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.
After my previous early morning post I walked down to the bird hide at first light. In spite of my initial disappointment that the river level had not dropped I took time to enjoy a peaceful beginning to the day. There was a lull in the rain and the birds were wisely making the most of it, flitting from tree to tree hunting for breakfast.
So now the water level has started to drop, there are bursts of sunshine between the showers and we’ve just witnessed the joyful sight of the Ergon crew aboard a helicopter looking for the fault in the power line.
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.
It has indeed been very wet this summer and it’s probably not over yet. We’ve had several floods including one major one which deposited a great deal of silt in our orchard as well as all areas below our house and garden surrounds. While watching the flood waters rise can be ‘exciting’ at times the aftermath is not, but we are exceedingly grateful that our house avoided inundation.
During the big flood, a saltwater crocodile moved into our front wetland system for a holiday. There are no pesky tour boats to disturb her here so she is able to enjoy the peace and quiet, apart from Allen occasionally mowing the bank of her pond . We first noticed her after a flood last year and she stayed for a few months only returning to the creek when our ponds became too shallow for her. Betty Barratt appears to prefer Rupert’s pond which is the deepest and has easy access to the creek as well as convenient sunny banks on which to warm up. While it is a privilege to host an apex predator her presence does limit the delights of loitering around the edges of the ponds.
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
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.
Several days of heavy rainfall during the wet season, when the ground is already saturated, can result in some areas becoming inundated. Birds take advantage of any breaks in the rain to feed on insects moving up and away from the rising water.
Leichardts in their temporary lake earlier this month – it’s very peaceful sitting in the canoe watching and listening to the wildlife.
However, it is not always like that during the summer months and recently we have enjoyed early mornings in which the air is clearer and cooler after overnight rain. It’s good to rise early so there is time to get a few things done outside before it becomes too uncomfortable in the steamy heat and before the storm clouds roll in during the afternoon.
Now that most of our rainforest regeneration is well established with canopy closure, our focus is on maintaining access paths. It is not hard work to clear some of the branches hanging too low and the disturbance of vegetation often encourages insectivorous birds. Lovely Fairy-wrens, in particular, often come in close to take advantage of any insects that may have been dislodged.
This beautiful River Cherry (Syzygium tierneyanum) was situated in an overgrown area of grass with a ‘drain’ running through it prior to 2004
We have a lovely path between us and our neighbour, who also forms part of Wild Wings & Swampy Things Nature Refuge. Leaving our driveway, it winds around one of our ponds and over Effie Creek on a footbridge before a gentle slope rises to our boundary. Azure Kingfishers can often be heard along Effie Creek which copes with the run-off from the main road. The water is filtered as it runs through our front pond system and finally enters Barratt Creek.
No hand-rail on this bridge due to the danger of material becoming caught in a big flood and tearing out the entire structure.
Beautiful tropical summer weather; mostly dry mornings with periods of sun, followed by showers in the afternoon/evening so our ponds are gradually filling. Its perfect weather for dragonflies and hanging around in the swamp with a camera.
Water Prince (Hydrobasileus brevistylus) Female – she was hovering and occasionally dipping her abdomen towards the leaf.
Lesser Green Emperor (Anax guttatus) Flying up and down the ponds, very occasionally hovering before taking off again in a different direction. Possibly a male?
Front view – Lesser Green Emperor
Making the most of some lighter weather this turtle was resting on some pond ‘infrastructure’ that is exposed at low water levels. When the wetlands were new the fish needed places to hide so we arranged a few old tyres – its probably rather a good turtle resting place with a gentle slope and a decent grip on its surface.
Saw-shelled fresh water turtle
There are many of these delicate little Darkmouth dragonflies on the vegetation in the shallows. Once located they make relatively easy photographic subjects as they, like many in the Libellulidae family, will usually perch in between short flights, often returning to the same twig. Digital photography is a wonderful assistance in identifying dragonflies as some of the differences are quite subtle and certainly not obvious to an untrained eye.
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.