Saturday 25 May 2013

Hello from crisp and sunny Coquette Point,

Winter weather came in with a rush yesterday, the humidity dropped and the clouds evaporated exposing a bright blue sky.
While we all whinge about the rain a friend Doug put it into perspective for me when he returned to Innisfail this week. Doug told me north western Queensland is in severe drought and this year for the first time in over 90 years the Flinders River has not run at all.
Its not just Queensland in drought, the wheat belt of Western Australia is also in a dire situation, they have not received any meaningful rain in over four year.
As Doug drove back to Innisfail along the Kennedy Highway this week he said he saw the countryside suddenly turn green and he knew he had returned to the 'land of big trees'.

The sulphur crested cockatoo is beloved by Australians as a pet bird, however, it is often hounded for the damage it can do to fruit crops. There are many ways to protect crops and sometimes it is only a matter of planting divisionary species. This week I watched  three sulphur crested cockatoos enjoying the ripe fruits on the Archontophoenix alexandrae, the alexandra palm.
As they plucked the fruits I was enchanted with the delicate way these wild birds ate and they were in no great hurry.

It was such a privilege to watch these sulphur crested cockatoos  as they fed and interacted with each other. Given the opportunity all animals prefer to eat a diet of their own natural wild food.

Crested hawk enjoyed the change in the weather and for over half an hour yesterday morning sun-baked on the branch of a tall tree. He stretched out his wings to catch the sun's warmth.


When to my amazement a young butcher bird, less than half the size of crested hawk, landed on a branch close to hawk and started screeching obscenities at hawk, or at least that is what it sounded like to me. Hawk flew off to another tree and bossy, young butcher bird burst into a cheeky song telling all that he was master of the canopy.                      
             Golden orb spider is doing very well for herself catching so much food in her web she is in danger of becoming obese, or at least that is Ruth L's concern for the spider on her veranda. Ruth reports her spider now has five male suitors.
 I watched one big girl in my garden as she cleaned her mouth before tackling the next tasty treat and saw a male crawl over her body and around the larder of food without any challenge from her. Of course it was distressing when a beautiful male birdwing butterfly flew into the web.

The yellow sunbirds are in a frenzy of activity and while the female does all the work in gathering material to build the nest the male is always nearby offering advise and standing guard. My veranda is littered with old and new nests. These little birds like to build in sheltered areas away from the rain and often seek the eaves' and verandas of houses.
Hibiscus tiliaceus, the cottonwood tree is in flower along the watercourses of the wet tropics. In the afternoon the petals of this beautiful flower change colour and darken to shades of red and maroon before falling and floating on the water and out to sea.  The falling of the flowers is always a sign that the winter weather is here. The flowers of the cottonwood are edible and make a sweet addition to a salad. The bark of the tree was used by Aboriginal people as well as passing seafarers from which they made very strong ropes.
Higher tides always bring the horn-eyed mangrove crab into the nursery. This is often very disconcerting for customers but children love to chase them.
I often wonder if I removed the nursery how long it would take for the animals and trees to repossess the area. As it is we try to make room for each other.

There has been a sudden hatching of common aeroplane butterflies and hundreds of them are flying around the nursery at the moment.

Epiphyte are one single group of plants that particularly distinguish rainforest from other forest types. Epiphytes are plants that use other plants as support without damage to the host. In the dry season many epiphytes dry out but when the rains arrive the epiphytes suddenly burst into splendid growth turning tree branches and trunks into hanging gardens. The swaying fronds of a Vittaria elongate, tape fern, have swollen in the wet season and hang out and down from the rich debris made by an Asplenium nidus, bird's nest fern, all in the canopy of a large Nauclea orientalis, Leichhardt tree.

I was in Tully this week, sitting down having a cuppa with friends when suddenly, cough, cough,  the Tully mill burst into life, the 2013 sugar-cane season has started in the Wet Tropics. Please take care on the roads and keep a look out for cane trains and trucks.

Cheers for this week,


Saturday 18 May 2013

Hello from Coquette Point,

The skies over Coquette Point are ringing with the shrill whistle of courting hawks.

The Osprey have completed the refurbishing of their penthouse suite which is neatly nestled in the fork of a dead tree. The nest site has  unencumbered views over the Johnstone River Valley to the West and an ocean view over the Coral Sea to the east giving the occupants easy access to both fresh water or salt water fish as they so desire.

