Saturday 25 October 2014

This week the sun set on Gough Whitlam, a man who always believed he was destined to lead Australia and for the three short years when he did, Australian threw off its colonial shackles and for the first time stood on the world stage as a nation. Gough Whitlam gave us a sense of nationhood.

I first encountered Gough Whitlam in 1961 while working my way around Australia, I had taken a job as waitress at the Fanny Bay Hotel in Darwin.  That morning there was a great flurry in the kitchen as the celebrated jockey George Moore was staying at the hotel, all the girls wanted to wait on him. So when Arthur Calwell and Gough Whitlam came down to breakfast I was told to wait on their table as they were only Labor politicians. I grew up in a political household, twice my father contested the seat of Burdekin for State Labor and I knew who these men were. I was struck by the composure and energy of the mountain of a man who was Arthur Calwell's deputy, Gough Whitlam.

I watched the interaction between Calwell and Whitlam it was obvious there was friction between them. They were in the Northern Territory campaigning and I was told taking evidence for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Committee that was set up to investigate and report on Indigenous voting rights. Calwell was old White Australia Labor but I knew Whitlam had a different vision for Australia.

It was not until 1965 that Indigenous people around Australia gained the same voting rights as other Australians. Finally in 1967 Australians voted overwhelmingly in favour of counting Indigenous people in census figures. In Government Gought Whitlam drafted the Aboriginal Land Rights Act which Malcolm Fraser's Government later passed. It was Whitlam's ideas which reshaped the Labor Party and subsequently reshaped Australia. Vale Gough Whitlam.
 The orange footed scrub fowls are busy raking leaves and are chuckling noisily at the moment. All the leaves which have been falling over the last couple of months have formed a thick carpet under the rainforest canopy and under this carpet the soil is moist and alive with thousands of small insects and worms. The scrub fowls know this and they seem to work in unison, one raking while the other catches what is uncovered with their powerful feet.

The standoff between Snout and Jessie continues and when I saw Jessie sitting examining her feet this week I was concerned she had an injury. I went close to her to see if I could photograph her foot and perhaps identify any injury from the photo.

I was standing very still when the next minute one of the scrub fowls walked up the stairs to his favourite leaf raking place. He didn't hesitate when he saw Jessie nor did he seem to notice me as Jessie continued to pick at her feet. The scrub fowl moved towards Jessie and I waited to see what would happen then the sound of my camera spooked the scrub fowl and he flew off into the trees.

Later I saw Jessie walking around she was not limping and I could not see anything wrong with her foot. I have notice her pecking at her feet before, perhaps to remove parasites.

Cassowary Snout continues to play the attentive father and he is still  ignoring Jessie. Ripe black sapote fruits are falling from high on the tree where I cannot reach. The cassowaries pounce on the ripe fruits and Snout is still breaking up the fruits for Ky to eat and always sees that Ky has first choice.

Nellie and Henry Epong saw cassowary Queenie again this week and this time crossing the bridge over Nind's Creek. Nellie and Henry were able to get some great photos of Queenie and it appears she is traveling backwards and forwards over the bridge to East Innisfail, perhaps she has a boyfriend on the other side!

Henry Epong took this photo of Queenie as she paused to pass a scat of pandanus fruits.

Queenie approached the bridge, then she changed her mind, swerved and took the pedestarian footway. Queenie is one cleaver cassowary.

Thank you Nellie and Henry for these excellent photos of Queenie.

John O'Brien was thrilled on Wednesday to see a young male cassowary with two of the smallest chicks he had ever seen. John was coming home from town when he saw Dee Wilson stopped near the Moresby Range National Park sign. Dee was stopping traffic as she had seen a young male cassowary cross the road and his two chicks were still on the other side. Thanks to Dee the chicks crossed the road safely and as Dee and John watched the cassowaries headed towards the steep embankment on the northern side of the road, the young male saw it was unsafe for the chicks and he took them alongside the road verge until he could easily cross into the rainforest. No photos unfortunately, but Dee told me the camera will be staying in the car from now on. The male was described as young with a small smooth casque and small wattles, the chicks looked less than a week old.

The description of this male and his two chicks is different from that of the male which has been seen crossing the road on the corner near the Ninds Creek Bridge. That male is an older bird and the chicks were described as bigger. It is a good start to the Moresby Range National Park's cassowary breeding season with six new chicks now reported, two at Etty Bay and four at Coquette Point.

