Saturday 29 December 2012

Hello from Coquette Point,

Last Wednesday my dear friend Margaret Hunt died in Townsville General Hospital following a massive stroke.
Margaret and her late husband Reg, for many years, operated Northland Motors in Innisfail. Reg could fix any diesel engine and if Margaret couldn't find the spare part Reg would make it. The farming industry of the Johnstone River valley owe a lot to Reg and Margaret.
Margaret and I discovered in many ways we had lived parallel lives. At 18 years I took a job as a governess on a sheep station in western Queensland, when I left to go to Darwin Margaret was the next governess, at the time she had just turned 18, a few months younger than me.
We miss you Margaret and salute you and Reg for your devotion over many years to the people and farmers of Innisfail and district. Margaret will be buried in Townsville on Thursday 3rd January, supported by her three daughters Janine, Christine and Cathy.

On the evening of the 22 December I received a phone call from a neighbour. He asked for my urgent  help as a baby cassowary was dead on the Coquette Point road and the distressed dad would not leave the dead body: he was standing in the middle of the road over the dead chick.

I identified the male cassowary as 'Dad 1' the senior Coquette Point male. I could not understand what brought him out of the forest and onto the road with his chick late on a dark night. We tried to chase him off the road but to no avail. He was very distressed and would not leave the dead chick. We decided to collect the chick and take it off the road and place it on a grassed area beside Maynard Road.  However, we could not get Dad 1 to follow down the hill.                                                      
We collected the dead chick again and took it to the cleared area where the Moresby Range National Park sign was. Cars were passing all the time and with big torches we flagged them to slow down and explained what had happened. It was all very urgent and immediate and no time to phone police or National Parks.
This time we managed to persuade the cassowary to leave the road and once he got the scent of the chick he stayed beside it. We waited for some time and the cassowary made no attempt to go back on the road. We left to go home. I returned again at 11.30 pm to check, there was no sign of Dad1 and only a police car passed me coming out from and then going back to town. They did not stop to ask what I was doing standing beside the road in the middle of the night? At 6.30 am I returned to check and the baby was still lying as we had placed it on the leaf litter and this time no sign of Dad1.
I was about to get back in the car when a dog
came bounding over to me. The owner was walking two unleashed dogs where the road runs through the Moresby Range national park. I told her about the dead cassowary chick and asked her, politely, to put her dogs on a leash. She did so immediately with the larger of the two dogs..
Many people like to walk and ride bicycles
on the Coquette Point road and a few irresponsible dog owners make it difficult to do this safely. I have been told on a number of occasions of unleashed and wandering dogs chasing bicycles and walkers.    Also of concern is the impact of free ranging dogs on the wildlife of the Moresby Range National Park.
The butterfly tree, Melicope elleryana's spectacular blooms are sending the rainbow lorikeets into a spin. The high protein nectar of the flowers is a favourite of many birds.
A the moment the Pied Imperial pigeons do not need to fly far from their nesting trees in the swamp, they are spending most of their days lazily plucking the bright purple fruits of the damson plum before jumping onto the nearby Leichhardt tree for a change of diet.
Already the fruits of the Leichhardt tree
Nauclea orientalis are ripe and when the pigeons want a change of diet they join the metallic starlings
for dinner on the tree.
This week I counted over 20 endangered little terns near the Coquette Point rookery. Unfortunately officers of the Cassowary Coast Council's Environment Department still have not repaired the 'no dog' sign at the beginning of the beach walking track. No signage has been placed on the rookery even though we were told that it would be erected at the beginning of the tern breeding season.
Although it is an offence to cause disturbance to shorebirds and their habitat and hefty on-the-spot penalties apply there are no signs to warn or advise beach goers of this fact and no officials are monitoring what is happening. 
As well as the little terns I also saw
lesser crested terns, crested terns and gull-billed terns all feeding on the sand spit and showing mating behaviour by offering bait fish to a partner while exhibiting full breeding plumage.
This large crested tern braced his back to
the wind and stretched his wings wide in order to dry out after a fishing expedition. In full breeding plumage his shaggy black crest was blown erect like a mow hawk hair-do.
I counted ten gull billed terns resting with the crested terns on the sand bar. Above a gull billed tern in the foreground and
a crested tern behind.
 Five red knots were pushing their bills into the soft mud to find a crustacean meal. 
Whimbrels and sand plovers were  racing to catch small ghost crabs skimming on the damp sand.
As the incoming tide swirled around the
rocks little egret stood with his feet braced in the mud and waited for a meal of bait fish. When
the tide changes the shorebirds feast.
On Thursday my friends James and Loha exchanged wedding vows in the beach house on my front lawn. Some years ago James and Loha came to Innisfail from the Tokelau Islands in the Eastern Pacific. After the wedding we enjoyed traditional dancing and feasting.
Coquette Point echoed to the happy songs,
dancing and laughter of the young people of James and Loha's families: it was a wonderful day.
While Christmas brought us two days of good rain, cyclone Freda over the Solomon Islands today and together with a large high in the Bight is expected to send a firm ridge up the eastern coast and heavy rain and strong winds are expected over the New Year period. The cyclone will move south and not impact the Queensland coast.  Our dusty brown lawns will soon grow green again.
Martin took the dory out to the reef fishing today and reported the sea surface temperature was very hot at 31degrees. He saw a very large hump-back whale on the outer reef. He also saw exceptional numbers of large sharks of various species: more sharks than he had ever seen before, he said.
Christmas and New Year is a time for feasting and Major skink found some Christmas cake I had left out and I think he over indulged.
Enjoy the New Year festivities in moderation and see you next year,
Yvonne c.

