Friday 27 May 2016

A very sad hello from Coquette Point,
This week we lost the most beautiful, compassionate, loving, energetic, and devoted human being - my darling son Martin Sidney Cunningham.  His life cut short, stolen from us.
Martin you will always be in our thoughts and hearts.
This will be the last post for an indefinite undefined period.


Saturday 21 May 2016

Hello from wet and windy Coquette Point,

A day is a long time when it comes to the weather. Thursday opened to a mild, bright, sunny day and closed with a brilliant sunset which turned the Johnstone River red.

Whereas, Friday opened to drizzle which soon deteriorated into squally rain. A high level trough is moving in from the north-west while a large high in the Bight is pushing a strong ridge up the coast, another trough has developed offshore from the tropical coast, enhancing the rain. On Sunday the two systems are expected to collide and even heavier rain with thunderstorms has been predicted for Sunday and Monday. Dig out the gum boots, they will be needed.

On Friday's low tide I went for a walk to see what birds were on the beach.  I saw only one beach stone curlew and a few lap-wing plovers, the wind and rain were too much for the birds; sensibly they have moved inland until this weather event passes.

The beach stone curlew was the juvenile bird, it ran beside me as if pleased to have the company.There was no sign of the parent birds.

Through the misty rain I could see a giant container ship  heading south, laden with goods to satisfy our insatiable consumerism.

Osprey must have a nest full of chicks because she and her mate have been hunting over the river from daylight to dusk all week.

Osprey knows every morning a school of bait fish hangs off the edge of the beach, the larger fish move in to hunt the bait fish, osprey is ready,  she sits waiting above the river on a lookout perch from a coconut or mangrove tree. Her eagle eyes looking for a flash of silver in the water below which will indicate a fish meal is within her grasp.

Unfortunately, I have not managed to snap her as she dives into the water, which she shakes off when she emerges, while clasping tightly between her legs, a wriggling fish to take back to her nest.

It has been a week full of highs and lows for the Pied Imperial Pigeons released here on the 5th May. At first they were happy to sleep in the giant fig tree, with plenty of food around they did not need to travel far. Then they moved to sleep in the nearby coconuts palms at night, the seven released birds with Wild Jenny the PIP which accompanied Big Boy on his return. All eight PIPs fed in the tree on Sunday and Monday.
Eight PIPs in the fig tree.

On Tuesday only seven PIPs turned up to feed in the fig tree, I photographed their tails and from the markings I discovered that Big Boy was missing again.  PIP Frank was sitting as lookout bird and I wondered would Big Boy return with another wild bird?

Its has been such a delight to watch these birds enjoy being wild while finding their own food and having adventures.

On Wednesday morning I was devastated to discover Wild Jenny dead on the path in front of the house. A bloody stain on the wall of the house, two metres above the ground, showed where she had hit the concrete. She broke her breast bone and would have died immediately. She would not normally fly so low, I believe something had caused her to panic and at great speed she flew into the house without seeing it in the dark.

 On Wednesday the six PIPs fed in the fig tree, they appeared to be restless, I found it difficult to take ID photos of them. Frank sat alone above the others assuming the role of lookout, Big Boy had still not returned. At 4.15pm they flew off in a tight formation heading for the melaleuca swamp on lot 27V, the next door property.

On Thursday they returned to the fig tree and Big Boy was with them. They flew into the coconut palms around 5pm, when I looked later they had all disappeared.

Early Friday morning no PIPs to be seen.  Around 9am I saw one PIP flying with the metallic starlings out of the fig tree and over the river. Later in the day I saw Frank and little PIP in the fig tree. When they finished feeding they sat apart from each other, Frank high in the canopy; there was no sign of the five other PIPs. Most of Friday we experienced rain-squalls and drizzle.

PIP Frank
PIP Little Pip.

First light this morning, Saturday, in the drizzle, I went looking for the PIPs, no sign of them, anywhere. I checked again at 8am then 9am, no PIPs about. However, the metallic starlings, fig birds and yellow eyed cuckoo shrikes were feeding in the fig tree from 7am onwards.

