Rain and strong winds again today on the Cassowary Coast, earlier in the week the sun shone and with only a slight breeze to cool the air, we experienced perfect autumn days, although a little hot.
It has been a wonderful week for photography, the light has been good, not too bright and not too grey. When the low tides occur early in the morning it is the best time to catch the magic play of light on cloud and water. The sun's northward, winter journey means it is now rising over Flying Fish Point; or at least over the fairway marker on the tip of the Point.
I had not seen the whimbrels for some weeks and thought they had all joined the migration party which headed for the Arctic a month ago; but I was wrong. Some whimbrels have remained and they are still departing for their daily foraging trip to upstream wetlands at the same time they always have, leaving before sunrise and returning after sunset. It appears their clock is timed to hours and not daylight length. I counted 18 whimbrels flying from Coquette Point before sunrise the same number returning at dusk.
The four, wintering over, bar-tailed godwits stood at the edge of the water. I watched as they dipped their beaks into the salty sea, then with a flick of their head, they threw the water over their feathers; every feather was carefully preened.
Hundreds of welcome swallows skimmed across the water and mud flats scooping up midges. Exhausted by their foraging efforts they rested on twigs and branches, glistening like rainbows in the early morning light, as they digested their tiny prey.
The sleepy white-breasted wood swallows were waking up. They were late to start their day's activities and were still crowded together high on the branches of the casuarina trees.
The male beach stone curlew was out jogging along the beach but his partner and offspring were on the edge of the mangroves within the estuary. In the very corner of the beach near Thompson Point I saw two pelicans starting to feed. It is the first sight of pelicans at Coquette Point for several months. The Queensland drought continues and the isolated rainfall that temporarily filled some waterholes has, by now, dried up, forcing the pelicans to return to the coast. This week many areas on the Atherton Tablelands have also been drought declared. Over 82% of Queensland is in drought.
As I turned to go back along the beach the fog was rolling out of the Johnstone River, rolling and bobbing on the surface of the river, like some kind of living grey serpent.
The sun rose in the sky and at the top of the Moresby Range the houses could be seen again lining the ridge top.
Slowly the fog's veil also lifted over Mt Bartle Frere and once again the blue mountain dominated the Johnstone Valley sky-line.
From out of nowhere the red-capped plovers appeared scampering across the mud searching for food. They were nowhere to be seen earlier but now were everywhere.
On my return home I found the rainbow bee-eaters busy catching breakfast.
The giant strangler fig, ficus durpacea, which grows on my front lawn, has been the 'bird centre' of attention this week. Last week Deb Craig from Mission Beach Wildcare released seven Pied Imperial Pigeons into the tree. The pigeons had been injured and nursed back to health by Fay Sutherland of Townsville and Anne Meling at Cardwell, they were sent to Deb Craig to prepare them for release. Deb was told about my big fig tree on the banks of the Johnstone River by Judy Murphy from CCRC. The giant fig has been in fruit for six weeks and a feast of fruit was to hand for the birds.
On Tuesday I was upset to find that one of the pigeons had disappeared, I counted and recounted, but there were only six PIPs in the tree. The missing PIP was the largest of all the pigeons, the one I called Big Boy, he appeared to be strong and fit. I had taken photos of the under-tail markings of all the pigeons and was able to identify which one was missing. I reported the pigeon disappearance to everyone involved and we all felt sad and knew you could expect some loss when releasing birds back to the wild.
Big Boy left soon after his release.
Big Boy foreground right, the centre of attention.
Above, Wild Jenny, the new girl on the block. Note she is resting with the nictitating membrane, the third eyelid, closed.
Since Wild Jennie's arrival the PIPs appear to be more adventurous, staying away longer each day when they venture forth from the fig tree.
The last two nights they have slept in a coconut palm. With the strong wind warning it isn't easy for them to settle. I asked Adrian Hogg, who had raised PIPs, for his opinion as to why they would choose to sleep in such an unstable coconut palm? Adrian suggested that a python would find it almost impossible to climb and the lace monitors would likely be heard scampering up the trunk. It was as safe a place as any for them to sleep. Smart birds these PIPs.
PIP Frank above right had no trouble settling on the coconut palm but Wild Jenny foreground took some time to find her balance.
The PIPs feed at the fig tree three times a day. 6.30 am, 11.30 am and 3.30 pm. They are joined by dozens of metallic starlings, fig birds and yellow eyed cuckoo shrikes. For six weeks the fig tree has produced an abundance of fruits.
On Monday a new bird arrived to feed on the fruits. When he first saw me he was startled and flew away. He soon realised that none of the other birds thought I was a threat and by the end of the week I could move around under the branch where he was sitting and he would look straight at me. The bird is a juvenile channel-billed cuckoo.
With his giant bill he plucked the ripest fruits then tossed them down with a flick of his neck. The channel billed cuckoo visits the tree at midday and feeds for an hour, rests then feeds again. He normally departs, heading up river, around 4pm.
With all the feasting in the fig tree's canopy lots of fruits fall to the ground. When the bird chatter is at its loudest the cassowaries know it is time for them to feed. The cassowaries visit the fig tree at least three times a day, sometimes they feed for over an hour going around and around the tree picking up the fruit as it falls. All the time watching to see where in the canopy the birds are feeding. The cassowaries will only eat the freshest fruits.
When matriarch cassowary Jessie arrived, little Kin let out a panicked chirp, then sat down facing away from Jessie.
Normally Jessie ignores him and concentrates her attention on Snout. On this occasion she approached Kin, sounded a grunt - which sent Kin into a panic. Jessie then submissively lowered her head and looked away from Snout. Snout wasn't in the least bit interested in Jessie and walked away with Kin following.
Jessie then walked down to the beach for no apparent reason. Stood looking out on the water then walked back up to the fig tree, then disappeared into the rainforest, it was 6pm. The strange ways of cassowaries
This week I found a lace monitor with fishing line hanging from its throat. The poor thing also had a mosquito on its nose.
The lace monitor climbed up a coconut tree, but later came down and disappeared into the mangroves. I have not seen it again.
Almost every week I see a creature with fishing line caught, either in its mouth or on its legs. There is no excuse, if families want to have a day out on the beach they must be responsible and take all their rubbish home with them. No doubt the recent long weekends have increased the amount of rubbish on the beach. We are a dirty, lazy lot!!!!!!
Another fishing line incident today. A small green sea turtle was found at Mission Beach with fishing line tangled in its flipper. The fishing line cut into the skin under the flipper and the turtle was bleeding badly. The turtle was rescued by Mission Beach Wildcare and Henry and Nellie Epong of the Mandubarra Turtle Rehabilitation Centre collected the turtle and brought it back to the Centre at Coquette Point.
Alan Epong administered antibiotic cream to the wound before he helped Henry lift the turtle into the tank.
Nellie Epong leant over the tank and the little turtle swam straight to her and lifted her head out of the water as if to say thank you.
The turtle will be cared for by the Mandubarra mob until it is ready to be released back into the ocean.
Cheers for this week,