Reading and listening to many personal accounts of life during 2020 constantly reminded us of how lucky we are to live in our relatively isolated tropical paradise. While we continue to abide by any recommended Coronovirus safety procedures we have been able to enjoy many wonderful experiences with close friends in our local area. A morning with our friend Murray on one his Daintree Boatman tours is always a delight, especially when the tides are suitable for him to navigate Barratt Creek. He always gives us plenty of time to admire these magnificent Water Gums – Tristaniopsis exiliflora which grow next to the outflow from our wetlands. I don’t know their age but I have loved these trees since I first saw them in 1985.
We have been fortunate in that we had already planned for a year at home in 2020, long before the current global pandemic took hold. Last year we caught up with several building maintenance issues in addition to giving our house garden and orchard some much needed tender loving care. Allowing ourselves time to simply enjoy being here, in addition to the satisfaction we have in our achievement has given us both a renewed love for Wild Wings & Swampy Things. It is a wonderful feeling to admire trees that we have grown from seed which are now providing food and shelter for our local wildlife.
One of the major regular tasks is grass mowing which, although considerably reduced in recent years, remains an energy consuming activity. Earlier this year I had my first experience of walking through a ‘food forest’ harvesting fruit from a variety of trees as we went. Although I knew of the concept I hadn’t experienced the sheer delight and I was inspired to rethink our house garden as well as the orchard. After collecting seed from fruit gifted to me during the abundant tropical summer harvesting period I have grown a collection of several exotic tropical fruit trees to add to the diversity in our orchard as well as creating a more productive garden near the house.
Just looking at that photo of the Marang takes me back to our hot and humid summer days spent sharing a wonderful variety of fruits and making new friends. From exotic fruit to native rainforest – such is the diversity of our lives. We continue our voluntary work with Rainforest Rescue identifying properties which may be suitable for purchase and subsequent protection. We make a thorough assessment of the property’s vegetation on site which gives us the opportunity to explore some interesting forest. It also exercises our memories or in my case, tests my identification skills as I’m not as methodical as Allen! This is followed by a check through a criteria list that Allen has developed, taking in to account the property’s connectivity to National Park, World Heritage or other protected land, it’s likelihood of being settled, the extent of weed incursions etc.
Allen is also spending time collecting seed for the Rainforest Rescue nursery, as production is increasing to meet the demand for trees. We are pleased that there are now a number of large regeneration projects happening in the area – wonderfully positive news!
There is so much to observe in the rainforest, so much beauty on the forest floor, the trunks of the trees and the everchanging shapes and hues of the foliage as light filters through.
We have always known that a walk in the forest is good for our souls – I believe the term is now ‘forest bathing’? Whatever it might be called we hope that residents and visitors to the area will still be able to experience a quiet walk through tropical rainforest in the years ahead.
On Saturday my afternoon watering routine suddenly lost it’s meditative qualities when a juvenile cassowary appeared. She (we have decided on ‘she’ due to her size) was probably attracted to our house garden by a fruiting Jaboticaba tree which is now stripped of all fruit within her reach! A bird with a seemingly laid-back attitude she is not disturbed by us going about our daily chores so long as we avoid sudden or loud movements.
Although she has obviously been able to find enough food while with her Dad she now has to forage alone. Ripe fruit is not plentiful at the moment, apart from more Jaboticaba in our orchard, so she is wandering through the forest picking up small numbers of a variety of native fruit. In spite of our concern for her well being we will not provide supplementary food. The thought of this ‘big chook’ running after me for food, like our laying hens do, is sufficient to quell any desire of mine to make sure she doesn’t go hungry.
This morning I made up a grain mix for our laying hens and called out as I approached their pen ‘special breakfast for you!’ I went into the outside section of their pen to put down the container and straightened up to see this cassowary looking at me through the wire. I explained politely that this was not for her and she soon moved on and disappeared into the forest again.
I am relishing the opportunity to observe a sub-adult cassowary investigating our world and hope that she will continue occasional visits.
Flocks of Wompoo fruit-doves have brought colour into our lives this winter as they, along with Top-knot Pigeons, continue to feast on many fruits available in our garden and restored landscape. Quandongs and Palm fruits are popular but there are many other smaller fruits readily consumed. I have spent many happy hours ‘playing’ in the garden and smiling at the Wompoos calling, feeding and flying from tree to tree. Many years ago we attempted to establish a ‘palm forest’ in one of our swampy areas but our efforts were hampered by vigorous pig activity in addition to invading exotic grasses. Now we find that several native palms have naturally established themselves in a variety of suitable areas and they are providing valuable food for many bird species. One of the joys of revegetating an area is the continuing restoration work carried out by our native wildlife, in particular the birds. The diversity and number of species increases with time.
