Saturday 28 December 2013

Hello from Coquette Point on the last days of 2013,

Its the end of the year so please forgive me while I ruminate over the last year and a little of what it has meant for the environment of Australia. If 13 is an unlucky number, we could say 2013 has been an unlucky year for the Environment of our planet with the global population topping 7 billion and growing. In Australia the last year has seen environmental legislation wound back, so what will happen in 2014?  The number 14 is considered to be the worst number amongst all the unlucky numbers.  In Mandarin the number 14 is almost homophonous with the Chinese word 'si' which means death.  Can we hope it may become a sign to people around the world that we have pushed the ecological systems of our planet to the point of no-return.

Almost two years of the Newman Government in Queensland has seen dramatic changes to legislation governing our Environment and Civil Liberties. Environmental Laws governing development applications are now the responsibility of Local Government with no oversight of the State unless the project is deemed to be a significant project and then the development is 'fast-tracked' by the Co-ordinator General's Department and the locals have to live with, and pay for, the shortcuts.

 Changes to the Vegetation Management Act, (VMA), mean that land holders now self access vegetation types on their properties before clearing, thus enabling landholders to  clear remnant vegetation. Driving around north Queensland it is easy to see essential riparian vegetation disappearing before your eyes - along watercourses and in wetlands. This is in spite of Mr Powell, the Queensland Minister for the Environment, declaring in Parliament that  50 metres of mapped watercourses in priority catchments will remain regulated under the VMA. The critical words are 'mapped' and 'priority catchments', apparently the Johnston Rivers and their tributes are neither 'mapped' nor 'priority catchments', or perhaps no one is looking.

The Wild Rivers Legislation has been wound back and expressions of interest have been advertised for mining exploration throughout Cape York.

The Newman Government has a 'hands off' approach to regulation with Mining Companies and believes that Corporates can self regulate in the Nation's interest. No officer from the Queensland Department of the Environment inspected the June 2013 Santos oil spill in southwest Queensland. Before the removal of the legislation the watercourses of this area were protected under the Wild Rivers Legislation as they are part of the Channel Country which flows in to Lake Eyre. When Lake Eyre floods millions of migratory birds are drawn to the area to breed. Pollution of this area would be a disaster for many species.

The Newman Government has allowed grazing in National Parks and is inviting expressions of interest from companies wishing to develop tourism operations within National Parks. In addition virtually all crocodiles have been removed from waterways in Queensland including within National Parks.

The Queensland Government has just released the first stage of a draft master plan for National Parks in Queensland and it is open for public consultation. The first three areas are Walkabout Creek Visitor Centre, David Fleay Wildlife Park and Mon Repos Conservation Park. For any enquiries about any of the draft master plans email What happens with these parks will no doubt set the guide-lines for all National Parks.

Finally, the new Queensland laws, supposedly framed to control criminal elements within Bikie Gangs, are so broad, and do not specify Bikies, they can be applied to any citizen. I believe these laws have been framed to control all Queensland citizens when and if deemed necessary by the Newman Government - very scary.

The new Abbott Federal Government is 103 days old and in that short time has wound back the environment clock a full decade. Now,  more than ever, we need firm legislative protection for endangered and threatened species and their habitat, but what do we see?

One of the Prime Minister's first moves on gaining Government was to dismantle the carbon tax and the new Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt sacked 150 people in his Department. Greg Hunt states he has a blueprint to transform the nation's environmental laws.

 An amendment to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 if successfully passed will absolves the Federal Government of liability or responsibility in the event of any Environmental mishap. The Amendment Bill  has passed the House of Representatives and is now at the second reading stage in the Senate. Only a public outcry will prevent this legislation from proceeding.

 Tony Abbott's one liner, 'one-stop shop for environmental approval'  is a superficial cliche which ignores the responsibility of the Federal Government to retain oversight on actions that significantly impact on matters of national environmental significance.  State Governments and Territories have signed bilateral agreements creating a single environmental assessment process.

Unless the people of Australia tell their politicians what they want, the politicians will follow the vested interests of the loudest corporate lobby group. One wonders how shrivelled are the hearts and souls of our politicians that they do not care for the creatures on our planet?

