Saturday 25 July 2015

Hello from sunny Coquette Point,

The high in the Bight has moved off and taken the rainclouds with it, subsequently the sun once again is shining on the Cassowary Coast after a week of unremitting cold, miserable, rain and wind.
On friday morning the SES rescue boat seemed to glide on a river of glass.
It has also been a week of turmoil for cassowary Ky with yet another altercation with dogs.

On Sunday morning I saw a cassowary having a chat with the pelicans. Unfortunately by the time I reached for the camera and ran down to the beach the cassowary was moving off into the mangroves. It was so amazing to see these animals interacting with each other. The pelicans were very interested in the cassowary and they watched as she walked away into the mangroves. The encounter was like a passage from a movie of Noah's Ark with animals of different species living in peace side by side.

I followed so I could confirm the identity of the cassowary. She went into the mangroves and I managed to follow and get a photo of her through the branches, it was July the new five year old cassowary I had seen the week before.  She stood still on the walking track safe in the dense mangrove forest.  On the beach she left a very large scat full of rainforest fruits, Davidson plum, quandong and satin-ash seeds which I could easily identify.

July's footprints are very distinct. She walks heavily and leaves a deep imprint in the sand.

Just after lunch, on the same morning, I caught a glimpse of Ky walking along the beach in the same direction I had seen July walking earlier.

A little later I heard dogs on the beach, they were running wild having a great old time, their owner was fishing on the beach. The cassowary footprints were all over the beach as well as the scat cassowary July deposited earlier. It could be clearly seen that cassowaries were around. I was very concerned that either or both of the cassowaries might be still in the mangroves nearby, and the dogs might find them. I approached the man and as I did so the dogs ran wildly at me, he made no attempt to call them to heel. I asked him to "Please put your dogs on a lead". He told me he did not have a lead. I pointed out the cassowary footprints all over the beach and asked if he had seen the sign at the end of the road? Apparently he had not. I asked him to put his dogs in his car as I was concerned for the safety of the cassowaries and for his dogs if there was an encounter. The man understood the potential seriousness of the situation and collected his gear and proceeded to walk back to his car with the dogs.

After checking on the nursery I walked quickly down to the end of the road to check if either of the cassowaries were in the area. There was a commotion at the end of the road and I saw an Aboriginal man standing in the river waving and smacking a palm frond in the water while shouting at a cassowary. Cassowary Ky was standing on the edge of the mangroves with his feathers fluffed up and very much on the defensive. The two dogs were further up the track straining to get loose while their owner was doing his best to hold them by their collars.

I told the Aboriginal man to stop shouting and to put the palm frond down as it was frightening the cassowary. I saw another fisherman on the beach and I asked him if he could get a rope and take it to the man holding the dogs.

Meanwhile I walked between the Aboriginal man in the water and Ky and talking quietly to the cassowary I coaxed him away from the dogs and deeper into the mangrove forest.

When I came back to the area the dogs were safely in the car.
Cassowary Ky walked away from the dogs.

Fisherman brought a rope to the dog owner in order to lead them safely back to the car.
Fortunately there was no adverse outcome. However, it is not alway so, I have file photos of dead cassowaries which were killed by dogs, it is not a pretty sight.  I am posting one of the photos to show what is happening all too frequently in all the areas of cassowary habitat in FNQ.

There is no place for large dogs in cassowary habitat. We must have a serious conversation about covenants that exclude large dogs in areas close to National Parks and Wet Tropics lands.

Dog owners on farm-lands should be required to restrain their dogs within a fence. With today's modern technology there is no reason to keep dogs for security purposes.

The cassowary does not have much of a chance:  loss of habitat, motor vehicle collisions, dog attacks and unsafe pig cages are all taking their toll of cassowaries. We have to change our ways if we wish the cassowary to continue to live in the Wet Tropics rainforest of FNQ.

Mandubarra and I have written to a number of authorities requesting we be allowed to erect the sign below in the Moresby Range National Park.
I spoke to Councillor Mark Nolan today at Kurrimine Beach and he pointed to a large 'no dog' sign at the beach and told me he was looking at regulations regarding dogs in the region as the Council was receiving too many complaints from people in the Shire being frightened by or attacked by dogs. Something has to be done Councillor Nolan told me.

