Saturday 27 June 2015

Hello from Coquette Point,

On Tuesday the wonderful Darling Downs Salvos invaded Coquette Point, the rain stopped and the sun came out. They wandered around the nursery and all over the property before I gave them a talk on the history of Coquette Point; a little about the survivors of the Brig Maria and the Russian Family the Dvorks, who settled on the banks of the Johnstone River at Coquette Point.  In the 1930's Mr and Mrs  Dvork built their home in the style of a Russian dacha on a hill overlooking the Johnstone River.

The rain lifted and the sun shone and the group all had an enjoyable morning, but most of all they wanted to see a cassowary. Unfortunately the cassowaries did not turn up on Tuesday and everyone was disappointed they did not meet Jessie but I have been assured I will have a heap of new blog friends who are interested in following the exploits of the Cassowaries of Coquette Point and the Moresby Range National Park.

Recently Agile Wallaby Charlie started misbehaving when he developed a fetish for some of the nursery ornamentals. I put up with it for a while, hoping with all the grass growing since the winter rain he would tire of breaking through the fence and being chased and roused at by me. However, Charlie seemed to think it was a game and every morning pots were knocked down and the contents eaten while I spoke strongly and shook my finger at him.

It took some time for me to work out how I could make a new fence to keep Charlie out and still allow the cassowaries access to their traditional corridor, from the rainforest to the mangroves, via the nursery. We put the fence up and found some old gates and now Charlie is out for good and the cassowaries have worked out how to negotiate the new gated corridor.

Ky walked straight through the nursery and out the new gate without hesitation  but Jessie was hesitant at first but eventually found her way through. The gates are closed at night when the wallabies feed. It will be interesting to see Snout's reaction when he eventually returns.

Cassowary Jesssie continues to patrol the property investigating any new sound. She is still on the hunt for Ky and twice this week I have heard loud drumming coming from the rainforest on the hill.

When Russell sat down to have lunch on Thursday Jessie appeared to investigate the voices and checked Russell out to see what he was doing.

Meanwhile Ky continues to forage on the property and I see him around and about almost every day.  He is again walking the beach and it is not uncommon to find his footprints in the sand at low tide.

Recent cassowary scats contain a lot of onion-wood fruits, Syzygium alliiligneum, quandong, Elaeocarpus grandis, blush satinash Acmena hemilampra, bandicoot berry, Leea indica and I noticed in one scat the remains of a five corner fruit from my orchard.

Also falling on the forest floor are the fruits of Cerebra floribunda, the cassowary plum left and an abundance of onion-wood Syzygium alliiligneum right.

On his way to the nursery on Friday Russell, through the pouring rain, saw cassowary Queenie  walking up beside the road on the town side of the Mau Bridge over Ninds Creek. Queenie headed for a devils fig plant, Solanum trorvum. This plant is a declared noxious weed but the cassowaries and the pigeons love it. Queenie walked from the Moresby Range National Park, across the footbridge, down the road 200metres just to eat a couple of dozen pea sized fruits from this plant.

I had received a number of reports of a cassowary walking along this part of the Coquette Point Road this week and I wondered which cassowary it was and where was it going, thanks to Russell we now know. Thank you for sharing the photos Russell.
I had not seen Queenie for some months and it is good to see her looking so big and strong, she is now five years old.

Queenie is one of two chicks from dad Hagar. They survived cyclone Yasi and thanks to the supplementary feeding program from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, (EHP), the two chicks, Don and Q, (Q became Queenie), flourished.

When the time came for the chicks to be separated from their Dad Hagar they stayed together at the end of Coquette Point for over a month. The chicks separated and it soon became obvious that Q was a female.

It is a tough journey for young cassowaries when they are forced to venture into the rainforest world alone. Particularly when today's world contains motor vehicles and dogs. Last night a cassowary was put down by the police when it was hit by a motor vehicle on the Tully-Mission Beach Road. The policemen in attendance to the accident saw that the injuries were so bad the only action was to shoot the cassowary to put it out of pain and misery. I do not know the fate of the driver of the car but I believe no one was seriously

Another three cassowaries were killed on the roads this week one at the intersection of Tully Heads Road and the Bruce Highway, another one on the Tully Gorge Road and one bird killed at the intersection of the Tully-Mission Beach Road at Carmoo. Four cassowaries killed in one week, which we know about.

It was also reported to Liz Gallie of Mission Beach Cassowaries that a juvenile cassowary was seen injured on a cane farm near Euramo and a sick cassowary has been seen wandering about at Wongaling Beach. The reports of the plights of these cassowaries were relayed to EHP but as yet the cassowaries have not been taken to the Garners Beach Cassowary Rehabilitation Centre.