Bandicoot, Long John, (named after the one-eyed pirate Long John Silver), is still up late in the morning munching leaves. I have heard comments lately of bandicoots being host to the paralysis tick and bringing the ticks into backyards. Bandicoots are no more hosts to ticks than any animal which wanders through the undergrowth. Bandicoots do have large claws on their feet which they can and do use to dislodge ticks.

However, dogs and cats are also hosts to ticks and that is why there is a thriving industry in the production of tick preventive medications. There is a good population of bandicoots in the rainforest around my house and I have not seen any ticks on my lawns or patio, however, I do not have cats or dogs on my lawn or patio.

By the way I know Long John is a male as I managed to get a photo of his rear end one evening while he was on the lawn digging for insects.

 If you go out with a camera in the evening you see a totally different world of rainforest animals. My friend Ian Laidlaw, from the Palmerston, is a keen nocturnal photographer and Ian writes 'At this time of the year some snake species seek shelter in man made structures, this week we have relocated at least one brown tree snake per night, and four on one night, and put them back in the rainforest on the property away from the house and sheds. We have also relocated numbers of small-eyed snakes. The green frogs which own the roof rafters downpipes and gutters say a big thank you as do the many small fledging honeyeaters'. Ian Laidlaw from Tupeki on the Palmerston writes.'Just as the brown tree snakes are escaping the bare branches of their trees to avoid owls by night and hawks by day so the mainly ground dwelling small-eyed snakes appear around farm buildings in numbers, and these fellas are not to be messed with. Its fascinating to watch this annual to and fro from forest to man-made shelter.'
 While Ian Laidlaw has seen the normal numbers of snakes on the Palmerston it is the opposite here at Coquette Point. So far this season I have seen a number of skins but only a fleeting glimpse of a green tree snake, when normally at this time of the year the snakes of all species abound.

Ian has also seen a lot of spectacled flying fox activity and shared these photos of flying foxes out shopping in his star-apple fruit tree, unfortunately they were trying more than they were buying, Ian said.  Here at Coquette Point the huge flight of spectacled flying foxes that we once saw in October are absent, it is now rare to see a spectacled flying fox.  Thank you for sharing your nocturnal observations and photographs with us Ian.

Meanwhile at the mouth of the Johnstone River the pelicans are establishing their pecking order.

The young pelican on the left is often by himself. I was watching him as he nibbled at some bait which fisherman had left. It wasn't to his liking and he swam out onto the river to be met by the pair of dominant pelicans, one of the birds swam off to the side while there was a fair bit of vocalising between the other two, young pelican dipped his head subserviently and the older bird nibbled and pecked him. There was more vocalising then they swam away in different directions.

The orchard swallowtail butterflies are laying eggs on citrus trees. While at the same time her caterpillars from last season have hatched and are growing quickly. Orchard swallowtail caterpillars will eat the leaves on citrus trees but there are plenty of leaves to go around so admire if you have these caterpillars leave them alone they will do no long term harm to the citrus tree. In fact with this dry weather it may very will benefit the tree to lose a few leaves.

The north Queensland day moths this week are enjoying the nectar on the flowers of the Daintree Penda. I watched a mating pair when, what I supposed was the male, approached the female as she was feeding and he started a tumbling display behind her. She was too busy feeding to take any notice.

In past years the mid-winter migration of the north Queensland day moth from the Seymour Range across the Johnstone River to the Moresby Range was a marvellous sight, unfortunately the migration has not taken place for over four years.  I cannot think of any reason for this other than the two cyclones may have destroyed habitat.  Russell Constable posted a video of these moths leaving a nest tree at Ella Bay at the start of their migration. It is always amazing to see the proliferation of wild life in natural systems.

The numbers of gull billed and other terns feeding on the estuary at Coquette Point has dramatically increased. The terns move up and down the river and visit wetland areas in the hinterland but with the increasing dry conditions more of them are congregating and feeding at Coquette point.
I estimated there were over a thousand terns roosting at Coquette point on Friday afternoon when I took these photos.

One solitary Caspian tern stood head and shoulders above the rest. It is strange I have seen this single bird at Coquette Point for several years now and I have never seen it with a mate.

