Saturday 22 February 2014

Hello from the Coquette Point sauna,

The monsoon settled down over far north Queensland this week and the humidity jumped to 98%. Fortunately the midday temperature has sat in the mid thirties, although, it feels hotter. Rain falls every night and the rainforest and the mosquitoes are growing; of course it's the Wet Tropics!
Monsoon rains have reached the drought stricken western Queensland river catchments and overnight dry river beds are full and overflowing onto the parched land.

Charlene has returned and she has been sun baking on a new sand-bar that has formed off the beach since the flood. Perhaps she was flushed out of the mangrove lagoons and is spending some time in the big river again.  She is very timid and as soon as she saw me she slipped into the water. Still under two and half metres she is safe for the time being from conversion to a hand-bag!

A large amount of detritus has been washed out from the rainforest floor during the heavy flood-rains and it is now piled up around the Johnstone River estuary. Soon micro-organisms will break this detritus down and grazers like worms and urchins and detritus feeders like crabs will sift through this nutrient soup and then it will all disappear. This is the secret to the food-chain that supports the resident and visiting shore birds of Coquette Point.

I watched the northern pair of Coquette Point's beach-stone curlews run in the shallows chasing crabs.

While out on the sand-bar whimbrels played in the surf.

As I returned from my walk I saw Cassowary Snout and his chick Ky standing on the beach like egrets fishing. I ran closer to get a photo and unfortunately startled Snout who took off into the mangroves with Ky following.
It was so amazing to see Snout teaching little Ky to fish for crabs. Cassowaries are indeed strange creatures.

It was only a matter of time before Snout brought the chick into the nursery to introduce it to 'Plastic Cas' and it happened this week.
As I watched Snout turned to Ky and appeared to speak to him. It imagined what he said was 'turn your head and don't look at 'Plastic Cas'. They both turned their heads to the side and then walked away.

At every opportunity little Ky takes a swim and has learnt how to dry himself with a good shake.

Ky is growing quickly and his white stripes are disappearing.  He is very obedient and never strays far from Snout.

Snout's chick Rosie, (from 2010), is now an adult and I saw her eating Panama berries from a tree outside a house at the top of the hill this week.

Rosie is looking very healthy and developing long wattles and an unusually patterned casque. She has short legs and from the loose skin on her feet it appears room for growth.

Rosie maintains a range that keeps her apart from her dad Snout.

                                  A new visitor arrived this week and she kept to the top of the melaleuca trees where she sang her secret, urgent song as she harvested insects in the canopy of the melaleucas.
 The Cicada bird is a very shy bird and not easy to photograph. It has an unusual call of a sharp urgent 'cheep' the male's call is a loud prolonged buzz, like  a cicada, I did not see a male cicada bird and I understand the female is often a solitary traveller.

She twitched her tail and called as she hopped from branch to branch chasing insects.

Above the Cicada bird out on the branches the Melaleuca leucandendra is starting to flower. The nectar laden flowers are a buzz with insects and no doubt much to the delight of Cicada bird.

In the mangroves the female 'blind-your-eye-tree' Excoecaria agallocha was in full flower this week, turning its green mangrove zone, golden, but only for a few days. This is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family and its milky latex is extremely poisonous. Aboriginal people used dried crushed leaves of this tree to kill fish. Excoecaria species of mangrove grow in the low saline zone of the mangrove forest.

Also flowering in the mangrove forest this week is the delightful little mangrove rambler Clerodendrum imerme. This rambler will form dense green curtains covering trees in the lower saline zones of the mangrove forest.

Early in the morning as soon as the sun shines the Pied Imperial Pigeons settle down on old tree stumps to dry out before finding a tree to breakfast in.

The poisonous berries on the white cedar, Melia axedarach have turned yellow and ripe and the pigeons are enjoying a welcome change of diet. Can you find seven PIPs feeding in the tree below?

The PIPs have also added the ripe fruits of the Umbrella Tree, Schefflera actinophylla to their diet. The bright red spokes of the umbrella's inflorescence are flowering throughout the rainforest much to the delight of the birds, animals and insects that relish the nectar of the flowers and the fruits that follow.