In yet another incident three weeks ago, Dave Dall at Flying Fish Point, reported to the Cassowary Hot Line, he had seen a young cassowary about three years old badly injured and limping heavily.  Dave has rung the hot line every day for the last three weeks trying to get help for this injured cassowary.  Dave said there was a large swelling lump on the front of the cassowaries foot and it was hobbling about and obviously in great pain. Dave said there also appeared to be some damage to the upper leg of the cassowary although there was no obvious wound.

Dave is very frustrated with the response he has received from the EHP officers he has spoken to in Brisbane and Townsville. Weeks have gone by and nothing has been done. Dave told me that on Thursday this week, at last, EHP officers came to assess the cassowary but when they came back on Friday the cassowary had disappeared and it did not show up until late Friday afternoon at which time EHP officers could not attend.

Something is not right when injured cassowaries are left unattended to possibly die in horrible pain out of sight in the rainforest. This is an animal welfare issue and RSPCA should become involved. The procedural delays that have been used as an excuse to investigate these reports of injured animals reeks of Departmental incompetence.

It matters little if the injured animal is a dog, a horse or a mouse, if it is in pain we must render assistance and as soon as possible. When the animal is a threatened species there is legislative imperative which sets out guide-lines requiring EHP officers to act under the ACT.  I believe the EHP officers at the end of the Cassowary Hot Line have committed an offence under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 and I call on the Minister Steven Miles to investigate why tonight there are still three injured cassowaries, in great pain, wandering around the World Heritage Wet Tropics without any veterinarian assistance given? The EHP officers responsible need to be asked to explain.

If you are also concerned about these injured cassowaries please ring and report the injured cassowaries to the RSPCA hotline on 1300264625. The Cassowary hotline on 1300130372 and or write to the Minister, the Hon Steven Miles, Minister for EHP,  GPO Box 2454, Brisbane 4001. Or email the Environment Department,

Strong winds for most of this week have forced many of the resident shorebirds to fish in the more sheltered confines of the estuary.  It certainly makes it easy for me when the birds come to me to be photographed.
A solitary pied cormorant has been fishing off the rocks every day this week and a solitary beach stone curlew has turned up.  It could be the chick I saw last year still trying to find a territory and a mate.

      The terns are also fishing in the sheltered waters of the estuary  and I saw a large flock of gull billed terns flying up the river on Thursday morning, so they must be nesting on the front beach again, did not get a photo. However, the crested terns have been on the beach all week resting between fishing forays.

Intermediate Egret has been using the top of the old wharf as a vantage point to see fish movement. He can stand absolutely still for minutes on end very alert and ready to pounce.

There are over fifty birds in the tree above, fig birds, male, female and juveniles, olive backed orioles and barred cuckoo shrikes. It has been a cold, wet and miserable week for all the birds and they have had trouble drying out and warming up between the showers.


Ian and Lois Laidlaw had a special visitor this week a White-necked Heron. Ian told me, 'A couple of the stand-out features of the Heron are difficult to see at rest. He has deep maroon colouration down his back and also on the top point of the wings. In flight he can be easily identified by the single light white/black oval blotches on the leading edge of each wing, like the blotches of the dollar bird. White-necked heron has a huge wingspan and his long loping wing strokes are typically heron. With such long legs, neck and beak he has a reach well over a metre when stalking a feed. We only ever have a solitary bird visiting Tupeki and he sets up home here for many months through Autumn to Spring. ' Thank you for sending the photo Ian. It is uncommon to see this bird around Innisfail, however they are nomadic and they breed during the Wet in good numbers near Ingham. Tupeki is on the Palmerston Highway outside of Innisfail. Ian welcomed two new calves this week Alice and Ravi, born on his beautiful Palmerston Pinzgauer Cattle property Tupeki.

The Monitoring Stations on the banks of the Johnstone River are up and running, one at the junction in town and the other here close to the mouth of the Johnstone, on my property. Richard and Ben worked through wet and windy weather to finish the installation on Thursday. At long last the sediments and pesticides flowing out to the Great Barrier Reef carried in the Johnstone River can be measured.

A big bouquet goes to the Minister for Science, Information, Technology and Innovation, the hon  Leeanne Enoch MP, for implementing 'The Great Barrier Reef Catchment Loads Monitoring Program,' on the Johnstone River. Yes, the Queensland Government, unlike the Federal Government does have a Minister for Science.

Our thoughts tonight are with the Mau and Morten families as Clara Mau, the matriarch of Coquette Point, is seriously ill in Innisfail Hospital. Our prayers and thoughts are with the families this week.

It's an early rise tomorrow morning as our girls, the Matildas play Japan for a place in the semi-finals of the Womens World Cup,  5.30 am SBS, a game not to miss.