But it is not all gloom some bouquets must be given. The Federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt has given $300,000 dollars for turtle rescue and rehabilitation. The Minister also put a stop to sea dumping of dredge spoil at Gladstone Port. Best of all the Mamu people of the Johnstone River were handed back their Native Title by His Honour Justice John Alfred Dowsett AM, Judge of the Federal Court of Australia on the 1st November 2013, in Innisfail.

Meanwhile, here at Coquette Point the Cassowaries have resolved their territorial disputes. Jessie struts   with attitude through the paddock early every morning when she hears the Pied Imperial Pigeons (PIPs) feeding on the now ripe fruit of the Damson plum, Terminalia sericocarpa.  She hurries to the trees where a shower of ripe plums rain down around her. The fluttering PIPs knock more fruit off the tree then they eat as they move from branch to branch.

Young cassowary 'Q' is keeping to the mangrove and hibiscus forest along the riverbank and occasionally you may get a glimpses of her as she goes about her food gathering each day.

On Tuesday night we had a good shower of rain and in the morning the sun shone brightly. I found 'Q' at daylight soaking up the first rays of the sun and drying her sodden feathers.

                                                   ………………………..Can you find 'Q' in this photo?

Cassowary 'Snout' is visiting the Damson plum regularly with his chick. He walks through the orchard mid to late afternoon and never seems to cross Jessie's path.

Snout makes clucking noises and shows the chick what to eat.

The chick is already starting to develop wattles and had just been for a swim in the pond when I took this photo on the left. Unfortunately, I missed the photo of Snout and the chick swimming, no camera, but it was simply wonderful to see.

The chick is full of confidence and I often see it leading Snout as they enter the rainforest.

I have heard some good reports on the birth of new cassowary chicks around the region. At Etty Bay the matriarch has remained with the male and they have three chicks.  At El Arish, down Granadilla Road two male cassowaries have three chicks each. and between Bombeeta Road and Warrakin Road at Mena Creek a cassowary dad has been seen, also with three chicks.

Let us hope most of these chick will survive this coming year.

As I said the PIPs are feasting hungrily on the Damson. 20 or more pigeons fly in at sunrise and some pigeons remain in the tree throughout the day. Late in the afternoon the numbers of pigeons again builds and they coo and whiz their wings as the shift around in the canopy feasting and socialising.

The Damson tree is one of the giants of the rainforest, the branches are layered and the wide canopy provides deep, cool shade on the forest floor. The small fruits turn purple as they ripen and the thin flesh can be made into jam or wine. Aboriginal people ate these small plum fruits.

When the pigeons have eaten their fill some birds remain in the tree to socialise.

While others move away to a nearby fig to rest. No doubt they are the visitors and although the six resident birds allow the visitors to share in the abundance of the Damson they draw the territorial line when it come to preening time and you can hear the residents utter loud, sharp clucking sounds as they claim their territory.

Some of the birds have deep yellow colouring on  their underside feathers,  an indication that these birds are still breeding.

If you look into the canopy of the Damson tree you are sure to see a flash of blue, as this tree is the host plant for the oak-blue butterflies.

Other birds are sharing the feast of plums, shining starlings, fig birds and varied thrillers are regular visitors.

Fruiting at the same time as the Damson and nearby in the forest are native olive trees, Chionanthaus ramiflora. 
The native olive generally grows to form a small rambling tree and is found in littoral and open forest. The fruits are favoured by cassowaries and pigeons. It is not coincidental that the hatching of cassowary chicks generally coincides with the fruiting of the Damson plum the Native Olive and Pandanus.

The warm summer weather always brings an increase in insect activity. The variety of insects that live in the rainforest continues to surprise anyone that looks.

I found this Leaf Katydid, most unusually in leaf litter, and it reminded me how special these creatures are and of an unusual Katydid Russell Constable, Deb P, and I saw when we were looking for frogs at Ella Bay - very late one night this year. Russell managed to get a photo of  the Piggy Back Katydid which turned out to be an undescribed species in the genus Chloracantha. Entomologist David Rentz discovered it and he will be submitting a paper describing this Katydid late next month.  It is hard to believe that in 2013 we are still discovering new species in the rain forests right in our own backyards.

With the increasing  summer humidity Jumping Spiders are very active and this week I have seen lots of my old friends hanging about looking for food. Coquette Point, with its melaleuca forests appears to be a hot spot for a diverse range of jumping spiders.

