Saturday 27 April 2013

Hello from Coquette Point,

The dawn chorus across the mangroves has been dominated this week by the ascending chuckle and chatter of the spangled drongos. Every morning the drongos find high vantage points to stake out their  territorial claims in song. Drongos are often aggressive to other birds while defending their territory..

In this photo the early morning light shines on the blue iridescent spots on drongo's breast as he lifts his head to burst into a cheery ode to the sun that brightens the heart of anyone luckily enough to hear.

Note the white edge on the undercoverlets of the long forked tail and wings. The strong hairs around drongos beak are believed to help guide food into his mouth.
There is good news for the young cassowary 'Rosie', as you can see in the photo she has nothing wrong with her bowels and the scat shows she is eating a good variety of rain forest fruits.

However, she has not recovered her normal gait and the injury still appears to be affecting her ability to pace, although thankfully she is not limping.

The injury to Rosie's foot can be clearly seen in this photo on the right. It may have been caused by dog attack or an encounter with a vehicle, perhaps, we will never know.                                                            When housing developments are built on old cassowary habitat it becomes increasingly problematic for these birds. Fences with gates left open, dogs, motor traffic and loss of  habitat as well as loss of connecting habitat, all have a dramatic effect on the viability of the cassowary population. Covenants on dogs, fence design and traffic-speed all need to be considered when new developments are built near or in cassowary hot-spots, that is if we wish to see these birds survive and not go the way of the Thylacine.  Making these conditions retrospective in cassowary habitat hot-spots would not be popular with everyone but with good-will from enough caring people, it could happen.
                                                                Matriarch cassowary Jessie is having a tough time with mosquitoes. In the photo on the right you can see the mosquitoes buzzing around her chest.   Jessie is continually pecking at the mosquitoes and wherever she walks a great cloud of mosquitoes hums around her.                                                                                                                             I was watching Jessie on Thursday as she followed Snout into the mangroves. He stood deep in the shadows of the mangroves and as I watched she followed and sat down directly in front of him, with her backside within 30 centimetres of his face, I thought how provocative and I watched from a distance in anticipation of their mating. No luck, Snout was not ready and after about 20 minutes he walked off and sat down away from her but facing her.   The mosquitoes were thick completely covering my arms and even thicker around the cassowaries.
Well concealed I waited for an hour but nothing happened, they both sat quietly, Jessie pecking at the mosquitoes and Snout seemingly asleep.  They remained there for two more hours and then moved away. It is now the second week of their 2013 courtship.                                     The two Etty Bay male cassowaries have hatched chicks. One male bird with one chick and the other with two. I was told that already the chicks are approaching people for food this is unfortunate as it puts the birds and the people at risk.    This is very early for chicks to have hatched.                                                      . 
                       Following the clouds of mosquitoes squadrons of little dragonflies are feasting. It is fascinating to watch the dragonflies fly into a cloud of insects  scooping them up hungrily, I have no sympathy for the mosquitoes.                                                                                        It is of great concern that the number of diagnosed cases of dengue fever have continued to increase with four cases being reported in Townsville this week.  In Cairns two cases of chikungunya have been confirmed, this is a new mosquito-borne threat to north Queensland. 
Ruth L rang me delighted that her old friend the golden orb-weaver spider has again built its beautiful golden web on her veranda. I popped in to say hello to Ruth and take some photos of her friend.

A wanderer butterfly's short life of just over a month was cut even shorter when it flew into this golden orb-weavers nest in the nursery.    The wanderer butterflies were introduced into Australia in the 1800 and migrate in small numbers within Australia nothing like the massive migrations seen in America. With the first touch of winter in southern and central Australia wanderers migrate to coastal north Queensland. They are extraordinarily strong fliers and can cover long distances.                 Wanderer caterpillars feed on the leaves of the poisonous milkweed and birds eating the caterpillars can be poisoned.
Golden orb-weaver quickly wrapped the wanderers body in silk while attaching only a corner of the wings to the web.

