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…….
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
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.
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.
I often enjoy some bird watching while working in the kitchen – at any time of the day. However this was a first! I looked up when I saw movement in my peripheral vision and was absolutely gobsmacked to find this Cassowary wandering about in the garden just outside the window. I quietly alerted Allen and we watched this amazing bird walk right up to the window and apparently eyeball us …… what it was probably doing was looking at its own reflection. Allen managed a few shots through the glass and the fly-screen before it calmly wandered off around the garden.
Fabulous being able to see it so close and know it wasn’t aware of our presence. When Allen did take a step outside later it moved away quickly but once he returned to the house the bird reappeared to continue foraging under the palms and under the fruiting Mischocarpus exangulatus [Red bell Mischocarp]
Many of the trees we have planted, in the hope of attracting cassowary along with other native birds and mammals, have matured sufficiently to produce fruit. We hope we will be lucky enough to have occasional visits from this young bird so we can witness his/her growth into an adult cassowary.
We have been lucky enough to have family, including 3 grandchildren aged 5 years and under, visiting us during these school holidays . While it was rather chaotic at times, it was a very happy time with many special moments shared.
Children love talking about poo so I was thrilled to find a very special deposit near our vegetable garden that I could show them. While I understand that not everyone gets excited about poo, for us to find evidence of a youngish Cassowary feeding on the property is particularly pleasing. I knew the dropping to be less than 24 hours old as I had been in the same area the previous afternoon. Mostly the seeds of Eleocarpus grandis [Blue Quandong] fruit with at least one Cryptocarya oblatus [Tarzali Silkwood].
Juvenile Cassowary dropping
A few days later Allen and I were enjoying a cup of tea with Celia on the verandah while the children played nearby. She suddenly started pointing in a very excited and apparently speechless manner. As Allen and I turned around to look in the direction she was indicating she managed to gasp “Cassowary!” At this we all quietly got out of our chairs and went to look as the bird had wandered out of sight. It wasn’t far away and was just calmly foraging so we called out to the 5 year old cousins to come and look very quietly. I am pleased to say that they did just as we asked and did manage to get a look at the bird. I don’t expect them to grasp the significance of the event but I did want them to at least have a look.
Allen managed to grab some record shots but he didn’t want to chase it away by following it and hoping for a better photo.
Nearly out of sight – Cassowaries have a wonderful ability to merge into Rainforest and ‘disappear’.
We have seen more droppings in the house garden today so the bird is definitely still around.
Travelling slowly down our ‘green tunnel’ driveway this morning, on our weekly expedition to the Mossman Market, I noticed a different shape on the bamboo hand-rail across the culvert at the bottom of the hill. The ‘shape’ rapidly resolved itself into several perching ducks! And there were more on the pond …. so nine Spotted Whistling Ducks came back.
After several days of rain a couple of weeks ago there has been no sign of them in our main wetland system. No-one else has reported any local sightings but there are lots of little ponds hidden away in our gullies so perhaps they just seek out more shelter? Whatever their story, it is always pleasing to see them; gives us a nice warm fuzzy feeling knowing that we’ve provided some habitat for them.
Our Durian trees are flowering and there is a heady, slightly musky aroma around the orchard. A couple of nights ago, with the moon still not quite full, we went for an evening walk to enjoy the flowers and watch the moths and blossom bats flying in to feed on the copious nectar. The night was so still the sound of nectar dripping, onto the carpet of old leaves and spent flowers under the tree, provided a background to the fluttering of wings and an occasional bat squeak.
I still marvel at the sheer number of flowers produced by these trees. They start opening in the afternoon and by morning there is a carpet of flowers on the ground.
Durian flowers beginning to open in the early afternoon
Some flowers now fully open with Blossom bat feeding.
Allen measured 220 mm in the gauge this morning (that included about 15 mm from the day before) and with steady rain continuing all day our ponds are nearly full …. in October!!
Spotted Whistling ducks back on the ponds yesterday – 19 of them, right in front of the bird hide some feeding in the shallows, some preening and enjoying the warmth of the sun after a couple of wet days. We think that some of these ducks began their lives here as they appeared to be ‘at home’ and were not at all disturbed by our movement.
Busy searching through the mud which had been completely dry two days ago.
Enjoying the sun after a good feed
Relaxed and resting – how marvellous to be able to sleep on top of a post!
The Great-billed Heron, who has been making the most of our mudflats may be disappointed at the sudden inundation but hopefully he/she will continue the regular visitation.
Great-billed Heron quietly moving around the edges of the pond
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.
Great Egret trying to get a firm grip on a River Prawn. Macrobrachiumsp.
Now in a firm hold but still quite a challenge to swallow
Azure Kingfisher with one of many fish caught in a morning session.
Azure Kingfisher often flies to this horizontal perch as it’s convenient to use for bashing prey prior to consumption.
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.
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.
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.
Snipe feeding together – these two are thought to be Swinhoe’s
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.
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.
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’.
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!
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.
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.
Spotted Whistling duck posing before taking off for the night
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 – youngster not visible
Wompoo Fruit-dove nestling
I forgot to mention that all the photos were taken by Allen.
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.