Saturday 26 October 2013

Hello from Coquette Point,

While it seems most of Australia is beset with either fires or drought here in the Wet Tropics the weather conditions remain perfect. A little bit of rain this week has already returned a green tinge to the grass and although the days are warm the nights are still cool.

The tides have been low before sunrise this week and perfect for early morning walks on the beach. The terns wait for the sun to rise before they begin their day's fishing.

Each morning this week I have counted over 200  gull-billed terns and one hundred crested terns all on the exposed sandbars and beach at Coquette Point. As the dimness of the morning lifts the terns take to the sky. Gull-bills head up the Johnstone River while the crested turn towards the sun and out to sea.From the quite of the early morning the sky is suddenly full of calling terns. 

The gull-bills have strange feeding habits for what is generally presumed for a seabird. A few weeks ago I saw around one hundred birds circling above me scooping insects from the sky and sounding and looking every bit like hawks. I thought they were hawks but now I understand gull-billed terns also eat a variety of insects including large grass-hoppers and small reptiles and when hunting for insects they behave and sound somewhat like hawks. A day wouldn't be worthwhile if you didn't learn something new.

As I watched, the gull-billed terns disappeared up the Johnstone River heading, most likely, for a fresh-water lagoon or swamp to feed on the insects swarming now in the spring sunshine.

I thought of all the insects I had seen this week and wondered how many of these insect had been eating plants which had been treated with insecticides, now to become part of the diet of the gull-billed terns? The natural world pays a high price for our privileged lifestyle. We have no value for creatures like grasshoppers and yet their design is beautiful and superb for their purpose and throughout Asia they are a major food source for humans. Incidentally the union of these grasshoppers lasted all day.

I also saw dragon-flies mating this week and following their short union they would rest awhile before the female repeatedly dropped her eggs into the water with descending, darting movements.  While this happened the male hovered close by observing and no doubt protecting her.

The main food source of dragon-flies is mosquito larva.

In the mangroves the Burdekin ducks have again paired. Burdekin ducks mate for life and several pairs live around the Johnstone River estuary. When not breeding they live independently, sounds like a pretty sensible arrangement to me.


It is so strange to watch  what you perceive to be fresh-water birds swimming in the waves around the estuary and feeding in the mangrove mud.

River estuaries are habitats for shore birds as well as a wide range of creatures from ducks to wallabies, crocodiles and cassowaries.

Crocodile Creek is this eastern reef egrets preferred breakfast location. As I watched she caught and ate three mullett.

While at the mouth of the creek greater egret used the shadow from his wing to send fish in a scurry making it easy for him to find and catch.

White faced heron took advantage of a fallen melaleuca for camouflage and to spy for fish in the pool below.

Bar-tailed godwits flew to the outer sandbars to fish on the mudflats in the receding tide.

A pair of beach stone curlews also in perfect camoflage extracted crabs from the mangrove mud.

                                                       Suddenly the shadow of crested hawk appeared as he flew into the melaleuca trees, he clasped a frog tightly in his beak. With soft, repeated ee-chou sounds he turned and then I saw the female sitting on a nearby branch.

Softly he called to her as he offered the wriggling green frog.

With beak open wide she reached over and took the frog from him. As she clutched the frog in her beak he continued murmuring encouragement to her and fixed his gaze on her.

Then much to his distress she took the frog from her beak.

Only to change her mind, she sealed the engagement and ate the frog; they flew away together.

Crested Hawks breed from September to March and build large, cupped shaped nests high on the branches of trees. The female lays around three eggs and both birds incubate the eggs.

The Pelicans also appear to have paired and early in the morning they wander down to the water where they carry out a ritual of bathing and aerobics.

If you go down to the beach today and see rubbish, please pick it up and if you can photograph yourself and the rubbish and put it up on the Seasick Oceans Blog. This blog has been started by a former fisherman who wants people to by aware of marine rubbish.



Saturday 19 October 2013

Hello from Coquette Point,

Tonight, wild fires rage throughout New South Wales, the fires have already burnt out over two hundred homes. So far only one person has died and that from a heart attack defending his home. However, firefighters from all over Australia have rallied to help and these men and women put their lives on the line when they tackle the fire-front from the ground. They are super-humans.

Meanwhile the drought throughout central and western Queensland only deepens while south-east Queensland on Friday was battered with severe storms and hail. Winds of over 120km per hour were recorded.

The northern hemisphere's monsoon continues to be extremely active and tonight Super Typhoon 'Francisco' category 4 is heading for Kyoto Japan. There are 10 nuclear facilities in the typhoon's danger zone.

Is our beautiful blue planet trying to tell us something?

Coquette Point has two pairs of beach stone-curlews and over the years the numbers have not increased. This is due to a variety of issues, not the least being dogs. So I was delighted this week to find a new juvenile beach stone curlew in the mangroves at Coquette Point. Isn't it cute?

