Winter Update

The wet season has drizzled to a close through June and we are now experiencing some dry weather with mostly sunny days and quite cold nights. River mist is often a feature of these cold, clear mornings as we experienced yesterday at the start of a tour with Murray the Daintree Boatman. In spite of the cold it was a wonderful morning excursion and we were able to enjoy lengthy observations of a Great-billed Heron both on the main river and in Barratt Creek. It was peaceful on the water in the early morning, watching the bird with only occasional quiet talk and the whir of camera motor-drives breaking the silence.

Murray heading in to pick up his passengers
Fabulous reflections in the still water as we waited for the Heron to move into better light

Back at Wild Wings & Swampy Things ……..in early June a little flock of Spotted Whistling ducks arrived and stayed for a few weeks. We watched their movements with interest as they shared a pond with Betty Barratt, the crocodile who frequently enjoys our hospitality. The larger and apparently more senior Spotted Whistling Duck, which we took to be the male, kept a very close look-out after one of the flock went missing.

Spotted Whistling Ducks in the background – living dangerously.

Betty continues her quiet life in our ponds while they hold sufficient water for her to feel comfortable. She is becoming a little more adventurous this year with more frequent movements between ‘Graham’ and ‘Rupert’ (all our ponds have names) leaving a muddy track on the bund wall separating the two ponds.

Many of the ‘bush birds’ have been a little quiet in the last week, possibly due to cold and sometimes windy weather. A few Magpie geese have been hanging around recently and several days ago, having noticed some trampled sedge, I was able to observe an adult goose with at least four, possibly five goslings. My dusk sighting didn’t enable a good view so Allen and I went out the next morning to see what was happening. We walked to Graham’s hide first; no visible goose activity but Betty was sunning herself amongst the waterlilies looking distinctly satisfied.

Is that a self-satisfied gleam in her eye?

We walked down to the ’07 ponds (never properly named!) from where we could hear geese. There were several lookout birds honking from surrounding trees and nervous parents on the water with only two goslings. As Allen saw both a Sea Eagle and a Brahminy Kite having a go at the goslings later in the morning he was loath to blame Betty but the next morning only one gosling remained.

One gosling closely guarded

This morning the geese were sounding very unsettled, Betty was swimming around below the trees in which they perched and there was no gosling to be seen. There was, however, a Black Bittern skulking around on a small island in between the sedge plants (Rhynchospora corymbosa). It’s fun to have the opportunity to observe a BB without being seen although I didn’t see any dramatic action. Their ability to hold a pose for minutes on end with no apparent movement is extraordinary.

Female Black Bittern in typical pose on Crake Island in Graham’s Pond

And so life on the ponds continues, a visiting friend today suggested that a renaming of the property to Wild Wings & Bitey Things might be appropriate as we await our official Crocodile warning sign! My mind immediately thought of the Faulty Towers television series and the fun we could have with an easily altered sign.

Colour in the Sun

Although we’re still having occasional rain showers the weather bureau declared the end of ‘the wet’ a few weeks ago. Some clear mornings and gorgeous sunny days have lifted everyone’s spirits, all the more appreciated after our long and very wet summer.
About a month ago we started seeing extraordinary numbers of butterflies, including some species we had not previously observed. They didn’t need the weather bureau to tell them the wet season downpours had finished! Four O’Clock Moths have been flying at all hours of the day and every Corky Bark tree, Carallia brachiata, seems to be hosting quite a number of their vibrant looper caterpillars. The one below was trying a different pose which it held like a yogi even with a camera lens at very close range.

This larva is trying an ‘innocent’ pose but the munched leaves tell a different story
Four O’Clock Moth – Dysphania fenestrata
Red Lacewing – Cethosia cydippe
Male Cruiser – Vindula arsinoe

The larval food plant of both Cruisers and Red Lacewings is the native passionfruit vine Adenia heterophylla. It’s bright red fruit is very decorative and is much appreciated by native rodents as well as cockatoos who usually don’t wait for the fruit to ripen! The seeds are obviously distributed successfully as we find these vines popping up in all sorts of places without any help from us.

