From dust to green

After nearly four months camping in our tent, while we travelled north to Darwin then west across to Roebuck Bay, we have left the dust behind and returned to the lush green of Daintree.  We’ve now unpacked, cleaned up most of our gear before storing it and the vehicle is mostly clean inside.  Although it’s taken a few days to truly feel ‘at home’ again we are both appreciating the space, the green and the peace as well as our walking tracks.

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Reflections

The water levels in the wetlands are low, as we would expect at this time of the year, and we are not the only ones enjoying easy access.  This lovely girl was enjoying some sun in the swamp this morning and was undisturbed by our presence on the driveway.

Swamp Wallaby

Female Swamp Wallaby

Floscopa scandens ,which we now have growing in several areas around the wetlands,  is looking very lush and healthy with lots of pale pink flowers.  Although the water level has dropped the ground is still holding a lot of moisture, the grass is still green and we’re happy to be here.

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Rain and Shine

Several days of heavy rainfall during the wet season, when the ground is already saturated, can result in some areas becoming inundated.  Birds take advantage of any breaks in the rain to feed on insects moving up and away from the rising water.

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Leichardts in their temporary lake earlier this month – it’s very peaceful sitting in the canoe watching and listening to the wildlife.    

However, it is not always like that during the summer months and recently we have enjoyed early mornings in which the air is clearer and cooler after overnight rain.  It’s good to rise early so there is time to get a few things done outside before it becomes too uncomfortable in the steamy heat and before the storm clouds roll in during the afternoon.

Now that most of our rainforest regeneration is well established with canopy closure, our focus is on maintaining access paths.  It is not hard work to clear some of the branches hanging too low and the disturbance of vegetation often encourages insectivorous birds.  Lovely Fairy-wrens, in particular, often come in close to take advantage of any insects that may have been dislodged.

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This beautiful River Cherry (Syzygium tierneyanum) was situated in an overgrown area of grass with a ‘drain’ running through it prior to 2004

We have a lovely path between us and our neighbour, who also forms part of Wild Wings & Swampy Things Nature Refuge.  Leaving our driveway, it winds around one of our ponds and over Effie Creek on a footbridge before a gentle slope rises to our boundary.   Azure Kingfishers can often be heard along Effie Creek which copes with the run-off from the main road.  The water is filtered as it runs through our front pond system and finally enters Barratt Creek.

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No hand-rail on this bridge due to the danger of material becoming caught in a big flood and tearing out the entire structure.  

 

Life on the Ponds

Beautiful tropical summer weather; mostly dry mornings with periods of sun, followed by showers in the afternoon/evening so our ponds are gradually filling.   Its perfect weather for dragonflies and hanging around in the swamp with a camera.

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Water Prince (Hydrobasileus brevistylus)  Female – she was hovering and occasionally dipping her abdomen towards the leaf.

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Lesser Green Emperor (Anax guttatus) Flying up and down the ponds, very occasionally hovering before taking off again in a different direction. Possibly a male?

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Front view – Lesser Green Emperor 

Making the most of some lighter weather this turtle was resting on some pond ‘infrastructure’ that is exposed at low water levels.  When the wetlands were new the fish needed places to hide so we arranged a few old tyres  – its probably rather a good turtle resting place with a gentle slope and a decent grip on its surface.

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Saw-shelled fresh water turtle

There are many of these delicate little Darkmouth dragonflies on the vegetation in the shallows.  Once located they make relatively easy photographic subjects as they, like many in the Libellulidae family, will usually perch in between short flights, often returning to the same twig.  Digital photography is a wonderful assistance in identifying dragonflies as some of the differences are quite subtle and certainly not obvious to an untrained eye.

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Darkmouth (Brachydiplax duivenbodei)

Feeding Frenzy

Rainfall is imminent in the next few days;   “90% chance of showers and possible thunderstorms with areas of rain” but by Jan 2nd the forecast is just “Rain. Possible storm”.   It seems like water levels in the wetlands are about to rise but while there are still lots of muddy edges and shallow ponds full of fish and crustaceans there are busy birds with full bellies.

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Great Egret trying to get a firm grip on a River Prawn.  Macrobrachium sp.

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Now in a firm hold but still quite a challenge to swallow

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Azure Kingfisher with one of many fish caught in a morning session.

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Azure Kingfisher often flies to this horizontal perch as it’s convenient to use for bashing  prey prior to consumption.

Pale-vented Bushhen

Pale-vented Bush Hen – while we did see it catch fish occasionally it was mainly hunting on or around the vegetation.  This is possibly a dragonfly nymph.