The beach stone-curlew is listed as Vulnerable in Queensland and it is ranked as a high priority under the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.

 One of the reasons there is a sign saying 'No Dogs on the Beach' at Coquette Point is to prevent the beach stone-curlew from becoming extinct in this area.

We have reached such a tipping point on planet Earth that if we don't start to activitaly protect our environment from any further degradation we will find ourselves living an impoverished existence on an unstable planet with extreme weather events. This won't be our children's inheritance as we are experiencing these conditions now.

It was upsetting this afternoon to find a family walking on the bird rookery with a dog. They ignored the signs and took the dog into the bird sanctuary.

They also ignored the crocodile sign and the children and adults were swimming in the water and not far from where I photographed the crocodile last week! Obviously the whole family was illiterate, otherwise one can only assume they deliberately ignored the signs. I have photos.

Matriarch cassowary Jessie is thirsty and a bucket of water left near the vegetable garden for my use has been claimed by her.

Henry Epong was doing some work on a tank when Jessie strode past him. He spoke to her and suddenly she stopped, turned around and looked at  Henry. James and I were watching and it looked as if Jessie understood what Henry was saying. James and I were not made privy to the communication.

Gertrude the green tree snake has been popping up in the nursery around the plants. So far she hasn't frightened anyone and most people know she is harmless and are fascinated by her.

The Metallic starlings have ramped up their activity and are busily building new nests and repairing old nests.

The Metallic starlings pull fibres from vines and old seedpods and take them back to build their nest. As they weave the fibres into shape they use their tail to hold onto the nest.

They pop in and out of the nest chamber, weaving and shaping and all the while chattering.

Meanwhile male birds return to the nest with fruit offerings for the female. When the female shows no interest the male swallows the fruit. Courtship at the mouth of the Johnstone River is surrounded by the white flowers of Syzygium forte the white apple tree, which is now in full bloom in the Wet Tropics rainforest all over the Cassowary coast.

A food favourite of the Metallic starlings is Macaranga tanarius, the butterfly plant. It is in full fruit at the moment and in between nest construction the metallic starlings swarm all over the tree deftly extracting the hard black seed-ball from the spiked, green capsules.

Many of the Macaranga fruits fall to the ground and waiting on the forest floor is the green turtle dove often covered in a shower of dropped seed. What a beautiful contrast in colours and style the two birds make.

The blush satin-ash, Acmena hemiilampra is also displaying spring flowers. It will take several months for the white berry-like fruits to form and provide food for pigeons and cassowaries.

                                                                            Still only three Pied Imperial Pigeons are roosting at the end of Coquette Point. I saw Margaret Thorsborne this week and she advised that the count for Pied Imperial Pigeons was well down this year. They are going to wait for the November count before making any conclusions.

Two of my three PIP's have paired while the other bird calls plaintively every morning. She moves from tree to tree swishing her wings as only a Pied Imperial Pigeon can. Then she settles down to mournfully cooo for a mate before feeding of the now ripe fruits of the candle-nut tree, Aleurites rockinghamensis.

While the other two PIP's are preoccupied with each other courting and mating.                                                                                                                                                                     S                                                    Sorry I didn't get better photos of the mating as it all happened so quickly and I couldn't get focus on the camera in the early morning light.

There is a small clearing in the mangroves                                         which is exposed at low tide. The clearing is in the corner of a bend in the Johnstone River at Coquette Point and here the herons come to dance.

Darters came to watch the flurry of wings as the herons first dance on the cleared ground then around the trunks of the mangroves.

Grey heron was the first to dance watched by the others.

More darters turn up to watch.

How little we know about the interdependence of the creatures of the Wet Tropics and the significance of a small area of mangrove forest to birds such as these?

I hope you see something amazing and beautiful today.



Saturday 12 October 2013

Hello from Sunny Coquette Point,

One never knows what the week will bring and certainly it is so for me and my camera. The tide was low on Wednesday morning at 5.30am and so I thought an ideal time to walk the sand-flats in the cool of pre-dawn. Sunrise over the rookery was spectacular and as the sun rose the increasing light revealed the wide expanse of sand flats exposed on the low tide.

In the shallows nine pelicans gathered for their morning ablutions overlooked by grey heron.

       A veil of mist hung over the Moresby Range National Park and in the distance I saw a log on
 the sandbar. It looked an interesting shape and I walked over to photograph it.

To my surprise I saw it was a crocodile. There were no drag marks on the sand around the crocodile and it made no attempt to move and I thought it was dead or injured.

I took photographs as I approached. The crocodile still did not move, I was sure it was dead. The nictitating membrane, third eyelid, covered the eye. Suddenly, through the camera lens I saw it open its eyes and ever so slightly the crocodile's head moved.

I do not have to tell you how quickly I retreated!
It was only a small crocodile about 11/2 metres long but I had not intentions of testing it's hunting ability.

