Saturday 16 May 2015

Hello from cool, wet and windy Coquette Point,

We woke this morning to drizzly rain. It was just in time for the wallabies, as the grass was starting to dry. So  here's hoping that tomorrow the enormous high in the Bight will actually bring some meaningful rainfalls to the Wet Tropics. The ridge up the coast has brought strong winds which have blown the sand spit at the mouth of the Johnstone River smooth and clean of detritus.

On the northern side of the Johnstone River fires were lit, on Friday afternoon, in the foothills of the Mt Annie National Park and with the 30knot south easterly blowing, without this timely rain, the fire would have been difficult to stop from entering the National Park. The area that has burnt is a major cassowary habitat and it is the home of cassowary Kevin and his two chicks, as well as the young cassowary Pippi. I hope they have escaped the fire and even so many of their food trees will be gone.
Above. Fires burning in the foothills of Mt Annie National Park. The Flying Fish Point Slipway is in the foreground.

The spectacled monarchs have returned from their breeding migration to New South Wales and a new sound is coming from the rainforest this week, their harsh buzzing repeated 'zzzhhh' can be heard within the canopy. But you must wait and watch to catch a glimpse of these active, nervous little birds as they hunt for insects among the leaves of the rainforest.

The spectacled monarch is my bird of the week.

The spectacled monarch is a playful acrobat of the rainforest canopy and it is wonderful to watch it swirl and tumble chasing insects from underneath the leaves.

The yellow orioles have been sounding their bubbly calls from the tree tops all this week and I heard a couple of young males arguing over territorial boundaries.

The dominant male yellow oriole made it clear the area was his territory.


 On the rainforest floor and beside the creeks the gentle coos of the emerald dove echo soothingly in the forest as these birds search for seed amongst the rainforest litter.

With the dry weather over the last month the male and female emerald doves were also looking for water.

Female Emerald Dove drinking water from a shallow pool.

Male emerald dove drinking water from a rock pool.
With the brisk cool mornings this week there was a lot of competition between the bird population in order to occupy the best and highest sunbathing spots above the rainforest canopy. At times this resulted in some unusual companions and at other times a lot of jostling for spots. It is unusual to see a rainbow bee-eater in the company of an adult metallic starling.

Noisy friar birds could not dislodge the metallic starlings and female fig birds from the top-most branch.

Along the coconut fronds juvenile metallic starlings squabbled while the adults ignored them and took in the sun's warmth.

Above. The nutmeg mannikins sunbathe while waiting for the sun to dry out their grass seed.

Right. Spangled drongo looked cross when I disturbed him from his sun-baking perch.

There was no sign of the sand-plovers or other wintering over migratory shore-birds on the beach this week. However, the wind did not deter the resident red-capped plovers from feeding. I watched red-capped plover poke his beak into the sand and pull out a jumping shrimp.

The shrimp jumped across the sand and red-capped plover ran to catch it.

The shrimp needed some fast tenderising before red-capped plover could swallow it.

One large gulp and the shrimp went down and red-capped plover resumed his afternoon jog along the waterline.

White faced heron was minding his own business looking into a pool to see if there was a fish to be found. Old lap-wing plover was not at all happy and kicked up such a racket that white faced heron walked out in the river to fish. That was not good enough for plover and he followed, scolding heron swearing at him until white faced heron, being the gentleman he is, moved onto another sandbar to have his dinner.

....It was a good decision for white-faced heron as he found an almost dried out pool all to himself with lots of fish and molluscs.

The little white eastern reef egret danced 'Swan Lake' beside the River and her efforts were soon rewarded when a small mackerel swam close in to investigate and quickly became her dinner.

There was no such performance from the great egret as he stood imperiously, on one leg, waiting for a feed to come to him.


The pied oyster-catcher family were inside the estuary, no doubt to escape the full force of the wind on the ocean front.  When masked lapwing plover started sounding off at the pied oyster catchers, they stood their ground, they ignored the plovers and starting preening. You don't mess with pied oyster catchers Mr Plover.
While the mangrove forest along the banks of the Johnstone River and within the estuary are looking OK. The once great mangrove forest on the southern ocean side of the Johnstone River estuary is all but gone.

In one area a few small casuarinas are growing and the wind and tide have deposited sand and debris in front. If these trees gain a foothold it could be the start of rebuilding the rear dune along the beach.

When Cassowary Ky wakes at sunrise his first job is to find breakfast and for the last month it has been a feed of ripe fig fruits from the forest floor underneath the strangler fig, ficus drupacea. Ky then goes to the pond for a drink and a mud bath before investigating to see what other fruits can be found to eat.
Sometimes Ky encounters strange people and on one of his walks this week he met James and his family from the Tokelau Islands. They were gathering coconuts for a feast and they had never seen a cassowary before and Ky had never seen people from Tokelau but Ky just kept walking.

Cassowary Ky walked down to the beach and into the mangroves to see what he could find to eat.

Later in the afternoon he went back to the fig tree and feasted on figs again.

Late in the afternoon cassowary Ky went for a dip in the pond and when he was all clean he found a safe place on the edge of the mangroves to bed down for the night and he was soon fast asleep.

Another day passed in the life of young cassowary Ky.

Meanwhile, matriarch cassowary Jessie has discovered some ripe pandanus fruits, her favourites, and she is first to check the tree out in the morning.

Jessie doesn't hang about for long and with wattles flying she crosses the road into 27V, walks across the paddock and into the paperbark swamp on the other side.

I have not sighted cassowary Snout this week, nor have I received any reports about him. Perhaps this time he is sitting tightly on eggs. Which-ever-way Jessie is still hanging about and that could be a problem for Ky.

Two amazing North Queenslanders who contributed so much to our knowledge of the plants and animals of the Wet Tropics Rainforests died this month.

Vale Ann Radke wife of Peter Radke. Together Ann and Peter built Yuruga Nursery, a specialist native plant nursery which has achieved wide-spread fame for its expertise in Australian tropical plants. In addition Ann helped Peter developed Clonal Solutions specialising in the mass production of elite clonal crops for agriculture, forestry, horticulture and bio-fuels industries. Ann was involved in Research and Development programs to develop the protocols for the mass production of new genetics in horticulture.  North Queensland has lost a powerful women who was at the forefront of innovation in horticulture and Ann is sorely missed by all in the horticultural industry.

Last Sunday William Cooper died following a long illness at his rainforest home on the Atherton Tablelands. Below is  a tribute to Bill from Andrew Isles of Natural History Books and a reminder that a special memorial tribute will be shown on the ABC at 2pm tomorrow, Sunday 17th.

Many of the unique rainforest fruits and flowers that Bill Cooper painted and Ann Radke grew are flowering and fruiting this week.

The wonderfully perfumed but deadly poisonous
phaleria clerodendron's pure white flowers have opened in the rainforest. While some of the rosy apple fruits are still held on the branches for cassowaries to eat.

On the beach the sea lettuce,  Scaevola taccada is still holding fruit while starting to flower again.

In the rainforest the bright red fruits of the onion wood Syzygium alliiligneum are falling to the ground for the cassowaries to feast. Also in the forest litter the fruits of the Davidson plum, Davidsonia pruriens, are falling, many fruits are already partly eaten by other birds and animals.

Also ripening this week in the rainforest and starting to fall are the fruits of the blush satinash, Acmena hemilampra.

The fruiting trees of the Wet Tropics rainforest are wonderfully diverse and our knowledge of the complexity of the plants, the animals and the rainforest ecosystem has been greatly enhanced by the work of Ann Radke and Bill Cooper. Your work has given us many gifts and we thank you.

In sadness,
Yvonne Cunningham

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