Saturday, 22 August 2015

Hello from Coquette Point,

Lots of new feathery visitors have joined the residents of the Johnstone River estuary as the return of the migratory shorebirds to eastern Australia is well underway. It is so exciting to walk along the beach, at early morning low tide, and see on the extensive sand flats of Coquette Point hundreds of gull billed and crested terns covering the outer sandbars and if you look closely you will see scattered in the gullies on the sand flats little white dots, sometimes illuminated by the low rays of the rising sun and as you draw closer the dots are seen to be small waders which are searching for crustaceans.

As the sun rises, most of the terns lift to the sky and fly inland along the Johnstone River where they will spend the day feeding in inland wetlands. At dusk they return to the Johnstone River estuary to rest and sleep.

 Left: Gull-billed terns fly up the Johnstone River estuary at sunrise.

Below: At sunset the gull-billed terns return and crowd together on the sandbars in the Johnstone River estuary.

Many of the whimbrels also make the same daily feeding trip, going up the river at dawn and back down the estuary at sunset. The seven winter-over whimbrels have now been joined by five new arrivals. The new arrivals stay fishing on the beach of a day time and join their mates in the evening.

Ruth told me a story with a good ending this morning. When she lived in Darwin a young whimbrel was injured by a yobbo with a peashooter. A wildlife carer friend nursed him back to health in a couple of weeks, but this whimbrel had missed the April departure of his migratory brothers and sisters, he had missed the flight. However, QANTAS came to the rescue and flew him to Japan in the hope that he would join other whimbrel groups on their return to Russia. Thank you Ruth what a lovely story. If you are a QANTAS passenger how about suggesting to them that they support the protection of foreshores and wetlands, the stop-over places and homes of the migratory bird-tourists. Come on Mr Joyce  and QANTAS shareholders, your planes and the shore birds fly similar routes and they would make a great logo for you.

Around fifty greater sand plovers have arrived and I watched one bird which had been disturbed when a man arrived with a dog, fortunately the dog was on a leash. The sand plover flew away from the dog and it landed close to where I was standing. Astonishingly, it made a crash landing, the poor little thing was exhausted. I watched as it recovered and stood up, it turned around and looked at me as if to say, 'I'am OK' and straight away pulled a strange looking soft shelled crustacean from the sand. (anyone know what it is?)  I backed slowly away so as not to disturb it again.

     The greater sand plover is around 22 cm in length and flies to and from its breeding grounds in Mongolia, southern Siberia and north-western China every year. The greater sand plover is one of the first of the migratory waders to return to Australia each year.

Six greater sand plovers and six red-necked stints feeding on the sandbars of the Johnstone River estuary.

Around twenty red necked stints have flown in with the greater sand plovers, some feeding with their travelling mates others spread out feeding on the outer sandbars. Many of the red-necked stints are still showing the red blush from their breeding plumage.

I could see lots of the little white bobbing bottoms as common sandpiper rushed along the foreshore looking for titbits. Many of the sandpipers were also showing the remains of a blush on their feathers from recent breeding plumage.

I found only two eastern curlews remaining on the sand flats this week, the others have moved on after R&R at Coquette Point. It is amazing to watch the Eastern Curlews push their extraordinarily long beak down into the sand, their eyes popping as they do so, before they quickly withdraw their beak and consume the crusty crustaceans.

The red capped plover males have won the heart of their females and while some were busy feeding in groups, others were walking in pairs up the beach. A few solitary males stood on the sand dunes presumably guarding their mate's eggs. It is red-capped plover's breeding time.

There was only one resident beach stone curlew on the beach all week. The others may be sitting on eggs behind the sand dunes.

I was watching a white-faced heron thinking how regal it looked when suddenly it dropped its skirt feathers and dumped. Nothing like a good clean out before breakfast.

As the sun rose above the horizon the pelicans stirred, stood up and marched in file down the beach to start the day's fishing.

On the sandflats, sleepy pied oyster catchers woke and stirred, the juvenile was the first to move away to start the day's hunting.

Greater egret was concentrating on fishing in the shallow water near the shore-line while stretching his neck as high as it would go. Pelican swam over to say hello, greater egret crocked a harsh nasal call at pelican. With no let up in the abuse greater egret stretched his wings wide and rose in the air still swearing.  Pelican was told in no uncertain terms greater egret did not want to be his fishing friend.