Saturday 22 December 2012


Hello from hot and dusty Coquette Point,

Hopefully the passing of the summer solstice today will bring a change in the weather. Although rain clouds have formed on numerous occasions over the last month only a few short showers of a millimetre or two have fallen. The hot sun has parched the grass and in the rain forest the leaves are falling from the trees and you can see deep into the forest where normally it is clouded in shadows and obscured by leaves.

The animals are very thirsty and wallabies are coming into the nursery to eat the little bit of green growing where the irrigation reaches. Over the years I have learnt to live with the wallabies and have built the nursery benches up out of their reach and have placed other areas of the nursery behind fences. It breaks my heart when I hear of wallaby culls in suburbia at Mission Beach because some people have complained they don't like wallaby poo on their lawns:............ and this complaint is justification to order a cull to kill the wallabies! Then there is the proposed cull of hundreds of wallabies from Ella Bay now the development has been approved.
A young wallaby looks for water in the nursery.
The birds are also very thirsty and I was astonished to see a female Indian Koel land within a few metres of me, she turned her head from one side to the other, gave me a good look, then dropped down onto the edge of a  waterlily pond and for a good ten minutes drank deeply.
She then dipped her head under the water and started to wash her feathers.
Bath finished, the Indian Koel moved to a branch to dry out.
She has been coming back for a drink and a bath every day or so and doesn't seem bothered by us working around her. The male has not come in for a drink but I hear him calling loudly for rain every morning, after all they are called the storm birds. What a privilege to interact with this normally timid, wild bird.
The Cassowaries are also heat stressed and clever Snout has made a wallow in a nursery drain. He stands for hours in the water, his strong leathery legs built for swamp foraging.
The damson plum Termminalia sericocarpa is fruiting and the metallic starlings, pigeons and fig birds are having a feast. If you stand under the tree when the birds are feeding hundreds of fruits are knocked to the ground, it sound like large raindrops falling on a roof. Within minutes the cassowaries arrive drawn to the noise of the feasting sounds of the birds and the sounds of falling fruits.
Jessie runs to the sound of falling fruits.
A female fig bird feasts on the fruits of the
damson plum Termminalia sericocarpa, while nearby an adult metallic starling chatters to young birds which have left the nest for the first time..
Large numbers of  juvenile metallic starlings 
have fledged and it is interesting to watch how the older birds teach the juveniles where to feed.
Starlings leave their nests in mass and quickly form a dense formation swirling over the rain forest
canopy. The birds land on a tree close to the food tree, the parents chatter to the young birds then in one movement they move into the food tree and feast.
On the rain forest floor the native
cardamon, Hornstedtia scottiana is flowering. This plant along with the damson plum
are important aboriginal food plants of the rain forest peoples of the Wet Tropics.
A delicious jam or chutney can be made by cooking the damson plum and native cardamon together
with a couple of cups of sugar. Strain to remove the seeds.
The rain forest canopy is dotted in red as
the flame tree Brachychiton acerifolius opens its nectar laden, red bell flowers. The nectar eating
birds like these rainbow lorikeets noisily enjoy the feast.
Christmas bells of the flame tree.
I was watching a St Andrew's Cross spider neatly
bundle a beetle it had caught in its web. Suddenly the male approached, she ignored him so  he moved to the side of the web  where it was broken from the beetle, he strung a silk line and started pulling on it like a violin string.
She was not impressed and pounced on him.
In a flash he turned and escaped on his mating thread. Did he want to share her meal, mate or both who knows? Its a dangerous life for some male spiders.
The male stick insects are also smaller than the females. I found these two mating in the nursery.
The bright green armour of the male stick insect was
studded with green spikes - a strange creatures of the rain forest.
Many birds in the rain forest have loud
penetrating calls and none more so than the brush cuckoo. Very early in the morning this medium sized bird finds a high vantage point on a tree branch and calls loudly in a frenzied, ascending announcing her presences to the world.   Before  one can identify her whereabouts the brush cuckoo quickly shifts to another tree. For some time I have been trying to photograph her and above is my best attempt so far. In the Wet Tropics the brush cuckoo lays her eggs in the brown-backed honeyeater's nest, a bird half its size and so its has had to learn to creep about stealthily. 
Early this morning a rainbow fell over the nursery, I did not see it however, my neighbour Diana O did and sent me this photo of the end of the rainbow. What a shame I missed the pot of gold. Thank you Diana.
My very best wishes to you and your family and I join with my friends of the Cassowary Coast Alliance to send seasons greetings to all. Please click on the CCA link in the right hand tab and go to - season's greetings - for a pictorial snapshot of the natural wonders of the Cassowary Coast including Coquette Point.
Yvonne Cunningham.


