After nearly four months camping in our tent, while we travelled north to Darwin then west across to Roebuck Bay, we have left the dust behind and returned to the lush green of Daintree. We’ve now unpacked, cleaned up most of our gear before storing it and the vehicle is mostly clean inside. Although it’s taken a few days to truly feel ‘at home’ again we are both appreciating the space, the green and the peace as well as our walking tracks.
The water levels in the wetlands are low, as we would expect at this time of the year, and we are not the only ones enjoying easy access. This lovely girl was enjoying some sun in the swamp this morning and was undisturbed by our presence on the driveway.
Female Swamp Wallaby
Floscopa scandens ,which we now have growing in several areas around the wetlands, is looking very lush and healthy with lots of pale pink flowers. Although the water level has dropped the ground is still holding a lot of moisture, the grass is still green and we’re happy to be here.
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.
Perfect weather combined with an efficient operator has resulted in some fabulous overhead views of Wild Wings & Swampy Things. Never having seen a drone in action I was keen to observe the launching process but didn’t expect that it would be quite so exciting. I think I may possibly have squealed with delight as the drone took off, headed skywards! Tom let it hover overhead for a few moments while it got its bearings and then it was out of our sight as he sent it on a circuit of the property.
Drone on launching pad
We have lift off!
The early morning light was perfect to capture the colour variation of our very green landscape.
Freshwater swimming pool nestled in the garden in front of the house
The view below is taken from near Barratt Creek looking NNE over our orchard in the bottom right hand corner, a glimpse of our house can be seen in the centre of the photo. The boundary lines are approximate and the view somewhat distorted due to the angle.
View to Thornton’s Peak. Daintree River visible in top third of photo.
Dagmar Range is part of the Greater Daintree National Park which begins on the other side of Barratt Creek so Wild Wings & Swampy Things Nature Refuge forms an important corridor between a large conservation area and the Daintree River catchment.
Dagmar Range to the SW
The view towards Daintree Village from Barratt Creek shows the contrasting vegetation of the cattle farming areas. While the hills make a beautiful backdrop our front boundary is the Mossman-Daintree road, hidden under the trees.
Looking towards Daintree Village from Barratt Creek
Wetlands in the foreground, bird hide is a light speck in the green, main house is just to the left of centre and Daintree Village is visible as a cluster of buildings in the far distance with the Daintree river on the right hand side of the photo.
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.
I have managed to take a better photo of the Macleay’s Honeyeater – its not perfect but I am improving! The birds enjoy our well sheltered bird baths but it does make photography more challenging in the low light.
Macleay’s Honeyeater after enjoying a bath
Victoria’s Riflebirds have been seen feeding all about the property recently, all those sighted (so far) have been female or immature birds and most commonly eating fruit of the Bleeding Heart tree, Homalanthus populifolius. However, we have also watched a Victoria’s Riflebird feeding on the fruit of the native Costus, Costus potierae, which we have planted in our house garden. Yellow-spotted Honeyeaters have also been eating the Costus fruit, so this plant is not only an attractive ornamental but a useful food plant for the birds.
Victoria’s Riflebird, female or immature
This male Double-eyed Fig Parrot was sitting on a branch close to my vegetable garden. It had been feeding on the fruit of Red-leaf Fig, Ficus congesta.
Double-eyed Fig Parrot race macleayana, male.
While this particular tree had obviously been visited by a number of fruit eating birds, it is not often the fruit of choice. Many times we see the fruit quite untouched when other, more desirable, fruit is in abundance. Red-leaf Figs are common pioneer species in areas of regenerating rainforest and provide a reliable source of food at times when the fruit of preferred species is unavailable.
Red-leaf Fig, Ficus congesta. Detail of fruit on tree trunk.
After several different ‘poses’ on the branch this gorgeous little parrot stretched his jaw open wide, probably necessary after much processing of the tiny fig seed, although I confess it did look to me like a yawn. And then he moved up higher in the tree out of sight and our photo session was over.
Double-eyed Fig Parrot stretching his jaw
So much colour outside our kitchen window! After what seems like a long wet season,we are not the only ones enjoying some sunny days and our garden is busy with many birds and butterflies. Golden Penda, (Xanthostemon chrysanthus) is a very popular ornamental native species which has been extensively planted in our region and it is now flowering prolifically, leaving a carpet of golden yellow stamens lying on the ground beneath each tree.
Dusky Honeyeater frantically feeding
Macleay’s Honeyeater – the eye only just visible in the flowers.
Its a wonderful time of the year to be out in the garden, not too hot and there is lots to do but also much to gaze at and I’ve dashed back to the house for my camera on several occasions. The Macleay’s Honeyeater just won’t stop for moment in its feeding frenzy so I’ve had lots of trouble getting a shot that is even partially in focus.
Female Cruiser (Vindula arsinoe)
Male Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus)
The flower in these photos is a native Costus (Costus potierae) which looks very similar to the exotic Costus speciosus but can be identified from the latter by the hairy upper leaf surface. Costus potierae can be found in Cape York, some of the Torres St Islands and N E Queensland but it only occurs very close to sea level. The white flowers attract many butterflies and small birds while the beautiful red bracts provide a brilliant colour accent amongst the verdant garden foliage.
Ulysses butterfly (Papilio ulysses)
The flashes of blue from several Ulysses flying around is impossible to capture in a still photo – this splash of blue gives the general idea.