If anyone is interested in helping out with the crane count on September 5 please contact Virginia Simmonds who is coordinating the event. Phone 40958302 or email
The aim is to count the numbers of brolgas and saris cranes across the Atherton Tablelands.
Simon Burchill suggests if you have not done it before there is plenty of time to find a bird book and look up the difference between the two species. Counting will continue until it is too dark to see, so take something warm to wear and to drink.

Ian Laidlaw took this wonderful photo of brolgas on the Atherton Tablelands last week.

It has been another busy week for cassowary sightings. Cassowary Snout with his chick has been seen walking from my next door neighbours property and across into the Wetlands and down into the foreshore mangroves. The chick is very confident and often leads Snout when they are walking.

I came across
in the
mangroves one day, he was fast asleep and the chick was tucked up under his black quills out of sight. The chick heard me and pocked his head out looking cross, Snout took no notice of me and went back to sleep. Eventually so did the chick but I kinda felt I was told, by the chick to go away. He's a perky little chap.

Snout frequently crosses the road back and forwards from lot 27V, where there is a tree with fruit falling. I could not identify the tree so if anyone could please let me know.

The chick loves the fruit and I often see the fruits from this tree in its scats.

The red fruits, left below, look like tiny apples and the new leaves, right below, are bronze in colour.

 There is nothing more heartwarming than to watch a cassowary dad                                         break up a large piece of fruit into small pieces for his chick to eat. I have no doubt that Snout, as seen in these photos, could have eaten the five corner fruit in one swallow, but he broke it up into small pieces for the chick without having a bite for  himself. Cassowaries are amazing dads.

Cassowary Hagar is still crossing the road at the base of the second last hill with his three chicks. It is a very dangerous place to cross but there are a lot of fruiting trees down in the gully and they cross over for breakfast every morning then back down into the Coquette Point Wetlands in the afternoon.

Mandubarra elder Henry Epong has shared this photo as part of Mandubarra's cassowary monitoring program.

Cassowary Gregory turned up on Wednesday again and hasn't wandered far since. He still looks very thin and his quills are missing where there is a bare patch on his rump. However, he has been finding lots of pandanus and quandong fruits and looked a lot better this afternoon.

                       Gregory is a very quiet cassowary and I have the impression he has been around humans a bit. Whether he swam across the river or was chased from the National Park by another cassowary or a dog we may never know.

 Unfortunately matriarch cassowary Jessie is not happy with Gregory's presence and has been chasing him. When Evan and his wife from Mission Beach came to the nursery this afternoon Evan managed to get a quick snap of Jessie with her head down chasing Gregory across the carpark. Thank you Evan for sending the snap to record this behaviour. Of course this cassowary behaviour is nothing new to Evan from Mission Beach.

Cassowary July has also been feasting on the pandanus fruits. She is looking in prime condition, her colours are bright and her feathers are shiny.

This year has seen one of the best fruit sets on the pandanus I have seen. There will be lots of fruits for the cassowaries to eat for months.

 Cassowary Ky knows all the best places to feed and is growing fast and looking very strong. Somehow he is avoiding Jessie and Snout and I haven't seen him chased by Gregory or July. He still spends a lot of time around the beach area, in the mangroves and  the swamp.

If you ever wanted to know the size of a cassowaries's throat, I managed to capture a photo with July's beak still open but the pandanus fruit already disappeared down the cavity. Now you can see how these birds have the ability to swallow large rainforest fruits.

Alison Whatling from Flying Fish Point writes that early this week Cassowary Kevin left his two chicks. The chicks are nine months old. Cassowary Kevin was seen with them in the morning and then disappeared. Alison saw the chicks apparently sniff at a scat that Kevin had left, then they walked down to the forest edge. They have turned up a few times in her yard to eat palm fruits and quandongs from her very large tree. Simon Whatling said he had seen another cassowary hanging around the week before. So it looks as if Kevin has gone a-courting.

Alison has named the chicks Sophia and Johnny after a couple of great kids who love cassowaries. Thank you Alsion for the photos and story.

Brigid Darveniza managed to get a quick snap of a young Etty Bay male cassowary with four newly hatched chicks. Brigid said the chicks were running along behind a young dad, who was walking slowly enough for her to take a photo.

