Saturday 31 August 2013

Hello from Coquette Point on the last day of winter, the winter that never came. However, there is a change in the air and the month of near perfect weather is coming to an end. A series of large high pressure systems, moving across the Bight next week, will bring heavy rain back to the Wet Tropics. Ah well, that is why it is the Wet Tropics.

Russell phoned me this week saying he saw a flock of Little Black Cormorants fishing in the water near the mangroves at Coquette Point. Russell was on the other side at the Coconuts. I went looking for them but they disappeared. However, that night I spied them settling down on Crocodile Rocks. With high tides of just two metres at the start of this week, Crocodile Rocks remains out of the water.
By Wednesday the high tide reached 2.26m at 5.30pm. The cormorants were still camped on the rocks even though the wash from small boats splashed around them.

On Thursday morning the birds moved over to the mangroves close to Barney's Point, (my river frontage). The river was a swirling mass of activity as the birds 'darted' down through the water and emerged with fish. Their green eyes and long shimmering necks gave them the appearance of eels.

Within minutes the splashing attracted the attention of a little pied cormorant, a grey reef heron, two little egrets and a great egret.
The cormorants chased the fish to the bank and the other birds took advantage and feasted on the escaping fish.

At one stage a cormorant held a captured fish in the air showing off his prowess and with one hop great egret swooped and took the fishy offering.



Cooperation between animals is fascinating to watch and try to understand.
'It all came to an end when a dark shadow moved across the water. Osprey dove down into the school of escaping fish and plucked one from the river and clutching it in his claw he flew, dripping with water to a nearby dead tree to dry out. Meanwhile the cormorants, herons and egrets dispersed calling with a great amount of 'croaking' alarm.
On Tuesday evening I was surprised to see matriarch Jessie and Snout walking together in the evening twilight.
On Thursday Jessie was walking by herself with no sign of Snout. Time will only tell if these two produce chicks this year.  The large fruits of the Cassowary Plum Cerbera floribunda are falling amongst the leaves on the rainforest floor. This large, 30m, primary rainforest tree produces fruits of 110mm length. The cassowary can swallow the fruit in one flick of its neck. The cassowaries does not damage the seed of the fruit and the bird is, I believe, the only disperser of these large seed. 
Also fruiting in the rainforest this month is the rare palm Hydriastele wendlandiana. This palm is restricted to the Wet Tropics rainforest. H. Wendlandiana is a tall slender trunked palm, often seen emerging from the canopy, suckering occurs when the palm grows in swampy ground. It is commonly called the 'water palm'. The name is from the Greek hydria, a water vessel and stele, growing tall near springs.

Growing on the margins of the rainforest and in mangrove swamps the vine Hoya australis is in flower. The clusters of waxy flowers are strongly perfumed and the flower petals are pearly white and the flowers exude abundant nectar to the delight of native bees and small rainforest insects.

On the edge of the rainforest and along watercourses the native lasiandra Melastoma malabathricum is in flower. The satin lavender flowers when pollinated produce a succulent fruit with black pulp. The common name 'black mouth'. The fruits are a favourite of cassowaries and are delicious when roasted, they are good to bake on pie tops or to add to jam or chutney before cooking.
The rainforest is full of beautiful flowers and fruits but not everyone enjoys the flavours. I took my new visitors Ellie Basterfield and Brid Mac Elhinney on a bush tucker taste walk and the girls were not impressed with the taste of the Quandongs, but they gave them a try!!

When this metallic-blue jumping spider jumped on Ellie's leg I squealed in delight to see it and Ellie panicked when I said don't move there is a special spider on you! It was all I could do to rescue the little creature as Ellie couldn't see it and mistook my excitement for alarm. In the end no harm came to spider and I even managed a photo before he jumped back into the forest.
The migratory shorebirds are starting to return to Australia. These little birds have flown thousands of kilometres to Alaska and Siberia they arrive on our shores hungry and exhausted the last thing they need is to be chased by a dog, trail-bikes or quads.
Cheers for this week and I hope you get a chance to go down to the beach and welcome the migratory birds back to our beaches.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Hello from Coquette Point,

Another week of perfect weather; warm days, mild nights and slight winds with a few drops of rain at night to keep the trees green.

 The Johnstone river has been busy with lots of boaties, fishermen and of course the champion outriggers. Splendid sunsets and a full moon- rising what wonderful gifts Mother Nature offers.

With such natural wonders all around us who would think that on Wednesday we exceeded the natural  resources that Earth can renew in a year. August 20 was 'Earth Overshoot Day'.

The Australian elections are underway and unfortunately most of Australia's politicians are only concerned about the economy and the Government's financial  deficit. Only the Greens are expressing concern about the ecological deficit of our nation. The environment is not an issue in the 2013 election and yet is the greatest issue facing all of our futures. While newspapers this week were silent on the cries of our poor planet the cries of a baby named George were examined endlessly. Is this a measure of us?

