicada. The bird on the right  below was making the buzzing call at the time I took the photo you   can see the neck muscles protruding.

High in the top of the paperbark I could just see a female cicidabird. Photo left.

Pommy the moth has at last emerged from his cocoon and still there is no certain ID for him.

When everyone gets back to work at the Queensland Museum I will ask them for an ID.

 Mandubarra Land and Sea Corporation carried out turtle monitoring at Kurrimine Beach over the  holiday break and they were disturbed to see that people were still driving Quad bikes over the dunes where the turtles nest and onto the rookery where the Little Terns are nesting on the beach adjacent to the Kurrimine Beach National Park.

This week I had a visit from Gaye Lovell of NQ Wildlife Care Inc Townsville, Gaye told me that the police from Ingham and Townsville  enforce the laws regarding Quad bikes on public lands and I told her that in the Cassowary Coast Region people are driving unlicensed  Quad bikes on public roads, through parks and on beaches.  I told her that I have photos of people with up to five people and often children, doubling up on Quad bikes and other people carrying opened cans of alcohol while driving Quad Bikes, she was astonished. I told her we have reported the incidents to the Queensland Police with photos and no action has ever been taken.  It appears the Cassowary Coast is 'Hillbilly Country'. It is just a shame the turtles, shorebirds and other beach users have to suffer. Thank you Mandubarra for sharing these photos.

It is astonishing to see how quickly the green returns to brown areas of the countryside once there is rain. The basket fern, Drynaria rigidula was no more than a brown skeleton three days ago and now the new fronds are 50 cm high. The smells of dust and smoke have gone from the air and the rainforest is sprouting new green leaves, a wonderful start to a New Year.

The rain however, does create an opportunity for mosquitoes to breed in discarded containers and the first cases of dengue fever have been reported in Edmonton. A timely warning for us to clean up around the yard.

My mosquito and sandfly repellent recipe:
1 x  500 mL bottle runny Sorbolene cream.
2 x mL pure citronella oil,
2 x mL lavender oil,
2 x mL rosemary oil,
2 x mL tea-tree oil.
Remove 10 mL of Sorbolene cream from the bottle. Add the oils and shake strongly. Apply to exposed areas of the skin to repel insects or rub on bites to ease itching. Always try a new cream on a small area of skin to check for allergic reactions.

Enjoy the rain.


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