Saturday 27 September 2014

Hello from the land of falling leaves,

At this time of the year the Wet Tropics coastal rainforest undergoes transformation. Many of the coastal species are deciduous in spring and before the leaves fall they colour the rainforest canopy with splashes of yellow and red.

When the leaves fall to the rainforest floor they return their nutrients to the tree while at the same time forming a thick cover around the tree's roots thus providing food and shelter for the creatures of the rainforest.

The thick mulch of leaves on the rainforest floor is quickly broken down by beneficial fungi and microbes. This process is accelerated when the first of the summer storms  drench the parched forest. When the rains come the leaf mulch breaks the heavy raindrops holding the valuable soil and preventing runoff. Only when feral pigs are active in the rainforest, disturbing and breaking the mulch layer, then the runoff water carries the valuable top soil with its nutrients into the waterways.

 The brief opening in the forest canopy is the opportunity for saplings, suddenly bathed in sunlight and nourished by the fallen leaves, to grow and reach for the sky.

Scurrying around on the rainforest floor the northern brown bandicoot turns over the leaves looking for insects concealed beneath.

This is the largest of the Australian bandicoot species and their diet is omnivorous, eating  berries, grass seed, insects and dead leaves.

The northern brown bandicoot is also nocturnal but if you are about very early in the morning you will find them still feeding and especially at this time of the year when there are so many newly fallen leaves.

I was watching two bandicoots feeding on leaves when one turned around and I noticed it was blind in one eye.

Close by there was a larger bandicoot also turning over the leaf litter, possibly a male, it was missing a leg. These little fellas have had a tough life, perhaps encounters with dogs or cats.

At sunrise the bandicoots went off for their daytime sleep underneath leafy blankets in the rainforest. Now it was time for the Emerald dove to forage in the leaf litter for seeds.  He scratches the leaves with his large purple feet looking for any seeds the bandicoots may have missed.

From high in the paperbark, Melaleuca leucadendra, tree a new arrival calls it is
the brush cuckoo and  his arrival signals the start of warm weather.  His high frenzied call reaches a crescendo as he boldly announces his presence.

The spectacular female Indian Koel has arrived to join her male and her beautifully spotted upper feathers contrast with the baring on her under feathers and tail.

The strangler fig is still offering its fruits to visiting birds and female common koel pops in and out of the canopy as she searches hungrily for the figs.

Nearby a male common koel watches her, silently, and with obvious interest, not yet ready to commence courtship.

I was standing on the beach late on Wednesday afternoon at low tide looking out to sea where the terns were fishing in the shallows and on the sand flats. I saw young beach stone curlew and grey-tailed tattler running towards me. It was so unusual and then I noticed a whimbrel and several other birds also moving quickly towards me. Why I thought?  Suddenly from beneath the sand around my feet thousands of solider crabs emerged, they were scurrying across the sand and it was the noise of the crabs that had attracted the waders to move towards me. I stood absolutely still while I watched the birds feed on the solider crabs. This was the first emergence of the soldier crabs for this season.

'Yuk, yuk, this crab tastes awful'.

Beach stone curlew picked up a soldier crab, tried to swallow it, turned his head from one side to the other choking. He ran to a pool of water and vigorously washed out his mouth. Apparently the soldier crabs were not to his liking.                                                  

Whereas grey-tailed tattler was scooping up the crabs as fast as he could swallow them.

Another tattler rushed in to feed on the crabs. There were thousands of crabs on the sand enough for hundreds of birds, but this grey-tailed tattler wanted them all for himself and a fight for possession of this little crab-patch started.

The fight continued for seven minutes and just as I was feeling real concern for the welfare of the birds it was over. One of the birds turned and ran for his life still pursued by the other tattler, even when in flight, for about 100 metres. The victor soon returned and took possession of the crabs.

Greater sand plover, who was a spectator throughout the fight, recommenced feeding and was ignored by the returning grey-tailed tattler. Elsewhere on the beach grey-tailed tattlers were feeding in groups quite happily. I have seen fights between shorebirds before but never for so long nor as aggressively as these two birds fought.

High on the beach I found fresh cassowary footprints. When the solider crabs emerge the cassowaries will chase the crabs out onto the sand flats at low tide. I saw several different sets of cassowary  footprints and all of them from large, heavy birds.

I have seen Snout and Ky only twice this week and with every week I notice Ky's neck colours are becoming more pronounced.

