Saturday 25 April 2015

Hello from a very distressed Coquette Point,

This morning, as I did yesterday, I searched for cassowary Ky without finding him. On Thursday afternoon at 5.45 pm I received a phone call from a resident at the Coconuts, which is on the northern side of the Johnstone River Estuary, the caller told me she was watching two dogs attacking a large cassowary on the Coquette Point Spit. There were two men with sticks who were hitting the cassowary trying to stop it from hurting their dogs. The witness said the men were not trying to restrain the dogs but were hitting the cassowary. The dogs and the men were attacking the cassowary and there were two women with the men and they were watching. The caller begged me to try to help the cassowary.

I ran to the Spit from my house, about one kilometre.  On the way, at the end of the road I saw three cars, one belonging to a fishermen known to me and I noted the number plates of the other cars. I ran out onto the spit but the cassowary, the dogs and the  four people had left the site. The caller saw me on the spit and rang me again and told me she had watched the people involved in the cassowary incident and they had walked further along the beach with the dogs still running wild.

I followed the dog tracks and I met two women returning from a walk, they were carrying a dog. I spoke to them about the two signs that identify the area as World Heritage and a shore bird breeding site and how the two signs stated that no dogs were permitted in the area. The women said they did not see the signs. They were carrying their dog to protect it from the other dogs which were running wild, they said they did not witness the incident with the cassowary.

I continued to walk around to the front beach and I heard the wild barking of dogs coming from the Moresby Range National Park. I continued to walk to Thompson Point when I saw four people walking back along the beach. Behind the walkers I could still hear the dogs barking in the Moresby Range National Park but I could not see the dogs. The people kept walking and appeared uninterested in the whereabouts of their dogs or what animals the dogs were chasing.

As I walked towards the people the dogs ran out of the Moresby Range National Park and barking loudly, they ran towards me.  

The people made no attempt to restrain the dogs and when I called out for them to put the dogs on a lead one of the men walked towards me and started to shout abuse at me. Again, I asked him to put the dogs on a lead and I told him, very quietly, that this area is a no dog zone. He continued to shout abuse at me and got so close to my face I could smell his breathe. He told me, "Lady you have no # right to tell me what to # do. You # need to # find something to # keep you busy." I did not respond to his abuse and calmly told him a person had seen his dogs attack a cassowary and had seen him and his friend attack the cassowary with a stick. This enraged the man even more and he denied the incident and pointing his finger in my face, but not touching me, he shouted how he, after cyclone Yasi,  had fed cassowaries at Flying Fish Point when the # authorities did # nothing. At this point I saw the dogs had run off and were chasing a bird on the beach.  I again calmly told him to put the dogs on a lead. He told me there were no # cassowaries about, I told him the beach stone curlews were nesting above the dunes and the dogs might chase them. He then admitted that the dogs had chased the beach stone curlews earlier. The two women and the  other man walked past us smiling and heckling. They did not appear to be at all concerned that their partner was shouting abuse at me.

When the man caught up with the others he called the dogs and put one dog on the one lead he was carrying. They were laughing and all appeared to think it was funny. They left the beach very quickly.

 I started a search behind the spit for Ky but there was no sign of him. It was dark by the time I returned home.

I reported the incident to the wildlife hotline on 137468.

The next morning I was out at sunrise looking for Ky, but no sign of him. When I returned home I wrote a quick report to the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, EHP, about the incident, then I continued to search for Ky.  At low tide I went back to the site of the cassowary incident and photographed and measured the length of the cassowary footprint using a small stick. I was able to confirm from the size of the footprints, 21.5 cm, that it was Ky that was attacked by the dogs. Again, I searched behind the spit and in the mangroves but no sign of Ky, neither blood nor quills were on the sand.


At daylight this morning I searched the rainforest for Ky in all his known spots, I found no sign of him. Then at the midday low tide I walked into the mangroves along the boundary line of 27V and to my delight I found Ky.

Cassowary Ky was sitting in the water in the mangrove swamp. He  turned around and looked at me then he stood up slowly and walked deeper into the mangroves, I did not follow, the area was impassable with cyclone debris.

As Ky walked away I noticed he had a low limp and walked very slowly as if in pain. I carefully looked through the lens of the camera to see if there were any wounds but I could seen none.

I walked out onto the spit and spoke to some fishermen in the area. Two of them told me they had seen Ky earlier and knew something was wrong with the cassowary as he would walk a few steps then sit down. I told them about the dog attack and they were all shocked and I asked them if they saw anyone with a dog on the beach to point out the signs and talk about the injured cassowary and other endangered species in the area. They all agreed to do so.

