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,

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