Saturday 31 January 2015

Hello from Coquette Point on State Election day,

By the time I finish this blog the voting will be over and the outcome for the environment and social justice will be decided by the people of Queensland:  happy 'Democracy Day'.

Meanwhile, out in the eastern Coral Sea tropical cyclone Ola has formed and there are favourable conditions for it to develop but it is not expected to impact the FNQ coastline. On land the temperature for the last month has been 4 to 5 degrees above average and combined with extreme humidity we all know it is just a matter of time before the 'cooking pot' boils over. However, with Ola it is too early to tell and the models disagree on the direction it will take.  The Joint Typhoon Warning Centre at Pearl Harbour reports that over the past six hours Ola has tracked southward at 03 knots.

The monsoon trough is very active at the moment and is expected to pump up even more next week. If you have missed out on rain so far, don't worry as it is on the way.

At long last Cassowary Jessie has got her man. It has taken twelve months of wooing by Jessie for Snout to succumb to her charms but now they are courting.

I saw Jessie and Snout, separately,  a few times last week. On Monday Jessie turned up to eat the first of the ripe guava fruits from a tree near the old packing shed, when Snout arrived and approached her cautiously, he circled around Jessie. Possibly the cassowaries arrived at this place because they smelt the guavas or just remembered at this time of the year to check the tree out.

What followed was a display of body language that we can only guess at interpreting. Cassowary Jessie bowed her head in submission to Snout as he walked backwards and forwards in front of her.

Jessie turned her back to Snout, but did not sit down as female cassowaries typically do when inviting a male to court.

Snout continued to pace backwards and forwards around Jessie while she remained turned towards the wall lowering her head in submission.

 Cassowary Jessie turned towards Snout and shook and turned her head and neck in circles.

           Snout walked backwards and forwards in front of Jessie.

Snout bent his head in submission to Jessie and walked towards the rainforest only to return. Jessie continued to stand with her back to him but occasionally snuck a look at what Snout was doing. Then suddenly Jessie rushed into the rainforest and left Snout to follow.

The display between the two cassowaries lasted for 15 minutes before Snout followed Jessie into the rainforest.

They walked up and across the hill and down the other side towards the West and then out of the rainforest. At some time Snout overtook Jessie as when they came out of the rainforest he was in the lead and Jessie submissively followed him back into the rainforest.

On Friday morning at 6am my next door neighbour Dee Wilson was having a cuppa on her patio when she saw cassowary Jessie and Snout behaving strangely in her bottom paddock. Snout was dancing around Jessie and as Dee watched she saw Jessie sit down and Snout immediately mounted her. The copulation lasted about two minutes. When he finished, Dee said, Snout ran around the paddock 'as if he was a hero'.  He then returned to Jessie and Dee said, "Hand in hand they walked West into the rainforest, at least they were so close together it appeared they were walking hand in hand".

There is a wide range of fruit available for the cassowaries at the moment such as the native: white apple, Syzygium forte, mango pine, Barringtonia calyptrata, damson plum, Terminalia sericocarpa, Leichhardt tree, Nuclei orientalis, fig tree, Ficus variegata,  as well as the exotics, pond apple  and guava fruits.  Snout should have little problem in demonstrating to Jessie that he is a good provider. What a privilege it has been to record, once again, the initiation of courtship between these two magnificent birds.

Damson plum seed
Pond apple and Alex palm seed
White apple and pond apple seed
                          Meanwhile subadult Ky is mostly eating white apple, pond apple and the damson plum fruits. The pond apple is coming from block 27V.  As soon as I see the seed in the scat I pour diesel over it to stop the seed germinating.  I have almost eliminated pond apple from my property but with the cassowaries spreading the seed it is a losing battle.   Ky has been increasing his range and Diana O told me this week that she often sees him in the rainforest behind her house up the hill.
Ky's black feathers are growing strongly.    

During the heat of the day Ky spends much of his time sitting in the pond. Sometimes he just sits, other times he plays splashing water everywhere ducking his head up and down under the water for the mere pleasure of it.

 At other times he sits panting in the shade of a tree pecking crossly at mosquitoes.

Ky is growing into a very handsome cassowary.

The stand out bird around Coquette Point this week is the yellow spotted honeyeater. Not renowned for its colourful gape I was impressed on how strongly the orange colour of the gape stood out in the surrounding green of the rainforest canopy. All week four yellow spotted honeyeaters have been calling loudly in the trees around the nursery as they busily chase insects and occasionally take a drink of nectar from a flower.

I have seen this flycatcher in the mangroves from the front beach to the river and along the gallery forest on the road. At first I thought it was a single female leaden which had remained behind after the summer migration to NSW. However, I now feel certain, as I have seen so many of these birds, that they are broad-billed flycatchers and we have a good population of these flycatchers at coquette Point.

I heard a bird calling in the mangroves and its call was loud and slightly resembled the shining flycatcher's scolding call. At least I thought I had heard a shining flycatcher until I saw it was what I now believe to be a broad-billed flycatcher.

Populations of broad-billed flycatchers have been observed on Hinchinbrook Island and in the gallery forest along Victoria Creek at Ingham.