Earlier this week Cassowary Ky was in the Melaleuca Swamp or on the beach and below are some of the photos I took of him over the week.

If there were fisherman around Ky would check them out to see what they were up to.

Sometimes Ky would just stand looking across to the other side of the river. Other times I watched him walk all the way out as far as the sandbar was exposed. Somedays he walked up to the spit, the place where he was attacked on Thursday.

 Cassowary Ky tried to make friends with  reef egret and white faced heron but the birds weren't interested in him and they walked away.

Cassowary Ky's mum and dad were around again this week visiting the Ficus drupacea tree, strangler fig,  which is in fruit. They did not hang about for long and once both cassowaries had a drink and a feed they disappeared back into the rainforest.

The other big excitement for the week was the capture of the elusive solitary wild boar of the Coquette Point herd.

 I knew he was around from his footprints on the beach but he seldom walked onto the property, until last Sunday night. Monday morning the noise of him trying to get out of the cage could be heard from a mile away. I had recently purchased new Bungee cords for the pig cage and was confident the door would not open with the banging. He ran at the sides of the cage buckling the wire but the cage held. I called my neighbour John Wilson and he came down and shot the pig for me and was pleased to see this fella gone from Coquette Point as he had been doing a lot of damage.

                I rang EHP, who use pig carcass to bait crocodile traps, they lifted the carcass into the back of their ute and took it away. The boar topped 100 kilograms.

The black cockatoos, fattened up on a diet of the aphrodisiac properties of the beach almond, Terminalia catappa, were well primed and this week have been engaged in mating in the tops of the tall paper-bark trees, Melaleuca leucadendra.

When once the red-tailed black cockatoo only visited the coast for a short harvest of the beach almond, now with the devastating drought in western Queensland they are making their home on the coast.

Passing through this week I saw the last of the migratory Cicadabirds. When I queried Del Richards about the bird's ID he told me it was a very dark example found along the coast. I have photographed the male and female cicadabirds here before but this one is the darkest form I have found.

                A rare visitor on the beach this week was a very tall juvenile black necked stork. When I disturbed him he flew to the Spit but it was high tide and I could not follow. I have seen his footprints on the beach each day this week but missed seeing him again.

Now the migratory waders have left darter, white-faced heron, eastern reef egret and striated heron have all returned to the estuary.

As the sun sets over Coquette Point on ANZAC day 2015 I hope the survival of the natural world will be foremost in peoples' minds as we think about the Australia we wish to pass onto the next generation.


Saturday 18 April 2015

Hello from Coquette Point,

Once again the grass is green on the Wet Tropical Coast. Each night this week we have received a little rain, between five and seven millimetres and last night and today a good 39 mm fell, still far short of our average but we are happy and so are the wallabies.

Old Charlie is walking out with a new girlfriend, while his pretty daughter keeps a look out from the rainforest. There are a lot of politics going on within this wallaby family at the moment and old Charlie may not be the dominant male for much longer.

The Burdekin ducks, now called Radjah Shelduck, have returned for winter holidays to the Coquette Point mangroves and they have to be my bird of the week.

I have seen them down on the edge of the mangroves very late in the afternoon all this week. On the afternoon I took these photos it appeared they had finished feeding early and had time to play in the small waves which were washing up on the mangrove shoreline.

 I hid behind a tree watching their antics.

Suddenly the ducks stopped playing,

they marched to the water's edge then they  flew off into the mangrove forest further upstream.

Young cassowary Ky has been walking through the nursery to access the mangroves on a daily basis.
I saw him walk by on Tuesday when ten minutes later I was surprised to see Snout followed by Jessie walking through the nursery. Oh dear I thought, I do hope Ky has gone deep into the mangroves out of sight. It wasn't the case and before long I heard a loud series of grunts followed by Ky running in a panic. I managed to snap one shot of Ky before he disappeared into the mangroves.

Snout did not chase Ky he stood very tall and imposing, while matriarch Jessie ignored them both and just kept walking.  Snout knew his mere presence was enough to frighten the daylights out of Ky.

When one looks back at the devotion Snout showed towards Ky as he cared for him for over 18 months, how completely different the message is now, which is that Ky must leave the paternal territory.

Snout stopped to eat fruit from the Devil's fig. This is a favourite fruit of cassowaries and pigeons, while Jessie kept walking

When Snout finished the figs he walked quickly to catch up, then walked ahead of Jessie. They walked down the lawn and I knew they were headed for the sour plum tree.

They split up around the handkerchief tree, when Jessie took a short cut and arrived first to get the best fruit. She swallowed them slowly one after another.

Snout ate so many fruits in one go he had problems swallowing them.

The sour plums slowly went down Snout's  throat.

