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