It has been deeply overcast until about ten each morning this week and the female Garden Orb Weaver spider has remained on her web.

I photographed the male last week so here is the female Eriophora transmarina. As she is nocturnal in order to see her you generally have to be up early. or walk around outside at night where their webs are often strung across pathways near night-lights that attract insects.

I saw another 'unknown' species of jumping spider, or at least to me, again this week.

A great number of spiders out and about at the moment, which is a good thing as one of their favourite food items is the mosquito and there are certainly plenty of them about at the moment.

The high humidity has triggered the female bird-wing butterfly into a frenzy of egg laying. Early in the morning before she or the leaves are dry from the overnight rain she is up and flying about finding the leaves of her host vine the native Dutchman's pipe, Aristolochia tagala, on which to lay her eggs.

This is a rampant vine growing vigorously over garden shrubs in summer. As soon as the bird wing's caterpillars hatch they eat the leaves and even the stalk of the vine, right back to its rhizome on some occasions; so never prune this vine as the bird wing's caterpillars will do it for you.

The Coquette Point Wet Tropics signs have again been vandalised. This time with what looks like an axe. Why?  Who are these people who do not value the natural world?  What sorry, deprived individuals they are, they must live a miserable life and I am sorry,  but I have no sympathy for them.

However, it makes one wonders that although this vandalism was reported to Police and Council there appears to be no investigation to discover the culprit!! Again why?

But nature is always there to show her magnificence and make nasty little people and their actions fade from memory.

I hope you find a rainbow this week.


Saturday 15 February 2014

Hello from Coquette Point,

For the time being the sun is out and already the wet is distant in our minds. However, you may have noticed the inshore Coral Sea's waters are still turbid from the coastal run-off of this recent flood event.

High-bank erosion along the North and South Johnstone River, caused by the clearing of all riparian vegetation and combined with poor farm practices, results in the loss of precious farm top-soil containing fertilisers, insecticides and residual herbicides. The effect on the Great Barrier Reef from these sediment-loaded-run-off-waters is devastating.

Meanwhile back in the rainforest cassowary chick Ky is growing fast. He has lost his blue eye colour and his eyes have  turned a deep shade of brown. On his chest a black patch is appearing and his white stripes are slowly being covered by brown feathers.

I was surprised to see Ky plucking at grass like a wallaby, he pulled the grass out by the stalk and ate it. Just goes to show we all need to eat our vegetables.

The beach almond Terminalia catappa fruits are ripe and falling and this week the cassowaries have added these fruits to their diet. They are still eating lots of pond apple, guava Alexandrae palm and white apple fruits.
The ripe almond fruits have brought the black cockatoos down to the coast and I hear their call as they forage in the beach almond trees behind the mangrove zone; no photos yet.

Snout is a very protective Cassowary Dad and little Ky is never more than a few metres away from him.

The bush stone curlews have been calling at night with ever increasing excitement and this week they took their new chick on a day time exploration around the nursery grounds.

The chick is large, about half the size of the adults and is constantly on the move happy to be free to run about.
Mum and Dad watch on and seemed to be in discussion over the chick's youthful exuberance.

Like many ground nesting birds, bush stone curlews are in trouble. Once wide-spread around Australia they have already disappeared from many locations. One of their greatest threats comes from lawn-mowers and slashers which run over eggs and newly hatched chicks.

Over the last few weeks I have seen an increasing number of fig-birds struggling to feed in the rain. When the rain eventually stopped they sat out in the open sunbathing. The male fig-birds puffed up their bright yellow breast feathers and faced into the sun drying out for the first time in two weeks.

The Pied Imperial Pigeons and Shining Starlings are constantly feasting on the fruits of the Alaxandrae palm, Archontophoenix alexandrae.  These two species of migratory birds seem to feed together in harmony and I have never seen any aggression from either species.