Osprey live exclusively on a fish diet. Their hooked talons are very sharp and the toes have spiny projections. They dive feet first into the water, snatch the fish and carry their slimy, wriggling meal either back to their nest or to a nearby tree.

A few months ago I watched one osprey standing in the ocean  on a sandbar which was completely covered by the incoming tide, the water would have been a good 30cm deep and small waves were breaking around the osprey however this did not deter this avid fisher.

The wing-span of these amazing birds stretches 1.75 metres and when the wings are folded they reach the tip of the tail.

Most Hawks and Eagles can easily be recognised in flight by the shape of their tail feathers, which differ in shape in most species of hawk and eagle.

The female osprey is larger than the male and the dusky band or necklace on the fore neck of the female is strongly marked easily identifying her.

Osprey nest from May to September and build large platforms with a mixture of sticks held together and lined with seaweed. Last year, shortly after the eggs were laid, the nest of the Coquette Point pair was destroyed by a large goanna. Osprey usually lay three eggs which are pale buff, blotched with reddish-purple markings.
White breasted sea eagle is also very active at the moment. She has her nest at the top of a large paperbark tree in the Coquette Point wetlands. A pair of black kites are continually harassing her and perhaps she has an eye on their chicks. White breasted sea eagles will feed on a wide range of animals as well as carrion. Whereas the black kite lives almost exclusively on large insects but will eat carrion and hunt mice. Black Kites are commonly seen cleaning up insects and rats in cane field during and after harvest. Unfortunately, as with all raptors and owls they are often inadvertently killed when rat baits have been laid and the birds eat the poison meal.    
Note the distinctive difference in the shape of the tail feathers of these birds.   On the left two black kites harasses a white-breasted sea eagle.                                              

 Crested hawk is enjoying the sunny weather and much to my distress has been living on a diet almost exclusively of frogs. The wet weather over the last month has been ideal for frog breeding.

I noticed five crested hawks actively hunting in the Coquette Point wetlands this week. This area appears to be very productive and favoured by the hawks as these birds have remained in the area for the last twelve months. In the past the crested hawks left Coquette Point in summer and returned in Winter. Crested hawks breed in spring.

 Cassowary 'Brown Cone's' lone chick has grown quickly and Rakesh Krishnan kindly sent me this photo he took of Brown Cone and his chick on Friday. The chick appears to be staying close to dad and lets hope he learns some road sense as the area where they hang about is the long bend in the road near Ninds Creek.

The courting cassowaries Snout and Jessie have gone into hiding and I have not seen them all week. Hopefully in sixty days Dad will turn up with chicks.

                               I saw young cassowary Rosie this week and her foot has completely healed. She is walking normally and there is no sign of swelling in the pad. She regularly crosses the road at the top of the range walking from the melaleuca swamp down into the mangroves on the river bank.

The spangled drongos are constantly calling and appear to be happy to dominate the sky with song and acrobatic displays. When the shining starlings are here the drongos seem less active but now while the shining starlings have moved north for the winter the drongos have little competition.

I was watching a pair of spangled drongos perched tensely and on the look out for a meal. Their long tails were pressed hard against the branch where they were perched when suddenly they catapulted themselves into the air and one of the birds caught what looks like a giant mantid. Deftly he killed the struggling insect and before his mate could challenge him for a share of the meal he swallowed it down in three quick gulps.

The Meleleuca leucadendra, paperbark trees are in flower again and large flocks of rainbow lorikeets are noisily feeding on the rich nectar oozing from the flowers. The lorikeets fly in waves coming and going from tree to tree, much to the delight of visitors to the nursery this week.  When the sun reflects on their feathers the lorikeets gleam and shine reflecting all the colours of the rainbow on their wonderful feathers.

these North Queensland Day Moth glow in metallic green, blue and mauve.
I had some happy, willing helpers in the nursery this week and with Louise help they learnt to weed seedlings. Gary and Ethan enjoy gardening but they were absolutely delighted with the antics of the rainbow lorikeets and butterflies.

