Friday 30 May 2014

Hello from the Mosquito Coast,

Another week of showery, drizzly weather and the mosquito population has reached plague proportions.
The cassowaries walk around with a halo of mosquitoes buzzing around them. It's a tough life in the rainforest.

                  The cassowaries take the opportunity to escape the mosquitoes and occasionaly sun-bake in the open…that is when the sun comes out from behind the clouds.         I was watching Snout and Ky enjoying the sun under the flame tree, Brachychiton acerifolius, when seed pods starting falling all around.

Snout looked up at the tree to see what was causing the rain of seed-pods.  White cockatoo looked down at Snout. I am sure I heard him say "Hello Cassowary".

White Cockatoo was enjoying a feast of flame tree seeds. He would pick a seed-pod, then holding the pod in one claw, carefully extract the seeds. When he finished he dropped the empty seed case down on cassowary.

White cockatoos have a bad reputation with farmers as they do eat horticulture crops and particularly love citrus fruit seeds.

The cockatoos feasted on Ian Laidlaw oranges this week and Ian found the yellow honeyeaters took advantage of the opened fruit.

" The white cockatoos open the fruit in order to eat the seeds, this allows a variety of honeyeaters an opportunity to feast on the exposed flesh of the fruit, nothing is wasted." Ian said and sent this photo of a yellow honeyeater enjoying the sweet orange juice.

Thank you for the lovely photo of the yellow honeyeater Ian.

It is unfortunate when we cut down the cockatoos natural food trees and then plant other fruiting trees on the same land. The cockatoos, in order to find a feed, are left with no other choice. However when their natural food is available, from what I have seen, they will eat that in preference.

Eight white cockatoos have been feeding on the flame trees seeds every day this week.

Some little birds because of their feeding habits are very difficult to photograph. The shining flycatcher is one such bird. This week I heard a male shining flycatcher's harsh scolding crock. The call was very loud and I looked deep into the mangroves to find him. I looked on the mangrove floor as this little bird often feeds amongst the mangrove roots. The male shining flycatcher is completely black, black feathers and black feet as well as shining black eyes.  In the dimness of the mangroves I could not find him but his call sounded louder and louder. Suddenly I saw him right in front of my face, just feet away from me. His mouth wide open revealing the bright red flesh on the inside.

I tried unsuccessfully to capture a photo of him with his mouth open revealing the red inside, between the mosquitoes and the sandflies I lost concentration. Sometime ago I did get a shot of Shining flycatcher, from a distance, with his mouth  open. You can just glimpse the red colour.
This bird is probably the most glamorous of all our flycatchers. When he is seen in the sunshine his feathers take on a blue-green sheen and as such is often called the Satin Bird. He has many calls to his repertoire and when using the scolding crock he will often erect his semi-crest. He does have other calls, a sustained whistle, which is more common and a sweet musical trill.

The luscious edible fruits of the red strangler fig, Ficus drupacea have the birds in a feeding frenzy.

This tree fruits multiple times throughout the year and is a giant in the rainforest growing to over 30m in height and the width even greater.

Yellow eyed cuckoo-shrikes are particular fond of the fig fruits and all this week I have been watching a flock of a dozen of these birds flying into the tree two or three times a day.

The fig birds have eaten all the ripe fruits on the Alexandra palm Archontophoenix alexandrae and are now also feasting on the fig fruits.

Yellow Oriole, seems to prefer the fruits in their yellow ripe stage and with the crowd in the tree, he has been plucking the fruits and taking them to a bougainvillea shrub nearby to eat them in peace.

The days have been very warm for late autumn, 27 to 28 degrees, that is when the sun comes out, and the nights around 23. We had a few weeks of cool weather in May and now this extended drizzly, warm weather which has followed is confusing the birds, particularly Yellow Oriole. While normally a spring breeder I have been watching what appears to be courtship behaviour between the Yellow Orioles.

This bird put on a very noisy display, dancing and fanning his tail and calling in loud bubbly notes to another Oriole in a nearby tree.

The yellow orioles have been displaying in a courtship manner all of this week.

On the beach the pelicans appear to be also engaged in pair bonding behaviour. While pelicans have been known to breed at any time of the year and generally inland, depending on conditions, this year they are most likely to stay on the coast as inland areas are gripped in a continuing severe drought. We may whinge about the rain on the Tropical Coast, yet such a small distance across the Great Divide it is all so different.

Butterflies are in large numbers at the moment and when the sun comes out they feast on nectar, such as this blue tiger on the left.

The swamp tigers, also in large numbers, at the moment are competing for the same wild nectar.

While this female common egg-fly prefers to sink her proboscis into the exotic camellia flowers in my garden.

It is the Ulysses butterflies that have been most active this week and they also appear to be mating.

Some of the butterflies have damaged wings, such as the one in the foreground, but this didn't appear to hinder her flying ability.