Many of the gull-billed terns were resting on the sandbars with four pelicans and they shifted higher up the beach as the tide came in. Some of the terns appeared to be feeding fledged chicks.

As the sun set the whimbrels flew down the river to roost with the terns at Coquette Point.

Pied Oyster catcher patrolled the beach with loud 'peeps' objecting strongly to my presence on the beach. I did my best to circle around and away from him.

For some time now turtles along the Queensland coastline have been in strife. Seagrass beds have been destroyed by silt. While the nesting sites on the dunes are being destroyed by beach vehicles. Local identity and second generation banana farmer Mark Contempree sent me these photos of a green turtle he caught on a fishing line. Mark managed to extract the hook and released the turtle without too much harm.
 I asked Henry Epong about this incident and Henry said the turtles are hungry and are eating squid and prawns as much of the  seagrass beds, which the turtles fed on along the coast and in the rivers, have died. Mark Contempree told me how once he saw turtles regularly feeding on the seagrass beds in the Johnstone River but now the beds are all under mud. I told him there was a link between the start up of the banana industry in the Johnstone Valley and the loss of seagrass. Mark said he intended to dive and look at the state of the seagrass along the Cassowary Coastline. I look forward to hearing Mark's report. Thank you Mark for the photos and your concern for the turtles.

This week the Mandubarra Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, Henry and Nellie Epong were delighted to play host to John Busst's nephew David Vickers and his wife Michelle who were visiting from Canberra.  John related tales of his childhood memories when he visited Bingil Bay and of his Aunt Alisson who stayed with his family when John Busst died. John related many memories from these times and he has promised to record them for Friends of Ninney Rise.

It was open day at Ninney Rise today and the theme was, 'If walls could talk'. We were delighted to have a number of special guests who spoke about their connections to Ninney Rise.

Peter Gill, Billie Gill's son spoke about his Mum and gave us a small glimpse of how this amazing women accomplished so much. Billie was a founding member and first secretary of the Innisfail Wildlife Preservation Society, John Busst was President. It was through Billie's diligent work and that of Alison Busst which enabled John Busst to accomplish so much. This small group stopped mining on the Great Barrier Reef and eventually had the whole reef declared a National Park and later listed as a World Heritage site. We owe them so much.

Billie Gill recently sent us some notes with her memories of the Great Barrier Reef Campaign and Liz Gallie did a poster display of the notes and photos Peter had made available. They included photos of Dr Len Webb, Geoff Tracey, Dr Jiro Kikkawa, Ian Strahan and many others involved with the reef campaign.

We were delighted to welcome Margaret Thorsborne to Ninney Rise today and Margaret and Peter Gill shared tales of Billie's exploits when Billie was counting and documenting the birds of the Wet Tropics. Margaret an old friend of Billies was delighted to see a recent photo of her that Peter kindly shared with the group.

Thank you Billie and Peter for assisting us in recording this important part of our conservation history. Billie you are our hero.

That's the lot for this week,


Saturday 18 October 2014

Hello from Coquette Point,

On Tuesday we heard the rumble of thunder as the first storm for the season developed over the Atherton Tablelands, it swept down across the coast at Port Douglas. Unfortunately we only received enough rain to settle the dust, 2 mm, however, Tinaroo Dam received 23 mm. No rain has fallen since and the brown spreads and the smell of smoke is constantly in the air.

The cassowaries are moving to new territory and lots of reports have come in this week. Cassowary Brown Cone was seen twice on the long bend around Ninds Creek on the Coquette Point Road with two newly hatched stripey chicks, no photos as yet. At the Etty Bay end of the Moresby Range National Park a cassowary was seen crossing the road at the top of the Range with two strippy chicks thought to be only a week or so old. It is so good to have reports of newly hatched chicks.

If you see a cassowary look out for chicks, they normally walk a few metres behind their Dad. I contacted the Cassowary Hot Line about the reports and temporary warning signs will be placed at the location of the sightings.

On Monday I saw a new cassowary, it was a young male and could be one of the chicks from 2011. He wasn't at all nervous and I managed to get good identifying photos of his casque, neck patterns and wattles.
One particularly unusual feature was his very long inner toe.
The markings on this bird do not match Dot or Don's markings or any other cassowary of his age on my records.

This cassowary arrived from the direction of the Coquette Point Wetlands and moved on up the hill and I haven't seen him since. Perhaps someone can suggest a name  and one that relates to his big toe?