As a follow-up to the story about injured cassowaries a few weeks ago, Anne and Lawrie Martin of Murray Upper have written an informative letter to the editor of the Tully Times.
It's not easy being a young cassowary, even without all the added human problems. Young cassowaries must adhere to the rules of their Kingdom, they must establish their own territories and Matriarch cassowary Jessie is again on the hunt for any young bird not adhering to this rule. Ruth told me, 'Madame Jessie was at the top of the Moresby Range this week bullying everything she saw.'

Old Hero mostly ignores Jessie and stays close to his chick Ruthie. The Panama berries are ripe again and Hero and Ruthie can be seen around the tree almost every day. Hero arched his long neck back, as far as he could reach, to pick the ripe berry fruits.

Cassowary Ruthie's wattles are starting to take shape and I managed to get an ID photo of them for the file.

It  was a very big week for green sea turtle Etty B.
Etty B was rescued by the Etty Bay surf lifesavers in September,  at the time she was covered in a thick layer of mud and had "floaters" which meant she could not dive. Henry and Nellie Epong with sons Allan and Jason of the Mandubarra Turtle Rehabilitation centre nursed this 15 year old turtle back to life and now 11months later she was ready to be released.

Dr Jenny Gilbert from the Fitzroy Island Turtle Rehabilitation Centre brought down a satellite tracker which she fitted to Etty B on Friday.

It was a big job to fit the tracker. Firstly all the algae on the turtles shell had to be removed by alternately, gently rubbing with sandpaper then wiping with acetone. This procedure took around an hour. Then the satellite tracker was positioned and fixed in place with a non heating Sikaflex and fibreglass. Everything was proceeding well when the Sikaflex gun seized. Fortunately Russell Constable was carrying out a replanting of the vandalised revegetation plot at the end of Coquette Point. Dr Jenny called out 'help Russell we need your muscle' and Russell found another sealant gun in the nursery and soon had the Sikaflex flowing. Etty B was so good she lay there throughout the two hour ordeal, raising her head occasionally to take a deep breath.

Russell got the Sikaflex flowing again.

At last the satellite tracker was fitted and Henry picked Etty B up and with a big splash she jumped into the water and swam proudly around the tank displaying her tracker.


Early this morning, Saturday, Henry collected Etty B from the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre and took her down to Kurrimine Beach.

Over one hundred people gathered to see Etty B released. Many children were fascinated to hear Etty B's story and to touch her and to try to understand the ocean journey she was about to undertake, once again.

Gordon Johnston from GBRMPA, left, told Councillor Mark Nolan about the issues facing turtles on the Cassowary Coast.

Dr Jenny Gilbert, below, with Nellie Epong and Cassowary Coast Mayor Bill Shannon and Councillor Mark Nolan listen to Henry Epong talk about the ongoing  tracking of Etty B and what she will tell us about the health of the sea grass beds and other habitats she visits.

Dr Jenny Gilbert said the battery in the tracker could last for three years. The fate of the tracker will depend on the growth of Etty B's shell as she sheds 'scutes' in her growing phase, when this happens it could dislodge the tracker.

Jenny told the group that in 2011 a mass stranding of green sea turtles occurred along the East coast of Queensland, this was caused by weather conditions. It is thought that around 3000 sea turtles died due to the loss of seagrass beds from the cyclone and floods.

Now the seagrass beds from Townsville south have recovered and from Townsville north they are recovering slowly. However, stranded turtles are still being found along the Cassowary and Cairns coastlines.

Etty B was carried down to the water's edge by Henry and James Epong and lifted out and placed in the ocean.

Out to sea the pelicans flew in and formed a guard of honour for Etty B's release.

Henry and James gently placed Etty B into the water while the pelicans watched on as if waiting to greet her.

QPWS has postponed the July burn of Hinchinbrook Island, they placed the above advertisement in this week's Tully Times. 
Please note The Fire in the Landscape meeting will be held in the Cardwell Community Hall at 5.30 pm on July 27. Guest speakers will be Peter Stanton from QPWS and Ian McCallan representing, 'Don't burn Hinchinbrook Island'.

Hinchinbrook Island National Park burning September 2014.
Since cyclone Larry some part of Hinchinbrook Island has been burnt every year.  QPWS with Girringun Rangers burnt part of Hinchinbrook Island on June 18 this year. They had planned to do another burn on July 20 but have postponed the burn.

