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. Macrobrachium sp.
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.
Little Egret in the process of swallowing a fish.
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.
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 – 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.
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.
Delightful little Silvereyes, with their gentle high-pitched chatter, are not an uncommon species. They can be found all down the east coast, in Tasmania and in south-west Australia with some variation between the different identified races. We have Zosterops lateralis; race vegetus – a long name for such a small bird.
Silvereye in Common Pepper Vine
Eating the fruit of Common Pepper Vine
Plentiful fruit in this native Pepper vine, Piper caninum, is proving very popular and they seem to slide down whole without any apparent problem. While Silvereyes are known as a pest in some orchards and especially in vineyards we have the luxury of enough Black Sapote to share. Now that the crop is nearly finished the fruit-loving birds are competing with each other for a share and so the Silvereyes have shown their feisty nature as they compete with various Honeyeaters for the softest fruit.
The whoosh of Metallic Starlings en masse, as they swoop fast and low through our garden, is indicative of warmer weather on its way. Although still a very pleasant temperature for gardening activities, our cool winter weather is giving way to our warmer ‘growth’ months. Pruning and weeding keeps me busy but it’s not a chore when you’re able to stop and watch the birds nearby.
We’ve been listening to Little Bronze-cuckoo calling, probably a prelude to mating and egg laying ……… but in whose nest? A pair of large-billed Gerygone have just started nest building, conveniently within lens distance of one of the bird hides, but nicely placed in the foliage of a paper-bark. (Melaleuca cajaputi)
Large-billed Gerygone at work nest building
Lovely Fairy Wrens, looking particularly lovely just now, are always a delight to observe as they dart in and out of cover in their search for insects. The climbing fern, Lygodium reticulatum, is wonderful shelter for them although it’s tough twining stems can be troublesome for young trees.
Female Lovely Fairy-wren
A glimpse of the male through some foliage, showing his glorious colours in the sunlight.
Male Lovely Fairy-wren
Too many months have passed since our last update for any explanation or list of excuses for the absence ………….. we are both well, happy and enjoying life.
I’m inspired by some lovely photos Allen is producing with his new lens. He is currently participating in Bird A Day 2015 ‘though if we don’t go travelling soon he is going to run out of birds as many of the local species have been ‘used’. The discipline of having to find a different bird each day has been quite a challenge but from my observations I don’t think he is finding it a chore!
Today’s feature is the handsome Pacific Baza or Crested Hawk which can be frequently heard and sighted around Wild Wings & Swampy Things. The first time I saw one I was alerted to its presence by a disturbance in a nearby Eucalypt. I watched as it repeatedly fell off a branch and fluttered through some leaves, a cunning method of stirring up some insects which form an important part of their diet along with frogs and small reptiles.
Those brilliant yellow eyes are apparently able to facilitate the detection of green objects (ref. Penny Olsen “Australian Birds of Prey”) and studies have revealed that Bazas will choose green insects in preference to brown.
The last photo was taken on a different day and of a different bird, perhaps a little younger than the other as the barring seems less defined. It is nonetheless in a very typical, watchful pose high in a Eucalypt.
We’re really pleased to have so many opportunities to enjoy these beautiful birds – whether they are calling as they soar above us, or hunting for insects in the trees, they are welcome here.