Once bundled golden orb weaver sunk her mouth parts into the soft body of the wanderer and started to consume its sweet poisonous juices.                 With her mouthpieces occupied with the meal the male spiders moved in to share the meal. Female golden orb-weavers can reach a size of over 6 cm whereas the males are about 2cm across.  The web of the golden 0rb-weaver can be several metres across and the silk is extremely strong.

  This afternoon golden orb-weaver had almost completed consuming the body of the wanderer. One of the males had moved in within millimetres of her mouth and was sucking on the other side of the butterflies abdomen.  At some stage during the day a bird or large insect has severely damaged the web however this has not stopped the female from completing the meal. It will be interesting to see if she rebuilds in the same place tonight.                                    
The paperbark swamps of Coquette Point are in flower. The warm air is filled with the sweet fermenting nectar of the blossoms. During the day a flock of over 300 rainbow lorikeets noisily fly from tree to tree gorging themselves on the high protein nectar.                                            When they finish with their squabbling and feeding the forest floor under the trees is strewn with twigs and flowers.
When the lorikeets leave the butterflies and moths move in to feast on the melaleuca leucadendron nectar.                                       The large female on the left has a severally damaged wing, perhaps an encounter with a bird. With less than a quarter of her wing remaining I was amazed to see her flying to the very top of the melaleucas, the injury does not appear to hamper her ability to fly. Nor does it discourage the males as I saw two males flying over her trying to win her favour.
While the female birdwing fed on the nectar of the melaleuca flowers the male birdwing stood guard, either flying around the tree or resting on a branch close by. As soon as another butterfly of a different species entered the territory the male aggressively defended the female's territory.

When this north Queensland day moth started to feed on the nectar of the melaleuca flowers the male birdwing quickly attacked it and continued chasing it away until his female finished feeding and moved on to another plant nearby.
This strange fungi is growing in a sheltered area under cover in the nursery. A small dolichopodid fly is on the left hand side of the fungi and an unknown (to me) insect is on the front of the fungi. This is one for my mate Bill F to identify.
Fungi spores appear to germinate readily in autumn and Diana O found 20 maiden-veil fungi in her backyard at Coquette Point. Diana said they were a bright orange colour. These fungi are also known as stink horn fungi and you will often find flies attracted to the slimy, smelly spore bearing cap of the fungi.                                                                This fungi is eaten in China and is often found as an ingredient in stir-fries. It also has a long history of use in Chinese medicine. If you have eaten out in china you most probably have eaten this fungi. To my knowledge it is not grown commercially in Australia.   
                        Congratulations to Tammy and Adrian Hogg on the birth of their strapping new baby boy. A brother for the lovely Lotus-Rain. That is me holding the new baby while Adrian took the photo.
The weather this wet season has been mild with only half the average rainfall and when we thought, at the end of April, the monsoon had retreated for the year and it was all over a low is suddenly building in the Solomon Sea. The low is expected to move towards the north Queensland coast early next week. One of the models shows it crossing the coast at the top of Cape York the other model shows it crossing the Cassowary Coastline. Whichever way we will have strong winds and lots of rain next week. The ocean temperature is still 28degrees so there is the potential for something big to build.
Cheer for now,

Saturday 20 April 2013

Hello from Coquette Point,

It is my sort of perfect day, 5 knot breeze, cloudless sky and cool for FNQ, 18 at night and 25 during the day. Although we have not had a wet season to speak of the forest is green and in full fruit. The lack of persistent rain has resulted in a good set in native rain forest fruits and obviously being aware of this the cassowaries Snout and Jessie have started courting early.

Only last week Jessie treated Snout with disdain and attacked him whenever he tried to approach her; now she has gone all coy and submissive.


I watched her follow him as he showed her food supplies. I know she doesn't need him to tell her but she accepts the role and dutifully walked three paces behind him with lowered head. Snout must prove to Jessie he can provide for her chicks.