The loud, continuous notes of the male cicadas as they sing together, perhaps announcing the imminent arrival of the monsoon, has been background noise all this week.

The second cyclone of the season has formed off Western Australia and is expected to track south and cross the coast near Karratha on New Year's Eve.  The cyclone is not expected to pull the monsoon trough down nor have any effect on FNQ's weather; fine, fine, fine for the start of the New Year.

As you celebrate the end of the year make the time to whisper some words of love in someone's ear.

Remember the flower that falls is twice blessed.

Please take the time to ponder on patterns in the sand.

Peace and happiness throughout the New Year,


Saturday 21 December 2013

Hello from Coquette Point and a very happy Summer Solstice,

Please value every extra second of this longest day of the year.  The sun rose over the Coquette Point rookery at 5.38 this morning in a blaze of colour.

It has been gardener's weather with rain falling at night, about 10 mls and mostly sunny through the day. A fresh sou-easterly is bringing cool breezes to the coast and we are experiencing very mild weather for this time of the year. While the southern cities, this week, have had heatwave conditions, temperatures over 40 in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.

The frogs and other rainforest creatures are responding to the increasing moisture and with every passing shower a chorus of calls springs from every corner. It's as if an unseen conductor was prompting their calls for when the showers come the white-lipped tree frogs, which have made their home in the roof downpipes, start their mating calls and the crocks are amplified in the down-pipe-organ. Then the string section of the rainforest orchestra commences with crickets calling in a continuous long high note. A distant rumble heralds the percussion and the scrub fowls are summoned into action and their loud chortles and screams punctuate the rainforest symphony. So it is tonight, and it will continue for the next three months.

Cassowary 'Q' is being harassed by 'Jessie' and she is continuously alert to Jessie's noise and smell.

At the first sign of Jessie she runs and hides in the rainforest. On Tuesday I was on my way up the track to check on the water tank on the hill and heard chasing,  'Q'  as running and I saw 'Jessie' close behind. When 'Jessie' saw me she stopped and 'Q' who had hidden near the water tank peered out from behind a tree.

Looking with just one eye she watched until 'Jessie' left, all the time keeping herself concealed, but for the one eye looking.   Good thinking to take the camera with me!

These are indeed wonderfully, strange creatures.

Meanwhile Jessie is enjoying the pandanus fruit which is ripe and plentiful in the swamp and smelling very sweet. When she finishes eating she will often stand with her legs crossed while the rain falls heavily on her feathers.

The Leichhardt Tree, Nauclea orientalis, fruits are ripe and falling.

When 'Jessie' has her fill of pandanus she moves across the road to the Leichhardt Tree and always looks up to see where other birds are feeding and might knock some fruit down for her.

When she eats all the Leichhardt fruit she moves across to the Meleleuca swamp on 27V, where there is a grove of pandanus.

'Jessie' has maintained this feeding ritual all this week.

On Tuesday 'Snout' turned up with his new chick. Again he was very nervous and hungry. He was lucky to find a few wax jambus and he gobbled them up with no concern for the hungry chick.  However a ripe Jackfruit had fallen from a great height and when he found it he called to the chick to join in the feast.

Across the road and the chick right beside Snout's feet.

I thought how will the chick negotiate the gutter but with a hop, the envy of a kangaroo, the little chick was down and out of the gutter in one camera click. This little chick is very strong and deeply bonded to his father.

Going to town on Thursday I saw a cassowary before the bridge. When I looked at the photos I was thrilled to see it was an old matriarch I had not seen sense before cyclone Larry, 20 March 2006.

This old girl has extremely long wattles and they are spaced apart and of equal length. When we saw her she was crossing the road looking for ripe mangoes on wild trees in the area.

She is called 'Clara' after Clara Mau.  Deslie, Clara's daughter told me the cassowary had been coming around for a few weeks and was chasing the other birds in the area.

Deslie also advised that 'Brown Cone' still had his chick, which has now lost its stripes, but best of all there is another new father with a chick, unfortunately no photos as yet. Deslie said it was a young cassowary about four years old and its chick was very small. The only cassowary I know to suit the description is 'Dot'. We will just have to wait for a photo.

So it seems, at the moment, we have four male cassowaries with one chick each at Coquette Point. Last year only one chick survived to subadult hood, 'Little Dad's' chick and the year before 2011 no chicks survived, mainly due to cyclone Yasi.