 Once Alexandrae palms were a dominant feature of low lying areas around the coastal Wet Tropics, now very few Alexandrae palm swamps have survived development.  One such palm swamp in Innisfail has been preserved as a Conservation Park, it was donated to the people of Innisfail by the late Andy Carello and it is situated on the southern side of the Flying Fish Point Road. If you have the opportunity take a walk into Carello Park and marvel at the beauty in this very small remaining sample of the Innisfail rain forest landscape.

The Pied Imperial Pigeons clamber over the Alexandrae palm inflorescence with incredible dexterity.

What would a week be without a spider or two and to keep Ruth L., our Coquette Point arachnid lover happy, I look for spiders to photograph most weeks.

This big fella was sleeping on a branch and I could not identify him so I sent a request to Rober Whyte, the spider man at Queensland Museum via Ruth and he kindly replied.
" You are right it is nocturnal, and you probably have seen the female quite often. It is Eriophora transmarina, the garden orb weaver, and this is the male It looks quite different sort of (from the female).

It will also make a web at night and take it down in the morning hiding in foliage nearby to do it all over again. Males are fairly rarely seen, as when adult they may not bother with a web at all, just on the hunt for a partner to mate with, then they lose interest in life and wander off, a bit bemused and befuddled, like most males."

Thank you Robert for this generous information. It just goes to demonstrate the difference between male and female of many species.  I had read a descriptions of the male garden orb weaver before and it had said the male was considerably smaller than the female, this spider however, was  at least twice the size of any female garden orb weaver spider I have seen. This is one hell of a big boy spider.

Lots of Jumping spiders around this week but no new species. However I had not seen a Zenodorus orbiculatus with red legs before, very cute with its contracting black body.

This week two cases of dengue fever have been confirmed in Innisfail. Since the rain mosquitoes are breeding out of control and we need all the help from Jumping Spiders and Dragon Flies to balance out the outbreak. Most of all we need to be aware of breeding sites around the home; blocked gutters, containers of water, palm leaves and so on. In Cairns there has been 74 cases of type one dengue fever confirmed and 17 in Port Douglas so it was only a matter of time before Innisfail had the first case.

If you do not like to use commercial mosquito repellent preparations you could try what I use.
Purchase one 750ml bottle of Sorbolene Lotion for sensitive skin, pour out approximately 50mls of the lotion from the bottle. This allows room to add the plant oils.
                                Add; 2mls of pure citronella oil, (only available from a pharmacy),
                                        2mls of rosemary oil,
                                        2mls of lavender oil,
                                        2mls of tea-tree oil.
Shake the ingredients and apply to exposed areas of skin.
Remember everyone is allergic to something so test this preparation on a small area of skin to see if there is any allergic reaction to this combination of plant oils.

Another surge in the Monsoon is expected next week so you have a few days to clean up mosquito breeding sites around and, most importantly, inside the home before the next rain event arrives.

Cheers for this week,


Saturday 8 February 2014

Hello from a very wet Coquette Point,

On Monday a flood warning was issued for the Johnstone River.  Last week TC Dylan dragged the monsoon down to south-east Queensland, when Dylan petered out the monsoon returned and at the same time a south-easterly surge pushed up the coast causing a convergence zone over the Wet Tropics. Falls of over 400 mm were recorded in catchment areas and all the Wet Tropics Rivers were in flood. The Johnstone River became a roaring torrent and overflowed into Jodrell Street.

Many other roads in the Shire were also flooded.
The monsoon trough is still sitting over the tip of north Queensland and has five tropical lows embedded in it.  The low which was TC Fletcher is playing hide and seek with the weather bureau and although the prediction is for it to move in a westerly direction there is still hope that it will move south and bring rain to the drought areas of western Queensland.

While in the north of Australia we are experiencing, what is in fact, a normal wet season in the south of Australia severe to extreme heat wave conditions are continuing to be experienced. The forecast for Monday is that these heat wave conditions will affect inland NSW, the southwest of Queensland, far northwest of Tasmania, throughout South Australia as well as large parts of northern and western Victoria as well as the southwest corner of Western Australia.

Tonight residents in the Adelaide Hills are being evacuated as bush fires threaten homes. Courageous firefighters are battling fires amid extreme heat conditions.