He showed her some fallen palm fruits and he watched while she ate. He did not eat himself. Then he was off again. Quickly Jessie followed him and he took her to some sour plumbs. Again he did not eat as he watched her feed.

He showed her freshly fallen pandanus fruits and again he did not eat. All the while she was mindful of his presence and as soon as he moved she followed immediately. There did not seem to be any sound communication between the pair but it seemed obvious she was sensitive to his movements and his wishes. On the other hand he seemed to strut and be quite proud of himself as he took her to one food tasting after another.
Cassowary courtship generally last for a month after which the female lays between three and five eggs. The male bird incubates the eggs in a sit down lasting 50 days. The female cassowary takes no part in the incubation but when she has laid her eggs she makes hay while the sun shines and goes off to chooses another male to court within her territory leaving the first male to sit on the eggs alone.
                                                                   Juvenile forest kingfishers have fledged and I found this one in a bleeding heart tree, Homalanthus novoguineenis, close to the Ninds Creek wetlands. This juvenile still has his fluffy nest feathers and it wont be long before these buff coloured chest feathers turn white.                                                                      The bleeding heart tree is named after the dark red colour and heart shape of the aged leaves. Although this tree has insignificant flowers, the flowers can be seen in the background of the photo below, the seed of this tree is an important food plant for pigeons and many other seed eating birds. Bleeding hearts are fast growing pioneer species of the rain forest.                       This tree is the host plant for the world's largest moth, the Hercules Moth, which has a wing span of 300mm.                                                    Unusually for fast growing pioneer species of trees, the wood of the bleeding heart tree is fine grained and strong and is sought after by cabinetmakers. The tree also develops buttress roots as it matures making it resilient to strong winds.  What a different story it would have been if Homalanthus novoguineensis had been planted in the tree plantations around north Queensland instead of  shallow rooted African mahogany. 
Grevillea baileyana, the white oak is turning up its young leaves to show off the golden hairs which cover their underside. When the long rays of the early morning sun stretch across the rain forest canopy, the leaves of the white oak shine  with gold reflecting the sunlight.                                      This is another long-lived pioneer rain forest species with fine white to pinkish grained wood.
I found a very large white crab spider out in the open on a leaf. Its drop line was tangled in the foliage behind and it looked as if it had been in some sort of encounter, its legs seemed all awry .                                                         When I  compared the first and last photo I took of the spider I noticed it appeared to have changed colour from translucent white to pure white.  In the bottom photo it looks as if it is licking its lips.    

I did a book run this week with the new edition of my gardening book and passed through Cardwell for the first time since the reconstruction of the foreshore started in August 2012. On the right is a photo taken nine months ago of the foreshore. Below as it is now.                                                             Access to the Cardwell CBD is very difficult with road diversions and closures everywhere the shop owners of Cardwell are doing it tough. When it is all over they will have a man made foreshore framing Hinchinbrook Island. Is that what the tourists want to see? I think not. The foreshore reconstruction has had extraordinary cost blow-outs, around 50million now I believe and the new design will hardly be compatible with World Heritage listed Hinchinbrook Island.

 Have you noticed things never go the way you planned! A chemical spill on the Cardwell Range from a semitrailer before lunch on Tuesday closed the Bruce Highway to all traffic. Trucks and cars were backed up for over twenty kilometres north and south. I could not believe the police allowed vehicles to gridlock the Ingham CBD, but they did. No attempt was made to stop the traffic entering the CBD and the north bound traffic filled the two western lanes of the Ingham CBD. Not only was this an economic disaster for the shop owners in the Ingham CBD just imagine if there had been any
sort of incident, emergency service would not have been able to access the area. The whole episode was very frustrating as neither the RACQ web site nor local ABC radio had any reliable information about the incident. The only way to find anything out was to link into the truckers network. The northbound traffic was stopped from 12pm until 7pm. Southbound traffic started moving at 6pm and it took one hour and 10minutes before it cleared.
The change in the weather has got a lot of insects on the move and this week I have notice thousands of tiny insects attracted to the house lights at night. I also found a couple of spectacular moths attracted to the lights.

