Saturday, 8 August 2015

Hello from Coquette Point,

This week it has been not too hot and not too cold not too wet and not too dry but just right. Just right for the sugar-cane harvest to move into full swing in the Johnstone River Valley.
Sunrise lights up the sleeping Johnstone River Valley as the hum of the sugar-cane harvesters murmur in the thin air.

The sun sets over Mt Bartle Frere in a golden clear sky.
The perfect days changed yesterday. A week of dry weather has dried the grass and enabled fires to burn. The picture postcard view across the Johnstone River quickly changed to haze as landowners lit up.
 On the Palmerston the smoke haze settled on the hills and filled the valleys.

Ian Ladilaw writes from Tupeki," Never mind the better value in mulch versus ash. Forget about the effects of passive there a Clean Air Act? What Clean Air Act? So Mr Cane Farmer, if you don't want that surplus trash, let someone else bale it.  The local Produce Store sells baled cane mulch imported from the Northern Rivers District of NSW! (and it isn't cheap).....And Mr Cattle Farmer, burning old Guinea-grass entirely defeats the purpose in having such a great anti-erosion deep-rooted plant in your paddocks. Let the cattle trample the Guinea trash, it will reshoot anyway without being burnt....Fire does more harm than good; on whichever test you wish to apply. Fire as a land management strategy amounts to land management laziness, degradation, organism incineration. Someone please publicise the science and talk up the ample evidence to negate indigenous fire management beliefs and other firebug practices....this nonsense is perpetuating many myths, continuing natural environments demolition, and encouraging unskilled operators to get out there and burn to reduce that fuel load...Hey, that's not fuel!....It is the necessary recyclable organic material to maintain healthy levels of soil micro-organisms, soil texture and fertility, let alone the best possible anti-erosion materials. Come on fellas!"

I support everything you are saying Ian and I know the health impact smoke haze causes to your family and many others in the district. It is not good for tourism either.

At long last the identification of the new cassowary chicks has been solved. Diana O managed to obtain a photo of the cassowary dad with the three chicks and I have identified him as Hagar. Hagar was seen in courtship with Peggy around the same time as Snout was courting Jessie. Thank you Diana for the photos at last we can put a name to this new cassowary dad.

Hagar is around twenty years old and his territorial range is from the top of the Moresby Range down to the second last hill and East into the Coquette Point Wetlands. He seldom ventures down the last hill or out to the Point.

Hagar and his three chicks have been crossing the Coquette Point Road of a morning at the base of the second last hill, there is a gully with good rainforest on the northern side of the hill and the cassowaries go in there to feed during the day. I spoke to the cassowary hotline and requested a Recent Crossing sign be erected in this spot but so far this hasn't occurred, although I notice there have been new signs erected in the areas where Brown Cone and his two chicks are crossing, at Ninds Creek Bridge and also a new sign where Hero and his large chick Ruthie are crossing at the top of the second last hill.

Snout has been out and about with his solitary chick on several occasions this week. Once again his devotion to his chick is clearly demonstrated with his caring behaviour. The chick is naturally curious but it keeps close to Snout at all times. Snout's chick is about one month old and its little wattles are just starting to grow.

Early on Monday morning I was walking back down the hill after changing the valves over on the pump and saw cassowary Jessie in the orchard standing still and looking at something. As I approached she did not move. I looked in the direction of her gaze and there was Snout with his chick and they were also standing absolutely still and looking at Jessie. I quickly moved to a safe place in case there was a chase. As I did Snout uttered a clicking sound and walked off into the rainforest with his chick following. Jessie did not move she stood watching them until they disappeared and showed no sign of aggression. When they had gone she moved away in the opposite direction towards the mangroves.

Below Snout and the chick walked quickly into the rainforest while Jessie stood watching them.


Cassowary Jessie has been moving about all over Coquette Point and Ruth and Jan told me they saw Jessie chasing Cassowary Hero and his chick Ruthie. I believe Ruthie's mother is Peggy, Hero was seen courting her, thus Jessie's recent behaviour indicates that she is not aggressive to her own mate and offspring but very aggressive to males with chicks sired by other females. I have watched this behaviour with Jessie over the years and it would be interesting to learn if anyone can confirm they have seen similar apparent maternal recognition.

Jessie has been wandering all over Coquette Point and I followed her this week as she walked down into the mangrove forest at high tide. She briefly stopped at the signs and looked up at a photo of herself on the sign before walking on.

Unfortunately the signs have been vandalised and this week Russell Constable temporarily re-erected the bird interpretive sign as a vehicle had backed into it and I found it on the ground propped up against a post. Some smart person took an axe to the Wet Tropic sign. One can but wonder! When you meet someone like Russell you are inspired and realise it is a minority of people who commit aggressive vandalism acts. Thank you Russell for your love and appreciation of the natural world, you are an inspiration.

As I was saying I followed Jessie down the road and into the mangroves but as it was making high tide and I did not have 'cassowary gum boots' I left her to her mangrove wanderings.

Cassowary Ky is also spending a lot of time wandering about in the mangroves. He is constantly on the lookout for Jessie and Jessie doesn't have to fluff a feather. Ky needs only to glimpse his  mother Jessie and he runs at break-neck speed to escape her. I have witnessed it several times this week and know that he will not remain here for much longer, particularly since his father Snout is out and about in the same area with a new chick and will no doubt also chase him.

I saw cassowary July early this week in the distance. She was far down in the Wilson's property when I saw her and I watched as she walked out of the rainforest, across and down into the mangroves. Half an hour later she came back and went to an area where wild raspberries were growing. She spent over half an hour in the bushes picking at the ripe fruits.  I also observed that the sand-paper fig was in full fruit, Ficus fraseri, in the same area. Although it was a good distance away I was able to identify this cassowary as July from her very distinct rear neck markings and her casque.
This is the same patch of rainforest where Hagar is taking his three chicks.

