Saturday 23 February 2013

Hello from blooming Coquette Point,

This week the largest butterfly in Australia, the female Cairns Birdwing, some 16cm wide, are feasting on the sweet nectar produced by the flowers of the umbrella tree. When the flowers open in the warm summer heat the nectar spills out and overflows dripping from the flowers much to the delight of the butterflies and other insects.
Nature is extravagant with colour and quantity and no where more so than in the Wet Tropics Rainforests of far north Queensland.

Frogs have been calling constantly and crested hawk is hungry and on the hunt. I followed the sound of hawk's call to a look-out tree and I found a female crested hawk perched high on a dead tree branch her high pitched call ke-i, ke-i rang out over the rainforest.
The crested hawk or Pacific baza as it is also named has striking golden eyes surrounded by green skin. The female differs slightly from the male with a browner rump and narrow bars across the tail.

The crested hawk feeds mainly on insects but it will take frogs and mice as well as other small mammals.

As I watched this beautiful bird she suddenly turned her head as if saying, are you looking at me?

                                                                         With that she spread her wings and took to the sky to hunt over the canopy of the Moresby Range Nationl Park.     What a privilege to have such an experience with a wild creature.                   

The latest brood of Agile Wallaby babies are growing fast and are almost ready to leave the pouch. Dad is never far away keeping guard while mum and babe eat the lush new grass shoots.

Agile wallaby babies stay in the pouch for 7 to 8 months. Although these wallabies are known to breed all year many of the females seem to carry off-spring around all the same age in any one group.

I often see family group of between seven and twelve individuals at the end of Coquette Point.

Do you ever get the feeling of the presence of something or someone? I got that feeling very early one morning  this week.  I was walking down to open the gate and something compelled me to look into the forest where the first rays of light were only just penetrating and there was a Cassowary seemingly sound asleep. He quickly woke and stood up.
In the gloom I saw the cassowaries eyes open with large dilated pupils, it was 'Snout'.. He did not move as he watched me. On the ground I noticed a scrape where the leaves had been pushed aside this had been his bed for the night.
Melaleuca leucadendra trees are in flower all through the swamp. The sickly-sweet smell of their nectar is carried on the hot humid air.
In the melaleuca trees rainbow lorikeets jostle and fight over the sweet nectar.
A beautiful dog walked into the nursery on Tuesday wagging his tail he came straight up to me, sat down and barked hello. He was not wearing a collar or any identification.
When no one turned up I realised the dog was lost.
Martin took a shine to him and called him Rusty. It took some drinking and feeding to get his hunger satisfied. I rang around Coquette Point but no one had lost a dog. I called the Council and the new dog catcher was out within 30 minutes. With gentle coxing and handling Rusty was taken away to the pound.
Coquette Point is often used as a place to dump unwanted dogs. Stray dogs in packs are devastating for shorebirds, cassowaries, wallabies and all other ground creatures which live in this part of the World Heritage Wet Tropics. It was good to see Cassowary Coast Regional Council has an efficient and caring dog catching programme.
cheers for this week,

aleuca leucadendraMel



Saturday 16 February 2013

Hello from murky Ninds Creek,
On Wednesday my neighbour John Kristin phoned me about a dead, skinned crocodile floating in Ninds Creek, a tributary of the Johnstone River.  John had gone down to the Creek to do some work on his boat, which is anchored there, and he discovered a dead crocodile caught in his mooring lines. The crocodile had been skinned and the head cut from the body, it was floating nearby, John could not find any evidence of a bullet but there was jagged flesh around the head as if someone had removed flesh. As the carcass was not smelling and there were no flies present John believes the crocodile was killed and skinned in the early hours of Wednesday morning, just a few hours before he found it.

, ,I phoned Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and within half an hour a ranger came to investigate. Unfortunately the ranger did not have a boat and apparently is not permitted to go in private boats, however, he did make a report of the incident. We sent the photos to QPWS.  The body of the crocodile was not removed and the next day it was still floating, with the tide, in and out of Ninds Creek.
 Both John and I and other residents have heard, very late at night, rifle fire coming from the river, of course none of us have ever investigated as we all deem it unsafe. If there are people in boats with guns late at night on the river it is perhaps not safe for any other person to go out in a boat at night on the Johnstone River! With the barra season in full swing lots of families do go out at night on the river to fish. 
Skinned headless carcass of a saltwater crocodile found in Ninds Creek Innisfail 13 February 2013.