The launch of World Cassowary Day at Kuranda convened by Paul Webster and supported by the Kuranda Conservation Society, was opened by Djabugay traditional owner Marbella Brim with a Welcome to Country.

Djabugay Traditional Dancers then performed a number of dancers including their cassowary dance.

Signs painted by local school children at Mission Beach and photoshopped by Liz Gallie into road signs made by Terrain NRM, were displayed around the park.
Michael Trout MP the member for Mulgrave is very concerned at the number of cassowary deaths on far north Queensland's roads and he intends to lobby for better signage.

Curtis Pitt the member for Mulgrave attended and when Paul Webster played his song "Karl the Cassowary",  Curtis sang along apparently familiar with the words to the catchy tune.

Channel seven, Win Television and the ABC live broadcast came along for the event. Paul Webster sang Karl the Cassowary live to air for the ABC outside broadcast.

The only Local Government representative attending the launch of World Cassowary Day was Mareeba Mayor Tom Gilmore. Tom told me he was looking at a number of Local Government by-laws concerning wild dogs as well as road speed limits in cassowary habitat.

Curtis Pitt told me he intended to push for World Cassowary Day 2015 to be celebrated in the Cassowary Coast Region. I know the members of the Cassowary Coast Alliance will support and assist with any such arrangements in order for this to happen.

On his Facebook page Curtis posted, ' Their (the cassowaries) continued survival is dependent on our constant vigilance to ensure that they have sufficient territory to roam, find food and water and escape their predators which include domestic dogs.'

Liz Gallie captured the afternoon at Ninney Rise.
We had a lot of fun today at the Ninney Rise afternoon tea open day. The tea was kindly donated by Sibby Nucifora of Nucifora Tea Plantations and I heard over and over.   "The best cuppa I have ever drunk".

Angi Matveyeff from Friends of Ninney Rise organised a collection of beautiful tablecloths, tea pots and tea cups. The wide cool verandahs of Ninney Rise were ideally suited for the occasion.

We were treated to a talk by Peter Kellett on the history of the Cutten Brothers farming endevoures at Bingil Bay and learnt that they grew over 100 acreas of tea at Bingil Bay. Peter told us the Cutten Brothers' tea plants became the source for tea seedlings when 100 years later the PapuaNewGuinea and north Queensland tea plantations were established. We are looking forward to Peter's book about the history of Bingil Bay to be launched early next year.

The Mayor Bill Shannon attended and sat with clairvoyant, Luja. We were all delighted when Margaret Thorsborne and Suzie Smith arrived. Also attending and just returned from their month long holiday were Jeff and Dr Helen Larson. We drank tea, ate cake and told jokes until four o'clock.

'Bottoms up', until next week,

Saturday 20 September 2014

Cough, cough…..hello from smoky Coquette Point,

Old habits never die and in spite of a total fire ban idiots are burning forest, burning old windrows of fallen trees and burning guinea grass. On Thursday a heat inversion settled the smoke over the Johnstone River Valley including the town of Innisfail. What a great welcome for tourists visiting the region.

The Cairns Post listed 'Walking with a cassowary on the beach at Etty Bay', as one of the top 10 things for the G20 Cairns' visitors. Hope the tourists brought their smoke masks.

Yesterday I stopped two young idiots trying to set fire to grass at Coquette Point. When I told them there was a total fire ban they said but it's only guinea grass. They didn't seem to understand that once the fire started there would be no stopping it in these hot, dry conditions.

I am reminded of Ronal Wright's "A Short History of Progress", where he wrote "The future of everything we have accomplished since our intelligence evolved will depend on the wisdom of our actions over the next few years".

Tomorrow, Sunday September 21 will be the biggest global gathering of people asking world leaders to take action on global warming. If you cannot attend The Global People's Climate March in your area you can still send a message to our leaders by writing to your politician about your concerns or by signing the petition on

Cassowary Jessie is back at the Point walking the mangroves and the beach. It was a week since I had last seen her and in that time she appears to have put on condition.

Jessie doesn't hang around and quickly crosses the property and moves into the rainforest. From the look of her muddy legs, in the photo above, she had most likely just come from the mangroves.  I have not seen her encounter Snout and Ky this week but it is only a matter of time and no doubt that is why she has returned to this area.

Ky copies his father. When Snout starting scooping up water in his beak and using it to wash his feathers Ky tries to do the same but somehow he can't get the right action and the water spills out of his beak before he can reach his feathers.
Cassowary chick Ky's casque is starting to push through and his colours are becoming stronger.