Little Slaty the flatback turtle is doing fine. He is taking squid when offered and on the left Russell Constable is offering him some red oak-leaf lettuce.

This week is National Reconciliation Week, and Russell helped me put a display in at the Innisfail Shire Hall for a Reconciliation Morning Tea.

The lovely Karen Yaroseray spoke from her heart about the theme of the week. ' Lets Walk the Talk', and delighted the audience with her heartfelt speech.

The students of East Innisfail School gave us an outstanding performance on drums. These children are very talented.

A reminder that this coming Thursday, June 5 is World Environment Day.

Cheers for this week,

Saturday 24 May 2014

Hello from drenched Coquette Point,

Although it has rained all week ' a ray of bright sunshine' fell on the Cassowary Coast on Monday when The Community for Coastal and Cassowary Conservation Inc, C4, celebrated the buy back of cassowary corridor Lot 66. This was achieved through an extraordinary effort on the part of past and present members of C4. The volunteer members of C4 raised $270,000 toward the $500,000 price tag on Lot 66. A partnership with Queensland Trust for Nature, QTFN, secured the balance of the purchase price.

I asked Liz Gallie of Mission Beach Cassowaries to fill in the history of Lot 66.

In 2007 when Liz saw the sign advertising a 60 acre rainforest property as a development opportunity, she enquired about the ownership of the lot.  "The real estate agent said it was under contract and didn't know why the person was interested in buying as approval would be difficult as there was a mapped cassowary corridor dominating the top and middle of Lot 66." Liz told me.

At the time Mission Beach was booming, sewerage had been installed and an economic upturn brought a focus on Far North Queensland for speculative business opportunities.

Liz told me that at one stage there were 35 development applications, at Mission Beach, being referred for assessment under the Federal government EPBC Act, because of the impact they might have on threatened species or World Heritage areas.

At the time Liz was the voluntary Habitat Coordinator for C4 and had to respond to development applications and changes in legislation with submissions pleading the case for the environment in line with the aims and objectives of C4.

The EPBC Act had never been used to deny a development before so when the then Environment Minister Peter Garrett announced the 40 lot housing subdivision to be "Clearly Unacceptable" because of the impact it would have on the endangered cassowary, this decision gave hope to the conservation community that there may be a change in attitude to development at Mission Beach and a chance that the Cassowary could continue to co-exist within the busy tourist community of Mission Beach.

The importance of Lot 66 to the local and regional habitat corridor system was shown by Terrain NRM and consultants Biotropica's  mapping that identified habitat corridors. It was this mapping that the federal government used to base their decision to refuse the development application for Lot 66.

 Subadult cassowaries migrate to establish their own home range and this is critical to maintain genetic diversity within the populations.  Most of the foods that cassowaries eat are seasonal and the adult cassowary is nomadic within a wide range, often crossing into another bird's territory when there is a cyclic glut of fruit of some tree species. Hence, migration corridors are essential for the survival of the cassowary.

Peter Garrett with Liz Gallie left and Margaret Thorsborne AO right
Liz told me how they used the media at every opportunity to increase the information about the crucial importance of wildlife corridors for the Mission Beach cassowaries. A great achievement has been made possible by many people over a long period of time.

Well done all and a big thank you to Peter Garrett.

                                         Meanwhile at Coquette Point the matriarch cassowary Jessie is moving constantly throughout her home range. Female cassowaries travel over a much larger range than the male. I have seen Jessie at the Ninds Creek Bridge around 8am and at the tip of Coquette Point by 10am; a 4 km walk. Again this week I saw Jessie cross Snout and little Ky's path. This time there was no aggression as Snout and Ky moved quickly away from Jessie.

Ky sat down under a tree and sprawled out and Snout sat down behind him and both birds appeared to sleep. They stayed in that position long after Jessie left.

Ky stretched out his leg and closed his eyes totally relaxed while Jessie was 10 metres away.

Jessie continued on her way and went into the mangroves of the Coquette Point Wetlands.

She turned around and gave a last look at Snout and Ky as she passed through the nursery gate and saw they were still sleeping under the fruit trees and not interested in her.

The old male cassowary at Flying Fish Point appears to have lost one of his chicks. Alison Whatling                                        saw the male with only one chick this week. Alison has watched the two chicks for many months and is concerned for the fate of the other chick. Alison kindly sent me these photos. This Flying Fish Point male bird has distinct markings with a torn wattle and cracks on the top of his large casque. Let us hope the chick has just wandered off and not been killed on the road or by a dog. Flying Fish Point has a major dog problem. It is dangerous for a person to go walking around Flying Fish Point as large uncontrolled dogs are constantly wandering around the suburbs and on the beach. Must we wait for a serious attack on a resident or tourist before CCRC enforces its dog regulations at Flying Fish Point?

Coquette Point is no better and in spite of the NO DOGS sign people are still taking dogs into the World Heritage Wet Tropics Estate.

