Saturday 27 December 2014

It is the end of another year at Coquette Point,

When I watched the sun rise on Christmas morning and saw the birds fishing on the sand flats and in the waters of Gladys Inlet I knew it was time to give thanks for being here in this place and being able to appreciate the natural wonders all around me.

The sun rose in a cloud filled sky and as it did the sky and the sea turned darker and a blessing of heavy rain fell early on this Christmas morning damping the dry soils of the Johnstone River Valley.
The rain shower passed and the clouds lifted over Mt Bartle-frere this allowed the mountain to etch its shape in bartle-blue against the sky.


Several hundred gull-billed terns lifted from their sandy bed and circled the Johnstone River estuary before journeying up the River for a day's hunting.

I sat and watched the changing lights on the outermost sand bar where I saw two birds jumping. It was difficult to photograph, not only was it a long way in the distance but it was looking into the light. As I watched them dance it remainded me of brolgas dancing on the black soil plains of western Queensland. The birds were eastern curlews and they were engaged in a display, something I had never seen them do at Coquette Point. It appeared to be two male eastern curlews possibly competing for the attention of the female which I had seen earlier in the eastuary.

Eastern curlews are known for elaborate displays during courtship prior to the breeding season. This of course is neither the time nor the place for their breeding season. Looking at the bill length of these birds it is likely to be two young males feeling their oats. It was a wonderful display and I only wish I had been a little closer.

 As I headed back along the beach I heard the loud excited calls of greater crested terns ahead on the inner sandbar. Two greater crested terns were performing a courtship dance. The birds were dancing in circles, raising their heads then bowing repeatedly as they danced around each other. It was fascinating to watch.

Greater crested terns are monogamous and the pair-bond is maintained throughout the year and sometimes into consecutive breeding seasons, it has been observed.

Eventually the raucous calls became too much for the other terns which were nearby watching the performance, suddenly they flew in to break up the pair.

The lovers stretched their strong wings and flew out to sea.

Coquette Point's mangroves and wetlands are part of the World Heritage Wet Tropics and the beach, sand and mudflats of Coquette Point are recognised as a feeding and nesting habitat for shorebirds. It is for this reason that the area is zoned as a dog free area. The Coquette Point beach can only be accessed at low tide and knowledge of the tides should be gained before walking in the area. It is disappointing that some people do not understand the harm they do when they bring dogs into shorebird habitats. Shorebirds like the little tern and the beach stone curlew are listed as endangered and it only takes a couple of years of failed breeding to totally lose a local population of birds.
With a permit from the Cassowary Coast Council we asked the very skilled Ian Laidlaw to construct a sign in accordance with the permit to place on the Coquette Point rookery. On Wednesday Ian delivered the sign and with the help of Diana O'Brien and her sons Pat and Joe
 the sign was
 transported to the site on
 Ian's trolley and erected under Diana's watchful eye.                        

Below, Pat, Ian, Diana and Joe a job completed
                                                                                    Meanwhile on the beach the little terns were busy fishing and chasing each other along the beach.
Close to the sign we saw scrapes in the sand where the little terns were nesting.
We also observed that the recent spring tide of 3.13m did not overtop the rookery in this area.

Bridgett Darveniza visited the nursery this week and had with her a red-legged pademelon joey. It had been rescued by two caring farm workers. The lads saw a dead pademelon on the road and noticed a movement close by, they stopped the car and found the joey unharmed and took it to Bridgett. What great young men, they deserve a big pat on the back.

   Bridgett took the joey to the vet and he will go to a wildlife carer in the New Year, meanwhile Bridgett is taking care of him with the vet's guidance.

Red-legged pademelons live in the Wet Tropics rainforest and their diet consists mainly of fallen rainforest leaves. However, they also eat ferns and fruits. When Bridgett put the joey on the ground under the melaleuca tree he hungrily started eating the leaves.

