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.
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.
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.
Although we’re still having occasional rain showers the weather bureau declared the end of ‘the wet’ a few weeks ago. Some clear mornings and gorgeous sunny days have lifted everyone’s spirits, all the more appreciated after our long and very wet summer. About a month ago we started seeing extraordinary numbers of butterflies, including some species we had not previously observed. They didn’t need the weather bureau to tell them the wet season downpours had finished! Four O’Clock Moths have been flying at all hours of the day and every Corky Bark tree, Carallia brachiata, seems to be hosting quite a number of their vibrant looper caterpillars. The one below was trying a different pose which it held like a yogi even with a camera lens at very close range.
The larval food plant of both Cruisers and Red Lacewings is the native passionfruit vine Adenia heterophylla. It’s bright red fruit is very decorative and is much appreciated by native rodents as well as cockatoos who usually don’t wait for the fruit to ripen! The seeds are obviously distributed successfully as we find these vines popping up in all sorts of places without any help from us.
Although the Hamadryad very closely resembles the Black and White Aeroplane it actually belongs in an entirely different sub-family and is the only member of Ithomiinae in Australia. It has close relatives in southern and central America. Peter Valentine mentions that the similarity between the these two species may be an example of mimicry by the aeroplane in order to gain benefit from the toxicity of the Hamadryad. The flight of the Hamadryad is more leisurely than that of the very similar Aeroplane and close attention to the wing pattern is required in order to confirm identification.
Described by Peter Valentine as “the most elusive of all the oakblues” Allen did well to photograph this beautifully patterned little butterfly. A dimorphic species, the upperside of the female is white whereas the male is blue. Peter Valentine’s delightful and informative book on Australian Tropical Butterflies has been very useful this year as Allen was able to identify the species he found that were unknown to us.
This not uncommon but very pretty little butterfly is often seen feeding on rotting fruit. The larvae feed on grasses and don’t seem to be particularly choosy as to which species. This is just a small selection of the butterflies seen this year. They are interesting subjects however some, like the Green Spotted Triangle, just have to be enjoyed as they move fast and seemingly continuously. The photos of the Four O’Clock moth are mine, all the others were taken by Allen and he’s still trying for one of the Green Spotted Triangle!
The verdant wet season is an outstanding feature of life in the wet tropics but rampant growth in the garden can sometimes be a challenge. While making the most of fine weather before our next rain event, I’ve been spreading mulch over weeded sections to reduce the effect of pounding rain and hopefully slow down weed germination.
Brush Turkeys and Orange-footed Scrubfowl started digging into the pile then as holes were extended into tunnels we realized that Bandicoots were also involved! Thanks to their assistance the mulch is maturing nicely and will keep me busy for quite some time.
Carallia brachiata is a land-based member of the Rhizophoraceae family. Although it is not found in tidal areas, like other species of this mangrove family, it is able to cope with wet ground as it develops adventitious roots to assist with gas exchange. Their very small fruit are sweet and tasty and as they are consumed by a number of different bird species they often germinate in our garden areas. I don’t want them to develop as trees in the house garden but the new growth which sprouts after a ‘heavy pruning’ is perfect for newly hatched caterpillars.
I glimpsed this beauty outside our bedroom window as she sinuously wound her way around the hanging basket, then hung down until she could reach the pot plant below and so return to the garden. No hurry, no stress, merely a delight to observe.
The late afternoon air is quite suddenly full of the intense aroma of rotting flesh. It wafts across the garden in an almost visible cloud and settles around us. Quite a contrast to the subtle scents that most usually fill our warm tropical evenings this one demands immediate attention. I grab my camera and let the drone of flies lead me to the newly emerged flower of Amorphophallus paeoniifolius.
Amorphophallus paeoniifolius also known as Elephant Yam due to the size of the underground tuber.
Occurring from India to New Guinea as well as in tropical parts of Australia this bizarre plant is dormant through the dry season, producing its solitary flower in response to rainfall. A single large spadix topped by a fleshy, foul smelling wrinkly knob with a spathe surrounding the entire flower. Carrion flies and beetles are attracted to the smell and perform a valuable service as pollinators. The Green Ants (Oecophyllasp) on the spathe appeared to be feeding on dead insects, they are not recorded as pollinators.
Before returning to the house I treated my nose to a breath of Gardenia ‘Wild Wings’ (our accidental hybrid) followed by a whiff of Bloomfield Penda (Xanthostemon verticillatus). Olfactory balance easily restored.
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.
During a pruning frenzy yesterday I came across this rather large Spiny Leaf Insect or Macleays Spectre (Extatosoma tiaratum). She was looking decidedly nervous as I approached enthusiastically with my secateurs, snipping away at branches and so removing leaves she had been happily feeding upon.
I don’t blame her for feeling under threat as she was left somewhat exposed, despite her good camouflage. Needless to say I changed course and left that area of the garden for another day. Luckily we have planted quite a number of Xanthostemon verticillatus as it appears to be a favourite food for a variety of stick insects. A quick check today has revealed that she is on the same bush but safely tucked under some green cover. This garden surrounds the pool where I found a male Spiny Leaf Insect in 2013. Which leads me to wonder if I need to improve my powers of observation ….. or perhaps I haven’t been spending enough time tending to the shrubs in that garden.
And in other news ……….. the Amethyst python curled up around her eggs since November last year has now moved on. My granddaughter and I checked under the cover on Jan 1st and both snakes were there. When I checked on Jan 3rd the Carpet Snake was still guarding her eggs but only the empty shells of the Amethyst were left. No sign of young snakes and no sign of the adult. The Carpet snake is still curled up in the same area but in recent days I have seen her stretched out and I can see her eggs are empty. We have no idea why she remains in the same position.
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.