The upper parts are bluer than the Leaden and the crown noticeably flattened.

The hot sunshine and high humidity have provided the perfect conditions for butterflies to hatch. I have never seen so many exceptionally large female birdwing butterflies as over the last week. They are popping out of cocoons all over the garden.

Another large butterfly with a wingspan of 75mm is the tailed Emperor. This is butterfly that has benefited from the plantings of the exotic yellow cassia, Cassia fistula, the cousin of its  native host Cassia brewsteri.


Another host for the tailed Emperor butterfly is the black wattle Acacia melanoxylon. A tree which is now starting to flower along the ridges of the rainforest hills.

I was surprised to find the Leichhardt trees at Coquette Point flowering again. They flowered, as normal in early December and set fruit which is now ripe and falling much to the delight of the cassowaries. I have never observed a second summer flowering on these trees. It is great news for the cassowaries as this tree produces one of their favourite fruits.

This week a great Australia died. Tom Uren was Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party under Gough Whitlam in 1972. It was Tom Uren's love of the natural world, the heritage of Australia and his advocacy for peace which influenced and formed Australian Government Policy for five decades. Tom Uren was a campaigner for peace and the environment, a great Australian whose legacy enriches our lives today.

Until next week,

Saturday 24 January 2015

Hello from the steaming jungles of Coquette Point,

Another week of sultry conditions with the day time temperature around 35 degrees falling only to 27 at night. Almost every evening we have experienced very active electrical storms either directly overhead or skirting the area. Last Sunday a lightning bolt ran through the phone line and put my cordless phone and the eft machine out of business.  It has been a week of unplugging electrical items, especially computers, at the first sound of thunder and even then you can get caught.

King tides all this week have added to the problems in low lying areas: a taste of what global sea rise will mean. Cairns and Townsville along with many cities on the coast have experienced salt water inundation in their central business districts.

Here on the estuary of the Johnstone River the water rose, in glassy conditions, to within a metre of the land. Fortunately there was no wind to push the tide higher.

The hot conditions have the reptiles on the move and I found a small Amethystine python in the office, it was most probably one of the M&Ms which are the offspring of Monty and Monica python who live above the ceiling. Their job is to keep the rats out of the roof cavity of the house and they have performed that job 100% over the last 40 years. However, their many offspring occasionally find their way into the house. A few days ago I noticed a smell in the office I could not trace. When I picked up the small python I immediately recognised the smell, it appears it had been trying to get out of the office for a week and in its stress released very 'pongy' anal fluid.  I put the small python on the footpath outside and he took off happily into the rainforest.

This morning when I walked down to the nursery I found a fully grown, 1.5 m. slaty-grey snake on the footpath. Slaty-greys are nocturnal snakes and this fella was most probably on his way home when I messed up his morning. Slaty-grey snakes lack venom and prey on small reptiles like geckos and skinks as well as rats and mice. Both Amethystine and Stlay-grey snakes are handy to have around and will clean up mice and rat plagues quickly.

When my son Martin came to visit on Thursday afternoon, he walked up the front steps and saw a Lace Monitor Goanna looking in through the door. He thought I was playing a joke on him and he sang out to me that Goannas didn't frighten him, however, when it took off, his shout of surprise brought me running with the camera. I was just in time to see it disappear across the lawn and into the rainforest.

I followed the Lace Monitor into the rainforest, and as I hadn't time to put on shoes I was looking down at my feet when Martin yelled out, 'look out'. As I pulled myself up the rise into the rainforest I was looking down for what was safe to stand on in bare feet.  At his shout I looked up and had a face full of black feathers. Cassowary Jessie had been resting in the rainforest and when she heard the shouting and saw the goanna she jumped to her feet and collided with me. Martin was on the lawn looking into the rainforest and laughing hysterically: if only he had the camera. Anyway Jessie took it all in her stride, she took one look at me and turned and walked back into the rainforest. I found the goanna watching us both while trying to conceal himself in the leaf litter.

When you live with mangroves at your front door and rainforest at your backdoor you never know what will turn up.

I saw Jessie again early today as she walked quickly through the orchard looking every bit the dominant matriarch which she is.

I caught the briefest glimpse of Snout at midday, he was bathing in the swamp and as soon as I approached he ran off dripping water from his feathers.


Cassowary subadult Ky this week has spent most days  sitting in the pond or wandering about underneath the Damson plum. He is no longer whistling in grief for the loss of his Dad but he is not the same exuberant, playful and confident young cassowary he was when he had his Dad's support and care. I have not seen him encounter Jessie or Snout but Ky is very wary and I think they are harassing him.

There is no sign of Jessie and Snout courting.

Over the last week I have received several reports of the new chicks at Coquette Point: Hero with his one chick, at the top of the Moresby Range,  and the other male hanging around Nind's Creek with two chicks, the chicks are growing and they have lost their stripes.