Cheers for this week,


Saturday 20 June 2015

Hello from Coquette Point,

At 5pm last Sunday afternoon I received a phone call from Judith Tanock, who lives directly across the River from me, Judith told me she had found a dead turtle on the beach. I gave her the phone number for Mandubarra Turtle Rehibilation Centre and told her to report the incident to them. Unfortunately the Epongs were away and could not attend. Nellie Epong asked if I would investigate on behalf of Mandubarra.

At 8.30 am on the 15 June I responded to the report of the dead turtle and found it pulled up above high tide in the front of the Canoe Clubhouse. I examined the turtle and found the rear right flipper was missing and there was a clean cut on the wound. I formed the opinion that the turtle had been caught in a fishing net and had drowned. I believed that subsequently the fisherman had cut the flipper from the turtle to remove it from the net. (This is not an offence as apparently this action is allowed by licensed commercial fisherman relating to species of conservation concern when they are found dead in licensed commercial fisherman's nets.)

There was no damage to, or marks on, the carapace, plastron, head or the other flippers of the turtle. No indication that the death of this turtle came from an attack by shark, crocodile or boat strike. This young green sea turtle was in prime condition with lots of fat around the head and a firm carapace.

As I stood looking out across the river a turtle surfaced, 10 metres offshore. I looked at it and the turtle appeared to look at its mate on the beach. It gasped for air then dived down into the river.

It is time that we consider calculating the environmental cost of our activities. If commercial netting causes the loss of endangered species as well as the loss of non commercial species, so called 'by-catch',  the loss to the biomass of the water-way should be factored into the cost of the commercial fisher's catch. Only then can we truly understand the cost of our actions and the cost to the environment of fish harvesting using gill-nets.

Whilst I was examining the turtle, Chris Holmes a reporter from the Innisfail Advocate arrived, Judith had phoned him. Judith and I told him that this was not the first incident of 'species of conservation concern' being found dead on the shores of the Johnstone River.  In the case of a dolphin, (see below), the findings of the National Parks Officer was that a sharp blade had been used to cut the  drowned dolphin's fin in order to release it from a fisher's net. I told the Innisfail Advocate that I believed netting in the Johnstone River should be banned. I called for a State Government buy-back of all commercial netting licensees in the Wet Tropics Rivers and Creeks and to introduce legislation to ban all netting in the waterways of the Wet Tropics.

Netting in Rivers, anywhere, is clearly not sustainable. Once turtles, dolphins and sawfish were common in the Johnstone River now they are rare. Sawfish have not been found in the River for some years. Sawfish are particularly vulnerable to netting.

If the Federal Government can appoint a commissioner to investigate complaints about wind turbines then I call on the Prime Minister to appoint a commissioner to investigate the waterways of coastal Queensland.  There is wide-spread mangrove dieback in Queensland Rivers, loss of sea-grass, loss of the larger marine fauna like turtles, dolphin, shark and saw-fish. Loss of riparian vegetation along most waterways and wide-spread agriculture run-off. What are we doing to our waterways and where will it end? Today I saw a video of a huge algal bloom out to sea off the Johnstone River, it stretched for miles. Algal blooms do not normally occur in winter, so what has caused this incident?

It was high-tide on the morning we buried the green sea turtle on the beach at The Coconuts and across at Coquette Point we saw the pelicans, terns and pied oyster catchers sitting on the beach above the high-water. Frequent squalls were coming in from the Coral Sea and the wind was blowing over 30 knots.

A pod of the rare Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin often swim within the estuary of the Johnstone River and Green Sea Turtles come into the inlet to nest on the sand dunes on the northern side of the River.

Australian Humpback dolphin swimming in the Johnstone River estuary photo Russell Constable

Cassowary Jessie is still patrolling Coquette Point, although she appears to have lost a little of her aggression. Ruth saw her this week at the top of the Range and she also saw Hero and little Ruthie feeding on the Panama Berry tree.

I normally sit on the patio to have my breakfast and keep an eye on the river to see what is moving about, lately Jessie has been poking her head around the corner to check who's there. Not much of interest to her on my breakfast plate of porridge, at this time of the year. She checks me out, looks for Ky, then walks away.

There was no sighting of cassowary Ky for nine days and I thought Jessie had chased him away from this area for good. Then late Thursday afternoon I found him in the gallery rainforest on the boundary of my next door neighbour, Lot 27V.

Cassowary Ky was eating the exotic Ardisia elliptica fruits which were growing in the understorey of the rainforest. Also on the ground in this area were the fruits from the blush satinash, Acmena hemilampra, and Leichhardt pine, Nuclei orientalis as well as the rosy apples of the scented daphne, Phaleria clerodendron; a cassowary smorgasbord on the ground all around Ky.