How carelessly we swot at caterpillars when they are found eating an ornamental or two. One never knows what spectacular creature that caterpillar may turn into.

When the rain stopped early this week the Johnstone River was illuminated by a spectacular rainbow. Mother nature knows how to put on a light show.
Good night from me and good night from Snout and Jessie.


Saturday 13 April 2013

Hello from wet, windy and cold Coquette Point,

We have only received half of the average rainfall this wet season but that is quickly changing, the weather is now trying its best to make up for lost time, a foot and a half of rain fell this week and it is still drizzling.
The Johnstone River, although not in flood, has been running a banker and it is covering the waders normal fishing ground. When I opened the nursery gate this morning I was astonished to see white faced heron striding up the road from the river. She headed for the deepest part of the roadside drain and spent the morning eating mangrove-crabs out of the drain.


Mangrove Bittern has also had to find alternate fishing spots. I saw one bittern concealed in the leafy branches of a mangrove tree which hung out over the river, it showed the utmost focus on finding a meal and never noticed me. Further on along the river bank I saw another bittern perched on a tree branch watching for a flash in the water which might signal a meal.  What a privilege it is to observe these birds of the mud flats and mangroves. Mangrove bitterns are generally sedentary and nest in the forks of mangroves and swamp trees. They build large platforms of sticks lined with twigs and lay their eggs in these nest at the start of spring.


The cool damp weather is ideal for fungi growth and I found this spectacular red fungi under a grove of Melaleuca leucadendra. A wide variety of fungi grows in the wet tropics and once they were a major food source for Aboriginal people. It is not surprising as fungi is a popular food of many cultures. However, the extensive knowledge that Aboriginal people had of edible rain forest fungi has all but disappeared. Perhaps one day someone may examine these species and find a new culinary delight. Meanwhile, it is wise not to taste any unknown fungi as many of them are toxic.

Cassowaries also eat fungi and I have observed them greedily striping bracket fungi from tree trunks. Cassowaries are omnivores and while their main diet is fruit as well as fungi they eat carrion, mice and the eggs of ground birds.
                                                                   Strong, squally gales have shaken a lot of fruits from the Johnstone River Almond trees and 'Snout' is having no trouble in finding a feed. With his feathers heavy with rain water  he does not hesitate as he  picks up the large almond fruits and with a quick toss throws them to the back of his throat and swallows.
It is quite comical to watch the shape of the fruit travel down inside his long blue throat.
Wet weather is a problem for most feathered creatures. As soon as the sky clears for a few minutes the birds start to preen their feathers. Crested hawk is particularly fastidious and I can sit for hours watching him tend to every feather shaking them dry with his beak before combing and pressing them in place.
With every feather dry and groomed crested hawk scans the rain forest canopy for breakfast. He doesn't wait long and in one swoop into the leafy larder he emerges with a feed. Within a few minutes all that is left is a wing to discard.
Major skink has been acting rather peculiarly she has been turning rocks over and over until she has gathered a little pile in a corner. She works busily at this for half an hour or so then disappears. The next day she rearranges rocks in another place. I have no idea what she is trying to do. Is she searching for food under the rocks or gathering them to build a nest?
This is the first year in the nursery that I have not had any  damage to seedling stock from mice and rats. I have to thank Mr and Mrs Monty and Monica python which have managed to produce lots of offspring and we are finding them now occupying all the outbuildings on the property. one of these young Amethystine python now lives in the seedling shed and this week I saw it intensely observing something under the seed trays. He disappeared under the benches and a few minutes later I briefly heard a little squeak as he caught what sounded like a mouse.
More male leaden flycatchers have arrived but I am yet to sight a female. The males are so cute and when they arrive they make displays of dominance. They spread their wings and show an erectile semi-crest then with quivering tails burst forth with a loud song, I assume to stake out their territorial claim.

Goon night from Leaden flycatcher and me,
Yvonne C.