Yellow-spotted Honeyeaters are probably our most commonly sighted bird species and I was delighted that this one posed so nicely while deciding on where to fly next.
Nov. 4th Time for the afternoon watering in the growing house – an enjoyable activity which allows for thought and appreciation of our environment as a warm and sunny tropical day draws to a close. I love the aromas which the slightly cooler air seems to enhance but on this afternoon I detect the smell of rotting flesh. As I’m watering I am thinking about what could have died as well as trying to work out exactly where the smell is coming from. Then a possibility occurs to me and following the sound of buzzing flies as I returned to the house I found this ……
and the source of the rotting flesh smell. Amorphophallus paeoniifolius, known as Stink Lily or Elephant foot yam is in the Aroid family (Araceae) and is found from India to New Guinea and in the far northern parts of Queensland. Apparently the flower not only exudes this unusual aroma but also gives off heat – this information was given to us a few days later by some botanist friends when the flower had passed its peak.
The flowers are on a spadix which is under the bulbous knob, just visible in the bottom right-hand corner of this photo. They are pollinated by carrion flies and beetles and although flies were certainly attracted, in this case pollination does not appear to have taken place.
July 6th Two days later – the spadix has pushed up a bit further and it is possible to see the male and female flowers. The bulbous top has lost its sheen and looks slightly shriveled – and the flies seem to have lost interest. The smell only lasts a few hours so although it is extraordinarily pervasive it is only short-lived. The bulbous top looks its best for about 24 hours while the spathe continues to look decorative for several days but today Nov 12th the entire flower remains are shriveled and brown.
Close-up views of the flowers on the spadix
Amorphophallus paeoniifolius has Peony-like foliage as described by the species name. The single leaf is borne on a mottled stem after the flower has died. The production of the leaf uses most of the starch stored in the corm – the plant produces a new corm after the leaf has wilted and died.
The corms of some varieties are edible and grown as food crops in several Asian countries. I am not about to dig our one plant up and consume the corm, we grow Taro in our vegetable patch which is a much better addition to vegetable curries.
Although it certainly resembles a fungus and is sometimes referred to as ‘fungus root’ this flowering plant belongs in the family Balanophoraceae and is found in Queensland’s moist rainforests.
Not frequently observed as they are often partially covered by leaf litter on the rainforest floor, this unusual plant is a leafless root parasite needing no chlorophyll. Leaves have been replaced by scales and each plant consists of a single stem about 8 cm high. Male and female flowers are produced separately on the plant. The male flowers encircle the stem below the club shaped organ which is covered in tiny female flowers.
The tiny fruit are numerous and cover the club-shaped receptacle. Once the plant has fruited it collapses, much as fungi do. In the last photo you can see new stems emerging from their underground tuber while the collapsed fruiting body appears as a dark brown mass which merges into the rainforest floor and could be easily overlooked.
References: “Fruits of the Australian Tropical Rainforest” W&WT Cooper; “Native Plants Queensland” Keith A.W.Williams; “Amongst Trees” R.Russell et al.
The weather conditions have been as expected for this time of the year – hot and humid. Some days it seems more extreme than I remember but probably I’m just using the weather as an excuse to only work outside for a relatively short time in the morning.
Another update on Spotted Whistling Ducks: when we had some heavy rain for a few days the Wandering Whistling ducks departed along with the large flock of Magpie Geese which had descended upon us. Our resident Magpie Geese are still here and one suspects they may be rather relieved that peace has been restored. The Spotted Whistling Ducks stayed for a day or so longer but then for nearly a week we didn’t see them anywhere. However, they are now visiting again and have been trying out all our ponds, we can see where they’ve been by the remnant pieces of water weed, Vallisneria, and shredded water lily flowers! They actively feed through the heat of the day both on the water surface and diving, staying underwater for 15 – 20 seconds. After a period in the water individuals will fly to a suitable horizontal branch, or in some cases a perching post, where they busily preen and dry off before returning to the water for further feeding.
There have been flocks of Double-eyed Fig Parrots feeding on Glochidion, commonly known as Cheese Tree, and we have also observed them feeding in Melaleuca cajuputi. These paperbarks provide food and shelter for many birds, insects and fruit bats and we’re pleased that much of our swampy areas that were cleared of paperbarks in the early 1900’s are gradually returning to useful habitat.
This week the Melaleucas have started flowering, the event was announced by a loud humming sound accompanied by the sweet, nectar laden scent.
An Azure Kingfisher flew past Allen yesterday with a fish in its bill and two younger birds following behind; a Little Kingfisher used one of our perching posts as a take-off point for fishing and Black Bitterns are frequently disturbed at the spillways both here and at our neighbour’s place, we estimate at least three regulars are moving between the two properties. We suspect Shining Flycatchers are nesting again but haven’t yet confirmed this. They are quieter than a couple of weeks ago when we watched some amazing displays from two males competing for a female’s attention as they went through their repertoire of calls.
Spangled Drongos have, once again, successfully harassed a Great-billed Heron until it flew back to the creek. I confess it is a little disappointing as it would be rather fun to have more regular visits from this majestic bird but I can’t blame it for leaving as the Drongos are very persistent in their attacks.
So we’ve been enjoying the birds this month as we make the most of the sunny mornings and mostly fine ‘though cloudy afternoons – it looks like rain is heading our way.