Today I found Ky asleep on the edge of the mangroves, stretched out under the cottonwoods, hibiscus tiliaceus looking fat and contented.

When the sun comes out after long periods of rain the birds immediately engage in preening. I watched this male rainbow bee-eater preen every feather of his body including his delicate tail feathers. The male's tail feathers are longer than the females and immature birds do not have extended tail feathers. It reminded me of watching a praying mantis preen in the same manner. Cleanliness is essential for so many wild creatures.


The spangled drongos have been behaving in an extraordinary manner. Turning upside down and mimicking the leaden flycatcher's tinkling call. The New Guinea population of drongos travel to north Queensland to breed in winter. While the Queensland drongos go south to New South Wales to breed. It appears in drongo-land you need to behave in a most ridiculous manner to attract a mate.

The fruits of the Solitaire palm Ptychosperma elegans are ripe and I watched the yellow oriole drop into the tree then announces his possession with a loud screech before gobbling down as many fruits as he could manage.

While the olive-backed oriole is happy to wait for his more brightly coloured cousin to finish before he hops in to take what fruits are left.

I received an email from Liz Downes this week and it was about a great crested grebe. Liz was on the waterfront in Cardwell and told me. "Returning from an early walk along the foreshore I was astonished to see a great-crested grebe swimming south, just a few metres off-shore. I had binoculars but really only needed them to convince myself that what I was seeing with the naked eye was real! I'm certainly not the best birder in the world but they, (the grebes) are unmistakeable in their general shape, aren't they? And that crest and dagger-like beak are dead give-aways. (I still checked the bird books just in case there were any possible lookalikes that I'd never heard of, but of course found none).

Great crested grebe on the Johnstone River 8am 24 May 2015
I wonder if it could be the same bird you saw on the Johnstone? The only difference is that I could not detect the brown facial markings that show up so clearly in your photo-but that may have been due to the light at the time, or possibly in the intervening couple of weeks it had lost that colour as the breeding period recedes? (Simpson and Day show it looking monochrome in the non-breeding season).  Also as it was swimming very determinedly south (and at quite a lick, despite choppy conditions) I only had a side view, so the crest just appeared as protruding from the back of the head and slightly raised. I watched until it was too distant to see properly in case it dived but it wasn't interested in diving at all, seemed to be a bird on a mission - probably wanted to get out of the windy conditions and into the calmer waters of the Hinchinbrook Passage.

We'll never know of course if it was the same bird, but it does seem possible, even likely. I've never seen one on open water like that before. A lady walking her dog saw me watching it and said, "That's a funny looking duck."  There weren't many other people about so maybe no-one else saw it. It was somewhere about half-way between the Beachcombers , motel/van park and the long Cardwell Jetty when I spotted it, round 7.30am on the 13th June."

Thank you Liz for the report on the adventurous grebe in search of a 'sea-change'. I think it is more likely it is the same grebe as it seems less likely that there would be another solitary ocean-going grebe in FNQ at the same time. I do hope all the keen birders in Ingham and Townsville keep a look out for our little sailor. If anyone has seen this bird please get in touch.

I happened to mention to Judith Tannock about the grebe and as it so happens, Judith and her husband Gilbert, were canoeing on the Johnstone the morning of May 24. They saw the great crested grebe swimming down the Johnstone River beside the mangroves and paddled over to try to identify what it was. At the same time I was running down to the end of the road to try to see it again. When Judith and Gilbert got close the grebe startled and flew off near Crocodile Rocks, upstream from me and on the other side of the River. So now I know why I could not find it again that morning.

How did the great crested grebe get to Cardwell, did it swim along the coast, or did it fly?  That is of course, if it is the same bird? As Liz said,  "We'll never know".

Along the foreshore of the Cassowary Coast the beautiful Barringtonia asiatica is in flower and also setting its giant seed pods which are often found washed up in the tide line on the beach. This is one of the most spectacular flowering trees of the Wet Tropics.

The cassowary satin-ash, Syzygium graveolens is dropping its proflic fruits to the ground around the Wet Tropics, much to the delight of the cassowaries.

In Judith and Gilbert Tannock's garden, an oasis at The Coconuts, the fruits of the blue quandong, Elaeocarpus grandis are raining down on the forest floor. Last week Judith had the little blue kingfisher visit one of the ponds in her garden and she found a blue faced honeyeater feeding in an ivory curl flower, Buckinghamia celsissima.  The blue-faced honeyeaters are found throughout the drier western areas of the Wet Tropics from Cooktown to Townsville, so it is very unusual to find one in Innisfail. Thank you Judith for this report.

Enjoy the rain and don't forgot to watch the Matildas v Brazil SBS 3 at 2am on Monday morning.