Birds all have their own particular hunting methods and it is quite amusing to watch a Great Egret with its ‘wait quietly and pounce’ method becoming annoyed at a Little Egret which tends to be rather hyperactive, stirring the water up with its feet to see what is disturbed.  This Little Egret is in breeding colours and plumage, gloriously white even though it is spending its days in the muddy shallows.

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Little Egret in the process of swallowing a fish.

Glorious Mud

I have always found myself attracted to water;  whether a vast expanse of sea or a tranquil lake, a cool pool on a hot day, a winding tree-lined river or a waterfall.  In my very early days, like most children, my joy was mostly centred around the splashing qualities of water.  These days  I usually have a reason for getting wet and muddy!  Pond maintenance (a bit of weeding) is not really a chore to me as there are so many wonderful distractions, and it is just such a good feeling to be hanging around the ponds.

The cyclical nature of wetlands is a learning process – Allen and I still find the onset of heavy rain and the resulting water flow into the ponds as exciting as always.  After months of dry weather it is wonderful to see fresh water flowing over the spillways however there is really so much more to observe when we have mud!

Allen has been spending quite a bit of time with his camera in the bird hide recently;  his patience and his quiet observation has resulted in some lovely photos.

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Snipe preening – either Latham’s or Swinhoe’s.

Until a definitive photo of the tail feathers being fanned can be obtained we can’t be absolutely sure about this bird’s identification but it is just lovely seeing them so busy feeding.

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Snipe feeding together – these two are thought to be Swinhoe’s

Pale-vented Bush-hen

Pale-vented Bush Hen – while these birds are resident on the property we mostly only get a glimpse as they dash into the next bit of cover.  Their voices however, can be heard loud and clear – a loud and raucous call for a small bird with such a neat appearance.

Female Black Bittern

Black Bittern – standing on the edge of ‘Crake Island’

Another bird that we frequently hear calling at this time of the year but mostly only see once we have disturbed it feeding is the Black Bittern.   There have been many calls recently and we expect there may be more than one nest to be found along Barratt Creek.

Great-billed Heron

Great-billed Heron

Great-billed Heron

I had to include a couple more photos of the Great-billed Heron as I get such a thrill seeing these magnificent birds and these photos are better than some of my earlier attempts.  We have more than one of these Herons regularly feeding in our wetlands and they don’t seem to be quite as nervous as they used to be although definitely still considered ‘shy’.

Master Weaver

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Nephila on her magnificent wheel-web

Recently my morning routine has involved checking on a Golden Orb spider (Nephila pilipes) which has, after trying several positions around the house, constructed a web under the eaves outside one of our sliding doors.  As it is a door which is rarely used she has not been disturbed by us.  However, during the night her web is vulnerable to collisions by insectivorous bats hunting for insects attracted by our lights.  In the morning she is frequently busy repairing her web and yesterday major repairs were underway as there was very little of the main wheel remaining.

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Although her movements were not fast she didn’t stop until the work was complete. 

The spider uses her tarsi to draw the silk from her spinnerets – it is fascinating to watch the action.  Spiders are able to produce silk in various qualities depending on what part of the web is being constructed or whether it is being used to wrap up some prey. She works deftly with never a moment’s hesitation about where the next section will fit!

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Nephila pilipes drawing silk out of her spinnerets

It is fascinating to watch the web creation process.   Nephila works with such precision and at such a steady pace that by the time I returned to check on her after breakfast it was completed and she was resting in the centre, waiting for her prey.

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Nephila pilipes is found in northern Queensland, Papua New Guinea, Polynesia, Malaysia, Bali and India.  They are completely harmless to humans and would only bite in self-defence if seriously threatened.

Wild Wings …..

Little Kingfisher – Ceyx pusillus is one of a special group of tropical Australian iconic bird species.  Our wetlands’ designs included areas we hoped would create habitats appealing to this beautiful jewel of a bird and I can now say with confidence that we have indeed achieved our aim!

Little Kingfisher

Little Kingfisher

Cottonwood – Hibiscus tiliaceous which thrives in wet situations and tends to spread (a habit not favoured by some) now helps to provide shade and shelter around the wetland overflow .  Both Azure and Little Kingfishers use an overhanging Cottonwood branch to watch the fish in the clear water flowing over the spillway before diving in for a feed.

These secretive, tiny birds with the oversized bills prefer dark well vegetated waterways which make challenging photographic conditions.   Allen has been patiently returning to the bird hide, time after time, hoping that he could catch it on one its brief forays into the open.  Finally this morning he had some success and although the light was poor due to overcast conditions the blue of this amazing, diminutive bird shines brilliantly.

