Saturday, 1 June 2013

Hello from the end of the Rainbow,

Constant stream-showers interspersed with bright sunshine has resulted in repeated rainbows in the sky above Coquette Point this week, at least two rainbows forming every day, a wonderful phenomenon.

Alas the warm showery weather has created the perfect breeding opportunities for mosquitoes and there is no where to escape the little biting blighters. It has been many years since I have seen mosquitoes this bad.  Fortunately there has not been any new cases of dengue fever reported, but the mosquitoes do make life difficult.

A flock of five sulphur-crested cockatoos are feasting, almost entirely, on the ripe seeds of milky pine trees, Alstonia scholaris, a common tree of the Wet Tropics rainforest. The cockatoos are systematically going from one tree to another and not leaving the tree until every seed has been eaten. Last week they feasted entirely on Alexander Palm fruit. In spite of its common name the milky pine tree is not a pine, however the timber is light and softer than hoop pine. When the wood of the milky pine is cut it exudes a large quantity of milky sap, this sap contains strong alkaloids, which although not known as an Aboriginal medicine, it is used by local people for the treatment of ringworm and other skin conditions.

The sulphur crested cockatoos have been displaying their crest and appear to be pair bonding. Sulphur crested cockatoos nest in hollows in old trees and following the two cyclones in this area in recent years there are a lots of tree hollows for these birds to choose for nesting sites.

On the left the sulphur crested cockatoo has picked the fruit pods of the milky pine tree and while holding the pods in his claw he is carefully extracting one seed at a time from the long pod.

This week for the first time since cyclone 'Larry', over six years ago now, I saw the many coloured,  purple-crowned fruit dove, or superb dove, unfortunately it was very early in the morning and I did not get a good photo. However, it is another sign the cyclone damaged rainforests of the Wet Tropics lowlands are again producing fruits to sustain a diverse populations of birds.

The male purple-crowned fruit dove  is the more brightly coloured of the species and he shares nesting with the female. As he sits on the eggs through the day he is forced to gather food at night. Therefore, with his nocturnal habits he is often difficult to find and although this dove is brightly coloured in the dense rainforest these colours are a perfect camouflage.                                                                             
Local fisherman Ross and his mate 'Crino' are a common site at Coquette Point. 'Crino' waits for Ross to come fishing and  Ross told me the bird never eats the bait out of his bucket however, when Ross catches an undersized fish and throws it back in 'Crino' is onto it in a flash. 'Crino' does not approach other fisherman but has this special relationship with Ross. 'Crino' is named after Ross's home town in Italy.
Crino keeps guard over Ross as he fishes.

Beach stone-curlews pair bond for life and set up and defend a territory. At Coquette Point two pairs of beach-stone curlews keep constant guard over their places one pair at the northern end of the beach and the other pair at the south-western end. Beach-stone curlews are ground nesting birds and as well they also spend most of their time on the ground hunting and subsequently are vulnerable to dog attack. Even incidental play-chasing by dogs can exhaust the bird and prevent it from returning to the nest. Subsequently the populations of these birds has dropped significantly and they are on the threatened species list.

As I was watching, one curlew dug its beak deep into the sand and pulled out a crab.

With a swift movement he put his head back and swallowed the crab whole. 
The wide, shallow, sandy estuary at Coquette Point is a rich feeding ground for waders.               At times some migratory waders will winter over in north Queensland. It could be due to their being juveniles and not strong enough for the long flight to the Northern Hemisphere or they may have sustained an injury or not be feeling well at the time. Whichever way rich feeding grounds like the Johnstone River estuary have some populations of shore birds all year.  
As I watched a bar-tailed godwit flew in followed by two pied oyster-catches.

At any time of the year small populations of many species of migratory waders will be found on the rich sand-flats at Coquette Point.          While crested terns were feeding on a sandbank two eastern curlews and a grey tattler waded into the water looking for small fingerlings. At the same time little sand plovers were running along the beach catching ghost crabs.                                                           
  How privileged I felt to have these birds fly in and around me and allow me to watch them feed.
                                                                            Further out I saw a very large tern in amongst the crested terns. The bright red beak was a dead giveaway, a Caspian tern, I could just make out another one on a sandbar out further. It is not uncommon to see a few Caspian terns at any time of the year, however they are not known to breed in the Wet Tropics.

Red-capped plovers were busy pulling worms out of the muddy sand.
At a time of the year when you would not expect to
see a lot of shorebirds I was delighted to encounter
many different species of birds.
                                                                            In the mangroves white-faced heron and little egret were fishing in the backwater.
                                                                           On my return I found 'Crino' by himself, Ross had left and the pelican made no attempt to join the other fisherman.                                                                                                                                                             Glistening turquoise in the bright sunlight a forest kingfisher sat on a dead mangrove tree stump looking for a passing insect to catch.
            The forest kingfisher is the most common kingfisher in the Wet Tropics and often perches out in the open while hunting.    The forest kingfisher has two prominent white windows in each wing which can be seen when the bird is in flight.

Sand erosion at Coquette Point.

The catamaran 'White Beech' was launched this week and while waiting for the tide to come in, some last minute work was carried out fitting the electronics to the hull while the boat was on the beach at Coquette Point. The boat is named from the common name of the giant, rainforest tree Gimelina fasciculiflora, the north Queensland white beech and is a play on Queenslander's 'favourite place'. The white beech tree grows from the catchments to the estuaries of the Barron and Johnstone Rivers. The blue, bell shaped flowers form in spring followed by globular fruit which turn blue when ripe. The fruits fall in summer are eaten by cassowaries. The NQ white beech was heavily logged for its compact, close-grained, cream-coloured timber. The wood was found to be durable in the weather but mostly sort after for cabinet work.                                                                                                                                                                                                   With strong winds expected to continue for the next few days  and the long range forecast predicting a rather wet and windy winter, 'White Beech' is unlikely to venture very far from the river for some time, catamarans are not very durable in bad weather. I 'am not keen on multihull craft; only good for rivers and lakes methinks.                                                                                                                                                                  The effects of wind erosion on beaches is often subtle, however, after several weeks of strong southerly winds the northern movement of the sand bars within the Johnstone River estuary can be seen happening in real time. It reminded me of a tale Les Scheu told when after one storm the Coquette Point sandbar moved so far north it left only a small channel opened and at low tide Les reported he could jump across to the Coquette Point side. As I watched the sand move with the wind this week I could see it happening.  The Johnstone River estuary is a dynamics system and the people who call for dredging should read the history of what has happened in the past when the river mouth was dredged and dredged at great expense. Perhaps they should also come and have a look at what is happening now in these persistent southerly winds.

A reminder tomorrow at the Community Gardens Innisfail the 2013 Sustainability Expo will be held commencing at 9am.                         On Wednesday, World Environment Day a rally will be held at ANZAC Park Innisfail from 2pm to 4pm to greet June Norman and the Reef Walkers. June started her walk from Cairns to Gladstone this morning and will arrive in Innisfail on Wednesday 5th June at 2pm. Come and meet June or better still join the walk for as little or as long as you like.

Cheers for this week and I hope the sun is shining at your place, happy first winter's day.
cheers Yvonne                                         




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