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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A peak under the weed pile plastic yesterday afternoon didn’t reveal any reptiles but Allen did find a small clutch of eggs. However, when he returned after dark, once the day had cooled down, he found a Carpet Python curled tightly around her eggs. About 400 mm apart, also taking advantage of the warm, dry place was an Amethyst Python nestled well under the vegetation.
The pink arrows point to the snakes. Carpet python on the left and the Amethyst Python on the right.
This morning they were both still there – we moved a bit of vegetation away from the Carpet Python’s head and as she moved it was possible to get a glimpse of an egg. After a couple of quick photos we carefully replaced the plastic and weed mat and left them both in peace.
As far as we know there is only one clutch of eggs – we’ll try to keep an eye on events under the cover without causing too much disturbance.
A beautiful sunny morning after several days of rain and I wasn’t the only one happy to enjoy the warmth of the sun today.
This Carpet Python was basking on the weed pile plastic this morning ……. the Amethyst Python photographed a couple of days ago wasn’t visible but we didn’t check under the plastic as we didn’t want to disturb whatever arrangement they had. The two species don’t usually hang out together so we suspect they are taking turns.
Carpet Python (Morelia spilota)
Meanwhile the chooks are having green feed brought into their outside run as we think it’s a bit risky to let them out when the weed pile is one of their favourite places to scratch. I enjoy having pythons around but I draw the line at providing them with a feathered meal!
Several days of rain has cooled our ambient temperature somewhat and I found this beautiful Amethyst python (Morelia amethistina) lying on some black plastic that I use to cover my weed pile. The snake was seemingly content to absorb the warmth from the plastic and made no attempt to move but as the pile of weeds is quite close to the chook pen I decided to leave the girls inside for a while.
Maximizing exposure of its’ body to the warmth of the plastic.
A closer view showing a glimpse of the iridescence shining on the skin.
Then a short time later Allen called me outside to look at a different snake he had uncovered while cleaning up a dead palm that had collapsed. It’s not a particularly good photo as this little reptile was feeling rather vulnerable and was not wanting to pose for a photo. As we were not entirely sure of its’ identity at the time, we were not inclined to pick it up for closer examination.
Identification has been suggested to be Small-eyed Snake (Cryptophis nigrescens)
While weeding the garden I was amused to have this little skink (Carlia longipes I think) waiting to see what delicacies I unearthed in the process. It was quite distracting, in a delightful sort of way, to watch his antics and I finally decided to go inside for a camera. Although I mostly couldn’t identify what he was eating I did see him rush towards me, impossibly close to focus, and grab a juicy little caterpillar. I have since discovered that while the heavy steps of a person walking will send them into hiding, quiet weeding noises make them curious. I am going to be much slower weeding the garden in future but it is going to be lots more fun with my new friends – I know he is not alone out there because we watch them basking on rocks and paving stones and dashing about grabbing insects. I’m just glad the chooks were still locked up as they also like to “help” in the garden and this story may have had a different ending.
Today the temperature rose dramatically but the humidity remained low, a breeze was blowing and it would have been enjoyable weather if it hadn’t been for the smoke haze from the extensive fires on the Atherton Tablelands. As an ex-resident of country Victoria I particularly dislike smoky, hot, dry days.
After spending a beautiful (and productive) morning in the garden I went looking for the Barred Cuckoo-shrikes I could hear – they were feeding out-of-sight in a large fig tree but I had a happy time observing the Double-eyed Fig-parrots that were much lower down in the same tree, along with Fig Birds and Yellow Orioles. The melodic calls of the Yellow Orioles seem to increase in frequency as the weather warms until they become a background to our summer days.
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.