John also reported when he was coming home from town last week he saw a dead animal on the road. He stopped the car to see what it was and saw it was a very small stripy cassowary chick. The body was so badly damaged he could only identify it from the head. John did not get a photo and the carcass disappeared soon afterwards.

A ridge of high pressure has brought a cool breeze along the coast with good rains every night. Although it is a relief to have the rain, wet at night and sunny during the day are the ideal conditions for breeding mosquitoes and we have lots of mosquitoes at the moment.  Over 50 cases of dengue fever, mostly type 1 have been recorded in Cairns, none in Innisfail - so far. We must be mindful to clean up mosquito breeding areas around the home and encourage the creatures which eat mosquitoes, like frogs, dragonflies and spiders, to proliferate by not using chemicals that kill these creatures when they can bring a balance to our mad world.
Green Water Spider found on a chair in the nursery.

Red dragon fly

On Monday morning I heard the unmistakable call of the black cockatoos. A flock of about 20 birds flew from town to the Coquette Point beach.  I see them every couple of days either flying to or coming back from the foreshore.. 

The Black Cockatoos head straight for the Johnstone
River Almond trees growing along the foreshore, they eat the pulp from the outside and the nuts from the inside of this tree's fruit.
They are wonderfully playful and very noisy. Other people have told me there is a flock of 40 birds south of Innisfail.
I was surprised to see Johnstone River Almond fruit in cassowary scats. I had not observed this before, as I apparently have a fetish for taking photos of cassowary scats I did a search and could not find these fruits in any of the dozens of photos previously over the years of the scats. It is good to know this is another cassowary food tree.
Also in the scat were the seeds from the
noxious weeds pond apple and guava. During the papaya fruit-fly outbreak in FNQ the Department
of Primary Industries led a concerted effort to eradicate plants which were host to the fruit fly such as native bananas, guavas and pond apple. Fifteen years later the pond apples and guavas are as widespread as ever but the native bananas are all but wiped-out of the coastal rainforest and the native bananas were a primary all year food for Cassowaries.
The sunbirds are again in a nesting frenzy.
Damage done to the terminals of plant branches in cyclone Oswald has become an easy source of building material. Above, the broken frond of an Alexandre palm is being stripped by this female sunbird for building material for her nest.
While the sunbirds are busy building nest this season's butcher birds have finished nesting and the babies have all fledged. Lately I have seen a good number of juvenile butcher birds hunting around the nursery and through the open forest for anything that moves; grasshoppers, spiders, lizards and frogs. Butcher birds have the most wonderful song and they are superb hunters, just like hawks.
Over the last couple of weeks we have experience spring tides, with tide range between a high of 3.40 metres to a low of .86 metres. This has energised the river and swept out a lot of debris, much of the debris has been deposited in large floating islands sitting around the mangroves and creating a potential hazard for speed boats travelling at speed at night. Debris like this quickly turns into detritus and  becomes the main food source for crabs and prawns.
 Rivers are dynamic systems and in just a few day everything has changed. We have now entered a period of neap tides where there is very little difference between high and low water.  Now the flow of the river is relaxed and quite.
The high tides chased the little mangrove
crabs from their holes and they have been scurrying around the nursery looking for a dry place to live.
I was taking the photo above when the crab retreated to a safe corner.
The crab withdrew its legs and burnished its
claws in a threatening motion towards me. The next minute major skink came running out from behind and over the top of crab to find sheltered behind my foot. I don't know who was more surprised the crab the skink or me.
It just goes to show ever corner is a home to some creature.
The Torres imperial pigeons have left their nesting
sites in the melaleuca trees and have shifted higher in the trees to sleep at night. The population here has increased by ten birds and I believe they are this years chicks. Lots of long mournful cooing during the early evening. It wont be long and they will be getting ready to journey north.
It was disappointing to see another illegal fishing net set in the river. The person who set this one was so arrogant they left it out until mid morning. It seems in Queensland it is now a free-for-all and the environment is the meat in the political sandwich.
Cheers for now from the beautiful banks of the Johnstone river,

