Saturday 30 April 2016

Hello from Coquette Point,

Whilst most of Queensland is crying out for rain, the Wet Tropics has lived up to its name and been wet and very windy all week.

This morning however, the wind backed to the South and the Johnstone River was momentarily calm, only disturbed by a lone paddler.

It took only three days for another crocodile to fill the gap left after Frank was captured by EHP officers last week; I have called the new crocodile Steven, after his boss.

I found Steven basking in the sun, during a break in the rain, he was lying high up on the beach above the high-water mark. When he saw me he scurried for the water and I just managed to take a photo before he disappeared. I estimate Steven is about three metres long.

I spoke to Geoffrey, a local fisherman, who has seen Steven a few times and he said this crocodile didn't hang about but scampered as soon as he saw a human and in his opinion was not a problem crocodile.

The Coquette Point Road runs to a dead end, it seems for that reason irresponsible pet owners think it is a good place to dump animals. I don't know if this blue cattle dog was dumped or lost but I found it at  the end of the road and it evaded my every attempt to catch it. Geoffrey, the fisherman, also saw 'Bluey' and also was unable to catch her. Geoffrey did say he saw her hanging about close to where he had seen the crocodile, so she may have been taken. Alternatively, if she was lost, not dumped, the owner may have found her. If anyone recognises this dog please leave a comment at the end of the blog.
A beautiful looking blue cattle dog in good condition, lost at Coquette Point. Do you know who owns her?
When the breadfruit trees are in full production feral pigs hone in on the sweet smell of the ripe breadfruit, I always know it is a time to have my pig cage set and ready. Two small pigs, one young boar and a little female on Monday and today one large boar.

Feral pigs pose a real threat to cassowaries and other ground nesting birds like curlews, scrub fowls, brush turkeys and rails as they eat the eggs of these birds. Feral pigs cause a lot of damage to creek beds when they forage for beetle larva and they also eat many rainforest tree roots and plants. There is a huge cost to agriculture from feral pigs when they damage horticultural crops. It is important that pig cages are designed not to attract non-target species like cassowaries, pademelons and quolls. Pig cages with vertical push open doors do not catch non-target species. It is the responsibility of all landowners to control feral pests on their land; that goes for even small landowners like myself.

The amazing fig tree, ficus drupacea has set another crop of fruits. This one tree is so important for so many birds and animals in the area.

Fig birds, metallic starlings barred cuckoo shrikes and double eyed fig parrots feed in the canopy throughout the day, by night the spectacled flying foxes fight over the fruits and pademelons and white tailed rats feed on the fruits they drop. Day and night the birds and bats knock fruit to the ground where the cassowaries come to feast every few hours throughout the day.

Sometimes the cassowaries walk up from the beach to reach the fig tree other times they walk through the nursery. There has been plenty of fruit and Jessie has behaved submissively in front of the other cassowaries. Sometimes Snout and Kin sit and wait until Jessie has finished eating; it all seemed like a happy cassowary family.

Then suddenly on Thursday Jessie changed personalities. I was sitting on the veranda having a cuppa when I heard deep booming and saw Snout and Kin running for their lives. Jessie didn't have to move it was just the sound of her bad tempered call that caused Snout and Kin to run. Jessie was showing her dominance and every male cassowary knows that this matriarch demands respect.
This week Jessie has been patrolling the boundaries of her territory and Ruth Lipscombe saw Jessie chasing male cassowary Hagar and his two chicks. The chicks are now separated from Hagar and they stayed the first night under Ruth's house. Poor Ruth had to listen to them cry all night.
Hagar has not been seen for the last few days, it appears he has taken full advantage of his freedom from fatherly duties and has gone walkabout in the Moresby Range National Park. There are now two of Jessie's males free from their chicks, Hagar and Hero. It will be interesting to see which male she chooses to court first.

Hagar's two chicks now fending for themselves; Ruth is keeping an eye on them.

BirdLife Townsville has a very active membership, they organise campouts from the dry outback to the rainforest. This long weekend they visited the Wet Tropics Rainforest of the Cassowary Coast. While we may be getting a little tired after two weeks of rain, the Townsville BirdLife group loved it. The Ross River Dam is only 24% full and that is at the end of the Wet Season, they are all worried; but not this weekend.

I took the group for a walk through the mangroves and along the beach at Coquette Point. We saw Osprey hovering over a fish boil in the river and two beach stone curlews were calling as they ran ahead of us as we walked around to the long beach.

On a sandbar over 100 crested terns rested while other terns were flying about feeding in the river.There was a good number of juvenile terns in the flock, five can be seen in this section of the flock below.

One male tern tried to offer a female a fish, he chased her around in circles but she was not interested in his gift. When one of the chick tried to take it he flew away.

 Suddenly Brahminy kite appeared, in a panic the terns lifted into the air and moved to a distant sandbar.

The cries of the terns were quickly drowned out when a small flock of red-tailed black cockatoos arrived. Some perched on old mangrove trees while other headed for the beach almond trees.

We saw a juvenile horn-eyed ghost crab and the birds were forgotten as we all tried to get a photograph of this small opaque creature.

It was a case of 'bend the knees' to get a good shot.

The pied oyster catchers were sleeping amongst the flotsam but the good eyesight of some of the members soon spotted them.

Easy enough to see once they started walking about.

As we crossed back over Crocodile Creek we saw a great egret fishing on a sandbank and watched when it flew off.

The BirdLife Townsville members all posed at the Crocodile sign.

Then walked through the middle of the mighty fig tree as they watched the fig birds feeding above.

It was wonderful to spend time with like-minded people who can see the wonder in small things.

I'am sorry the mosquitoes were so bad for my Townsville visitors; even the cassowaries are having a hard time of it.