Wet but not awash

Wonderful to have such good rains in late December just as the ground was becoming really hard and dry – while some may find the humidity taxing it is, to me, infinitely preferably to the crackly, tinder dry atmosphere that precedes so many horrific fires.  There is also the bonus of hydrated skin which I am sure makes me look years younger than I appear in dry climates!

After a couple of weeks away enjoying festivities with children and grandchildren we were delighted to return and find Spotted Whistling ducks were temporarily resident on our wetland.   Since 2012 these ducks have made an appearance at Wild Wings & Swampy Things during the summer months – some years they have stayed for a few weeks but last year they were only sighted on one day.  It is always a good feeling to see birds return and especially when they are feeding and roosting here.

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Spotted Whistling duck posing before taking off for the night

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Roosting in a tree on the edge of the wetland

One of the other surprises was to find that the Wompoo fruit dove, nesting above our driveway, had steadfastly stayed on its nest through heavy rain and hatched its baby.  It has a long way to go yet, the parents will have to be on their guard to protect it from a pair of Black Butcherbirds.

Wompoo Fruit-dove on nest

Wompoo Fruit-dove on nest – youngster not visible

Wompoo Fruit-dove nestling

Wompoo Fruit-dove nestling

I forgot to mention that all the photos were taken by Allen.

Survivor

In mid November, some tourists on the Daintree River witnessed  two Great-billed Herons fighting on the river bank.  As the bird watchers keenly observed the fracas, the birds fell into the water and a nearby crocodile took the opportunity to grab one of them.

Subsequent to this event being reported on the local network we noticed that the Great-billed Heron we regularly see on our wetlands was limping and looking a bit sorry for himself.  (There has been a presumption that it was two males fighting)  During the last week he has improved considerably – we have seen him quite frequently and, perhaps due to his bruises, he hasn’t been in a hurry to fly off as soon as he catches sight of us.

November 21st feeling a bit sorry for itself.

November 21st feeling a bit sorry for itself – a few days after the reported fracas.

Today we were spending some time with a fellow birding friend who was visiting from Cairns and so, after a walk around some of the tracks, we sat in the bird hide chatting and exchanging stories.  As we were watching a Little Egret land in a tree in the distance, the Great-billed Heron flew across in front of us and landed on the bund wall in full view.  Although we kept chatting the bird was unperturbed by us.  It was, however, disturbed by some Figbirds which caused it to ruffle up its plumes then give us a demonstration of its guttural call before eventually flying a little further on to hunt along the exposed muddy bank.

Great-billed Heron

Great-billed Heron

What a privilege to have the pleasure of seeing such a shy bird, not only finding our wetlands a reliable feeding ground but starting to feel less threatened by our presence nearby.

Great-billed Heron

Great-billed Heron

Flying high

Perfect weather combined with an efficient operator has resulted in some fabulous overhead views of Wild Wings & Swampy Things.  Never having seen a drone in action I was keen to observe the launching process but didn’t expect that it would be quite so exciting.  I think I may possibly have squealed with delight as the drone took off,  headed skywards!  Tom let it hover overhead for a few moments while it got its bearings and then  it was out of our sight as he sent it on a circuit of the property.

Drone on landing pad

Drone on launching pad

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We have lift off!

The early morning light was perfect to capture the colour variation of our very green landscape.

Freshwater swimming pool nestled in the garden

Freshwater swimming pool nestled in the garden in front of the house

The view below is taken from near Barratt Creek looking NNE over our orchard in the bottom right hand corner, a glimpse of our house can be seen in  the centre of the photo.  The boundary lines are approximate and the view somewhat distorted due to the angle.

View to Thornton's Peak. Daintree River visible in top third of photo.

View to Thornton’s Peak. Daintree River visible in top third of photo.

Dagmar Range is part of the Greater Daintree National Park which begins on the other side of Barratt Creek so Wild Wings & Swampy Things Nature Refuge forms an important corridor between a large conservation area and the Daintree River catchment.

Dagmar Range to the SW

Dagmar Range to the SW

The view towards Daintree Village from Barratt Creek shows the contrasting vegetation of the cattle farming areas.  While the hills make a beautiful backdrop our front boundary is the Mossman-Daintree road, hidden under the trees.

Looking towards Daintree Village from Barratt Creek

Looking towards Daintree Village from Barratt Creek

Wetlands in the foreground, bird hide is a light speck in the green, main house is just to the left of centre and Daintree Village is visible as a cluster of buildings in the far distance with the Daintree river on the right hand side of the photo.