 I received a recent report from a naturalist who visited Hinchinbrook Island two weeks ago, he  emailed me that he could not find the iconic blue banksia in many of the places it was once dominant. He also said, "Orange footed scrub fowls are gone, beach stone curlews, goannas, noisy pittas and any other ground dwelling and egg laying animals were not sighted."                   "A number of issues need addressing on the Island such as Singapore daisy weeds at Zoe Bay and Mulligans Beach camp sites. Feral pigs have moved into Little Ramsay Bay, Nina Bay and Blacksand Beach." His general observation was that Hinchinbrook has,' blitzkrieg over-burning'.

Hinchinbrook Island's Blue Banksia, Banksia plagiocarpa, conservation status rare and only found on Hinchinbrook Island.

Hope to see you at the meeting Monday arvo,

Saturday 18 July 2015

A Shivering hello from Coquette Point,

Cold winter winds and dry air from a series of fronts in the Great Australian Bight have brought the first real winter weather to north Queensland in twenty years. Blankets and jumpers, musty from being stored away in bottom drawers, are once again out and in use. We are fortunate because, while the nights and mornings are cold, the dry thin air from the South quickly warms and by 9 o'clock the jumpers can be peeled off. A huge influx of internal Australian tourists, escaping the cold southern winter i'm sure, have arrived in FNQ to soak up the sun.  No doubt the low Australian dollar and the volcanic cloud over Indonesia would have influenced their travel plans this year.
The warm sun sets over a cloudless sky as a fishing boat returns to Innisfail Harbour Thursday night.

My breakfast of warm porridge and stewed apple went cold this morning. I no sooner sat down than I heard an unmistakable chirping from the rainforest. I picked up the camera and ran down the path and in the rainforest I saw cassowary Snout and beside him a tiny, tiny chick. Snout clucked a warning at me and the chick chirped in panic but I managed one photo before they turned and ran away.

It was so exciting to see this new addition to the cassowary population of the Moresby Range. It is a little disappointing that there is only one chick after Snout's long absence of three months. However, it is good to see that this senior male bird is safe and healthy and has produced a beautiful new chick.

Sorry I didn't get a good photo of the chick but I only had one chance, the tiny cassowary chick can just be seen, out of focus, on the right running off at a great pace up the track.

I wandered up the track on Tuesday and came across Ky. He was very curious to see me in his domain and walked up to the camera and poked his head at the lens.

Young cassowaries are very curious and will investigate anything new in their surrounds.

Meg and Lee from Bribie are taking a winter holiday in the north. They drove to Weipa and are now on their way home. One of the items on their agenda was to see a cassowary. So when young Ky came walking through the nursery today they were absolutely thrilled and the cameras came out. Ky dutifully posed before striding off.

Cassowary Jessie has been hanging about this week and chasing Ky from time to time. With the new chick on the scene I do not know how long Jessie or Snout will allow Ky to stay in this area. Jessie did appear a little less aggressive, than she has been, when I took the photo on the left yesterday. Next week will be interesting to observe the dynamic change that will occur with the arrival of Snout's new chick.

On Thursday morning, just after opening the nursery gate I saw a cassowary in the gallery rainforest in the neighbouring property 27V, the cassowary was eating the rosy apples from the Phaleria clerodendron tree, see left. It is a cassowary I have not seen before and I managed to get good ID photos.

Diana O'Brian said she had seen a new cassowary passing through the back of her property. It appears the bird was walking up from the Coquette Point Wetlands then walking down towards 27V. This cassowary has a very distinct demarkation of his rear neck colours with a deep scallop at the top of the neck. The cask has a slight lean to the right and is mostly coloured honey brown. The wattles are of a medium size, the left a little shorter and they have, what looks like a piped margin. The cassowary appears to be around five years old and  when it saw me walked quickly across the road, into the nursery, through the orchard and up into the rainforest above my top road. It appeared to know where it was going. I have called this cassowary July, after the month, until I hear if this bird has been named by someone else. This cassowary is possible one of the chicks from the 2010 season when seven cassowary chicks reached sub-adulthood at Coquette Point.

As new chicks are appearing many young cassowaries are on the move. South Australian friends Philip and Margaret saw a cassowary beside the Mission Beach - El Arish Road and when they slowed down the cassowary walked across to their car put its head in the window and appeared to beg for food. Philip and Margaret knew that "a fed cassowary is a dead cassowary" and closed the window. The cassowary moved away.