Late one afternoon, a couple of weeks ago, I saw an adult cassowary with two juveniles in our orchard. I was not carrying a camera (again) so I raced back to the house to alert Allen but the birds were not to be found again! They could easily wander into the forest adjacent to the creek and they would be invisible to us but it was lovely to know we had been visited.
Bold splashes of colour have appeared where the spectacular climbing Pandanus is now well established. The arresting orange splashes against the green background are bracts, the flower spikes in the centre gradually change from a pale green to a deep blood red.
Tropical gardens are often dominated by bold colour statements and there are some spectacular examples. Much smaller and unobtrusive this Blue Flax Lily is a Dianella, a small plant with strap-like leaves and delicate flowers. I am unsure of it’s species which doesn’t take away the beauty of the water droplets hanging like jewels on a damp day.
This weekend’s wet and windy weather has delivered 48 mm of rain to a grateful garden. In addition I was pleased to have our emergency water tank refilled after I accidentally emptied it. Allen had helpfully put a hose on the tap so I could water a new garden bed and after my error it hasn’t rained for weeks!
We’ve had a few drizzly Daintree days recently – probably our least favourite weather when there is just enough rain to make outside work unappealing. It’s not cold but on those drizzly days everything feels damp and I long for a few hours of sunshine.
In the last few months, while Allen has been gradually recovering from an unfortunately rapid descent through one of our Mangosteen trees, he has been using his lighter Olympus camera as he quietly wanders around our tracks. While we have both always admired and photographed butterflies this year Allen has managed to take photos of a few species we had not previously identified. He has the required patience and has also been inspired by the recent acquisition of a new book. ‘A Field Guide to Butterflies of Australia’ written by Gary Sankowsky is a companion volume to his ‘All About Butterflies of Australia’ both published by Reed New Holland. The descriptions of both butterflies and their host plants in addition to photographs of both make identification so much easier and we’ve been having a lot of fun sharing the pleasure of learning.
The butterflies in the following photos are all members of the family Pieridae, known in a general sense as Whites and Yellows.
We have several different species of Mistletoe and many of them are suitable host plants for this colourful butterfly. Gary describes it as usually being found in rainforest and spreading out to Melaleuca wetlands near the coast which makes this property perfectly suited. It is not surprising that it is our most commonly sighted species of Delias but as similar bright colours occur in many of the Jezabels it is always worth a careful look to confirm identification.
Here is an example of ‘yellow’ – like sunshine on the wing!
Lemon migrants have a slight colour variation, during the wet season they appear in lemon/lime tones.
Common Grass Yellows are indeed both common and widespread over much of Australia. They are delightfully active butterflies, with gorgeous yellow wings giving colour and movement to our landscape.
‘Yellows’ can be hard to positively identify without a photo and digital photography gives us the opportunity for a close look. I must admit that I rather naively expected the host plant list to at least include some grasses but this does not appear to be so. There is quite an extensive list of host plants which helps explain their wide distribution. Gary Sankowsky has listed the Best Garden Host Plant as Breynia stipitata, a local rainforest species known as Fart Bush which readily self-sows in our garden. While I know its little red berries are consumed by birds, apparently not sensitive to their toxicity, I am glad to know that its leaves are providing food for the Common Grass Yellow larvae.
At the start of June only a small flock of immature Metallic Starlings remain on the property and these birds may stay in these environs for the winter months. For a week or so in April we had a large flock of mostly immature birds, swooping through our garden in a frenzy of feeding. We imagined the young birds were readying themselves for their flight north to spend winter in Papua New Guinea. The towering Melaleuca leucadendra in our garden gully provided a perfect venue for them to congregate in the late afternoon light while they preened and grabbed any available grubs.
These highly sociable migratory birds which visit the Qld coast during their breeding season from Aug-Sept to April-May weave nests in a huge colony which they revisit every year. In the days before our revegetation efforts blocked our view, a huge fig tree was visible on the hills at the back of the property. Late in the afternoon we could watch huge flocks of Metallic Starlings dipping and swirling before coming to rest on their nests. For a few years a Brahminy Kite made its nest in the centre of the tree but the presence of a predator was not enough to cause the colony to find another tree. When the Kite was on it’s nest the colony was calm but any movement to and from would cause the Metallic Starlings to take off en masse and swirl around the tree until they deemed it safe to land again.