The drama continues with Cassowary Jessie, Snout and Ky. This week I saw Ky running for his life, Jessie was on the hill drumming at him and Snout was higher up watching. Snout turned to walk into the rainforest and Jessie followed, as if they were courting, Ky came running in behind Snout and they all disappeared into the rainforest. I took a video on a small camera I had in my pocket, but it was too big to upload to the blog so I took some snap shots from the video above, sorry for the quality.

I grabbed my big camera and ran up the hill to see what was going to happen.

Young Ky was whistling pathetically and he was, what I can only describe as, throwing himself around his Dad's neck.

Snout was looking at Jessie and I had the feeling he wanted to join her but Ky continued to plead with his Dad to stay.

In the distance, in a tangle of wait-a-while, Jessie watched Snout and Ky.

Eventually she lost patience and walked away into the rainforest further up the hill.

Subadult cassowary Pippi 

Alison Whatling from Flying Fish Point reports that Pippi turned up this week and he was looking strong. The children were having a party with lots of noise and Pippi " walked up to the steps as bold as brass and kept peering at them".  Alison cut up an apple for him and examined his wound which appears to have completely healed.  When he finished the apple he disappeared into the rainforest.  Alison I think Pippi had just come in for one last medical check-up and to say thank you for the care.

Subadult cassowaries, The Twins. 

Alison has seen the "Twins", cassowary Kevin's subadult offspring, a couple of times eating palm fruits in her yard. They have been crossing the Flying Fish Point Road and Alison is worried they will be hit by a car.

Kevin and his three chicks have been seen crossing the road in the same area. The crossing area is on the bend before you enter The Coconuts, so if you are driving along this road please slow down and look out for cassowaries.

A couple of first sightings for me this week, an Oriental cuckoo in the Casuarina cunninghamiana trees behind Sandy Beach at Coquette Point. The oriental cuckoo visits north Queensland from the Northern Hemisphere between September to April and is usually a solitary, rather shy bird. It does not breed in Australia.

I also saw what I think was a female satin flycatcher however it could be a juvenile Leaden. The satin flycatcher migrates to New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania between October and March. All the time I was watching it the crest was raised. It was chasing insects in the casuarinas.

The other first time photograph for me was that of an olive-backed oriole. It was also chasing insects in the casuarinas and these three birds were hunting in the same group of trees.

Two Pied Imperial Pigeons were resting in the same casuarinas.
Not that the PIPs had any peace as forest kingfisher, while guarding a nest nearby,  kept up his loud persistent territorial call.

When I went close to kingfisher's nest he flew past me with a very cranky look.

Enjoy your New Year's party and look out for cranky kingfishers.

All the best for 2015,

Saturday 20 December 2014

Hello from Coquette Point, a place for birds,

This week the little tern Sternula albifrons is once again nesting and flying over the Johnstone River estuary at Coquette point.

I photographed six birds sitting on eggs and watched them leave their nests to dive into the water only to return to the nests wet. The sea bath cools the parent tern in the blistering heat of the sand dune, in addition the parent terns captures water in its feathers which it brings back to the nest to cool the eggs.

The nest is no more than a scrape in the sand and over a period of 22 days both parents incubate the eggs. The chicks fledge within three weeks of hatching. So the newly laid eggs need three weeks, free of severe storms and human or animal disturbance, to hatch. Once hatched the chicks have the ability to move to the cover of beach debris or move higher on the beach in order to hide from predators.

Disturbance by humans or dogs will reduce the survival of the chicks. If you go down to the beach over the holidays please avoid walking above the high water mark as this is where shorebirds like the endangered little terns nest, by doing this you can help to ensure the survival of the little tern but also other shorebirds like the beach stone curlew which nests in the debris behind the high dunes.

I wrote to the Cassowary Coast Regional Council and expressed my concern for the fate of the Coquette Point little terns and the Council took immediate action with a press release with information about the little tern and asking people to avoid walking through nesting areas. " We can also help by keeping dogs on a leash in known tern nesting areas". The press release stated. There was also a reminder that the use of motor vehicles such as 4Wds, quad bikes and trial bikes is unlawful on all beaches in the CCRC.
Well done Cassowary Coast Regional Council and thank you to Damond Sydes for acting promptly to protect nesting birds and turtles on the beaches of the Cassowary Coast.