Today, much to my absolute delight  I found another species of jumping spider at Coquette Point.

5000 species of jumping spider live in tropical regions but only 252 have been described in Australia, so far and including this one, Cytaea severa.   Most jumping spiders hibernate in winter and emerge from their retreat when the weather warms.

On Wednesday I briefly saw cassowary 'Snout' striding briskly towards the mangroves. I have not seen him again and there has been no sign of the matriarch 'Jessie' this week but it seems clear that either the courtship failed or if 'Snout' was sitting on eggs something has happened. Either way it is unlikely there will be any chicks from this male this year.

Two of the other males, 'Little Dad' and 'Brown Cone' are still parenting one chick each from last year and the only other senior male, 'Dad 1' hasn't been seen since Christmas Eve when his chick was run over on the Coquette Point road.

While there are other younger eligible males they have not been seen for some time. This could be good news however, with the number of  men with dogs entering the World Heritage area and the Moresby Range National Park I hold great concern for the safety of these birds. A cassowary sitting on eggs is particularly vulnerable.

I saw the men on the right take four dogs into the Moresby Range National Park, they released the dogs apparently chasing pigs, the dogs ran off and the men spent hours calling out and looking for the dogs.

For hours they called but the dogs did not return.

Wild dogs loose in a National Parks is devastating for wildlife. Dogs soon become feral and undermine the very intention of National Parks which is to provide a safe home for native animals.

There is no place for dogs in National Parks or World Heritage areas but it seems the authorities seem to think that this is a politically sensitive issue and are loath to erect 'No Dog' signs.

This week Russell and I went for a walk on the last extreme-low-tide of the year .19m on Tuesday.
We were delighted to see the solider crabs had just emerged. Hundreds of tiny crabs marched in waves across the beach in front of us, we had to be so carful not to walk on them.
These tiny crabs had not developed their signature blue colour but they will grow quickly feeding on the rich detritus washed from the rainforest and deposited on the sand.

The cassowaries know when the crabs are mature and they can often be found hunting on the tidal flats. Another important reason not to allow dogs on beaches which are cassowary habitat areas. The cassowaries and rich mud and sand flats are one of the reasons the coquette Point Intertidal and mangrove area was included in the World Heritage Wet Tropics.

Matriarch Cassowary 'Jessie' fishing for crabs at Coquette Point.

As Russell and I walked out on the sandbar we found this brightly coloured stalk-eyed crab.

In the distance we saw something black and white on the outer sandbar. We thought it was a large piece of rubbish. As we walked closer we realised it was a pelican. We walked closer and the pelican didn't move. In dread I thought the pelican was dead. Not until we were within a few metres did Cherino the Pelican move.

A big Yawn.

A meticulous preen. Then he was ready to pose for the camera.

The two Bar-tailed godwits that had wintered over at Coquette Point were feeding in the shallows.

We were delighted to see the first of the migratory shorebirds had arrived and we saw a flock of Pacific golden plovers feeding in shallow pools with the two resident beach stone curlews.

The Pacific Golden Plover flies great distances in its migratory journey to Artic regions each year.

Further out on the sandbar around 50 crested terns were resting. As we watched some birds took to the air and flew out to sea and other terns returned.

We walked home through the mangroves and Russell ended up with a mangrove mud boots.

A large female Agile wallaby was killed on the Coquette Point Road early on Friday afternoon. Fortunately the Redman family stopped to look and found a baby in the mother's pouch. They took the wallaby to the vet and I understand it will be cared for by wildlife carers. 

High in paperbark and mangrove trees in the swamps at Coquette Point a special epithetic plant lives, this is the ant-plant, Myrmecodia antoinii. The ant-plant has a symbiotic relationship with a special ant phedale myrmecodiae which lives within the chambered tuber of the plant.

Symbiotic relationships between plants, insects, birds and other animals are common in the Wet Tropical rainforest.

I have often watched cassowaries follow metallic starlings and nutmeg pigeons to food trees where the cassowaries feast on the fruit accidentally knocked to the ground by the birds.

Do you remember this beautiful creature I admired last week? Well I was examining the fruits of onion wood and walnut trees and noticed that most of the fallen fruit had been stung perhaps by this fruit piercing moth ;Eudocima iridescens or one of its close friends.  It is normal that fruits stung by these  insects fall prematurely. Do we know how beneficial this is for ground feeding animals like cassowaries?  While we are quick to destroy this moth because it harms our exotic fruits, we give little thought on how we can apply a deterrent spray to fruit and leave the moth to fulfil its natural role in the rainforest. 'In the measure of things there is a place for all creatures'. I find that 2mls of tea-tree oil in one litre of water protects fruit from E. iridescens.