Meanwhile, heavy rain continues to fall over the Wet Tropics and a flood warning has been reissued for all coastal rivers in far north Queensland.

It is a constant job to keep the leaves out of gutters that want to become rivers but the consequences if you don't is a washed out road.

While I was clearing the leaves out of the roadside gutter alongside the rainforest, yet again this afternoon, I noticed a number of new saplings had burst into new growth and their beautiful new red leaves showed the promise of the forest returning to its pre-cyclone splendour.  The sapling tree on the right Syzygium alliiligneum no doubt has grown from a cassowary scat.


This week the wild guava trees are dropping their fruits and the cassowaries are enjoying this tasty addition to their diet. The scats still contain a lot of pond apple and also white apple as can be seen in the very fresh scat on the left.

Every evening, about six pm, Snout walks up the hill and crosses into the rainforest to bed down for the night. If the chick is dallying a little Snout stops and turns utters a low growl and the chick scurries to his side.

One can almost read in the body language of the birds, the little chick making excuses for being slow and Snout warning that it was time to make a bed before nightfall.

Snout is proving to be a very attentive Dad and I am very hopeful the chick will survive.  Ruth and I discussed the naming of the chick this week and agreed on Ky.

I watched the old female white-breasted
sea-eagle fly very low over the Johnstone River straining to find a feed in the turbid flood waters of the river. She flew into a tall coconut tree alongside the river where she sat on a branch to gain a vantage point and perhaps find some reprieve from the wind and rain.

I moved around the tree to get a better photo of her and she became aware of my presence and looked down at me. Unfortunately, although overcast and drizzling rain, I was looking into the glare of the morning sun and it was not the best conditions in which to photograph.

This White-breasted Sea Eagle has its nest on a tall Melaleuca leucadendron tree deep in the mangrove wet-lands of Coquette Point. Many years ago, when I used to canoe through these wetlands,  I saw her nest; unfortunately in those days I did not carry a camera. Now the access, through the maze of creeks and lagoons, to her tree has been blocked by cyclone debris. However, I often see her fly over the estuary  and up the Johnstone River although, I have never before seen her land on a coconut palm frond. If it is the same Sea Eagle I have been watching all these years, and I believe it is, she must be approaching 30 years which is about the maximum lifespan for these birds.

The While-breasted sea eagle breeds between May and October so she has a few months of freedom to explore and hunt before she returns to domestic duties.

I know it is hard to believe but I found two more species of jumping spiders at Coquette Point this week that I had not photographed before. The one below was about 5 mm long and very active.

Whereas the other spider was no bigger than a small pinhead, about 1 mm and I believe it is of the genus Simaethula but that is only a guess.

Lots of male Mopsus mormons around this week but haven't seen any females of the species.

One little Zenodorus orbiculatus was going quite silly running around in circles with an ant in its jaws. I had the feeling the ant was trying to bite it. It eventually disappeared into the shrubby still holding the ant.

The wet weather has triggered the Longicorn beetles into activity. Although this is not a beetle you would want to handle as it may bite with strong mandibles that can cut. However, one must admire the armour-plate exoskeleton structure of the bodies of this beetle, the long legs are jointed and possess sharp claws.  The antennae are longer than the beetle's body length; they are like two sensory lances and they are mounted within the margin of the eye. The eye extends in a semi-circle around the antennae and allows the beetle a view front, sideways, above and behind. The hexagonal lenses of the eye can be seen in the photo below.

The larvae of some species of Longicorn beetle particularly from the Prioninae family were eaten by rainforest Aboriginal people in the same way dry country tribes ate witchetty grubs which are the larvae of the cossid moth.

The wet weather and last week's King tides have confused the mangrove crabs. They have invaded the nursery and can be found scurrying around under benches and between pots, much to the delight of children visiting the nursery.

In spite of the rain the creamy white flowers of the sumac tree Rhus taitensis have opened and they spread across the broad canopy of the tree. In the dim and damp conditions over the last week the sumac flowers brighten the rainforest and offer a feast of nectar to insects.

I hope you find a flower to brighten your day,

cheers for this week,