Native Passionfruit – Adenia heterophylla
Hamadryad – Tellervo zoilus

Although the Hamadryad very closely resembles the Black and White Aeroplane it actually belongs in an entirely different sub-family and is the only member of Ithomiinae in Australia. It has close relatives in southern and central America. Peter Valentine mentions that the similarity between the these two species may be an example of mimicry by the aeroplane in order to gain benefit from the toxicity of the Hamadryad. The flight of the Hamadryad is more leisurely than that of the very similar Aeroplane and close attention to the wing pattern is required in order to confirm identification.

Black & White Aeroplane – Neptis praslini
Small Oakblue- Arhopala wildei

Described by Peter Valentine as “the most elusive of all the oakblues” Allen did well to photograph this beautifully patterned little butterfly. A dimorphic species, the upperside of the female is white whereas the male is blue. Peter Valentine’s delightful and informative book on Australian Tropical Butterflies has been very useful this year as Allen was able to identify the species he found that were unknown to us.

Orange Bushbrown – Mycalesis terminus

This not uncommon but very pretty little butterfly is often seen feeding on rotting fruit. The larvae feed on grasses and don’t seem to be particularly choosy as to which species.
This is just a small selection of the butterflies seen this year. They are interesting subjects however some, like the Green Spotted Triangle, just have to be enjoyed as they move fast and seemingly continuously. The photos of the Four O’Clock moth are mine, all the others were taken by Allen and he’s still trying for one of the Green Spotted Triangle!

Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher

Allen has spent many hours observing life at Wild Wings & Swampy Things this summer. I greatly admire his patience and dedication in recording the life around us especially in the very wet conditions we have been experiencing.

Adult Paradise Kingfisher feeding in our Leichhardt forest – Nauclea orientalis. Leichhardts are able to cope with swampy conditions as well as inundation.

These eye-catching birds, with their long white ribbon tails, visit our north tropical area for a few months each year to tunnel into termite mounds and lay their eggs. In the event that they are able to hatch their eggs and rear their young without mishap they feed the nestlings until they are capable of flying out on their own and feeding. The adults and young fly north before the winter chill.

One of a number of termite mounds found in our forest. Not all are used as nests and some have trial holes which didn’t meet the bird’s standard and have been abandoned.

Allen has not tried to photograph Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfishers when they are nesting as we are just happy to know that they have returned for another year. To hear Paradise kingfishers calling and to catch glimpses of those gorgeous colours or a flash of white tail through the trees puts smiles on our faces.

This young bird was seen near Barratt Creek
Another sighting in the Leichhardts – their big leaves provide shade from the sun or shelter from the rain and their horizontal, sturdy branches make an excellent perches.
This young one was photographed near the house. In spite of netting draped along our verandah it came in low and hit the window. We quickly got it into our recovery box but in only a few minutes it was tapping to get out. It sat on Allen’s finger for about 2 seconds before flying off to a branch for some more quiet time.
Another shot of an adult bird feeding in the Leichhardt forest during a break between heavy showers of rain. There is a lot of insect activity at this time of the year and we felt this bird was enjoying some good feeds before commencing it’s northerly migration.

Misty morning

Mist moving quite rapidly along Barratt Creek

After my previous early morning post I walked down to the bird hide at first light. In spite of my initial disappointment that the river level had not dropped I took time to enjoy a peaceful beginning to the day. There was a lull in the rain and the birds were wisely making the most of it, flitting from tree to tree hunting for breakfast.

Our forest of Leichardt trees – thriving in wet conditions, providing shelter and food.

So now the water level has started to drop, there are bursts of sunshine between the showers and we’ve just witnessed the joyful sight of the Ergon crew aboard a helicopter looking for the fault in the power line.

A bright red bird of a different species and one we are happy to see today.
Sunlight glistening on raindrops

“The Wet”

Our leafy tunnel of a driveway disappearing under water

Once again this season high rainfall in the Daintree Valley catchment area has pushed the Daintree River and Barratt Creek just over a moderate flood level. As this event coincided with king tides and steady rain for several days the water has just quietly backed up into our wetlands. The ground is so saturated that even very low tides have made only a minimal difference to the water level.

Only a short walk from the house, the hide is a comfortable place for contemplation

Allen is immensely patient in the hide and all credit goes to him for the photos in this post.