Saturday 9 February 2013

Hello from Coquette Point,

This week a cool change brought some relief from heatwave conditions, but today the heat returned. This week the thermometer reached 37degrees and the cassowaries were heat-stressed. The water in the pond was so hot poor Snout could find no relief and sought refuge from the heat under the trees in my garden.
Good rain last night settled the dust and freshened the rainforest. It is most unusual for February to be dry and to even think of wishing for rain at this time of the year is surely playing with lady luck, however, without the cloud cover that is associated with the rain the sun and humidity is relentless.  All the indications are for rain to set in soon.

At Mission Beach the well know cassowary Sassy found relief from the heat in a pool of runoff water, click on the link to the Mission Beach Cassowaries web-log in the right hand tab to see more cassowary stories.
Below Snout suffering from heat-stress.

Melaleuca leucadendra is in flower and the
green ants are hungrily gathering the fragrant nectar. It is amazing to watch these little creatures and see the cooperation shown by the worker ants while gathering food. We have a lot to learn!
When I accidentally cut a leaf on which a migrating Queen green ant had chosen to make her new colony she looked at me in alarm and quickly tended to her eggs gathering them in a heap she splayed her body across the them  and courageously defended the eggs with her life. I relocated the leaf to a safe place and watched her transfer her eggs to a new site where she gathered new leaves together to start the colony again.
Like spokes from a wheel silhouetted against the hot summer sky the inflorescence of the umbrella tree Schefflera actinophylla offers its flowers which are full of high protein nectar. These flowers are a favourite of spectacled flying foxes by night and butterflies by day.
The juvenile metallic starlings have grown fat,
they are now the same size as their parents. There is so much fruit available at the moment and  they are confidently venturing forth in flocks by themselves to gather food.
Juvenile and adult metallic starlings hungrily gather
the fruits from an Archontophoenix alexandrae palm.
The white fruits on the blush satinash
Acmena hemilampra are starting to fall rich pickings for the cassowaries and Torres imperial pigeons.
It is always fascinating to watch these
magnificent pigeons feed on rainforest's fruits. No sooner does a flock clumsily land on a food tree, knocking much fruit to the ground as it does, then count the minutes before a Cassowary turns up.   This week we were enjoying a cuppa under the palm trees when the Imperial pigeons arrived, within minutes Snout was there hungrily collecting the fruits as they fell from the feeding pigeons and I might add interested in the cake we were eating as well.
Gloria and Andrew ate the cake before Snout
got a chance to see it.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The rain and subsequent low pressure system
associated with cyclone Oswald sent the frogs into a mating frenzy. Within a day of Oswald
the little Eastern Dwarf frogs Litoria fallax laid eggs in ponds around the nursery.
It took only ten days for the eggs of the Eastern Dwarf frog to hatch into tadpoles.
Hundreds of Northern Dwarf Treefrogs,
Litoria bicolor have emerged and can be found clinging to leaves in the swamp. Their high pitched wreeeeeek is a constant background noise whenever rain falls.
Coming home from 'a night out with the girls' last night I saw dozens of Striped Rocketfrogs, Litoria nasuta jumping across the road adjacent to the Sea Haven development site. Unfortunately many had fallen victim  to motor vehicles.
Heavy rain fall as I took this photo.
Dozen of Litoria nasuta dead on the Coquette Point road.
Let us hope next week will see the monsoon drop down over northern Australia and bring with it a  regular wet season.