Our orchard trees, especially the Mangosteens, benefit enormously from the attention of these active birds as they eat many of the caterpillars and grasshoppers which can cause substantial damage to the trees’ foliage. The birds also enjoy some extra sweet benefits from our orchard.
The spectacular iridescence of the plumage is clearly visible in this photo. While a large flock can be rather noisy and they do ‘take over’ an area, temporarily displacing other smaller birds, we still look forward to their annual arrival.
As I lifted my hand to open the vegetable garden gate yesterday afternoon I noticed a very young snake lying along the top of the gate with it’s head tucked out of sight in a gap between two pieces of timber. I returned to the house, via the alternative gate, for my camera plus Allen (also with camera).
I was fascinated by the flecks of blue, almost iridescent, on the snake’s scales, a highlight of colour on an otherwise pale brown upper-side. Green Tree-snakes are often described as having blue flecks, especially on the flanks but I have never seen a good example. The adults we often see here are quite black on their upper side so it would be interesting to know if this youngster will lose the ‘blue’ as it ages.
I became curious about why the snake had it’s head hidden as it seemed to ignore my gentle stroking. When it started wriggling I wondered aloud if perhaps it was stuck so I started encouraging it to back out by lifting up part of the body and it wasn’t long before we found out why it was ‘hiding’. It had a mouthful of frog!
We were interested that L. rubella made no sound even when it was first pulled out of the crevice. As many would be aware when a White-lipped Tree Frog (Litoria infrafrenata) is grabbed by a predator it screams like a human baby, and it is difficult to restrain from interfering.
Litoria rubella has a wide geographic distribution covering the northern parts of Australia from desert to wet tropics. It is known by many common names; Desert Frog, Red Tree Frog, Little Red Frog and Naked Tree Frog but in this household we tend to refer it by it’s species name as that seems less confusing.
Unfazed by the paparazzi’s intense focus the snake concentrated on swallowing the frog. It was fascinating to observe the gradual swallowing process although it wasn’t so much fun for the frog! Although we do love our frogs we recognize they are also an important food source
This photo was taken a few minutes later and you can see the bulge half-way along the snake already. Snakes use quite a lot of energy consuming and digesting food so it was probably really pleased that we stopped trying to make it pose for a photo and left it alone. Hopefully it didn’t stay on the gate for too long as it would make a tasty snack for a Butcherbird or a Kookaburra!
As we both took photos, pushing each other around a bit of course, I have used some of his and some of mine!
My morning walk was thwarted by a pair of Radjah Shelducks perched on the bamboo rail adjacent to our driveway culvert! My approach was making them so dreadfully anxious I just felt it was kinder to turn around. I did stop and chat, explaining that I intended no harm but although they momentarily settled during the ‘conversation’ when I moved towards them again they became frantic. I felt so sorry for them, the dilemma of not wishing to give away the location of the hidden ducklings but very worried that I was getting too close.
About 10 days ago Allen observed one duck perched on this rail on a couple of successive days. We wondered if the partner might be sitting on eggs but in spite of some searching could find no further clues. Several days later Allen flushed an adult Radjah Shelduck with about a dozen very young ducklings while wandering through trees along Effie Creek (a small ephemeral creek which comes from our neighbour Ellen’s place). Yesterday he saw two ducks on the rail and when he walked closer they flew down to the water and he noticed a third duck at the water’s edge where he thinks she/he was hiding the ducklings.
So as yet there are no photos of the ducklings and we have a mystery regarding the third duck. We suspect the breeding pair may be those that were successful here last year and that possibly the third duck may be a female from last year’s ducklings. Ready answers are not always available in these situations so we will be content with knowing that we have provided habitat while we watch and wait.
Since arriving home at the end of January I’ve found many reasons to postpone writing. Where to start after such a long gap between posts? On October 11, 2019 we began ‘Travels in South-East Australia’ which included joyous reunions with friends, visiting a fabulous variety of wonderful landscapes in parts of Victoria and NSW, observing numerous special birds and sharing precious times with many family members.
As we departed Victoria towards the end of November the summer’s catastrophic fires were just starting to make a serious impact. Our route north along the NSW coast was disrupted by a road closure at Bateman’s Bay and planned visits to National Park areas were impossible. The days were often so smoky we didn’t venture far from camp. It was devastating to know that these horrendous fires were consuming so much of our natural landscape as well as threatening people and their homes. It was a minor inconvenience to our travel plans compared to what others have suffered and continue to suffer.
Our family Christmas in SE Qld, which for me was a grand highlight, was all the more relaxing when rain fell on Christmas Eve. Some water in the house tanks took pressure off the household restrictions and you could almost hear the crispy-dry bushland which surrounded us sighing with relief.