Not a floating log
Betty Barratt swam past the hide on her way back to her usual pond. We have been keeping a close look out for her on the edge of the floodwaters so we were pleased to have a sighting.

From the hide it is possible to see little birds dart about between rain showers and yesterday we watched a female Shining Flycatcher with a youngster hiding under the big leaves of a Leichardt tree (Nauclea orientalis) as big rain drops fell around them.

Even during the rain these gorgeous Azure kingfishers will be out looking for a feed

Although the rainfall has been much less overnight there was a heavy downpour at about 3.30 am. Allen started our little generator at 4 am to cool down the fridge and freezer and so it seemed like a good time to get up. I am awaiting daylight before deciding on the day’s activities.

Garden News

The verdant wet season is an outstanding feature of life in the wet tropics but rampant growth in the garden can sometimes be a challenge. While making the most of fine weather before our next rain event, I’ve been spreading mulch over weeded sections to reduce the effect of pounding rain and hopefully slow down weed germination.


The result of some rather drastic pruning at the end of last year – our enormous mulch sculpture with aeration holes and tunnels.

Brush Turkeys and Orange-footed Scrubfowl started digging into the pile then as holes were extended into tunnels we realized that Bandicoots were also involved! Thanks to their assistance the mulch is maturing nicely and will keep me busy for quite some time.

Caterpillar of Four O’Clock Moth (Dysphania numana) feeding on young Corky Bark (Carallia brachiata) leaf

Carallia brachiata is a land-based member of the Rhizophoraceae family. Although it is not found in tidal areas, like other species of this mangrove family, it is able to cope with wet ground as it develops adventitious roots to assist with gas exchange. Their very small fruit are sweet and tasty and as they are consumed by a number of different bird species they often germinate in our garden areas. I don’t want them to develop as trees in the house garden but the new growth which sprouts after a ‘heavy pruning’ is perfect for newly hatched caterpillars.

Common Tree Snake (Dendrelaphis punctulata)

I glimpsed this beauty outside our bedroom window as she sinuously wound her way around the hanging basket, then hung down until she could reach the pot plant below and so return to the garden. No hurry, no stress, merely a delight to observe.



Floods, mud and more…..

It has indeed been very wet this summer and it’s probably not over yet. We’ve had several floods including one major one which deposited a great deal of silt in our orchard as well as all areas below our house and garden surrounds. While watching the flood waters rise can be ‘exciting’ at times the aftermath is not, but we are exceedingly grateful that our house avoided inundation.

A layer of silt over the track to the orchard

A thick layer of mud stuck on a Mangosteen leaf -although these leaves are quite shiny the mud doesn’t wash off even when heavy rain follows the flood.
Malay Apple (Syzygium puberulum) – bursting out with it’s brilliantly coloured blooms a week after total inundation.

During the big flood, a saltwater crocodile moved into our front wetland system for a holiday. There are no pesky tour boats to disturb her here so she is able to enjoy the peace and quiet, apart from Allen occasionally mowing the bank of her pond . We first noticed her after a flood last year and she stayed for a few months only returning to the creek when our ponds became too shallow for her.
Betty Barratt appears to prefer Rupert’s pond which is the deepest and has easy access to the creek as well as convenient sunny banks on which to warm up. While it is a privilege to host an apex predator her presence does limit the delights of loitering around the edges of the ponds.

Just looking……
Basking quietly in the sun

Swampy Extremes

Many areas of Queensland suffer from a lack of rain combined with extremely high temperatures that I would find difficult to cope with.  After a dry winter and most of spring we experienced some very hot, humid days late in November. Our hot dry weather didn’t last very long and now it is becoming hard to imagine. Today the entire area pictured below is under water…….

Nov. 27 Looking towards driveway. Bamboo railing on edge of culvert is just visible.

The extended dry period enabled us to carry out some maintenance in our ephemeral wetlands, particularly in areas we are not able to access every year. Allen used our little tractor with a rear blade to clear *Para grass that was starting to choke up channels between our front ponds. While we would prefer not to disturb the soil, the run-off from the main road needs to go through the front of our property to ultimately drain into Barratt Creek. Our long term aim is to reduce this grass growth by shading the channels with trees able to cope with partial inundation. It will mean less maintenance for us and gradually a more natural habitat will develop.

