Saturday, 9 May 2015

Hello from Cool and Crisp Coquette Point,

At long last we have a taste of winter and although the days are still hot the nights welcome a doona. Most mornings a thin fog blankets the Johnstone River masking the race between the setting moon and the rising sun. A gentle early morning land breeze steers the fog out to sea as the sky turns pink.

 Within an hour the fog and the land breeze are gone and a glassy calm settles over the Johnstone River.  The sign in the mangroves says  'No Wash, 6K', this rule is widely ignored by game boats and the like and in spite of this small effort by Council the evidence of severe bank erosion can be seen all along the Johnstone River.

Cassowary Ky is still walking on the beach and although I have not seen him there, I have found his footprints and at times caught glimpses of him walking quickly through the mangroves.

Ky has been visiting the strangler fig once or twice every day. I was watching him eat the figs on Friday morning and at the same time there was a flock of fig birds in the tree canopy, the figs were raining down on Ky and he did not know which way to turn to scoop up the juicy fruits.

This single giant fig tree has provided a feast for all the fruit eating birds in the area for the past month.

In the heat of the day Ky looks for water, as the Wet Tropics are still dry and most of the creeks at Coquette Point are not flowing.  Ky walked into the nursery from the mangroves surrounded by a halo of mosquitoes. He checked out the cherry quava tree but the fruits are long finished.  When Ky saw me he fluffed his feathers. I moved back and he walked on towards the bath-tub for a long drink. He looked at 'Plastic Cas' and stretched up and pounced a little to show his dominance then he walked through into the car park.

After his drink Ky walked out into the carpark and saw Ben from the Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation. Young cassowaries are very inquisitive and usually check out anything new in their environment.

Cassowary Ky was very interested in Ben and Ben was thrilled to meet Ky. They had a little 'linking of the minds' then Ky moved on into the orchard; more about Ben and the team from DSITI later.

Cassowary Jessie has been visiting the pond regular, by herself, to drink water.

I watched her one day pause and look at her reflection in the pool, then she dipped her beak into the water and scooped. Water poured from her overflowing beak and she leant her head way back to capture as much water as she could.
On Wednesday jessie turned up with Snout, the only day I saw the two cassowaries together and the only day this week that Snout appeared. I could hear that they were having a good old time splashing about in the water but as soon as they saw me I got the 'Julia' look from them both and they quickly walked off, through the orchard and into the rainforest. I have not seen either bird again this week.

At Flying Fish Point Cassowary Kevin and his now two chicks are doing well.

Alison writes, ' Kevin and his crew are all OK. They come through most mornings around 6.630am and sometimes late afternoon as well. The chicks make such a loud whistling noise in the mornings that I usually hear them before I see them. They're a rowdy bunch and greedy, when watching them eat, Dad Kevin never seems to get any food. Even when he picks up a seed one of the chicks will peck at it in his beak and he then drops it and stands back letting the chick eat it. I saw the two chicks fight over a round yellow fruit the other day, I think it may have been a small guava. One had it in its beak and the other tried to get the fruit, a tug of war was on. The fruit dropped to the ground and the challenger chick ended up victorious quickly picking up the fruit and throwing back his head to swallow it.'

Thank you Alison for this lovely window into the life of a Flying Fish Point cassowary family.

Friday afternoon as I was closing up the nursery I found a slippery soul looking for a place to bed down. I thought it was the grey form of the green tree snake but snake man Russell Constable assured me it is another harmless character a Keelback. This snake is a non-venomous freshwater snake and has possibly been living in my pond over summer.

The scales of this Keelback snake were beautifully flecked in blue.

Warning; The Keelback snake can be mistaken for the very venomous rough-scaled snake and vice versa.

The orange footed scrub fowl has no care given to it on hatching and this week as I was walking in the area of the nursery-scrub-fowl-mound a newly hatched chick ran out in front of me. It got quite a fright when it saw me and flew up into the canopy of a nearby tree. I stood talking to it and photographing it for some time as it moved about in the canopy of the tree and when it seemed to be content I left and continued working in the nursery.  The newly hatched orange footed scrub fowl stayed in the tree for over an hour before it disappeared into the rainforest.

