Paddling around in our little dinghy on the wetlands, pulling weeds from the water, may appear messy and unappealing to some but it really isn’t a dreaded chore for me. I just love those moments of quiet amongst the water lilies watching the dragonflies and apologizing to the Magpie geese for disturbing them. My safety is assured with Allen’s dedication to thorough and accurate crocodile observations which gives me the freedom for some ‘water play’ while he keeps watch, just in case.
This year we both found our winter wetland maintenance work was surprisingly uplifting. Although we have had further outbreaks of the dreaded Hymenachne amplexicaulis, our big efforts at clearing extensive invasions last year have not had to be repeated. This year we’ve just had a few patches which have been manually removed. Unfortunately we couldn’t get it all before some plants had flowered and produced more seed as our timing for any wetland work depends on our confidence regarding the whereabouts of our regular crocodile visitor. After two months with neither sighting nor any sign of where she has been sunning herself we were fairly sure she had retreated to the creek, however we maintained our safety routine…… just in case.
What continues to delight us both is watching our revegetation efforts mature and I especially enjoy the shady edges along the ponds as well as observing the variety of species that are becoming well established. Birds and fruit bats have assisted us in increasing the biodiversity of our planting, which confirms our philosophy of planting a framework of trees and leaving the rest to wind and wildlife.
My morning walk was thwarted by a pair of Radjah Shelducks perched on the bamboo rail adjacent to our driveway culvert! My approach was making them so dreadfully anxious I just felt it was kinder to turn around. I did stop and chat, explaining that I intended no harm but although they momentarily settled during the ‘conversation’ when I moved towards them again they became frantic. I felt so sorry for them, the dilemma of not wishing to give away the location of the hidden ducklings but very worried that I was getting too close.
About 10 days ago Allen observed one duck perched on this rail on a couple of successive days. We wondered if the partner might be sitting on eggs but in spite of some searching could find no further clues. Several days later Allen flushed an adult Radjah Shelduck with about a dozen very young ducklings while wandering through trees along Effie Creek (a small ephemeral creek which comes from our neighbour Ellen’s place). Yesterday he saw two ducks on the rail and when he walked closer they flew down to the water and he noticed a third duck at the water’s edge where he thinks she/he was hiding the ducklings.
So as yet there are no photos of the ducklings and we have a mystery regarding the third duck. We suspect the breeding pair may be those that were successful here last year and that possibly the third duck may be a female from last year’s ducklings. Ready answers are not always available in these situations so we will be content with knowing that we have provided habitat while we watch and wait.
After my late afternoon watering routine today I strolled through the garden back to the house and suggested to Allen that we take a glass of wine and some nibbles to the bird hide. Magpie geese were calling to each other as they sorted out roosts for the approaching night. A male was standing with the three goslings at one end of the main pond then suddenly he took off leaving the goslings alone and looking very uncertain as to what they should do.
The gander landed in a Leichardt tree from where he watched the goslings as did at least two other ‘look-out geese’ in other trees. After their initial confusion the goslings rallied and started to move into a more sheltered position in the sedge. They were on their own for only about 2 minutes before more adult geese took off from further away. For a moment I thought they were all going to fly past the poor goslings but then one female peeled away and landed quite close to them. Oh the relief! The goslings rushed out from their partial hiding place and stood close to the adult female who then led them out into the water.
The goslings are growing very fast, they now have a few white breast feathers and in the photo above it is easy to see new tail feathers emerging. As Allen concentrated on the goslings, trying to see where they were being taken for the night I looked across the pond just in time to see the arrival of the Burdekin duck family. The light was just good enough for Allen to manage a photo or two of them.
The ducklings are also growing very fast and we were delighted to see that there are still seven of them. After a quick drink the family moved up the bank and started to move along the bund wall with one parent in front and the other behind. Once out in the open the ducklings sped up, running with wing flap assistance until they were out of our sight with the parents close behind.
We don’t know where the ducklings or the goslings spend their nights and we never search for them in case we inadvertently alert a predator to their whereabouts.
For several years I have been pondering why ducks and geese moved off the property with newly hatched young. Was the habitat not mature enough? What was missing? These are questions that will probably remain unanswered but now I have another. With an apex predator now in residence, while enough water provides a safe haven for her, what has changed for the water birds? Could it be that the crocodile has ‘controlled’ our very healthy population of eels and turtles thus reducing the mortality of young ducks and geese? Whatever the reason it is immensely satisfying to know that we are providing habitat for these birds to breed successfully.
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.
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
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.