A new sign has appeared at the end of the Coquette Point road, 'No vehicles permitted on beach'. It would be nice if the pictograph also showed quad bikes and trail bikes which are the vehicles using and damaging the beach and the dunes.

Before I go a very big happy birthday to my dear friend Liz Gallie at Mission Beach. If you have time click onto Liz's blog for some wonderful stories and photos of cassowaries and also the latest on Mission Beach. Enjoy the day Liz and thank you for the enormous contribution you give to all of us by speaking out courageously on behalf of all creatures and the environment of this area.
Cheers, Yvonne                                                                                                                

Saturday 11 May 2013

Hello from Coquette Point,
This week strong wind and heavy rain has turned the Johnstone River into a fast flowing torrent, once again carrying the precious top soil of farmlands out into the Coral Sea Lagoon. When this happens the sediments in the runoff water settle on the coral and the nutrients contained in the sediments enhances the growth of algal species which smother the coral. In addition the 'dirty' runoff water reduces light in the water column which is necessary for the corals to photosynthesis.

A healthy riparian barrier between farmland and waterways, combined with good farm management including sediments ponds, drainage and green mulching will reduce sediment runoff dramatically. Farmers continue to lose their most important asset, their topsoil, the loss of top soil is killing farms while at the same time it is killing the reef. A healthy Great Barrier Reef will support a multimillion dollar tourism industry and a multi million dollar fishing industry.
So why is the Queensland Government getting  support to clear riparian vegetation? The King truly has no clothes and soon we will have no GREAT Barrier Reef.

 It is not all bad news for the health of the Johnstone River estuary. Some 20 years ago mud skippers had all but disappeared from the estuary, the reason for that is a long story, however, over the last few years I have noticed the mud skippers slowly returning. This week I saw hundreds of mudskippers around the mangroves and on the Coquette Point beach. They appeared to be playing in the surf and having a great time.

Mud skipper surfing
How cute am I?

The fruit of the bandicoot berry Leea indica is ripe and the cassowaries where quick to find it. The bandicoot berry is a fast growing sprawling rainforest shrub and it fruits on and off for most of the year. It is favoured by the cassowaries and was an important medicinal plant for Aboriginal people.

Jessie and snout ate all the berries on the ground.

Then Jessie stretched and stretched until she ate all the ripe berries high on the bush.
I was quite concerned when I saw Snout shaking himself frantically.I walked up closer and discovered he had a piece of dried leaf stuck in his eye. He shook and shook then scratched his eye.

Cairns birdwing butterflies are in a frenzy of egg laying. If an aristolochia vine is in the vicinity they lay eggs on it and on any plant close by. Here a female birdwing is laying eggs on a philodendron leaf .                                                                                                 The red lace-sing butterfly is one of the most striking butterflies of the rainforest. This butterfly took shelter in my orchid shed this week  where incredibly she started laying eggs on phalaenopsis orchids. The host plant for this butterfly is the red lace-wing vine, Adenia heterophylla, the vine is related to passionfruit and it develops bright red fruits a similar shade to the red colour in the wing of the butterfly and the fruits are full of small seeds, they germinate easily.  It will be interesting to see if the eggs hatch and if they do, what will the caterpillars eat?                                                                       

The white-banded plane butterfly is another rainforest butterfly species. When you watch this butterfly it seems to approach flowers very delicately and unlike most butterflies will hesitate to close its wings. It has particularly large and beautiful eyes and will slowly turn to look at you before it flies off. The scent organ on the antennae is large and of a contrasting pale colour and seems to give this beautiful creature additional ability and confidence in its surroundings.

                                                                             Pale green triangle butterflies have not faired well from the heavy rain and strong winds of the last two weeks, the few that are left around have damaged wings. Adverse weather creates major difficulties for butterflies and moths. The pollen and nectar they depend on is often washed from the flowers and strong winds make it difficult for them to balance on food plants. It is amazing that these delicate creatures are still active after two weeks of wet and windy weather.
The green and pale green triangle butterflies use a wide variety of host plants from custard apples to native tamrind.

Cheers for this week,
The spectacular 4 o'clock moth has been very active in the late afternoons. I have noticed it flying in the canopy and busily laying eggs on its host tree the corkwood Carallia brachiata. When the rain is at its heaviest it retreats to shelter under large rainforest leaves where it remains perfectly dry.