Tonight, once again, the acrid smell of smoke is in the air as bush fires rage across the Atherton Tablelands and coastal plains of far north Queensland. It is ironic that so many people criticise Indonesia for the fires lit to clear rainforest for oil palm, yet before they do so, they should look in their own backyard. Is anyone watching what is happening to the Australian Landscape? Frequent burning is changing fire repellent species to fire ignition species. Frequent burning before the wet season is leaving the land exposed to erosion. If animals survive in these infernos they are often horribly injured.
The map on the left shows how many fires are raging in Queensland at the moment. Red marks current fires, blue marks fire-scares remaining from this year's burning. Before we criticise Indonesia let's get our own house in order.
Fortunately the storm season, 'Jigurru' has started with several good storms reaching the coast this week. A strong front is expected to push east again tomorrow and we can expect good rains in the coming week, hopefully enough to put some of the fires out.
|Storms build over the Johnstone River Catchment|
We all know cassowaries can't fly but this week I think little Kin was trying his best. He jumped off the top of the wall and over his dad's back.
|Cassowary Snout gasped as his chick Kin jumped across his back|
Kin landed without any problems and started eating the fallen berries from the white cedar, Melia azedarach.
So often we see cassowaries with leg injuries and perhaps this propensity to jump is the reason. Much of the remaining cassowary habitat is rough and hilly and not easy to negotiate. A slip is all too easy for cassowary or persons as I can attest to from many walking excursions.
With the steamy weather this week Snout and Kin are spending a lot of time in the runoff pool behind the nursery. It is fascinating to watch these two bathing and preening.
To my knowledge neither matriarch cassowary Jessie nor any other cassowary has ever visited this pool, it has always been Snout's special place. However, this week on a particularly hot day Jessie found the pool.
She was trying to wash the feathers behind her neck but the poor old girl, 30 years now, could not reach. I was watching her when suddenly Snout and Kin turned up.
Snout hissed at Jessie and started to pull at his breast feathers angrily. Little Kin, with no fear of his mother Jessie, walked up to her , she turned as if to say hop in. Snout continued to hiss with loud guttural sounds.
Ignoring his Dad Kin jumped into the water with Jessie. At the sight of his chick with Jessie, Snout made sounds I have never heard before from a cassowary. It was somewhere between the screech of a wild cat and the growl of a lion.
Kin understood completely what his father was ordering him to do and he jumped out of the water in a flash while Snout went into a panic fluffing his feathers and turning in circles.
At no time did Jessie show any aggression towards Kin she seemed stunned by Snout' performance.
Snout walked away clucking for Kin to follow him while Jessie bent her head in submission. At a particularly urgent cluck/hiss sound Kin ran to his father and they walked away together. Jessie remained in the pool for the next ten minutes.
It's a totally different story when Jessie catches a glimpse of July. Poor July she is not wanted in this area and Jessie is making sure she knows that. She is constantly on the alert looking for Jessie or Snout, when she sees them she runs.
It is not unusual to see Jessie chasing July across the paddock on 27V or through the mangroves on the front beach. The problem is it happens so quickly its hard to find a camera in time.
Cassowary Brown Cone's chick Cheeky continues to become separated from his dad and sibling. However, the separation generally doesn't last for long as Brown Cone always finds him and they walk away as if nothing has happened.
Juvenile cassowary Rastas is the most extraordinary looking cassowary. On Friday afternoon I found him walking alongside the road as if he knew where he was going. Then I saw what he was heading for, someone had dumped their rubbish on the corner of Maynard Street and Coquette Point Road. Rastas walked down the almost vertical bank to pick at the rubbish.
Since the new Council laws on waste disposal and bin collection there is a dramatic increase in illegal dumping of rubbish. Private industrial bins at businesses now have to be locked to prevent people from using them to dump their rubbish. Bins at Council Parks are being filled and roadside dumping, as shown below, is occurring. We are a wasteful grubby lot, and some of us are more so. If you see rubbish dumped illegally take a photo and send it to Council. Something has to change in Council policy as this cannot continue. It is also not fair on Council staff to have to pick up this rubbish when the Council has subcontracted the job.
Cassowaries will scavenge, it is not a pretty sight, but they will eat a wide range of food, not all of it suitable for them.
Cassowary scats this week are still showing pandanas, and the native olive, Chionanthus ramiflorus. The native lasiandra, Melastoma malabathricum, a cassowary favourite, can be seen in many scats. Jessie has been eating a diet almost entirely of almond bark Prunus turneriana. What is unusual is that in all the scats with the almond bark seeds no fruit is left attached, it has all been digested. I did not know what tree the seeds came from and I sent a photo to Adrian Hogg. Adrian informed me, " The seeds are from the native Prunus and the tree can reach 30m, with buttressed roots and separate male and female plants. The fruits are red to black and are eaten by many bird species including cassowaries and mammals such as Herbert River ringtails, musky rat kangaroos, red-legged pademelons, spectacled flying foxes, white-tailed rats and fawn footed melomys.
Prunus turneriana is distributed in rainforest from Cooktown to the Paluma Range, altitude 0-1200 m, also in PNG. These trees provide excellent wildlife tucker at this time of the year." Thank you Adrian for this information. There is certainly a flush of fruits on the trees at the moment and the cassowaries are having a feast.
|Cassowary scat containing Prunus turneriana|
The little terns were very active this week with lots of noisy calling as they fished offshore before returning to their nests. I saw some little terns returning to the nest site with fish in their beaks so I am hopeful the first clutch of eggs laid are hatching. I did not go close to the nests in case I disturbed their busy feeding schedule. It is wonderful to watch these birds fishing, they drop vertically down into the water, from some good height, in order to catch a fish. Sometimes they hover like a hummingbird before they drop, they are indeed fascinating birds to observe.
Common sandpipers and bar-tailed godwits were on the sandbank with the little terns.
The collared kingfishers called loudly from the mangroves establishing their territorial boundaries.
One little common sandpiper has been turning up on the old wharf every morning with Pingu, the crested tern. They both stand looking out into the river for a passing fish.
I see Pingu on the rocks almost every day with common sandpiper, but I no longer leave feed for him. By the looks of the little pile of guano he is finding plenty to eat.
Little pied cormorant is a regular visitor and has taken over Pingu's place on the old derrick.
The common koels are calling consistently and poor Ruth could not sleep last night, apparently the koels had a meeting outside her bedroom window and called persistently all night. Their other name is 'storm birds' and storms are on the way.
The pied imperial pigeons are doing a good job knocking native olives seed from the canopy as they feed, providing food for the cassowaries on the rainforest floor. While the rainbow lorikeets are having a feast of macaranga seed, spilling much of that seed onto the ground, much to the delight of the green turtle doves.
There are symbiotic relationships all over the rainforest.
Some vandals removed the bollards across the old forestry track recently. It is in the area where the new addition ( 15 year ago) was made to the Moresby Range National Park. Bill Farnsworth and I investigated and we wrote to QPWS advising them of the incident. We have received a prompt reply and have been advised that the entrance to the NP is actually on Council land. Subsequently, we have been told "The Council will undertake the job of placing a couple of large rocks at the track entrance to stop the current vehicular traffic."
A good outcome and heaps of thanks to Brenton Haigh QPWS and Damond Sydes of CCRC. Let's hope the rocks will be in place quickly before this area is used to dump rubbish.
Our thoughts go out to the victims of blind hate in Paris tonight. We cannot allow hate to change us, because when we do hate wins.