Once again it is clear to see, below, you should not wear black or red in mosquito country. Unfortunately, poor Snout doesn't have much choice.

Cheers for this week,

Saturday 23 April 2016

Hello from Coquette Point,
A strong south-easterly surge up the Queensland coast with an enhanced maritime flow has brought heavy rain to the Wet Tropics for most of the week. Another high is moving into the Bight  and we can expect further heavy rain next week.

Once again the topsoil flowed off the farms and into the waterways and was carried as suspended sediments, in an inevitable path, to the Great Barrier Reef. The high sea surface temperatures recorded in the Coral Sea throughout summer, coupled with a failure of the monsoon and its associated cloudy weather, has caused extensive coral bleaching along the Great Barrier Reef. Water quality is at the heart of the health of the Great Barrier Reef, if the coral gardens, are to grow again then good water quality is a basic requirement. To achieve this goal every person, whether they be farmer, small landholder, or town dweller must help to stop pollution from reaching the water systems which lead to the Great Barrier Reef; we all have a part to play.
Runoff from the Johnstone River 21 April 2016
Herbicides, particularly residual herbicides, have a catastrophic effect on coral reefs and mangrove communities. The photos below show the dieback in the mangrove forest which once protected the seaward coastline of the Johnstone River Estuary.

 Recent studies on agricultural herbicides have demonstrated that several reef foundation species are highly sensitive to acute exposure to herbicides. The potential build-up of herbicides and pesticides on the reef can weaken the health and resilience of corals and other organisms, making them more susceptible to disease and climate impacts like coral bleaching.

This common sandpiper has remained at Coquette Point and not joined his mates for their breeding migration.  The photo above shows the hardships he faces in trying to make a living along the foreshore of the Johnstone River. Mud has been deposited on his feeding ground and a careless fisherman has left fishing line on the beach. This little tourist is not happy.

There is some good news, the resident beach stone curlews have ventured out with their new chick.

Young beach stone-curlews are similar to the adults, except the yellow at the base of the bill is dull and the eye-brow stripe is broken by black above the eye and the grey brown feathers on the back are edged with white.

The parents walked the chick through the mangroves.

They showed the chick where there was good feeding grounds.
Then they took the chick down to the beach.

The beach stone-curlew is listed as Vulnerable in Queensland (Nature Conservation Act 19192) and it is ranked as a high priority under the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.

The numbers of crested terns at Coquette Point have increased with some of the birds returning from their island breeding grounds with chicks.

The gull-billed terns have not returned as yet.


I watched little egret dash through the water when chasing a fish, he caught it and I thought it was much too large for him, but he swallowed it whole. He stood for several minutes with his neck extended waiting for it to slide down.

The pair of pied oyster catchers had to contend with the mud and debris washed onto their feeding grounds during the rain event this week.

I was amazed to see two pied imperial pigeons feeding in the fig tree with the metallic starlings on Thursday, they were back again today. It is the first sighting of PIP's for over two weeks. This pair may be stragglers or perhaps are wintering over in FNQ.


Several large flocks of metallic starlings are visiting the fig tree throughout the day and the cassowaries are delighted when a shower of figs is knocked to the ground for them to harvest.

The amazing strangler Ficus drupacea has flowered and fruited again and this time it is covered in thousands of fruits.

The cassowaries are also feeding on the fruits of the bandicoot berry, Lea indica. See left.

And the fruits of the Leichhardt tree Nauclea orientalis
The brown fruits of the Leichhardt tree are very much enjoyed by the cassowaries; after feeding on them they often sit around and sleep for several hours.

Below, Cassowary dad Snout with chick Kin resting behind.

The heavy rain this week sent the frogs into a cacophony of calls only matched by the constant beat of the cicadas and katydids.

The little Eastern Dwarf Treefrogs were at their most vocal when along came Gertrude, the green tree snake, looking for a feed.

When Gertrude saw me with the camera she took off for the roof of the shade house and crawled into one of the hollow steel roof frames. From there she kept an eye on the pond and all the frog activity.

I left Gertrude to her hunting and went about my work in the nursery. Not long afterwards Joy arrived to buy some plants. " Oh she said that's a lovely plastic snake, do you have them for sale?"

Fortunately for Joy, she did not try to pick Gertrude up, but she bravely posed next to her for me to take the photos. Gertrude made a beeline for a nearby fig tree.

I'm sure Joy will look twice before she ever picks up a plastic snake. Thanks Joy for allowing me to take the photos of you and Gertrude.

The wonderful paperbark trees, melaluca leucadendra, flowered again this week and the rainbow lorikeets came in their hundreds to drink the nectar from the flowers, they also fed on the seeds from the earlier flowering.

There is lots of green grass for the wallabies to eat and Charlie arrived this week with his new girlfriend. He brought her into the nursery but she was very nervous and soon hopped away. Charlie's chest is very red, I think possibly as part of a mating ritual, however it could be a skin infection, what do you think?

The Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection's management program for estuarine crocodiles means that traps are set in the Johnstone River on a permanent basis. This week crocodile Frank was caught in one of these traps. I do not know his fate, however he is not the only crocodile in the Johnstone River and removing him just means another crocodile will enter the river to take his place. The EHP policy gives people a false sense of security and encourages people to behave irresponsibly in crocodile habitat areas like the Johnstone River.
RIP Frank.
Every day I see people throwing sticks into the river for their dogs to chase, how irresponsible. Don't these people realise that their actions only encourage crocodiles to hang about the river where dogs are swimming. Who is to blame if the dog is eaten, the crocodile or the dog owner? The photo below was taken the week before, and a few hundred yards from, the area where Frank was caught.

Cheers for this week,