Both cassowaries left quickly and soon disappeared into the rainforest.

Early on Monday morning Anthony Cini was surprised to find four cassowaries out the front of his house. They were possibly there to eat the fruits from the Panama Berry tree of his next door neighbour.

Cassowary Hero and his chick were close to the tree and trying to keep a low profile, when matriarch Jessie turned up by herself to get some of the fruits.

 Across the road Anthony saw another cassowary, a female at least five years old. It was the first time Anthony had seen this cassowary and she is not on my cassowary data base. It was Anthony's daughter Isabella's 17th birthday that morning so Anthony has named this cassowary Izzie, Isabella's pet name. I hope you had a lovely birthday Isabella.

Anthony said there was a little bit of low grunting as Jessie and Izzie faced off. Then it all stopped and all the cassowaries disappeared in different directions. Thank you Anthony for these photos and this record of cassowary behaviour.

It is interesting that Jessie was alone and not with Snout, so is Snout sitting on eggs?  Ruth has also seen Jessie at the top of the Range by herself and she was harassing Hero and his chick. It is not uncommon to see Jessie at the Ninds Creek bridge at 8am and again at the end of the Coquette Point Road by 10am, a distance of four kilometres.  Jessie regularly patrols her territory keeping an eye on all the other females, many of which are her own offspring.

Alison Whatling has sent in an update on cassowary Kevin and his chicks. Unfortunately, Kevin has lost one of his chicks but the other two are looking very strong and healthy. Alison had not seen them for several weeks but now the Alexandra Palm, Archontophoenix alexandrae is dropping ripe fruits the cassowaries are having a feast.

Kevin is such a good Dad, every two years he produces two or three chicks and raises them to the subadult stage. Note in the photo above how he is standing back while the chicks eat all the berries.

Thank you for the update Alison they are great photos. We do hope Kevin and his chick stay safe as they cross the busy Flying Fish Point Road.

Things are very quiet on the beach at Coquette Point and the beach stone curlews and other permanent residents have the beach mostly to themselves. On Friday afternoon's low tide I saw only a few sand plovers remaining of all the migratory shore birds that visit the beach through summer. The sand plovers were busy pulling crabs from beneath the sand. No sign of the blue solider crabs and I only witnessed one mass emergence of these crabs this year.

The Pied oyster catcher family were way out on the sand-flats fishing. There is still only one of the juveniles. It appears the other juvenile pied oyster catcher has died.

On the outermost sandbar I saw two grey eastern reef egrets, I noticed there was rather a lot of water between them and me and while I was trying to get focus, with the 30 knot wind blowing the camera about in my hand, the grey reef egrets disappeared. I lowered the camera and was amazed to see them land within 30 meters of me. I stood absolutely still and thought they would fly off as soon as they saw me, but they seemed not to be worried by my presence and went about fishing. In fact when I did move away they followed me, just as I have seen cattle egrets do, what an amazing experience I had watching these birds fishing.

As I was walking back Cerino the pelican flew in but there was no sing of Russ and Cerino swam out to the outer sandbar fishing as he went.

There were no terns on the beach but every now and again I could hear their calls coming in on the strong south easterly. There was lots of evidence left on the dunes where they had recently camped.

There were a number of mudskippers resting up on the banks of Crocodile Creek, the most I have seen for some time. The water coming out of Crocodile was crystal clear, this is unusual, as it is generally stained with tannin.

The King tide on Friday morning was 3.2 metres and once again spilt over the dunes and in so doing undermined many trees on the foreshore.

At the back of the sandpit, once again, severe erosion has taken another metre off the spit. The force of the water leaving the Coquette Point lagoons has widened Crocodile Creek by some 50 metres over the last year. I can only assume that there is so much more water getting into the lagoons now since the dunes on the Ocean front are overtopped at King Tides. The clear water now leaving the lagoons when the water was always tannin stained is another indication of excessive flushing of this system.

It appears that the monsoon season is over, the last surge in the monsoon did not produce any storms along the northern coast line and that should be the finish of this year's monsoon.  A sign that the  season has changed is the return of the white Ibis and the cattle egrets.

While ibis and egrets provide an enormous service to farmers in removing pests from the soil and from cattle many farmers are worried the birds could spread Panama tropical race 4. Let us hope sanity will prevail and that farmers will see that these birds should be valued for the free pest eradication services they provide.

There were very grey skies all day today with strong squalls sweeping along the coast. This morning the Rescue helicopter circled the Johnstone River estuary for over 30 minutes before heading out to sea. I do hope they were on a training flight and that there is not someone in strife in these very poor conditions. No doubt, we will hear soon enough.

Until next week,