Saturday 30 January 2016

Hello from the steamy Wet Tropics of Coquette Point,

I do not have any good news about cassowary Peggy. No one has seen her all week and I fear the worst, from what appeared to have been a fishing line hanging from her beak with a hook embedded in her throat. When a cassowary sits down in the rainforest you can walk within a metre of the bird and not see it. There is little chance of a search finding her and we can only hope that she somehow pulls through.

What happened to Peggy, unfortunately, is also happening to thousands of sea birds and turtles around the world when they ingest plastic mistaking it for food. The plastic waste is mostly coming from personal household rubbish. We must take responsibility for our waste and dispose of it in such a way that it does not cause an injury to other creatures, nor should it pollute the environment. Scientists estimate that in 50 years, if we continue to dump plastic waste into our oceans, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish.

An unemployed man called Adam, on his own initiative, has been collecting plastic and other rubbish from the Coquette Point beach. If there is any hope of stopping plastic from entering the oceans, we need an Adam on every beach around the world and collection points to dump the rubbish.

Meanwhile, cassowary Kin is finding relief from the heat in the nursery pool. The monsoon trough sits tantalisingly close in the Timor Sea and we all wait for some relief from the extreme heat and humidity.

                                                      Jessie is still following Snout about, much to Snout's annoyance. Whenever he sees her he emits a low growl and then starts pulling at his quills. Jessie tries to look coy by dropping her head, but it doesn't impress Snout and he walks away from her with Kin following. The photo above was taken at 7am when they all suddenly appeared on my back lawn.

Cassowary Brown Cone has connected with one of his chicks again. Pam Birchley caught them on the bend at Ninds Creek. The chick ran into the swamp before Pam took the photo. Thank you Pam for the photo of Brown Cone, his other chick has not been sighted for over a month and I fear it has not survived.

The male cassowary at the Etty Bay end of the Moresby Range National Park, Bimbo, still has his four chicks. It is absolutely astonishing that they have survived, particularly as they negotiate the steep and windy road to Etty Bay every day.  Bimbo is a first time dad, he is about five years old and his dad Buster turned up with him at the Etty Bay Cafe  soon after cyclone Larry. Thank you Loren Beggs for sending me the photos and for caring about the cassowaries.

Etty Bay is a dog free zone where campers are asked to leave the dogs at home and not to feed the cassowaries. Etty Bay is a jewel in the Cassowary Coast's crown and is a 'must stop and visit spot' for all travellers. The Etty Bay Van Park and Beach Cafe offers a unique opportunity to stay a day and enjoy this special part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area of the Cassowary Coast.
Cassowary Dad Bimbo and his four chicks cross the road to Etty Bay.

The fruits of the Alexandra palms, Archontophoenix Alexandrae are ripe and feasting has begun. Much of the fruit is knocked to the ground by the birds as they feed but it is not wasted. When the cassowaries hear the birds feeding they go straight to the tree and sit underneath eating the Alenandra palm fruits as they fall.
I was watching the metallic starlings and the pied imperial pigeons feeding happily together when two rainbow lorikeets flew in. The metallic starlings were not bothered by the rainbow lorikeets and they happily fed together. Then I saw a PIP suddenly creep up from behind, the starlings moved away.  I did not hear the PIP make a sound but suddenly the rainbow lorikeets let out loud squawks and flew away.

The PIP gloated when they flew away.

The PIPs continued feeding on the palm fruits along with the metallic starlings,  the rainbow lorikeets did not return.

The orange footed scrub fowl with the injured leg is still limping but she is now able to scratch for food herself, the mate is always with her. Early one morning I heard a great racket from the scrub fowls and I saw two were fighting on the front lawn.

 Just when I thought they were going to kill each other the fight stopped and one bird with a broken feather walked over to a scrub fowl waiting and watching nearby. I was able to identify the spectator bird as Limpy. I do hope the fight was won by the mate who has cared for her over the last three months while her leg was healing. The other bird walked away in the opposite direction.

No sightings of the little terns again this week so it appears they have left for their Asian holiday. The gull-billed have also gone and still only half a dozen crested terns remain feeding in the Johnstone River.

Six or seven grey-tailed tattlers remain along with around 50 greater sand-plovers.

          Two groups of bar-tailed godwits are still feeding at Coquette Point a total of seven birds.                                                            

                                                                                                                                                 Common sandpipers can still be found all along the river-banks and at least five are on the sand flats every day.

I counted but did not photograph 12 whimbrels.

There has been no sign of the pelicans for two weeks. Patchy storm rains in Western Queensland may have filled lagoons and somehow they know and have left.

The amazing bright yellow caterpillars of the four o'clock moth, above, are busy eating the leaves of their host plant. Mainly a coastal rainforest dweller, the four O'clock moth lays her eggs on her host tree Carallia brachiata, the corkwood tree. This tree is also host to the peacock jewel butterflies' caterpillar.

The orchard swallowtail butterfly lays her eggs on citrus trees, much to the alarm of many gardeners.

 When the orchard swallowtail's caterpillars first hatch they look like bird droppings, as they grow they change into a green camouflage coat, see below.

The largest butterflies in Australia have been busy mating in the bushes and laying eggs on every available leaf. The butterfly below missed the host vine which was growing above the branch of a citrus tree.

Now hundreds of caterpillars are covering every host vine of Aristolochia tagala in the nursery and munching away at its green leaves

Below eight Cairns bird-wing caterpillars play Ring Around the Rosy on a Aristolochia tagala vine.