A stone's throw across the Johnstone River from Coquette Point, Alison reports that she saw subadult cassowary Peppi this week and it appears his wound has healed and he seems to have established a home range which crosses the other twin subadults and the range of his dad's Kevin and his three new chicks. The subadult twin cassowaries are still together and have been feasting on the fallen fruits of some old mango trees. Alison noted when one of the twins wandered away and across the Flying Fish Point Road, the other one, when he noticed he was alone ran off in a panic, whistling a distressed cry as he went down the hill. Eventually they found each other as Alison saw them together later in the day. Alison saw Cassowary dad Kevin on Thursday with his three chicks as they crossed her property into the rainforest.  Thank you Alison for the report and photos.

I have received bad news from South Johnstone, a young female cassowary was found dead with lacerations to the throat that appear to be the result of a dog attack.

A pig hunter with dogs has been active in the area and trespassing on private land. One person saw a cassowary running from these dogs and thought it might be the cassowary which was killed.

EHP officers were called to investigate however, there was no evidence of which dogs caused the cassowaries's death and no action could be taken. In order for any prosecution to be activated, EHP needs hard evidence that will stand up in Court: no evidence, no proof, no prosecution.

It appears the dogs in question had GPS trackers in their collars as the pig hunter came looking for them with knowledge of where they were. The neighbouring farmers were spoken to and they are aware of this pig hunter and have warned him, in the past, to stay off their properties. The concern is the dogs running wild and 'blooded' might attack a child.

On September 7 2014, Threatened Species Day, the Federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt and the State Minister for the Environment, Steve Dickson conjointly announced funding of $7 million dollars for pig control to help reduce the threat to marine turtle nests. This money is on top of the sustained feral pig control programs already in place.

It appears the Cassowary Coast Regional Council did not bother to apply for these funds, although CCRC Councillors like Mark Nolan have been vocal, nationally, in calling for shooters in public lands to control pigs.  (Public lands include National Parks.)  It is worth noting the Hinchinbrook Shire Council did apply for these funds, and were successful.

 Once in a while you are privileged to witness unusual behaviour from animals. Just such an occasion occurred this week when I saw three Pacific bazzas 'dancing' high in the canopy of the melaleuca trees. The breeding season for these birds extends from October to February so it is late in the season to see such a display.


The male Pacific bazza watched intently as the female bird displayed her wings and twisted her head, leaning back as far as she could balance to show her crest feathers.

Then the other female further out on another branch performed the same display only this time she leant back so far I thought she would fall.

Then she started to dance, turning from one side of the branch to the other.

The two females then performed aerial acrobatics flying through the canopy of the melaleuca trees.

 The female Pacific Bazza hung suspended in the air, flapping her wings between the tree branches, her talons touching a branch as if to steady her,  while all the time screeching, 'ee-chu, ee-chu'.

The females watched each other's performance while the male below, watched them both.  Then it was all over and they disappeared flying towards the Moresby Range National Park. My arms and neck were numb from holding the camera vertically for some 20 minutes, but I could not miss a moment of this wonderful display.

On Thursday my son Martin and I decided to do a cyclone clean-up around the nursery, amazing how much rubbish mounts up over the year. I saw Martin suddenly drop a bundle of old shade mesh and then, "Oh my God, Oh my God, that is Big.....". "What", I said enthusiastically, while running for the camera.
I saw a very large spider, which the spider man Robert W has identified as Coremiocnemis tropix, a Whistling Tarantula. These spiders are ground dwelling and are very long-lived, they can also inflict a nasty bite, but not fatal.

A few years ago I found a nest of these Tarantulas under some old iron but this area was wet and not, I would think, the preferred dry habitat of this spider. It just goes to show when you are shifting old rubbish some creature will have made it their home, so be alert.

Also dropping in this week, and I mean literally dropping on the seat beside me as I had a cup of tea, was the huntsman below, Neosparassus. He was hunting in the melaleuca tree above and a gust of wind or a bird brought him down from the canopy along with a few sticks.

Lots of beautiful jumping spiders around with the damp weather and very high humidity it is Arachnid heaven in FNQ at the moment.

The very beautiful Cosmophasis species of jumping spider are working hard in the nursery controlling caterpillars and grasshoppers.


Sometime after last Sunday afternoon the pelicans left the Johnstone River. Perhaps they knew that the Bureau of Meteorology had posted flood warnings for the great rivers of western Queensland, Thomson, Barcoo,  Diamantina, Georgina Rivers and Eyre and Cooper Creeks. These are just some of the Queensland streams now under flood warnings.

Only a few shore birds remain at Coquette Point, the gull-billed terns have left but a few crested and little terns remain.

I saw one common sandpiper, the one with the loose rump feather on the beach along with one terek sandpiper.

The beach stone curlews were very noisy and ran from the dunes onto the beach when they saw me. No signs of the pied oyster catches, eastern curlews, godwits, tattlers, Pacific plovers or sand plovers.

The whimbrels are still feeding upstream on the banks of the Johnstone River by day and I see them flying back to Coquette Point every evening to roost.

I saw a number of jelly-fish washed up on the beach a reminder that there have been several reports of irukandji in shallow waters off the coast, a timely warning to take precautions when wading into sea-water at this time of the year.

Cheers for this week,