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.
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.
Alexandra Palms (Archontophoenix alexandrae) provide a valuable food source for many fruit eating birds in the wet tropics of the Daintree region. Native to this area the palms germinate easily and a fruiting palm usually has many young palms at its base. For many months Alexandra palms have been providing a source of fruit, so for a long period our garden has been full of colour, movement and the soft ‘wuk, wuk’ of Wompoo Fruit-doves as they enjoy the plentiful fruit along with Fig birds and Orioles. There was a regular Wompoo visiting some palms in front of our verandah where we enjoy morning coffee so it was quite entertaining to watch its reaction to the other birds eating from the same panicle of fruit.
Wompoo with female Figbird above, male Figbird below
Figbird grabs fruit while upside-down
Wompoo gulps down another
However, in the last few weeks the dynamics of the garden have changed dramatically since the return of Metallic starlings from their winter sojourn further north. The fruiting palms in our front garden have been stripped by flocks of these voracious feeders as the slower eating Wompoos made hopeless attempts to discourage them.
The Wompoos are now making the most of the fruiting Quandongs (Elaeocarpus angustifolius) – their blue fruit is also popular with Top-knot pigeons and Cassowarys, and being much larger in size it is not consumed by Metallic Starlings.
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.