Well not really – we’ve had glorious steady rain and much cooler temperatures have been a welcome relief to us after the recent extreme heat and humidity. So far the violent storms and torrential rain have missed us and my newly planted fruit trees have had a chance to settle in. When we plant trees we always give them a good watering but it doesn’t match the benefit of a decent rainfall. Allen thought this morning was a good opportunity to plant out a few more rainforest trees that he’s grown. His timing was perfect for the trees but as the rain got heavier I was very pleased he hadn’t needed an assistant!
About a week ago Betty finally made a reappearance in our wetlands! She quietly slid into the water as Allen watched from the bird hide. She had been lying on a bank in the shade, blending so well into her environment that he didn’t see her until she moved. On subsequent days we saw her in the water, sometimes with part of her back exposed to absorb the sun’s heat. As the days have been so hot recently it wasn’t long before she quietly submerged, leaving a trail of bubbles for us to follow.
There has been some speculation regarding potential crocodile nest construction in our swamps. Although it would be confirmation of a successful wetland restoration project I must admit to some nervousness at the prospect. Continuing this theme one might consider why Betty has not nested when she appears to be a mature female. Might she, in fact, be Bob and not Betty?
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.
Many areas of Queensland suffer from a lack of rain combined with extremely high temperatures that I would find difficult to cope with. After a dry winter and most of spring we experienced some very hot, humid days late in November. Our hot dry weather didn’t last very long and now it is becoming hard to imagine. Today the entire area pictured below is under water…….
The extended dry period enabled us to carry out some maintenance in our ephemeral wetlands, particularly in areas we are not able to access every year. Allen used our little tractor with a rear blade to clear *Para grass that was starting to choke up channels between our front ponds. While we would prefer not to disturb the soil, the run-off from the main road needs to go through the front of our property to ultimately drain into Barratt Creek. Our long term aim is to reduce this grass growth by shading the channels with trees able to cope with partial inundation. It will mean less maintenance for us and gradually a more natural habitat will develop.
While Allen was on the tractor I was walking around with my weeder tool and a bag, pulling out young *Hymenachne plants that had germinated in areas where Magpie geese had been resting. While not a physically demanding job it is easy to miss a piece especially when it is hiding in Persicaria, pictured above.
Floods are part of wet season life here. When the children were young I spent a lot of time running about in the rain and mud with them and when we had a flood we often went paddling around in the dinghy to explore the landscape from a different perspective. Now I enjoy having time to read as well as completing some inside jobs that have been deferred in favour of time in the garden.
When there was a lull in the rain showers this afternoon I walked to the bird hide to take these photos. There was a background noise of water roaring in the creek, several Shining flycatchers calling with a Cicadabird and Orioles as a back-up chorus. Closer to the Spring-fed ponds I could hear a Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher calling and hoped that its chosen mound was out of flood waters.
*Both Hymenachne and Para grass are pasture grasses that have been introduced to Australia to provide fodder in low lying, wet areas. They are both very invasive species and ‘death’ to wetlands as they smother all the native grasses and sedges and choke the waterways.
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
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.
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.
Great Egret trying to get a firm grip on a River Prawn. Macrobrachiumsp.
Now in a firm hold but still quite a challenge to swallow
Azure Kingfisher with one of many fish caught in a morning session.
Azure Kingfisher often flies to this horizontal perch as it’s convenient to use for bashing prey prior to consumption.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
Most of the year Graham’s pond looks like this……….. Months of mostly dry weather has resulted in rapidly shrinking puddles on what are usually referred to as “wetlands” so now it looks like this. We 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.
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!
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.