Another cassowary not previously photographed came to Bill Farnsworth's back door this week. Bill lives at the top of the Moresby Range.  Luckily Bill had his camera, thank you Bill for the photo. I think it could be one of Hero's chicks from 2010. Hero spent a lot of time sitting in the rainforest close to Bill's property with his very young chicks. Perhaps we could call this cassowary William, he is very handsome and has a distinct casque. Bill took the photos through the screen door and they are not very clear but good enough for an ID.

While two new cassowaries have turned up two cassowaries have left. "On Monday 29th September a sub-adult cassowary was reported to be resting exhausted under the shade of a tree on the beach at Flying Fish Point and appeared reluctant to move despite the presence of numerous people. It was reported to have swum ashore out of the sea and walked up the beach near where some children were playing. EHP staff decided to capture and relocate the bird and determine whether vet treatment was required. Upon capture the bird appeared to be healthy and strong so it was released into nearby suitable habitat."

On two previous occasions I have seen cassowaries swim the Johnstone River from Coquette Point to Flying Fish Point. At this time of the year when young cassowaries are leaving their dads and looking for new territory they have been known to cross the river.

Cassowary Queenie has walked across the Ninds Creek Bridge and has moved into East Innisfail. Last week Nellie Epong saw Queenie crossing into the proposed Sea Haven development and managed to take the photos below. It is unmistakably Queenie. The area where she has gone is full of hazards with lots of dogs roaming freely and many vehicles, so I hope Queenie manages to find her way back into the Moresby Range National Park. Great work in getting these photos of Queenie Nellie and thank you for sharing them with us.

Cassowary Jessie is again rolling her eyes at Snout but he is still showing no interest in her.  I watched as Jessie followed him into the rainforest. She stood bowing her head and making no audible sound. While Snout drummed loudly and Ky tweeted in alarm.

Jessie moved closer to Snout and then Snout turned and pushed into the rainforest with Ky running out to the side away from Jessie. They moved away from the track and I could not keep up with them. Later that afternoon I saw Ky swimming in a pool behind the nursery. At first I thought he was alone and then I saw Snout's reflection in the pool he was close by watching Ky.

There has been very little spider activity of late and so I was delighted to find a jumping spider on Friday and one I had not photographed before. I sent photos down to my  'Spiderman' mate Robert Whyte and he advised, " The species is an interesting one. It should be a Cytaea but currently it is misplaced in a different genus, Hasarius species name mulciber. If it was moved it would be Cytaea mulciber, but there are some problems with the characters in fitting it neatly into Cytaes. It is widespread through FNQ and has characters of several different genera, being Euryattus, Cytaea and Canama."

I commented to Robert on the apparent difference in the spider's palps and I asked Robert if perhaps one had regrown? Robert replied. "Yes spiders regrow all bits like legs and palps, obviously not abdomen or cephalothorax but any appendage when lost will reappear next moult and may never catch up to the others in terms of maturity of development, but are roughly functional nevertheless.

I wouldn't be surprised if she had also lost both front legs. Notice they are a lot newer looking and more slender and less hairy. She's a survivor, handy in a scrap."

Thank you Robert for your generosity in finding time to reply to my enquiries.

There has been a massive hatching of the small, 30 mm, green banded blue butterflies. This incredibly beautiful butterfly is found in New Guinea and along the eastern coast of Australia.

The host plant for this butterfly is the pink ash, or sarsaparilla tree, Alphitonia petriei. The larvae feed on the underside of the leaf and are pale green and hairy.

The Adult male, below and left, with wings open are blue with a large white patch on the hindwing. The underside of the wings is metallic greenish-blue and white with black edge markings.

The little bit of rain on Tuesday started the frogs croaking and while Gloria was weeding in the igloo she found a freckled litoria jungguy frog. I won't repeat what she said but it sent me running for the camera. Gloria does not like frogs.

I photographed one of these frogs earlier, right, and it did not show the freckled markings but no doubt there is a great variation in markings on individual frogs of the same species. The male of this species is much smaller and yellow, although I looked none could be found.

'Freckles' Litoria jungguy

There is a new green sea turtle in the Mandubarra Turtle Rehibilation Centre. She was rescued from Etty Bay and Nellie has named her Etty B. When I first saw this turtle I did not think there was any hope of it surviving but it is  miraculous, Etty B is now eating 19 squid a day, swimming level and has bowel movements.