I checked the fig tree at 10am and did not see any PIPs. As I walked back to the nursery I heard a flutter behind me and Little Pip flew down onto my head. I could not believe my eyes.  I walked back to the nursery and she stayed on my head. She was biting my finger and Martin said, she is hungry, perhaps she is fed up with a diet of figs. I cut up half a banana and put it on the table and she ate it all. She moved onto the back of a chair and I thought she would fall asleep, content with a full belly and out of the rain. I left her on the table and went to make a cup of tea, when I came back she was gone. I checked the fig tree and she was sitting on her favourite perch looking down at me. I checked several times throughout the day and she was still in the fig tree. When I checked after closing time she was gone.

It appears the other PIPs have caught the southerly wind and flown north, at least I hope that is so. I do not know if Little Pip will return tomorrow, but I hope she finds a dry spot somewhere out of the rain.

I was amazed to hear then see two brown cuckoo-doves feeding in the fig tree. They arrived early Thursday morning and were still here today.

Del Richards, the Mossman bird man,  visited me on Friday, he was very surprised to see the brown cuckoo-doves here at this time of the year, normally they arrive in spring. Del was also surprised to see them eating figs.

The channel-bill cuckoo from last week is still visiting the fig tree and has brought along a friend to feast. When they finish feeding on the figs they hang about digesting their meal on nearby trees before the start feasting again. The second channel-bill is a little dishevelled, he also startles easily and the other birds are not happy when he is around.

A flock of 12 yellow-eyed cuckoo shrikes visit the fig tree several times a day. Joining them several dozen fig-birds fly in and out of the tree, doing their best to eat the now very large fig fruits.

The fig tree is dominated by the metallic starlings, their raucous calls often annoy the other birds. I asked Del Richards to estimate the metallic starling numbers and he said around 200 birds, were visiting the tree. I had estimated 100 metallic starlings.

Last time Del was here he watched the red-tailed black cockatoos fly to their roost by way of the Johnstone River, he turned to me and said, 68 birds in that flock. I looked at him, said nothing and spent the next two weeks endeavouring to take a photo of the complete flock. When I did I counted the birds on my computer, there were 68 black cockatoos in the flock. Tip my hat to you Del. I haven't managed to get a shot of the complete flock of the metallic starlings - as yet.

Another fruit eater arrived this week, the bird that epitomises the sound of the Wet Tropics, the yellow oriole. In some parts of the Wet Tropics yellow orioles are present all year, however,  they only appear to visit here through winter and spring.

Once again the cassowaries are reaping the rewards of the careless feeding of the many birds in the canopy, when they drop as many fruits as they eat.

The ground below the fig tree is littered with fruits and even the three cassowaries, Jessie, Snout and Kin cannot eat all the fruits.

When Kin has had her fill she will sit and wait for her dad Snout to finish eating.

Kin's casque is starting to grow and she is developing some blue neck and face colour.

The cassowary scats are predominately fig fruit. However, some contain other fruits.
Cassowary scat containing 100% ficus drupacea.
Cassowary scat containing ficus drupacea, quandong, and Leea indica fruits.
At night the spectacled flying foxes arrive to feast on the fig tree's smorgasbord.  Thanks to Del for holding a light so I could capture a spectacled flying fox feeding in the fig tree.

On Friday morning the students from South Johnstone Primary School visited the nursery and the Mandubarra Turtle Rehabilitation Centre. They walked around the fig tree in drizzling rain while I explained to them about the tree's significant role in feeding a huge number of creatures for several months every year.
The children and teachers listened to Mandubarra elder Henry Epong as he told them about the current turtle patient, Sharon, how she was rescued by Steve and Sharon from Mission Beach Wild Care and the long road back to health ahead of her.
One of the children volunteered to be a 'sick turtle' and he was placed in the turtle harness while the other children 'rescued' him. James Epong took the children through the process of turtle and other marine rescues.
The children ate lunch in the beach-house under the giant fig tree. Afterwards, they looked at the plants in the nursery.The South Johnstone Primary School will hold its Centenary in June.

Students of the South Johnstone Primary School.

Date claimer: The Mandubarra Turtle Rehabilitation Centre will be holding a Turtle Day at Cowley Beach on Saturday 4 June. 9.30 am to 3.30pm. Put it in your diary, more about the day next week.