Category Archives: Pond Life

Early Rains as predicted ….

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.

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Busy searching through the mud which had been completely dry two days ago.

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Enjoying the sun after a good feed

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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

Great-billed Heron quietly moving around the edges of the pond 

Rain and Shine

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.

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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.

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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.

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No hand-rail on this bridge due to the danger of material becoming caught in a big flood and tearing out the entire structure.  

 

Life on the Ponds

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.

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Water Prince (Hydrobasileus brevistylus)  Female – she was hovering and occasionally dipping her abdomen towards the leaf.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Darkmouth (Brachydiplax duivenbodei)

Feeding Frenzy

Rainfall is imminent in the next few days;   “90% chance of showers and possible thunderstorms with areas of rain” but by Jan 2nd the forecast is just “Rain. Possible storm”.   It seems like water levels in the wetlands are about to rise but while there are still lots of muddy edges and shallow ponds full of fish and crustaceans there are busy birds with full bellies.

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Great Egret trying to get a firm grip on a River Prawn.  Macrobrachium sp.

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Now in a firm hold but still quite a challenge to swallow

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Azure Kingfisher with one of many fish caught in a morning session.

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Azure Kingfisher often flies to this horizontal perch as it’s convenient to use for bashing  prey prior to consumption.

Pale-vented Bushhen

Pale-vented Bush Hen – while we did see it catch fish occasionally it was mainly hunting on or around the vegetation.  This is possibly a dragonfly nymph.

Birds all have their own particular hunting methods and it is quite amusing to watch a Great Egret with its ‘wait quietly and pounce’ method becoming annoyed at a Little Egret which tends to be rather hyperactive, stirring the water up with its feet to see what is disturbed.  This Little Egret is in breeding colours and plumage, gloriously white even though it is spending its days in the muddy shallows.

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Little Egret in the process of swallowing a fish.

Wild Wings …..

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!

Little Kingfisher

Little Kingfisher

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.

Cool pool rewards.

Since we converted our salt-water chlorinated swimming pool to a fresh-water swimming pond 6 years ago it has gradually become a more inviting habitat for many local creatures as well as being a delightful place to cool off during the summer months.

Fresh-water swimming pond with fish and plants.

Fresh-water swimming pond with fish and plants.

I walked into the pool garden this afternoon and was amazed to find a male Macleay’s Spectre hanging, in a typical pose, on the strap-like leaf of a Louisiana Iris that is growing in a pot on the steps.  This extraordinary Phasmid is widespread in parts of New South Wales and S.E. Queensland and it also inhabits North Queensland rainforests ‘though as you can imagine they are not easily found. After taking a few photos I invited it on to my finger so I could move it onto a shrub in the garden as it looked so vulnerable on the edge of the pool.  After waiting more than 20 years to find a Macleay’s Spectre on the property I didn’t want it to indulge in unnecessarily risky behaviour.

Macleay's Spectre (Extatosoma tiaratum tiaratum)

Macleay’s Spectre (Extatosoma tiaratum tiaratum)

In order to take a better photo of the head I had to gently encourage the insect to the top-side of the branch where it ‘froze’ in position no doubt trusting that its amazing camouflage would protect it from attack. After the photo session I watched as it made its way further into the protection of the twigs and leaves.

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Macleay’s Spectre head detail

Another delight in the pool garden this afternoon was the discovery of this exquisite nest which I am fairly certain has been built and used by a pair of Graceful Honeyeater although  as the nest is now abandoned I can not be sure of the owner/builders.

Hanging nest in Callistemon.

Hanging nest in Callistemon.