 I continued on with my walk and when I returned I saw the crocodile had gone into  the water.

Well you know what they say never smile at a Crocodile and I will add - or try to give a crocodile first aid!

The red-heads are back.

Another migratory wader has returned to Coquette Point the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper.

About 50 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers this week returned from the Arctic to find refuge and sustenance on the sandbars at Coquette Point.

Little red-necked stints were feeding in every pool all over the sandbar.

Red-capped dotterals were racing sand plovers to catch  crabs.

Grey-tailed tattlers concentrated on movements in the water. Further out on the sandbar I saw bar-tailed godwits and pied oyster catches while crested terns fished out to sea. However, I left the area to crocodile and retraced my steps home wards.  

When I returned I found my friend Ross fishing and the pelicans were close by.

Ross believes Ciriono, the Johnstone River resident pelican, has encouraged the others to stay. I noticed one of the pelicans constantly watched Ross and I knew it was Ciriono, however, it remained with the pod.

A Flying Fish Point local advised she had spotted 26 pelicans on that beach this week. No doubt the prolonged drought, throughout all of central Queensland, has forced the pelicans to the coast. 60% of Queensland is now drought declared        and another 20% about to be included.
 It is a very tough time for man and beast on the land. How lucky these Pelicans are to find the Johnstone River.

With the dry hot weather the snakes are on the move. I had my son Martin and Justin Macallum for lunch this week and had been to town in the morning and left the van parked in the nursery. When I returned after lunch Gloria said she saw a very, very,very big snake crawl into the engine of the van. We all looked at Gloria and smiled knowingly, oh yes, no doubt a small tree snake. With much concern from Gloria I put my had down to undo the bonnet. 
OK, OK Gloria you were right!
I ran for the camera while Justin found a rake handle and Martin stood back ready to give advice.  Justin pulled the snake out but it did not want to leave the van.
With a mind of its own the Amethystine Python wriggled and squirmed its way back into the engine.
Martin moved in to help and grabbed hold of python's tail. That didn't work as the snake disappeared into the engine. Snaky, snaky where are you? Here I am!                                                            Justin lay down under the engine looking for the snake when it popped out on top of him.

With a little bit of encouragement the Amethystine python was directed to the pond and has not been seen since, much to Gloria's delight, while it is no doubt, enjoying a feed of the pond's frogs.
It has been another amazing week for finding yet more species of jumping spider. The camera was playing up when I tried to photograph this stripped-leg beauty,  which was large for a jumping spider. I have called it Simon after the  customer who helped me search for it as it was an extremely active creature and kept disappearing. Hopefully I will find it again and get a better photo.
On the other hand, this also large jumping spider, was docile and I took a number of good photos of it. It has four iridescent spots on its leg joints and the gold spotted markings on its body also shone.

The camera was clogged with dust and it is amazing what a bit of 'air duster' can do for a camera.  You can see how large this spider is on my fingernail. Sorry not a very nice fingernail!
This green beauty was only one millimetre long and very active subsequently difficult to photograph. It is astonishing the diversity of jumping spiders in such a small area of Coquette Point.
The mango pine Barringtonia calyptrata is flowering in the rainforest this week and the rainbow lorikeets are delighted. The mango pine is a spectacular rainforest native and is  deep-rooted tree and suitable for growing as a windbreak tree or for street plantings. There are a couple of beautiful mango pines at the Coconuts Park and well worth the trip to see them in flower.
The delicate, nocturnal flowers of the woody caper Capparis arborea are in flower on this rambling shrub that lives behind the sand dunes.  The commercial caper is a different species however, the flower buds of this native are edible and do make a reasonable caper if processed properly.
The fruits of the Davidson plum, Davidsonia prurient are covering the rainforest floor. The dry weather conditions have resulted in a bumper harvest for rainforest fruits and the cassowaries seldom leave the rainforest at the moment as there is so much fruit available for them.

Snake wrangler Justin, who lives at El Arish shares this photo with us, the Cassowary is called 'No Cone' as it has a very small cone, it is a young bird about five years old and in 2011 reared three chicks. It has just come out of the rainforest with four chicks and Justin is hopeful that it will keep them all safe.

Meanwhile, at Coquette Point I have not seen a cassowary for over three weeks and it is an indication that the birds do not need to wander far and are finding all they need to eat within the Moresby Range National Park.

Our thoughts tonight are with the people of India. Tropical cyclone Phailin, a very severe system, category 5, is in the Bay of Bengal and will come ashore tomorrow morning. The cyclone is moving at 9 knots and is expected to generate a tidal surge. It is just before rice harvest time and the cyclone will devastate horticulture crops in the region. It has been a very active monsoon season in the Northern Hemisphere and another system, typhoon Nari, which brought destructive winds to the Philippines is now headed for China.

Keep safe,