I saw six little terns nesting above the high tide mark on the dune, see photos, however there may have been more.

We saw other little terns performing courtship rituals on the beach. The males were making an engagement offerings of fish to the females. (Far more practical than a diamond ring.)

More little terns were out on the mud flats with two eastern curlews.

While further out on the sand bar still more little terns were sitting with lesser crested terns. As we counted the little terns we observed two lesser crested terns were mating, repeatedly.

Coquette Point is a habitat for birds but this 'bird sanctuary' can all disappear if we do not take care.

I was on the beach on Wednesday with a film crew from Wildcardmedia who are filming a documentary series in the Cassowary Coast. We walked out onto the sandbar and saw a dog, no collar, running along the mangroves.
I saw a man fishing out on a sandbar, some distance from the dog and guessed it was his dog. I approached the man and told him that there was a sign saying no dogs as the beach was a nesting area for endangered birds like the little terns and beach stone curlews.

The man said he did not see the sign and said he would leave immediately, he called his dog and then his son. I discovered the man's son had walked up crocodile creek with a cast net. I told the man I had seen a crocodile slide on the bank a few days before and there was a large crocodile warning sign at the entrance to the car park. The man called his son again louder, the boy did not answer, at that stage there was a little panic. The man called again, yet louder and the boy emerged from Crocodile Creek. They all left soon afterwards.

While there is a perception in most people's minds that all crocodiles have been removed from coastal waterways it is not so and it can never be so. The Coquette Point Wetlands is a large area of mangrove and melaleuca swamp with many interconnecting tidal lagoons. Before cyclone Winifred, in windy weather, I used to paddle  Crocodile Creek to gain access to the front beach at high tide. There were and still are very large crocodiles in these  mangrove lagoons. Debris from cyclones has since closed off Crocodile Creek to boats and now one cannot get access into the central swamp.

Last week Russell Constable photographed a small crocodile at Bramston Beach in a popular picnic area. Thank you Russell for sharing this photo it is a salient reminder that crocodiles are around and it is wise to be sensible when fishing and walking around waterways in northern Australia.

There were a number of other birds on the beach that day including bar-tailed godwits fishing for molluscs in the deep sand.

We saw three very brown birds, at first I could not identify them, when I tried to get closer they disappeared without a sound  seemingly mysteriously.

I believe they were wandering tattlers, but without being able to get a closer photo, I can only guess. There were grey-tailed tattlers on the beach close by and the difference in colour particular the brightness of the legs was defining to me. What do you think?

As we walked further along the beach we saw a flock of birds concealed in the beach debris ahead. As the film crew wanted to visit Etty Bay on the same day we decided to head back. As we turned the birds shifted out onto the sandbar, there were 45 Pacific Golden Plovers in the flock.

In the distance we saw striated heron fishing in the surf and we left him to his task.

We walked back alongside the river and watched some spectacular diving by crested terns fishing in the estuary. It was another beautiful day on the Johnstone River, although a little hot.

If you are out and about with a camera you never know from one day to the next what exciting things you might record. As I was opening my gate early for some tradesman, camera in hand of course, a little fluff-ball ran in front of me. Fortunately I managed to get a couple of photos before it disappeared, I have not see it since in spite of searching. Isn't it just the cutest thing!

It's a newly hatched orange-footed scrub fowl, how wonderful to see the renewal of a species, not that there is any shortage of scrub-fowls at Coquette Point.

I thought my ears had deceived me when I heard a leaden flycatcher call on Tuesday morning. Although I looked hard I was unable to find the bird. It was not until Thursday while trying, unsuccessfully, to photograph some dusky honeyeaters that I saw it, a female leaden flycatcher. Most unusual to have this bird arrive so early as it is normally March before leaden flycatchers return to the North.

