The sound of Allen chatting quietly in our bathroom last Sunday morning alerted me to the visit of a cassowary. While this may seem odd, he doesn’t usually talk to himself and he has a particular tone he uses when talking to cassowaries.
I was astonished to see the size of this bird standing just a few metres away on the lawn – definitely a different, older bird compared to our most recent visiting cassowary. As we stepped outside to take some photos she walked towards us, so we stood still and continued talking quietly. She emphasized her size by stretching upwards and gave a short rumble before moving away slightly to look around.
She is a mature bird but not very old judging by the size of the casque. We believe that the size of her feet identifies her as female. We wondered if she may have chased off the younger cassowary but later in the afternoon the younger cassowary appeared again. Our domestic chooks who had been pecking around in front of the verandah suddenly took off in fright as the younger cassowary strolled past on the lawn.
The next morning, washing dishes and occasionally casting my gaze around outside I thought perhaps all the action was over for the moment but a few minutes later the younger of the two birds approached the other side of the house. As I greeted it with ‘there you are…’ it briefly stepped onto the verandah, then turned to check a wind chime for edibility before walking off downhill.
The next day we left early for Cairns leaving the chooks locked up in their secure pen with extra greens for the day, as Allen thought the python sunning near the outdoor enclosure was a little close for comfort.
Probably the same python which caused a night-time disturbance recently. I was in our outside shower when one of the chooks started screaming so grabbing my glasses and some sandals I took off after Allen who had sensibly grabbed a torch. We both expected to find a chook being strangled by a python. There was a python but it was on the floor of the shed with a mouthful of feathers and a furious Layla (our blue egger) standing next to it still screaming and giving it an occasional peck! Allen opened the door and ‘encouraged’ the snake to leave but it took quite some effort to persuade it to move on. The snake had made a hole in some rusty wire which was repaired by Allen the following day.
Anyway…….. back to cassowaries. Daily sightings of at least one bird continued for the week. We’ve been pondering what fruit is attracting them. A couple of weeks ago Allen identified Ficus hispida in a scat but in recent days we have noticed both birds have very muddy legs and feet. As the Nauclea orientalis (Leichhardt trees) are fruiting we think both birds have been in the swampy areas. This theory is also supported by the tracks they are using.
On Friday afternoon Allen walked down to the bird hide just to check out the pond scene. All fairly quiet but he did spy the young cassowary on the bund wall and with a ‘oh there you are’ he took a few photos. Hearing footsteps a few minutes later he opened the door of the hide thinking I had come to join him but it was the young cassowary standing half-way down the stone steps just wanting to see what was happening.
What a wonderful week it has been, with so many special moments worth recording. We have constant reminders that we form only a very small part of the big picture and we need to do our best to fit in.
It’s been more than 12 months since we have seen a cassowary at Wild Wings & Swampy Things. During recent seed collecting excursions Allen has observed a few cassowary droppings which pleased us as it was good to know that a cassowary was feeding on fruit from trees we had planted. Then, a few days ago we saw a bird outside our kitchen reaching up into the Jaboticaba tree for some fruit. Allen was immediately sure that it was the same bird which had visited regularly for some time last year but I took a bit more convincing.
The slightly naïve trust that the younger bird exhibited when in our proximity has been replaced by nervousness at our appearance, and our first sighting was very brief as it disappeared quite quickly after seeing me in the garden. Today I started talking quietly as I stood inside the house behind a screen door and then I was able to open a door and get a couple of photos while the bird walked about on the lawn
We were both talking quietly, telling her not to worry about her reflection and after a couple of light pecks at the glass she walked off. Cassowaries have been known to kick and break glass when convinced that their reflection is another bird threatening their territory. If this is the same bird that visited last year, (and I’m beginning to agree with Allen that he/she is the same) then the wary behaviour must be a result of encounters with other cassowaries and quite possibly other humans and that is a good sign.
After a somewhat serendipitous inquiry earlier in the year, we had an interesting day a couple of months ago with a crew of enthusiastic ecologists working with high tech laser scanners. The Arbormetrics team measured the volume of growth in some of the first areas to be revegetated on Wild Wings & Swampy Things, in the early 1990s. Although these areas were originally planted as ‘timber plots’, at quite wide spacings, they have gradually filled in with rainforest species. Visiting wildlife, especially birds, are responsible for increasing the diversity of any plantings and it is particularly obvious when the initial plantings are so widely spaced.