                                                   Say hello to amethystine python Monica, she is partner to Monty.

Monica was out on the roof today warming up in the sun after the rather cool night last night. Monica is about half the size of Monty, no more than four meters in length and with all the energy gained from their sun-baking we may see some M& Ms soon.

Low tides in the early morning this week allowed a wonderful opportunity for beach walking.

I was delighted to find Ross with his son Albert and pelican Georgie Girl fishing on the beach. Ross told me he had not been well and with the rainy weather he had stayed at home. Cirino did not see Ross and Albert but I found Ross's pelican friend on the front beach with his back to the rising sun and soaking up the warmth of its rays. I tried to tell Cerino his friend Ross was in the river but he did not understand. Must work out how to talk pelican.

The next afternoon when I went down to the beach I was surprised to find two eastern curlews. These birds are either very early first migratory returns or they are wintering-over birds moving about. Whichever way, it was amazing to see them in the Johnstone River estuary if only for an afternoon.

Low tide in the early morning was matched with a low tide in the late afternoon and the next day I went searching on the sand-flats for the eastern curlews in the morning and the afternoon low tides but I have not seen them again.

What I did find on Wednesday afternoon was even more surprising. On the sand-flats a mature male black-necked stork and a juvenile black-necked stork were fishing in the pools left from the receding tide.

I watched the storks searching for fish when the juvenile approached the adult male. Then they both started to dance followed by what appeared to be copulation instigated by the juvenile male with the adult male.

It was over in a second and the adult male walked off while the juvenile stood motionless for over two minutes.

Soon the adult black-necked stork flew up the river while the juvenile stork turned around to say hello to a pelican which had come to investigate what was going on. Later the juvenile black-necked stork also flew up the Johnstone River.

Meanwhile seven pelicans gathered to watch the setting sun.

The pied oyster catcher cuddled together soaking up the warmth through their black feathers.

Some red capped plovers found a final feed of worms on the mud-flats, while others ran along the water's edge looking for tit-bits on the incoming tide.
On the outermost sand-bars and in the river mouth crested, lesser crested and gull-billed terns gathered as the sun set.

A number of juvenile gull-billed and juvenile lesser crested terns were with the adult birds.

The sacred kingfisher caught the last ray's of sun on his turquoise feathers as the beach stone curlews ran in different directions along the quickly filling pools.

Lots of stranded jelly-fish waited for the tide to return and rescue them.

Hermit crab crawled out of his shell to feel the sun on his back.

So another day ended on the Coquette Point beach a beach that our dear friend Billie Gill knew and loved.

Billie finished her journey on earth on Sunday 2nd August and will be buried in Canberra on Monday 10th.

Billie was the daughter of Charles Clarson, dairy farmer of Esk in the Brisbane Valley and wife of Innisfail cane farmer Reg Gill and wonderful mother of eight children.  Billie had a deep love of the natural environment, especially birds and she followed this as a career with CSIRO. Billie was the inaugural secretary for the Innisfail Branch of the Wildlife Preservation Society in the early 1960's and John Busst was the President. The other members included Dr Len Webb, Geoff Tracey, Dr Jiro Kikkawa, Ian Strahan, Eddie Hegerl and poet Judith Wright. This small team of activists stopped lime and oil mining on the Great Barrier Reef and brought the attention of Australians and the world to the wonders of our Great Barrier Reef and Rainforest.

As Liz Downes said, "If I believed in a heaven I would see Billie, John and Alison (Busst), Judith (Wright) and Eddie Hegerl all sitting down together to talk about those times- and among them would be Felicity Wishart, who was just a toddler when that was all kicking off, and she would be updating them on everything that had happened since. And I'm sure they'd be working out ways to keep the next generation(s) inspired and involved."

Thank you for those beautiful thoughts Liz and it is with a sad heart that we offer our special condolences to Billie's son, Peter Gill and family of Mourilyan and to her daughter, Jean French of Canberra and to all Billie's other family members, we join with them in sharing their deep loss. While at the same time we celebrate the wonderful legacy that Billie left us in the protection of the Great Barrier Reef as a World Heritage listed National Park and her 1968 bench-mark study of Birds of Innisfail and Hinterland. Thank you Billie, we celebrate your life.

This afternoon Mandaburra's Henry, Nellie and Allan Epong were called to Mission Beach to collect a wounded green sea turtle. The turtle was rescued by the wonderful Jason and Rebecca, from Mission Beach Charters. Well done once again guys.

We were lucky to have visiting the nursery Paula and Leah from Mission Beach who willingly volunteered to help lift this very large and heavy turtle from the truck into the tank at the Mandubarra Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.

The turtle which is going to be called JR after Jason and Rebecca has some terrible injuries to its tail.  The injuries may have been caused by a boat strike or a shark attack.
Nellie Epong applied a salve and the vet will examine JR tomorrow.

Picture right Paula and Leah watch JR swim in the tank.

Thank you for your help Paula and Leah and I know you will be coming to check on JR from time to time.

The turtle Etty B which was release from Kurrimine Beach two weeks ago is still in the region swimming between Maria Creek and Kurrimine Beach, it appears to be swimming and feeding strongly.

Cheers for this week,


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    1. Yvonne, thank you for your comments regarding my Mother, Billie Gill. We plan to return her ashes to North Queensland sometime next year. She was an extraordinary woman and will be sorely missed by many.
      Kind regards
      Kathleen Johnston née Gill