The 'coquettish cassowaries' of Coquette Point are still up to their wily ways. Thank you Liz Downes from Wildlife Queensland, Townsville Branch for coining this phrase.

Early this week I heard Cassowary Ky whistling in alarm deep in the rainforest. I went to investigate and saw Jessie standing tall, Snout was watching from a distance while Ky was bleating a whistle like a lost lamb. Jessie moved on and Ky rejoined Snout and they all disappeared into the rainforest.

The wax jambu is in fruit and the cassowaries come every day to eat the fallen fruit from under the tree. Afterwards, Snout and Ky always have a swim. Interestingly,  I have never seen Jessie swim in this area.

It is wonderful to watch
Snout and Ky bathing.
 I could swear sometimes I hear Snout say, "Wash behind your ears and have you cleaned your bottom?"

Cassowary Hero also shows absolute devotion to his new chick. Without doubt the male cassowary is a model  dad. Cassowary Hero walks his chick along the road at the top of the Moresby Range to visit the Panama Berry tree every day. It is a hazardous walk for a cassowary.

Hero will jump high into the tree's foliage to pluck the ripe fruits to feed his chick. It is a strange sight to see these two cassowaries feeding under the wide branches of the Panama berry tree.

The red fig, Ficus drupacea is in full fruit and many birds are visiting the tree.

Yellow eyed cuckoo shrikes, metallic starlings and pied imperial pigeons are having a feast and in so doing knock much of the fruit to the ground where the cassowaries can enjoy the harvest.

The pied impérial pigeons first choice for the day's feasting is always the candle nut tree. They are arriving at sunrise and feast for ten minutes before moving onto the figs.

Another jumping spider species to add to my collection for Coquette Point. This little fella, below, is Bavia sexmaculatus, and he is a huge jumper. I had great difficulty in photographing him as he would jump vertically without any warning, at no time did I see him jump horizontally. The next day I found another one of the same species and size, only 2mm, and a juvenile.  I must thank Robert Whyte for identifying Bavia.

Robert also confirmed that Bavia are huge jumpers when adult.

Lots of Cosmophasis  species about, very small juvenile 1.5mm, C. micarioides right.

Cosmophasis micans male

A very large, 10mm female green jumping spider, Mopsus mormon, about the same size as the male I saw two weeks ago.

I watched her twinkle her legs and in an instant she released a silken lifeline to mastermind an
                                                                                    escape from the camera lens.


My friend Ian Laidlaw from the Palmerston has had a regular visitor and he is giving Ian lots of opportunities to hone his nocturnal photography. Absolutely wonderful photo of the male striped possum Ian, he's a big boy alright, thank you for sharing this photo.

Before cyclone Larry we regularly saw striped possums here at the end of Coquette Point, but after the 'clean-up', which widened the road and removed a lot of trees in the gallery forest along the road, we now no longer see them. However, there is still a good population in the Moresby Range National Park.

Pommy the cocoon has still not hatched. However, the central core of the cocoon is becoming darker. I check it out every night before I go to bed using the light from my mobile phone. I suspect, as it was a nocturnal feeder and formed the cocoon in the night, it will hatch at night and when it does we will find out what we have.

Etty B the green sea turtle, currently in the Mandubarra turtle rehabilitation centre, continues to gain weight. The Wildcard Media team who were here filming were very interested in the centre and spent some time talking and filming with Henry and Nellie Epong about their work.  The successful release of so many turtles is due to the dedication of the Mandubarra team, well done Henry and Nellie you are my heroes.

A postscript to last week's blog, the Queensland Minister for National Parks, the hon Steven Dickson has instructed his staff to replace the National Park Sign at South Liverpool Creek and to place signs on the little tern rookery at South Liverpool Creek.  Well done Minister the survival of this rookery will be due to your prompt action. Thank you everyone who wrote to the Minister and the Council about the Quad bikes running over the little tern rookery at South Liverpool Creek.

Cheers for this week,