Brigid said it was wonderful to see 4 vibrant chicks but she couldn't help but feel desperately sad as they are up against all odds to make it to adulthood. Brigid flashed down the next driver to stop and was heartened to meet a local man who had seen them at the beach a moment before and was as thrilled as she was. Thank you Brigid your photo made my day, it is a rare sight to see four newly hatched cassowary chicks.

The biggest threat to cassowaries is loss and fragmentation of habitat. Cassowaries are food gatherers and as such must hunt over a wide area of forest to harvest fruits in season. When fruiting trees are on the other side of a main road it is a real problem for cassowaries. Last week I wrote about 'Roads for Wildlife' and I hope that the Environment Minister, the hon Dr Steven Miles will consider my proposal. I will let you know when I hear from him.

Another big threat to cassowaries is from dogs. The Cassowary Coast Regional Council, (CCRC), has developed a Draft Mission Beach Foreshore Management Plan, (DMBFMP), as a policy document for the management of all foreshores in the Shire. The plan, amongst other things, proposes to allow almost all foreshore areas in the Cassowary Coast Region to be permitted as 'dog off-leash' areas. If this is agreed at the next Council Meeting, in Tully, on Thursday 27 August, no cassowary or person, particularly a child, will be safe in the Cassowary Coast.

Please write to the Mayor of the CCRC, Bill Shannon and ask him, for the safety of wildlife and the people of the Shire, not to pass a policy document which permits dogs off-leash on CCRC foreshores. and a copy to the Deputy Mayor, Bryce Macdonald,  and Cr Glen Raleigh, Planning and Environmental Services,  We can but try to stop this stupid policy document.

This week I attended an information meeting about Queensland Bauxite Limited's proposal to mine bauxite at Camp Creek South Johnstone.


            All the deep red volcanic soils you see in the Johnstone River Valley contain 20 to 30% bauxite. The deposit is concentrated in the first five metres of soil and the company is currently applying for a Miners Development Licence and as part of that application they are required to consult with the public hence the meeting.

The meeting was attended by over 100 people, mostly farmers. Not one farmer spoke in favour of the mine. The farmers were concerned that once the bauxite was mined the country would be useless for farming. Hundreds of jobs would be lost in the short term when these productive farm lands were taken over by the mine. Thousands of jobs would be lost in perpetuity as the lands would not be productive to the same extent ever again. When the South Johnstone mining operation is completed Queensland Bauxite intend to mine all the bauxite deposits around Innisfail, Atherton and Mareeba. Ask your local member for details about this mining operation and how it will affect you and the roads you drive on, the wildlife in the area and the future viability of the South Johnstone Sugar Mill?

Unfortunately, the right of an ordinary citizen to object to a mining operation like the one planned by Queensland Bauxite ltd, may be taken away from us. The citizen rights are contained in a small clause in Federal Government Legislation introduced to Parliament by John Howard called the EPBC Act. In all the years that this legislation has existed it has only ever stopped two developments. Lies, lies and dammed lies are being told by Mr Abbott and George Brandis in their vitriolic environment bashing.

This change to the legislation must be stopped in the Senate. Please tell your senator you do not want a change to the EPBC legislation. You want to retain your citizen's right to have a say to protect farming lands and threatened species like the cassowary.

In Queensland it is even more important to retain the citizen's right to have a say on development projects. Queensland does not have a House of Review, a Senate. John Howard's EPBC Act was his gift to us so we can express our democratic right of free speech. Tony Abbott and George Brandis want to take that away and allow Foreign Companies to rape Queensland's assets while we sit with our mouth gagged and our hands tied.

It's not easy to write a letter but if we don't speak up we will lose. Click onto the website or address of the following Senators and ask, no beg them, not to vote for the EPBC amendment bill.

Senator Jacqui Lambi - Independent (Tasmania)
Senator Glenn Lazarus - Independent (Queensland)
Senator Ricky Muir - Australian Motoring Enthusiasts (Vic)
Senator Zhenya Wang - Palmer United Party (WA)
Also write to your Federal House of Representative members and tell them you want the right to have a say on what goes on in Queensland.

To finish tonight I have the sad news that Green Sea Turtle JR has died from his injuries. A huge effort was put in by Henry, Nellie, Alan and Jason Epong to save JR but it was not successful. JR spent his last week with the best care and love given by the wonderful Mandubarra Turtle Rehabilitation Centre volunteers.

Until next week,

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