Saturday 15 December 2012

Hello from Coquette Point, the land of David and Goliath,

This week I saw a stick insect behaving strangely in a bougainvillea bush. The creature was agitated and extending its wings and flapping as it climbed up and through the plant. I looked carefully to see what was wrong.
Then I saw a tiny green ant on the rectum of the stick insects. Every now and then the green ant got purchase on a leaf and with all its might it tried to attach the tail of the stick insect to a leaf.

The green ant pulled and pulled its little legs firmly stuck to the bougainvillea leaf. In its jaws it held the abdomen flaps of the stick insect tightly. Distressed the stick insect started to excrete a lump of wet faeces. This was most unusual as the faeces of a stick insect is normally small, compact faecal pellets and not this semi-solidified waste it was excreting.  
 The green ant manoeuvred and without releasing its grip, pulled and pulled, other green ants were approaching. What to do? Here before my eyes was a David and Goliath fight of almost unbelievable proportions. Whatever made the green-ant think it could possible win in a battle with such a giant opponent?
I heard the stick insect cry out in alarm and II intervened and removed the green ant with the greatest of difficulty. It would not let go and I literally had to pull the green ant apart to release the stick insect from its grasp. Saved from the army of approaching green ants the stick insect moved out of the bougainvillea to safety. I'll leave you to create a proverb for this battle.
 The flowers of the Leichhardt tree Nauclea orientalia bloom for only a few short days however, they are one of the most beautiful flowers of the rainforest. Their brief appearance generally signals the start of the storm season, something for which we are all waiting as no meaningful rain has fallen for over a month.
The fruits are loved by local peoples all around the Pacific and also eaten by the aboriginal people of coastal Australia. I have tried the fruit and it is a little bitter for my taste however, when the fruits start to fall cassowaries will camp under the trees and eat the fruits with relish.
One of the tallest trees of the rainforest
is flowering this month, Alstonia scholaris, the milky pine stretches high above the canopy to attract
insects to pollinate its pretty white flowers.
The bright orange capsules of the pink tamarind Toechima erythrocarpum are ripe and the pied imperial pigeons and lorikeets feast on them as they spill their tasty black seeds.
Looking like snow on the branches the small
white flowers of the sarsaparilla tree Alphitonia petriei glisten along the edge of the rainforest. This tree is the host plant of the green banded blue butterfly. It is a pioneer species and will grow quickly to fill a hole in the rainforest canopy.
Insects are buzzing around the flowers and jumping spiders are taking advantage of the summer excess. The male green jumping spider Mopsus mormon is growing fat as he feasts on these insects. The male green jumping spider is seclusive and this is the first time I have photographed him. I think he is amazingly weird and beautiful.
                                                                                           This hairy fella is one of the smallest of jumping spider being only one millimetre in length.
While jumping spiders have established their
niche in the rainforest and are busy building nests, 'Jessie' the matriarch cassowary is very
firmly telling any approaching male she wants nothing to do with them. I see her every day or so
sauntering through the rainforest paths proudly stretching to full height challenging anyone not to approach her. I distinctly get the message she is not in a good mood.
Meanwhile 'Snout' keeps a lookout and just a glimpse of her will send him running in fear.
Female cassowaries treat their men mean.
Yesterday we experienced the largest King tide of the year, 3.29 metres at 10am.
The tide covered the road to the nursery gate. With gum boots on I ventured into 27V and saw the area where the RV park development proposal is planned was well underwater.  What a surprise!
This supports the levels we have been given for the property.
While I am always quick to throw brickbats it is time to give a bouquet to CCRC. For some time there has seen to be a problem in Canecutter Court in Innisfail's CBD; the metallic starlings and other birds have been roosting in the trees, (it is what birds do), and someone complained when they were pooped on as they sat under a tree. In their wisdom CCRC have tried scaring the birds then netting the trees now they have come to a compromise and have erected a cover over the seats.
When I photographed local resident Darren relaxing in the shade of the trees, he remarked,"They should leave the birds alone, let them enjoy the trees." Hopefully now the birds will be able to do so.
Martin returned to Port Innisfail on Wednesday and will be staying until the New Year.
Our thought are with the people of Fiji and Tokelau Islands tonight as cyclone Evan a cat 4 system expected to strengthen to cat 5 and travel over the Yasawa and Mamnuca groups, brush the other Fijian islands then head for Tokelau. Many Fijians and Tokelau Islanders live and work in Innisfail.
I am sure I speak for everyone our thought, tonight, are with the people of the Pacific.