Nellie and Henry have spent a lot of time with this little turtle and it is their devotion and skill in nursing that has brought Etty B back to good health.  Well done all the Mandubarra team.

From 20-26 October, is National Bird Week 2014. BirdLife Australia is again organising an Aussie Backyard Bird Count. This is something we can all participate in across the country it will only take 20 minutes. If you do not have a backyard you can head out to a favourite open space like a local park to take part. Take binoculars if you have them and record the birds you know and look up those you don't on the specially designed Aussie Bird Count app, or on the website. You'll instantly see live information on how many people are taking part near you and the number of birds and species counted both within your local area and across Australia.

For more information or to download the App head to  Happy birding.

Very low tides early this week offered a great opportunity to see what shorebirds were feeding around the Johnstone River estuary and of course the only time to see what's happening is before dawn. With a bit of cloud around the sunrises were spectacular.

I found gull-billed terns resting on the sandbars but as it grew lighter they started to move off and they flew across the range and up the Johnstone River.
Crested terns were also starting to move and they flew along the sandbars and out to sea, no doubt in search of a feed.

As the sun rose I noticed hundreds of white dots on the mudflats. Everywhere I looked were tiny, 15 mm, red-necked stints feeding hungrily.
Many more had arrived since my last visit and as I watched these tiny birds I could but wonder at their amazing migratory journey from north-eastern Siberia and northern and western Alaska, where they breed and then travel to spend the summer months in Australia.

Left, a red-necked stint foreground with a greater sand-plover behind.

Right red-necked stints feeding on mud-flat.

Below red-necked stints feeding near the water's edge.

There were lots of shorebirds feeding on the sand and mud flats of Coquette Point.

Left: Pacific golden plover with a greater sand plover.

Right: Sharp-tailed sandpiper.

Below Bar-tailed godwit left and whimbrel right.

The bar-tailed godwit breeds in north-eastern Siberia and undertakes one of the avian world's most extraordinary migratory journeys to spend the summer in Australia and New Zealand. With a nonstop flight of over 11,000 km it is the longest continuous journey that has ever been recorded for a land bird.

Left: Common sandpiper.

Right: female red-capped plover.

Below male red-capped plover.

Acorn worm signature left behind after it had extracted the detritus from the sand.

Below: Lesser sand-plover stopped feeding at the sound of the camera.

Below: Grey tailed tattler looked for movement in the shallow water.

As I walked along the beach I heard then saw a pied oyster catcher he was uttering a high-pitched alarm call, peep-peep-peep, as I drew closer his call became more agitated and I saw the mate  running from above the high water mark and down onto the beach, I quickly backed away as I believed they were nesting. Both sexes share parenting duties and in this case both of the birds were aggressively defending their territory.

I heard a flutter of wings out on the sandbar and saw two whimbrels 'shirt-fronting' each other.

They fought for about one minute then finished the squabble with a chase down the beach. One of the whimbrels flew to the mangroves where I found it feeding later, the other strode triumphantly along the beach.

The whimbrel is gregarious outside the breeding season so it was surprising to see this stouch.

'Tony' whimbrel went demurely to the mangroves while 'Vladimir' strode like a peacock on the beach.

It was at that moment I heard raucous calls coming from above the mouth of the river. I looked up and to my amazement I saw two channel-billed cuckoos flying from the direction of Flying Fish Point and turning up the river. I managed to focus on one of the birds to get this shot from a good distance and clearly identifiable as a Channel-billed cuckoo. Today I heard and saw them again they were flying over the Coquette Point Wetlands but by the time I ran for the camera they were gone.
It would be interesting to know if anyone else has heard or seen the pair.

If that hadn't ticked off enough bird species for the day I suddenly heard the unmistakeable call of little terns. I saw about 15 little terns feeding in the shallows on the outer sand-bar. I could not get close as the tide was racing back in but I managed to get  a few photos as the terns swooped to feed.

As I walked back along the water's edge a pelican which I had seen feeding way out on the outer sandbar swam beside me, I watched as he fished in the shallows.

It was another beautiful morning on the Johnstone River.

The next open day for Ninney Rise will be held on Saturday 25th October.

Please ring Angi on 40687099 for more information.