June Norman phoned me this week, she completed her Reef Walk to Gladstone on the 15th August and the walkers congregated at the Gladstone Marina to celebrate the 1200km long walk. The sharing of the experiences was brought to a sudden halt when armed police arrived and questioned and took details from June and the group. What a waste of time when all they needed to do was read the website. Anyway, June expressed sincere thanks to all in the Cassowary Coast area who assisted her. June said the planting of the tree in ANZAC park Innisfail with Aboriginal Mandaburra elder Henry Epong was a highlight of the walk.

I hope the sky is blue at your place.

Cheers from the beach at Coquette Point.


Saturday 17 August 2013

Hello from beautiful Coquette Point,

Another week of perfect spring weather days of 28 and nights of 19, the only problem - it isn't spring.

The cloud formation known as the 'morning glory' formed over the Gulf this week, a full month early. The storm season has commenced in Brisbane with a super-cell forming on Wednesday, also over a month early. Breaking all previous records heatwave conditions of over 40 degrees has Japan sweltering. Meanwhile the Chinese have a established a shipping route through the now ice-free north-west Artic passage.

In Australia a federal election is underway but 'don't mention the environment'. The concern is the economy and everyone wants more.

Meanwhile at Coquette Point cassowary 'Snout' was last seen courting the matriarch 'Jessie' on Monday and he has now disappeared, presumably sitting on eggs deep in the rainforest.

 'Jessie' is walking alone and appears to be checking out the other males. Hopefully, one of them will  take her fancy.

Now that 'Snout' has disappeared the young cassowary 'Don' is hanging about. I was in the vegetable garden when I saw him looking at a pawpaw tree. I was going to pick it that afternoon, but I was too late. Cassowaries love papaws and Don made a meal of my fine fruit in a few minutes even though it was not fully ripe.

Out of the blue this week I heard from some old New Guinea mates and this year the PNG 2013 reunion will be held at the Innisfail Shire Hall. No excuse I am told I have to attend. Please let any expats know about this year's reunion. 30th August 2013. Innisfail.

Went to Liz Gallies' at Mission Beach on Tuesday  and took down the pig's tusks I had promised. Early in the morning I found an amazing moth in Liz's kitchen sink. I picked it up and placed it carefully on my hand and took it outside. The feet were covered in tiny hooked pads and I had quite a job removing the moth from my hand. When I placed the moth on a leaf it closed its wings and looked like a bit of dried leaf.

The front view of this amazing fella shows two false eyes on the head and below two large compound eyes.   Two additional stalk-antennae are on the snout. The stripped feet were covered in hairs which adhered to the leaf surfaces like Velcro. Unfortunately I did not have my macro lens with me to take a better photograph.

The creatures of the rainforest are complex and amazing.

The littoral rainforest of the Wet Tropics is aflame with red this week. The leaves of Terminalia catappa, the beach almond have turned red and will soon fall. The fruits and nuts of the beach almond were important Aboriginal foods and nut-cracking rocks can be found all along the beach areas in the Wet Tropics.

To the delight of nectar-eating birds the blossoms of the coral tree, Erythrina vespertilio are opening in the hot sun along the bear branches of this deciduous, legume tree.

The coral tree grows along the northern and eastern Australian coastline but the seeds of this tree are poisonous. The soft wood also contains alkaloids however, Aboriginal people dried the wood to remove the alkaloids and once cleaned of the poison they carved the wood to make bowls and water-carrying, coolamons. The wood of this tree was also used by Aboriginal people to make shields.

In the photo a noisy friar bird enjoys the sweet nectar flowing from the flowers.

The spectacular inflorescence of Livistona decipiens, the cabbage palm shines golden in the early morning winter sun.

This palm grows along the Queensland coast and will tolerate wet and dry conditions.

The crisp white heart of the palm is edible and its slightly bitter cabbage taste gives it the common name of cabbage palm. The palm heart of the 'cabbage palm' was an important aboriginal food. Once harvested however, the palm would die.

The strangler fig, Ficus drupacea is in fruit again and no doubt that is why I am seeing the cassowaries hanging about.

The succulent fruits are edible and make quite a good chutney. The fruits of course were eaten by the rainforest Aboriginal people.

My neighbours John and Dee Wilson have lost a cow. They have noticed a large four metre crocodile hanging around their wharf area and the cows often went down to the nearby swamp to eat salt-water couch grass. Dee told me she noticed the other two cows will no longer go down to the swamp but are staying close to the house. None of us heard anything and there are no signs of the remains of the lost cow.

The bush stone-curlews are at their vocal best at night. With the waxing moon these nocturnal birds are out in the moonlight foraging for frogs and insects and even a snake or two. Throughout the night they constantly call to each other with loud wails and screeches, a call I have grown to love but it has been very mysterious and disturbing to my French visitors who left today. They will take many (piggy tails) tales back to France of Cassowaries, crocodiles, pigs and birds that scream in the night. Safe travelling Nicolas and Quentin and thank you for all your help with tree planting.

Cheers for this week,

Yvonne C.