A shallow puddle made muddy by the water birds feasting on any remaining fish and crustaceans.

While Allen was on the tractor I was walking around with my weeder tool and a bag, pulling out young *Hymenachne plants that had germinated in areas where Magpie geese had been resting. While not a physically demanding job it is easy to miss a piece especially when it is hiding in Persicaria, pictured above.

Looking down the driveway this afternoon – we could just see the bamboo from the culvert railing but it appeared to be floating free.

Floods are part of wet season life here. When the children were young I spent a lot of time running about in the rain and mud with them and when we had a flood we often went paddling around in the dinghy to explore the landscape from a different perspective.
Now I enjoy having time to read as well as completing some inside jobs that have been deferred in favour of time in the garden.

View from the bird hide towards Barratt Creek

When there was a lull in the rain showers this afternoon I walked to the bird hide to take these photos. There was a background noise of water roaring in the creek, several Shining flycatchers calling with a Cicadabird and Orioles as a back-up chorus. Closer to the Spring-fed ponds I could hear a Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher calling and hoped that its chosen mound was out of flood waters.

Water level not yet at the bird hide floor boards and we’re hoping it doesn’t get any higher.

*Both Hymenachne and Para grass are pasture grasses that have been introduced to Australia to provide fodder in low lying, wet areas. They are both very invasive species and ‘death’ to wetlands as they smother all the native grasses and sedges and choke the waterways.

Tropical aromas

The late afternoon air is quite suddenly full of the intense aroma of rotting flesh.  It wafts across the garden in an almost visible cloud and settles around us.  Quite a contrast to the subtle scents that most usually fill our warm tropical evenings this one demands immediate attention.  I grab my camera and let the drone of flies lead me to the newly emerged flower of Amorphophallus paeoniifolius.

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Amorphophallus paeoniifolius also known as Elephant Yam due to the size of the underground tuber.

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Occurring from India to New Guinea as well as in tropical parts of Australia this bizarre plant is dormant through the dry season, producing its solitary flower in response to rainfall.  A single large spadix topped by a fleshy, foul smelling wrinkly knob with a spathe surrounding the entire flower.  Carrion flies and beetles are attracted to the smell and perform a valuable service as pollinators.  The Green Ants (Oecophylla sp) on the spathe appeared to be feeding on dead insects, they are not recorded as pollinators.

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Before returning to the house I treated my nose to a breath of Gardenia ‘Wild Wings’ (our accidental hybrid) followed by a whiff of  Bloomfield Penda (Xanthostemon verticillatus).  Olfactory balance easily restored.

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Welcomed Home

After 10 weeks travelling down the Queensland coast to Brisbane environs and returning via Carnarvon Gorge we are happy to be home.  Sleeping soundly without traffic noise until woken with bird song in the early morning is wonderful and while there have been a few places on our journey where this has been the case we’ve had to share with too many other people!
It is very dry for Daintree, our lawn has even browned off!  However, we are lucky to have a plentiful supply of good quality bore water – a precious resource indeed.

This morning I woke early and after my stretching exercises walked over to the caravan to collect a few things.  I grabbed an armful of gear and turned to the open door to see a sub-adult Cassowary peering at the open caravan door!  She has grown a lot in the last few months and has very large feet.  I spoke quietly and we observed each other for a few moments and then as she started to move away I stepped out and made my way back to the house.  For the next 15 minutes she walked around the house garden but there isn’t much here for her to feed on at the moment so she walked on.

WW&ST Cassowary in garden 1-11-2018 6-20-12 AM

WW&ST Cassowary backview 1-11-2018 6-20-39 AM

In the last few months she has filled out and grown very large feet – quite probably a ‘she’.

Our cottage resident, Dave, has been seeing this bird quite regularly and sending us photo reports.  He has a good viewing position as the cottage is right on the edge of forest.  We are all delighted to see the growth in this bird, she is obviously finding enough food.  We know she has been feeding on fruit from trees and palms in our revegetated areas and is probably also feeding in nearby forested areas.

To provide habitat for an endangered species such as the Cassowary is a wonderful warm fuzzy feeling.