Saturday 2 February 2013

Hello from hot and sticky Coquette Point,

Like an unwelcome visitor the monsoon surged and dropped down on January 17. Two lows formed on the trough, one in the white-hot waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria and was destined to become tropical cyclone Oswald on the January 21- but only for 12 hours. The weather system soon reverted to a tropical low and danced in the Gulf for a week before beginning its move south. The BOM computer models gave conflicting forecasts on Oswald's movement and at one stage had it sitting over the southern Atherton Tablelands for a couple of days. This area is the catchment for the Johnstone River and if it happened Innisfail would flood. Fortunately for us, but not for others, the system moved over the Tully River catchment and flooded Tully followed by every other town along the eastern seaboard before it moved out to sea at Sydney on January 29.  Flood-waters are still rising in Rockhampton and today the people of north Bundaberg are being allowed in to view the devastation left behind after the highest flood in living memory hit their town.
  The Innisfail catchment received 600mm of rain from Oswald and the Johnstone River ran a bunker with much debris carried out to sea. King tides over the week exacerbated the flooding but did help the river flush.
Oswald moved south and as it passed over Innisfail we experience gale force winds for 12 hours. When it passed we were left in unsettled conditions behind the monsoon. Afternoon storms moved down from the Atherton Tablelands and brought brief, welcome relief from the heat. We are now experiencing hot north-westerly winds and a heat wave which has lasted for six days breaking a record for the most number of consecutive days over 35degrees  and with humidity in the high eighties.

As Oswald moved down over central Queensland causing floods and landslides the Telstra cable carrying all northern commutations lines was disabled along with the back-up cable. Most of Saturday and Sunday there was no telecommunications with the rest of the world, including the emergency 000 phone, and so there was no web-log from me last weekend.

However, what was remarkable, in this instance, when the weather system passed the speed in which the river went from muddy brown to crystal clear.
Storms brought cooling rain in the afternoon.

When the river cleared I saw hundreds of purple mud crabs  swimming in the clear shallows of the Johnstone River. The cassowaries are not in the least perturbed by the rain and with their feather laden with rain drops they continue to harvest fruits and not even bother to shake dry. The photo shows 'Snout' eating the ripe fruit from an introduced weed, devil's fig. This weed is used as a disease resistant root stock on which to graft tomatoes and eggplant. The fruit is also a favourite of pigeons including the Torres Imperial.
 However, in the heat the cassowaries suffer and like to spend their days sitting in water. The heat has also curbed their territorial battles and I noticed old Snout didn't bother to get out of the swamp when young Rosie showed up looking for a feed. 
It is always interesting to watch the animals cope with extreme weather and unlike cassowary  kookaburra does not like getting his feathers wet. When the sun came out he went to some trouble to find a spot in the open to dry off, stretching one wing out at a time to catch the morning sun..
The good rainfall has turned the grass from brown to green and the Agile Wallabies are greedily grabbing large mouthfuls of sweet grass.
Food is abundant at the moment and Lace Monitor had a telling bump in his belly large enough to be a small wallaby.
He was so immobilised by the meal in his belly I was able to approach him and take this close up of his amazing skin patterns.
Lace Monitor in a trance as he digested a large meal.
My 70th birthday party was planned for the 26th January and I thought there was little hope of holding it with the weather forecast. A full moon approaching on the 26th and the weather cleared and we had perfect conditions for a party. The Gunduy Aboriginal Dance Troupe entranced my guests with traditional dancing and a welcome to country. Gunduy means cassowary in the dyribal language.
 They were followed by my friend from Tokelau dancing. Ian Rule's band played music to midnight. A wonderful night under the stars. Next birthday party 100 years, 26 January 2043. Are you coming?
While we are sweltering in the heat in the cool understory of the rainforest, the Fan Palms, Licuala ramasayii, are in flower, their white inflorescence shining in the dim light.
At the roadside edge close to the rainforest pairs of peaceful doves softly coocoo to each other as they feast on seeds amidst the grass and leaf litter.
While all around them a flutter of bird-wing butterflies have gone into a frenzy mating and laying eggs in the hot humid conditions.
Male on lower right checking out the female.
I reported in the last post what I thought was an outbreak of Chytrid fungus in the white-lipped tree frogs. Deborah from Frog Safe has contacted me and advised that Chytrid fungus is a cool climate pathogen and only shows up in FNQ during our winter months. The frog in my photo does indeed have a problem which is consistent with a Fusarium fungus, a drought tolerant soil fungus. Other soil diseases are likely to be involved and parasites are also likely. The White-lipped is particular prone to
more problems than any other frog species up here. Frog Safe believe there is a primary protagonist involved, which could be a chemical or a pathogen, which is disabling the frogs immune  system. However, they have never been able to secure the funds to get appropriate research done.
Cheers from the Queensland sauna,