Daintree back to default position

Most of the year Graham’s pond looks like this………..
Graham's pond at full capacityMonths of mostly dry weather has resulted in rapidly shrinking puddles on what are usually referred to as “wetlands” so now it looks like this.
Drying upWe do live in the wet tropics so even an extended dry season cannot be compared to the dry weather experienced in many other areas of Australia and our grassed areas were only just starting to brown off.  Still, to us it has seemed like a long dry stretch and so we were delighted to waken yesterday morning to the sound of gentle rain.
At 8 am it was becoming  quite crowded on Graham’s Pond but as the showers became heavier the water-birds dispersed.  Glossy Ibis in the background, Little, Intermediate and Great Egret, Royal Spoonbill, White-necked Heron, Black Duck and Grey Teal looking like a new species with their head and neck feathers stained brown.

Waterbirds in muddy pond Waterfowl assorted

As usual the sound of rain reminded me of just one last job to do before the water levels rise too much and so I spent some of the morning in a muddy puddle  pulling out para grass (Brachiaria mutica).  Allen helped with the tractor and blade pulling out the bulk of the material so it didn’t take long.  After a shower and lots of scrubbing with appropriate sweet-smelling body wash I felt quite virtuous and had a relaxing afternoon enjoying the heavier showers of rain.

There was another shower or two this morning but most of the heavy rain seems to be well south of Cairns.    65mm measured this morning has softened the ground, greened the grass, freshened up the forest and when the sun came out the humidity soared.  Just a typical Daintree December!

Quack, Quack – Nine little ducks came back

Well not so little really, 9 Spotted Whistling Ducks have been observed feeding in our wetlands and although it is getting a bit crowded in our shrinking ponds they are finding food.  The first two photos were taken earlier this morning on our Spring Fed pond – there was at least 1 duck perched in a tree as lookout but when later on they flew over Allen on their way to Graham’s pond he counted 9.

Spotted Whistliing Ducks

Spotted Whistling Duck

Graham’s pond was also hosting approximately  fifty Spoonbills but they are more nervous than the few that have been here for a while and took off for a more secluded area on the property.  One Glossy Ibis, a new entry for the Wild Wings bird list is keeping the ducks company.

Spotted Whistling Ducks with Glossy Ibis

Spotted Whistling Ducks feeding

Spotted Whistling Ducks preening

Mud, mud glorious mud ……….

The last few months of dry, windy weather has been quite a contrast to last year’s seemingly endless ‘wet’.  The windy periods usually ease off later in the afternoon – a delightful time to be enjoying the outside.
Some of our shallow ponds are mere puddles and there are lots of exposed bank which can make for some interesting sightings – many not captured on camera owing to hands being full with other equipment!

wild_wings_swampy_things_reptiles_keelback snake

This Keelback or Freshwater Snake (Tropidonophis mairii), one of many that we have recently sighted, is of the typical colouration that we see in our area.  Continue reading

Damsels and Dragons

We’ve been spending a lot of time in our gumboots exploring the vegetation around the ponds to see what Dragonflies and Damselflies we can observe and hopefully photograph.  They are fascinating insects to watch and at this time of the year there is a lot happening.   Some of the Damselflies are so small they can easily be overlooked while some of the larger Dragonflies can prove frustrating because they seem to be continually on the move.

Its a wonderful wet season activity and this year has been particularly rewarding although a little challenging at times having to dodge the ‘scattered showers’ that can sometimes become an isolated downpour.  I spent quite a while retracing my steps around a pond to find an umbrella I had absent-mindedly hooked over the belt holding my secateurs (I like multi-tasking) but which had dropped into the mud while I was concentrating on a Silver Wisp (Agriocnemis argentea).  Raincoats would be more practical in one sense but they are just too uncomfortable to wear – the humidity is around 90% and when the sun does come out ….. well I don’t think I need to explain further.

wild_wings_swampy_things_Silver Wisp - Agriocnemis argentia

It is hard to give a sense of perspective but this damselfly is very small and delicate –  Silver Wisp is an apt common name.   We suspect that the individual in the photo may be a female or immature male as the mature males are described as being covered in a white pruinescence.

And while I was down at the ponds, Allen was Continue reading