This morning when I opened the gate I saw matriarch cassowary Jessie, she quickly walked into the gallery rainforest along the road and headed in the direction of the beach. Half an hour later I heard barking dogs, loudly, in a chase. I rushed out with the camera and could hear the dogs chasing something through the mangroves. I feared for Jessie. I heard two men calling loudly for the dogs. The sound of the dogs barking was fearsome as they chased some animal through the mangroves and rainforest. My next door neighbour Lyle appeared, he was very cross as the men were trespassing on his property. Eventually the men returned with the dogs. Lyle spoke to the men and when I saw them I explained that dogs were not allowed in the Wet Tropics Area, they said they had not seen the sign! This is hard to believe as they had walked past the sign. These people have been down to Coquette Point on a number of occasions and I have spoken to them before about their dogs in this area. Now all we can is wait to see if Jessie turns up tomorrow and if she is hurt.

The cassowaries are not the only creatures at risk of harm from pig dogs. I spoke to Ross the pelican man this morning and he said one of the three resident pelicans has an injured leg, he believes a dog had chased it. I saw Ross first thing this morning as I was opening the gate and coincidentally before the dogs mentioned above turned up.

One of the Pelicans was on the beach waiting for Ross.

The other resident shore birds were busy fishing for their breakfast.

Little and Great Egret as well as white-faced heron were fishing. Darter was on the rocks drying his feathers, stretching out his long neck and showing why people call him the snake bird.

When the party with the dogs arrived all the birds flew away.

The black cockatoos are still travelling down to the mouth of the Johnstone River every morning. A few Johnstone River almonds, Terminalia catappa, remain on the trees for them to eat, however, they are also eating the seeds on the paperbark trees, Melaleuca leucadendra. With the drought continuing in western Queensland it appears these resilient birds have permanently moved to the coast.

The hibiscus leaf retreat of the Opisthoncus jumping spider fell this week but not before she made every attempt to build a series of supporting silk cables to hold the leaf. Unfortunately the gale force winds and driving rain on Wednesday night were too much and the leaf-retreat fell.

The next morning she was busy building a net work of silk to commence the construction of a new retreat.  Unfortunately at some stage she either gave up and choose another plant or little leaden fly catcher ate her for dinner.

A small army of leaden flycatchers are now living and hunting around the nursery. The female below caught a jewel spider and had a great deal of trouble in killing it. Jewel spiders have a hard body with a series of black spines. Not an easy titbit to swallow. A few good bangs on the tree branch and down the spider went with a gulp and I think an ouch.

The male leaden flycatchers are engaging in singing contests to establish their hunting territories.
The erectile semi-crest is displayed and the little tail quivers. A long guttural frog-like squawk is followed by a delightful call of tinkling bells.

Eventually one bird dominates and the other flies away only to repeat the display the very next day; endless entertainment for me.

Moths abound at the moment along with their caterpillars, no wonder there are so many birds around.

The hawk moth caterpillar is easily recognised by the dorsal horn on the last segment. Many of these caterpillars are brightly coloured and have eyespots patterned along their segments which are thought to ward off predators.

The host plant for this large, 7 cm hawk moth caterpillar is the Clerodendrum species of plants.

Australia has 65 species of Hawk Moths with the highest diversity occurring in the Wet Tropics.

I found the hawk moth caterpillar on the left descending to the ground on a long silken thread from the branches of its host plant, the golden bouquet tree, Deplanchea tetraphylla . When the larvae of the hawk moths are ready to pupate they move down into the leaf litter where they make a rough open cocoon on or in the soil. The pupal stage lasts from around 1 to 25 weeks.

There are many beautiful moths in the Wet Tropics rainforest and their caterpillars are a major food source for the birds of the rainforest.

One can but wonder at the diversity and patterns of the natural world.

Its great to have a friend at the Queensland Museum and when I couldn't identify a spider this week an email to Robert Whyte gave me the information by return mail.
 I found this beauty on a salvia flower spike. Robert identified it as a Lynx spider in the family Oxyopidae. The 'boxing gloves' signify it is an adult male Robert told me.

All along the Cassowary Coast the beautiful flowers of the native golden penda, Xanthostemon chrysanthus, are showing off their splendour.
This flower is the floral emblem of the Cassowary Coast Regional Council and at the moment the trees planted in the streets and parks around the region are a marvellous blooming sight. If you look carefully you will see their blooms glistening in their natural habitat along the waterways of the Wet Tropics Rainforest.

If you go down to the beach please take a bag to collect rubbish. Every day thousands of birds and sea creatures are killed from items we discard. By far the worst offender is the plastic bag.

Every bit of rubbish you collect could prevent a kill. It is estimated that 100,000 marine creatures are killed every year by plastic.

Please help to keep our coast line free of rubbish.

Cheers for this week,