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,


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