Saturday 28 November 2015

Hello from Coquette Point,

Wonderful light soaking rain early this week with 22 mm falling but it quickly soaked into the ground and as a result there was no runoff into the catchment. Subsequently, the Cassowary Coast Council has declared Level 1 water restrictions. These restrictions will cause little hardship to residents as showers are predicted to continue.

This week the State Government declared 86% of Queensland in drought. The outlook is for El Nino conditions to deepen as summer approaches. There are other small areas, like us, which have received good rains, at Biloela the dam is full and the country-side green from good storm rains over the last month, but I think you have to be very lucky to be in an area which is under these storms.

On Tuesday morning I noticed the cassowary Snout and Kin were eating something in the lawn. I thought their manner of eating was unusual, I watched as they pecked and pulled something from the ground. On a closer look I saw that the cassowaries were eating mushrooms. The storm rains and the cool change on Monday night were the right trigger for mushrooms to grow.

I watched as mushroom after mushroom was pecked and swallowed by Snout and Kin. I took photos while the cassowaries were eating and later of what was left of the mushrooms.

 I sent the photos to the Queensland Museum's Plant Identification and Advisory Service and received a reply from Nigel Fechner the Duty Botanist. Nigel informed me that the mushrooms are "quite possibly Agarics arvensis (horse mushroom). This is by no means a definitive identification at species level."

There is another chapter in this mushroomy tale. Years ago these mushrooms would regularly appear in the lawn, my late Irish born husband Bill, recognised them. He had spent his childhood growing up in Ireland's south where he and his sisters would often go on expeditions to collect mushrooms, he called them field mushrooms. Bill would harvest them from our paddock and cook them up with a little butter, just as his mother had done in Ireland and we would eat them on thick slices of freshly baked bread. Horse and field mushrooms are both edible and delicious. Unfortunately, when I went to pick what was left of the mushrooms, another mushroom lover had beaten me to the feast.

Mrs Charlie Wallaby, with a bump in her pouch had eaten all the mushrooms and was scratching at the ground pulling up the roots of what was left. Not a sign of the mushrooms remained.

I have noticed cassowary Snout is shedding a layer of keratin on his casque. Whether this is just a normal moult or signifies a growth spurt in the casque, I do not know. This casque 'moult' is common and I have often seen it before.

I saw cassowary July once this week. She walked up from the beach and looked around warily, before she crossed the lawn into the rainforest, she was heading for the native olive tree, Chionanthus ramiflorus, which is still heavily in fruit. If July sees Snout she stops and makes goggly eyes at him. However, he wants nothing to do with her and always walks away quickly with Kin close behind.

Almost every day I see Jessie patrolling the area. If she sees July or another cassowary, other than Snout, the chase is on. Poor Jessie, she's getting too old for these capers, 30 years now, she is looking a little worn out in countering July's tactics to attract Snout.

At the top of the Moresby Range cassowary Peggy has been chasing little Ruthie. Peggy has her eye on Hero and there is no place for Ruthie in Peggy's territory, particularly now she is separated from her dad Hero.

Bill Farnsworth took both these photos and he has been observing cassowary Peggy's behaviour chasing Ruthie. Thank you Bill for the photos and the report about these cassowaries.

When cassowary chases are on it is wise to stay well and truly clear.

Bill has observed that cassowary Ross regularly crosses the road with his chick Brian in toe, going from the Moresby Range National Park to the houses along the ridge to the north.

In most years I frequently see the male and female adult common koel. However, this year only one juvenile male has been hanging about. He is always high in a tree and it is difficult to get a good photo. His belly feathers are all mottled and his pin feathers on the wings are barred rufous. He is a very active and noisy young koel.

Pacific Baza
eating a

Grasshopper numbers are very high, with lots hatched out in the humid hot weather, however, they don't stand a chance when Pacific Baza is around. I watched him catch and devour three giant grasshoppers within half an hour this week. He sat in the open on the power line and between every meal he spent some time cleaning his beak, its just as well the outer covering on the power line is strong.

A large flock, about 20 birds, of yellow-eyed cuckoo shrike have remained here all season. It is the first time since cyclone Larry that I have seen their numbers so strong throughout the year.

Late on Friday afternoon I saw a flock of metallic starlings fly into the zone of the little river mangrove, Aegiceras corniculatum. The metallic starlings wove in and out of the mangrove branches with a great deal of dexterity and chatter. I discovered they were eating snail eggs, I think they are the eggs of the Ophiocardelus snail. This snail lays its eggs on the spring tide. When the tide covers the mangroves the eggs are carried to the estuary and later the settling larvae is brought back by another spring tide. For over 10 minutes I watched as the metallic starlings feasted on the snail eggs.

I was very concerned that this months spring tides might coincide with strong winds or a storm and the little tern rookery might be overtopped. Fortunately the tide did not come near their nests and they are still very active on the rookery while yet others are still engaged in courtship. It is extraordinary to watch two little terns in their courtship dance. In the photos below the male seems to spend most of his time teasing the female with the fish.

Eventually the little tern accepted the offering while the male flew off to catch another fish.

On the rookery other little terns came and went in the heat of the sand and sun.

There are always a few lapwing plovers in the estuary and I have noticed over the last couple of weeks that their numbers had increased to a dozen. However, on Friday a large flock of around 100 lapwing plovers were gathered loosely together spread out along the sandbars in the estuary. I had never seen such a large gathering of lapwing plovers before.

A number of the lapwing plovers appear to be engaged in courtship rituals.

The solitary Pacific golden plover I have watched over the last month was joined this week by around 70 newcomers. Some lap-wings joined the Pacific golden plovers while on the outer sandbar crested terns were fishing.

The Pacific golden plovers spread out along the sandbars.

All the migratory shorebirds I  normally see were on the beach this week, common sandpiper, left, greater sand plover right.

Grey-tailed tatler left below and right, striated heron.

 Left below red-necked stints and right below, bar-tailed godwits.

As the sun slipped low over Mt Bartle Frere the gull-billed terns arrived. They dipped into the shallow water splashing and washing their feathers.

 When they were clean and refreshed they walked up onto the sandbank and stretched and dried their wings in the sun's final rays.

 When the gull-billed terns were dry they flew to the corner of the beach near Thompson Point.

No sooner had the terns settled than the whimbrels started arriving. Some flew to the far end of the beach while others joined the Pacific Golden Plovers.

A few common sandpipers flew in with the whimbrels.

All the birds settled down on the sandbars and waited for the tide to come in and the moon to rise.

Another day had come to an end over the Johnstone River estuary and another week for me.