Last week I invited you to suggest a name for cassowary 'Dad 1' and Ruth and I have agreed that Juliann Sweeney, from Adelaide, suggestion of 'Hero' was the name that best suited this great patriarch cassowary. So 'Hero' he is.

I was on the road on Thursday with Russell Constable we were headed for the mouth of Liverpool Creek at Cowley Beach. Russell, was monitoring and photographing for the Mandubarra Elders, the traditional owners of the area, and I was invited to accompany Russell.

We were excited to see and hear the unmistakable call to the Little Tern as we arrived and observed they were fishing up Liverpool Creek, around the sand spit as well as out to sea. There was a fresh sou-easterly of 30knots blowing and I was grateful we had approached the area from the calm of the mangrove lined creek. The South Barnard Islands National Park lie off shore and the snow white, puffy cumulus clouds made patterns in the water and on the beach as they shadowed the sun.

The terns flew over and around us their attention concentrated on the schools of fish in the water.

We saw a number of little terns carrying fish to the rookery, as we watched as one tern dropped down onto the sand and saw a chick nearby. The chick is so well camouflaged it can barley be seen amongst the detritus on the sand.

Elsewhere Little Terns were descending to sit on eggs and by so doing cool the eggs with their wet feathers.

We waited for the tern to leave the eggs and approaching the rookery from the western side observed two eggs in a scrap in the sand.

Elsewhere on the spit other little terns were also sitting on eggs.

The nest were on the western side of the spit, with just a little protection from the wind and breaking waves.

The spit at Cowley is protected from motor traffic by the Liverpool Creek estuary.                                          
Once Little Terns and turtles nested on the northern side of Liverpool Creek but four wheeler traffic, mostly Quad bikes has rendered the beach lifeless and prone to erosion.

Russell and I left the spit and walked south along the foreshore.

The beach and dunes in this area were severely affected by cyclone Yasi, however, now the area is making a strong recovery with healthy communities of dune vegetation growing down to the high water mark and no sign of erosion.
As we walked along the beach we disturbed two colonies of Greater Sand Plovers, about 60 birds in one and 30 in the other.

A stalk-eyed ghost crab was scurrying along the sand and didn't seem to mind when I came close with the camera. Unusual to see these crabs in the middle of the day.

We returned to the spit and the sound of the Little Terns feeding.

I looked back on the beauty and peace of this special place and hoped that the Little Terns will stay safe during the school holidays.

On the return trip up Liverpool Creek I took a series of photos of the mangroves and although damage from cyclone Yasi can still be observed, I could find no evidence of dieback and there was a healthy recruitment of the forest in areas that had received the full force of the storm.

 A juvenile white bellied sea-eagle flew directly overhead.

As we motored back an Eastern Great Egret flew out from the mangroves lifting his giant wings effortlessly.

It was low tide when we returned but Russell managed the boat back on the trailer without any problems. A great little boat, light but stable and comfortable.

With Christmas school holidays started a lot of children will be going down to the beach and there is some hysteria about crocodiles. Unfortunately it is stupid, carless people that the Government should be clamping down on. This week a couple of young men were fishing at Coquette Point, when they left I collected two bucks of rubbish including a broken rod and fishing line. They also left behind and strewn on the beach a bucket of bait. I looked at the bait feeling sad at the waste and you know the feeling when you think something is watching you………….

Crocodile Midget had also smelt the bait and was waiting for the tide to come in or perhaps for me to leave. It is stupidity like gutting fish or leaving bait that attracts crocodiles to beaches.

Over the last few years retiree-migrants from the city have settled at Mission Beach, having left the city they were looking for a sea-change but now they hanker for a faster way of life and are trying to impose changes on the natural landscape of Mission Beach.
The jetty at Clump Point was replaced with funding from the Yasi disaster fund but now there is lobbying to erect an ugly breakwater out from the jetty. Any such breakwater will have profound effects on the Bay and in the event of another cyclone is likely to break up and destroy the new jetty. Please click onto the Cassowary Coast Alliance web site on the right and sign the petition against the rock wall breakwater at Clump Point.   CCA Petition against the rock wall breakwater at Clump Point. Mission Beach is naturally beautiful, please leave it that way.

The Christmas beetle and I wish you a very happy and peaceful holiday. Yvonne.