The orange footed scrub fowls have built their mound behind the nursery soil bays.  This area is close to a mulch storage bay. When a new load of pine bark mulch arrived last week the scrub fowls thought it was for them and they immediately started to relocate the pine bark onto their mound.  It is a game between the scrub fowls and myself to see who can spread the mulch first, at the moment I am losing.
When you find a bird you can't identify, first off, you know you are in for a few hours of research. With all the advantage of modern search aids it generally resolves itself quickly. However, this week I photographed a little bird I could not find an ID for. In such an event I call on friends but when none of them could say with any certainty what it was, my photo did the rounds of FNQ twitchers. Eventually Martin Cachard of Cairns came up with the goods. My little bird has been identified as a recently fledged Gould's Bronze Cuckoo and thank you Martin.

In September last year I photographed an adult male Gould's Bronze Cuckoo here at Coquette Point. In Australia their distribution is Byfield to Cape York. Gould's Bronze cuckoo shows a preference for fairly dense vegetation such as mangroves, coastal and riverside rainforest where their main host is the large-billed gerygone, so they are very much at home here.  If you like me have problems in pronouncing gerygone it appears the debate is resolved and it is now said to be Jerr-rig-a-knee.

Gould's Bronze Cuckoo at home and breeding on the banks of the Johnstone River.

        Last week's small flock of eight barred cuckoo shrikes have been joined by at least twelve more including a number of juvenile barred cuckoo-shrikes.                                                                        

The juvenile barred cuckoo shrikes are white below and have beautifully scalloped breast markings and grey-blue eyes. The white markings are very obvious in flight.

The cuckoo shrikes feasting in the  strangler fig begins just after sunrise. They feed for a short time then move onto the melaleuca trees, often carrying fruits in their beaks. They cannot swallow the large fig fruits and pound them against the limbs of the fig or the paper-bark tree until the figs are easy to digest. The pounding of the figs can last for over two minutes before the cuckoo shrike finally eats the fig.

On the beach the resident pied oyster catcher family enjoy the warmth of the setting sun.

 In the shadows of the mangroves an extraordinary number of sacred kingfishers have appeared this year.

On the sand-flats white faced heron attempts to catch fingerlings in the pools left by the falling tide.

In the late afternoon the Moresby Range casts long shadows over the mud and sand flats while the beach-stone curlews make a last ditch effort to catch dinner before the tide turns.

Two grey tailed tattlers and one common sandpiper and about 20 sand plovers have joined the resident shore-birds and are wintering over at Coquette Point.


If you look very carefully between the ripple marks in the sand dozens of tiny red-capped plovers can be seen feeding. Often with them you will find the wintering over lesser sand plovers.                                                            

Some weeks ago I was contacted by the Senior Technical Officer of the Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation, Richard Gardiner. Richard asked if I would agree to his Department putting in a water quality monitoring site on the banks of the Johnstone River on my boundary line at Coquette Point. As the matter of water quality in the coastal rivers is of great interest to me, of course I agreed. Richard said to expect a small building to arrive within days.
Six weeks later and it arrived at sunset, after dozen of phone calls to the carrier. When Richard and Ben unpacked the flat-packed sheds, the large shed's roof was not in the pack. How can so many things go wrong when ordering the delivery of two prefabricated sheds? No wonder cost blow-outs occur. At least the roof for the little shed was included.

Richard and Ben unpack and try to assemble the two sheds.

Left and above. Richard and Ben mark out the site for water quality monitoring on the banks of the Johnstone River.

The sun has set every day this week in an almost cloudless sky which is full of smoke haze.  Fires on the Atherton Tablelands and around Cardwell leave their tell-tail mark at sunset when they colour the Johnstone River and the sky yellow.

Cheers for this week,

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