After spending our last ‘holiday’ week on the Atherton tablelands walking, bird watching and catching up with friends, we eventually made it home at the end of January. Never before have I experienced such a sense of relief at returning home. Allen didn’t quite share my emotion then, but since we are now all coping with travel restrictions as we come to grips with the Covid 19 pandemic we have both been feeling very grateful for our haven in the wet tropics.
Recently we have noticed there are many types of spider in great numbers around the house, in the garden and in the orchard. A Dome-web Orb-weaver in a garden near the house has been catching my attention each morning as palm flowers falling from above have decorated the web. The angle of the morning sun lights the web perfectly so it looks like fairy lights.
Above the horizontal domed web there is a ‘retreat’ for the spider which does not appear to be particularly well formed in this example. Cyrtophora cylindroides belongs to the orb-web spiders, Araneidae although it does not build an orb-web. While tent-spiders are reasonably common from sub-tropical to tropical regions this accidentally decorated tent-like web is certainly eye catching.
Argiope picta looked glorious with the morning sun lighting the web perfectly. When I walked past the following morning it had disappeared!
My reference for spider information is “A Field Guide to Spiders of Australia” by Robert Whyte and Greg Anderson. An excellent CSIRO publication that I would highly recommend.
After my late afternoon watering routine today I strolled through the garden back to the house and suggested to Allen that we take a glass of wine and some nibbles to the bird hide. Magpie geese were calling to each other as they sorted out roosts for the approaching night. A male was standing with the three goslings at one end of the main pond then suddenly he took off leaving the goslings alone and looking very uncertain as to what they should do.
The gander landed in a Leichardt tree from where he watched the goslings as did at least two other ‘look-out geese’ in other trees. After their initial confusion the goslings rallied and started to move into a more sheltered position in the sedge. They were on their own for only about 2 minutes before more adult geese took off from further away. For a moment I thought they were all going to fly past the poor goslings but then one female peeled away and landed quite close to them. Oh the relief! The goslings rushed out from their partial hiding place and stood close to the adult female who then led them out into the water.
The goslings are growing very fast, they now have a few white breast feathers and in the photo above it is easy to see new tail feathers emerging. As Allen concentrated on the goslings, trying to see where they were being taken for the night I looked across the pond just in time to see the arrival of the Burdekin duck family. The light was just good enough for Allen to manage a photo or two of them.
The ducklings are also growing very fast and we were delighted to see that there are still seven of them. After a quick drink the family moved up the bank and started to move along the bund wall with one parent in front and the other behind. Once out in the open the ducklings sped up, running with wing flap assistance until they were out of our sight with the parents close behind.
We don’t know where the ducklings or the goslings spend their nights and we never search for them in case we inadvertently alert a predator to their whereabouts.
For several years I have been pondering why ducks and geese moved off the property with newly hatched young. Was the habitat not mature enough? What was missing? These are questions that will probably remain unanswered but now I have another. With an apex predator now in residence, while enough water provides a safe haven for her, what has changed for the water birds? Could it be that the crocodile has ‘controlled’ our very healthy population of eels and turtles thus reducing the mortality of young ducks and geese? Whatever the reason it is immensely satisfying to know that we are providing habitat for these birds to breed successfully.
A beautiful, sunny day and a quiet afternoon with time for a walk but I didn’t get much further than the bird hide. Finally it was my turn to get a good look at the Burdekin Duck family! There had been no sign of them for nearly a week so I was thrilled to have a chance to observe them. They were just coming down to the water as I carefully made my way into the hide without alerting them.
After a splash in the water while staying very close to the bank the ducklings swam along a little channel behind Crake Island.
As I watched the duck family I could see a Magpie goose moving around on Crake Island then the ducks swam behind the island and the goose family walked into the sun with their 3 gangly goslings. The ducks appeared a short distance away on the same little island but only to dry off in the sun before they retreated out of sight.
So where was Betty Barratt while all this splashing and preening was going on? She was in the next door pond hiding fairly effectively in a patch of Persicaria strigosa. This photo of her tail is taken from a safe distance just to illustrate her ability to warm in the sun while remaining less than obvious to a casual observer.
Now that our major restoration projects are complete we are taking more time to simply enjoy the privilege of living in such a beautiful, peaceful and endlessly interesting area.
While there are always a few maintenance tasks the work is not onerous and we can take time out to enjoy our walking tracks as well as to sit and simply look around.
It is immensely rewarding to observe the growth in the vegetation, watch trees mature and to delight in the variety and number of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects both residing on and visiting the property.