While at times the heat and high humidity of summer in the Wet Tropics is hard to take, observing the creatures that call this hot-house home makes it all worthwhile.

Cheers for this week,

Saturday 23 January 2016

Hello from Coquette Point,

Last week my 4G device which connects me to the internet blew up and I lost internet connection. The device I now have on loan from the Telstra Shop at Smithfield is temperamental, so I hope it stays up to complete this post. My new device should arrive next week.

I was told that the wireless NBN was now available at Coquette Point, so I rang to have it connected but when the man came out to test the signal it was too weak. I was told that Coquette Point residents will be able to connect to satellite NBN but that doesn't roll out until April and anyone wanting it must place their name on a waiting list!!!!!!! I have done this.

I saw cassowary Peggy on Monday afternoon eating figs from a magnificent old cluster fig tree, Ficus racemosa. She was eating the fruits hungrily, but as I watched I saw that sometimes she gagged and coughed the fruits out. I could not understand what was happening.

It was not until I put the photos up on the computer that I saw the fishing line hanging from her beak. Part of the line was coming out of her right nostril another part went inside her mouth and one knotted piece hung out from her mouth.

Peggy continued to eat the figs that had fallen from the tree.
 As I watched, every now and again Peggy would stop and shake her head violently trying, it seemed, to dislodge the line. After one lot of shaking the line wrapped around her beak and she coughed struggling to open her beak. At the time I was concerned she had influenza or TB. I could not see the nylon line through the camera lens, but I knew something was not right with her.

When I downloaded the photos and saw the line I notified the Cassowary Hot Line and an EHP Ranger came to investigate, however, he was unable to find Peggy. Subsequently the next day the Senior Ranger joined in the search but still was unable to find Peggy.

I have also waited at this fig tree and another tree which is nearby with fruit falling but no sign of Peggy.

The cluster fig tree is full of fruit and they are favourites of the cassowary, so if she is able, I am sure she will return to the fig tree to feed.

The Damson plum trees, Terminal sericocarpa, the white apple, syzygium forte, and white beech, Gmelina dalrympleana are just some of the ripe fruits dropping in the rainforest at the moment; so there is plenty of food in the Moresby Range National Park for the cassowaries to eat.

If you see Peggy please ring and report the sighting to the Cassowary Hot Line on 1300130372.

On Friday while I was waiting for Peggy to arrive, old matriarch cassowary Clara turned up. She walked out of the guinea grass, however, she was startled when she saw me and ran off across the road into the Moresby Range National Park. If Clara is a regular visitor to the fig tree she will chase Peggy as she is the older, dominant bird.

Meanwhile, back down this end of Coquette Point matriarch cassowary Jessie is still stalking Snout. Snout gets very cranky and hisses at her, telling her to stop following him and he walks away with Kin following.

Often when this happens Snout 'drops a scat' and Jessie always investigates, picking at the contents. Jessie, Snout and Kin are at the moment eating Damson plum, Terminalia sericocarpa, white apple, Syzygium forte  and wax jambu, Syzygium aqueum. I have not seen any cluster fig fruits or seeds in their scats, so it would appear that they are not crossing the range, nor it appears are there any cluster figs in fruit on this side.
Snout and Kin eating wax jambu fruits. 

Jessie eating damson fruits.

A lot has changed on the beach and in the Johnstone River over the last two weeks; the little terns have gone. It is very early for them to commence their migration but I have made no sightings of them around the Johnstone for two weeks. Also the gull-billed and most of the crested terns have gone for their breeding season to the islands off shore. I found only seven crested terns on Friday at low tide and what I think was Pingu flying alone over the estuary.

The two pied oyster catchers are alone and I have not seen the chick again, so I assume it is lost.

I watched the beach stone curlews running about chasing a feed on the beach when one of the birds spat out a spray of water. Something it ate didn't taste right.

Four bar-tailed godwits were constantly moving around the beach eating quickly then moving on. They seemed in a great hurry to feed.

I saw about 50 greater sand plovers spread out over the beach feeding, some in the shallows others at the water's edge.

From a vantage point on an old dead mangrove, osprey watched for any movement in the water on the incoming tide. Within minutes he had caught a fish. He flew with it back over Flying Fish Point toward the Mt Annie National Park.

The ballet of the Eastern Reef Egret.

Occasionally one is privileged to watch animals comfortable in their natural environment. A 600mm camera lens, of course, allows a special opportunity to see and to learn; in this case, it's not so easy to catch dinner.

 Striated heron was also on the beach,
 I did not see him catch a fish.

As the sun fell low in the sky the whimbrels returned from feeding in the hinterland; I counted twenty birds.

The Pied Imperial Pigeons were also flying home to the Barnard Islands after a day's feasting in the rainforests of the Cassowary Coast.

In the shadow of Mt Bartle Frere the Coconuts Outrigger Club members practised for their next big event.

 If you are able to rise just before first light any morning over the next couple of weeks and if there is a cloudless sky to the north,  you might see the alignment of the five planets, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. They appear in a straight line, Jupiter high in the northern sky down to Mercury low in the east. This is a once in a decade occurance. If there is a clear sky you will be able to see them with the naked eye. An added bonus, Sunday morning the full moon sets in the West around the same time.

If you are suspicious, planetary alignments are said to herald disasters.

On that auspicious note I will CU next week, Telstra permitting.