A similar incident was reported in the Innisfail Advocate this week and it appears tourists are feeding cassowaries from their cars in order to get a better opportunity for a photograph. When this happens it is a death sentence for the cassowary as the cassowary will see motor vehicles and roads as a source of food and that is nothing less than a game of Russian roulette for the bird. If you see this occurring please explain to the person the danger to the cassowary and to other road users. A collision with a large cassowary in a small car could be fatal.

Low tides in the late afternoon this week offered the perfect opportunity for walking. When the tide really goes out a Coquette Point the sand flats are exposed for a mile out to sea. The long shadows of the few remaining trees from the once vast mangrove forest of Coquette Point are slowly falling to the the residual herbicides contained in the sediments carried from farmlands in 'wet events'. Note Thopmson Point is the inside point in this photo, more about that later.

In a number of areas along the beach
I saw great piles of shells which had been dumped by the waves from the recent strong winds. I had not seen so many shells washed up on the beach like that for many years.


When the tide goes out lots of puddles are left for little red-capped plover to search for titbits like long slimy worms.

The crested and gull-billed terns were all fishing out to sea and even beach-stone curlew was on the very outer sandbar. As I returned back along the beach I saw a number of small boats coming back from a days fishing on the reef in the now calm condition. As I watched a pelican had also finished his days fishing and was starting to preen his feathers.

In the estuary another fisherman was casting for bait as two outrigger canoe club boats paddled past on a training run in the setting sun.

 When I walked past the rookery I noticed a little bird sitting huddled up in the debris on the edge of the rookery. Unfortunately I disturbed him and he ran along the sand away from me. The bird was a black fronted dotterel, a common bird widespread across Australia but it was the first time I had seen this bird at Coquette Point.

Chris Roach, the Resource Ranger, Innisfail, for Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, (QPWS) visited stakeholders and National Park neighbours this week. Chris advised that QPWS are planning a series of controlled burns over the next two months in National Parks in FNQ. The aim of these burns is to maintain Regional Ecosystems and to reduce forest fuels.

Baldy Knob, above Thompson Point in the Moresby Range National Park, is a well know landmark for boaties. It is a grassed area on very shallow soil and schist. It is not known why the knob did not support trees, but over the past decade trees are starting to take hold in the area; see map above.  This would lead one to ask was this area once a site of Aboriginal occupation? I cannot find any record of archaeological investigation of the site. However, the QPWS have decided to maintain the grassed area, they will drop incendiaries from a helicopter on the area so as to kill the trees that are emerging through the grass thus maintaining the grassed feature of Baldy Knob. It is QPWS's expectation that the fire will self-extinguish and only one hectare of the Moresby Range National Park will be burnt.

I requested Ranger Roach to liase with the Traditional Owners of the Moresby Range and ask the Traditional Owners to participate in any arrangements for burning that might occur in this area.

Other areas to be burned in the coming weeks are Eubenangee Grasslands in Late August, 33 hectares; Graham Range in mid August, 28 hectares;  Kurrimine Beach, a staged burn from the 22nd of July, 1129 hectares;  Maria Creek staged burns from mid August, 334 hectares;  Basilisk Range mid August, 280 hectares.

If you have any concerns about these burns please contact Cameron Sharpe, Senior Ranger, Innisfail Management Unit, QPWS 40483718.

This evening at sunset a distinct smell of smoke was in the air and could be seen through the setting sun. The failure of the wet season rains this year means that there is a lot of dry grass around and the soil moisture level is very low. In the lead up to this years' fire season, the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service (QFRS) is proactively focusing on assisting property owners with hazard mitigation strategies to assist them to prepare their properties. QFRS will carry out site inspections and provide advice to landholders on how to prepare for the fire season. Please refer to QFRS website or phone Innisfail Fire Station 40610601.

I have expressed my grave concerns to QPWS about the very poor soil moisture level at the moment and the ability of fires to self-extinguish in these dry conditions.  Might the mitigation strategies actual start the fires the QPWS and QFRS are trying to prevent?

I also expressed grave concerns about the use of incendiary drops from helicopters. When this is done in a blanket grid across the area to be burnt there is no fire-front for animals to escape. Particularly ground dwelling animals like cassowaries.

Arson is a problem all over the world but most countries tackle it by maintaining a well resourced quick response team.