When Snout walks off by himself, Ky,  in a great panic will utter an urgent whistle and run after his dad. Snout is going to have a problem in separating from this chick.

The kookaburra chorus rings out several times a day and with increasing excitement, as five  kookaburras are now gathered at Coquette Point. From the noise they are making I would say they are busy pairing and making nests.

Their voracious appetite for frogs is evident as the pathetic victims croak loudly and do their best to escape the clasp of the kookaburra's beak.

No such luck for this poor frog as he is pounded against the tree and then swallowed by kookaburra in one gulp.

Australians have great affection for kookaburras however, they do hunt smaller birds and frogs as part of their diet. While poor old butcher bird has a very bad reputation as a killer of small birds when in fact his diet is predominately large insects, like this giant grasshopper in the photo. As butcher bird was disabling the grasshopper he was uttering a low song as if he was trying to calm the grasshopper before eating it.

A pair of crested hawks have been circling the Point this week. Their beautifully patterned wings glistening in the late afternoon sunlight.

One crested hawk caught a large lizard, possibly a major skink, and hawk had some difficulty in keeping his meal. It was all crested hawk could do to keep his balance as he struggled with his catch.

Eventually he consumed the lizard while his partner watched from a nearby tree.

The osprey nest on the dead tree overlooking the Johnstone River Valley has fallen and from the behaviour of the pair I think they are building a new nest on a tree down in the Coquette Point Wetlands. Unfortunately I have not been able to access it.

However, I see the pair every day circling and hunting over the river. One afternoon osprey landed in a dead tree on the hill she was looking out over the river for any movement.

I went up to take a photo and as I shifted around the tree to get a better view of her and she heard me and looked down at me with what can only be called 'the Julia Bishop stare'!

All along the sand dunes the bright orange flowers of the coral tree Erythrina variegate are in full bloom.
This leguminous tree chooses to grow in the poorest soils and as it is deciduous prior to flowering it plays a beneficial roll in enriching the sandy soil and in so doing it helps the dune plants that grow near to it.

The coral tree flowers are rich in nectar and are visited by many birds it is a sight to see the rainbow lorikeets jostling over the flowers, the orange neck ring of the lorikeets the same colour as the flowers.

Drongo and yellow oriole also visit the coral tree every morning for a drink of nectar.

While yellow spotted honey-eater is busy catching insects and not drinking honey at all.  I have watched yellow spotted honey-eater and I have never seen him drinking nectar but he is skilled at hunting insects through the canopy of the forest.

The numbers of Pied Imperial Pigeons appear to be down on last year. None are overnighting in the mangroves or tea-tree swamps at Coquette Point and I have only seen one Pied Imperial Pigeon all this week. Ruth has just reported she saw seven PIPs flying south along the front beach around lunch time today.

Sacred kingfisher is still around but the leaden flycatchers appear to have left as I have not seen them for two weeks.

Coming home from town this week I saw a pig beside the road. The pig was tame as I was able to walk right up to him and he looked at me and wagged his little piggy tail. John Wilson told me he had notice a lot of pig activity lately and his pumpkins have all been eaten, presumably by pigs.

Its that time of the year when the Innisfail Game Fishing Tournament is held. This year most of the boats have reduced their speed while traveling in the river but you always get one hoon who doesn't care for the safety of other river users. I was watching the boats go out the river on reduced throttle when you know who had to overtake, sending everyone else in the river rocking and rolling.

Pelican was on the beach watching the boats go out and he took advantage of the swell.
 He fished in the troughs and crests of the waves quickly filling his bill with

Green sea turtle Cindy-lou is thriving with the devoted care she is receiving from Henry, Nellie and Alan Epong at the Mandubarra Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, Coquette Point.

The smaller green sea turtle Lately, which was sent to Cairns, is starting to eat. Dr Jenny Gilbert has reported that Lately has been x-rayed and there is no compaction and he is on antibiotics for his shell-rot disease.

Well done Mandubarra and Dr Jenny and thank you for your care.

You are invited to join Friends of Ninney Rise at Ninney Rise, Bingil Bay, next Saturday afternoon from 1pm for afternoon tea and a discussion about the history of tea in the region.

Sibby Nucifora of Nucifora Tea Estates has kindly donated tea for the occasion and it will be on sale at Ninney Rise. We will also be serving Nucifora Tea, the best tea in north Queensland, and I will show you how to make a 'cuppa'. Of course, don't forget to discover your future in the tea leaves!

"I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea." Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Cheers for this week,