The crew divided up into 3 teams so they could cover the 1994 plantings as well as the 1995 plot which is to the left of our driveway. After the initial inspection it was all carried out very efficiently but still took more than 4 hours.
The equipment is heavy and awkward to transport on foot and these guys were loaded up with water packs ready for several hours work. We were impressed with the thoroughness of the measuring; the scanner was set up every 10m along a bearing for at least 100m before starting again 10m distant from the last bearing.
After lunch and a short break they packed up their camp equipment and we drove in convoy to a Rainforest Rescue property north of the Daintree River. This beautiful forest contains some spectacular old trees. As the wind had increased after lunch it was decided to set out marker cones and return to the forest in the early evening when it was forecast to be calm.
Setting out the cones is, in itself quite a task but makes it possible to carry out the readings at night when the air is usually still. The cones are all labelled so everyone is able to check they are at the correct place.
Then it was on to check out the next site, have a meal and come back to work at night. Allen and I were happy to head home after a very interesting day.
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.
Reading and listening to many personal accounts of life during 2020 constantly reminded us of how lucky we are to live in our relatively isolated tropical paradise. While we continue to abide by any recommended Coronovirus safety procedures we have been able to enjoy many wonderful experiences with close friends in our local area. A morning with our friend Murray on one his Daintree Boatman tours is always a delight, especially when the tides are suitable for him to navigate Barratt Creek. He always gives us plenty of time to admire these magnificent Water Gums – Tristaniopsis exiliflora which grow next to the outflow from our wetlands. I don’t know their age but I have loved these trees since I first saw them in 1985.
We have been fortunate in that we had already planned for a year at home in 2020, long before the current global pandemic took hold. Last year we caught up with several building maintenance issues in addition to giving our house garden and orchard some much needed tender loving care. Allowing ourselves time to simply enjoy being here, in addition to the satisfaction we have in our achievement has given us both a renewed love for Wild Wings & Swampy Things. It is a wonderful feeling to admire trees that we have grown from seed which are now providing food and shelter for our local wildlife.
One of the major regular tasks is grass mowing which, although considerably reduced in recent years, remains an energy consuming activity. Earlier this year I had my first experience of walking through a ‘food forest’ harvesting fruit from a variety of trees as we went. Although I knew of the concept I hadn’t experienced the sheer delight and I was inspired to rethink our house garden as well as the orchard. After collecting seed from fruit gifted to me during the abundant tropical summer harvesting period I have grown a collection of several exotic tropical fruit trees to add to the diversity in our orchard as well as creating a more productive garden near the house.
Just looking at that photo of the Marang takes me back to our hot and humid summer days spent sharing a wonderful variety of fruits and making new friends. From exotic fruit to native rainforest – such is the diversity of our lives. We continue our voluntary work with Rainforest Rescue identifying properties which may be suitable for purchase and subsequent protection. We make a thorough assessment of the property’s vegetation on site which gives us the opportunity to explore some interesting forest. It also exercises our memories or in my case, tests my identification skills as I’m not as methodical as Allen! This is followed by a check through a criteria list that Allen has developed, taking in to account the property’s connectivity to National Park, World Heritage or other protected land, it’s likelihood of being settled, the extent of weed incursions etc.
Allen is also spending time collecting seed for the Rainforest Rescue nursery, as production is increasing to meet the demand for trees. We are pleased that there are now a number of large regeneration projects happening in the area – wonderfully positive news!
There is so much to observe in the rainforest, so much beauty on the forest floor, the trunks of the trees and the everchanging shapes and hues of the foliage as light filters through.
We have always known that a walk in the forest is good for our souls – I believe the term is now ‘forest bathing’? Whatever it might be called we hope that residents and visitors to the area will still be able to experience a quiet walk through tropical rainforest in the years ahead.
On Saturday my afternoon watering routine suddenly lost it’s meditative qualities when a juvenile cassowary appeared. She (we have decided on ‘she’ due to her size) was probably attracted to our house garden by a fruiting Jaboticaba tree which is now stripped of all fruit within her reach! A bird with a seemingly laid-back attitude she is not disturbed by us going about our daily chores so long as we avoid sudden or loud movements.
Although she has obviously been able to find enough food while with her Dad she now has to forage alone. Ripe fruit is not plentiful at the moment, apart from more Jaboticaba in our orchard, so she is wandering through the forest picking up small numbers of a variety of native fruit. In spite of our concern for her well being we will not provide supplementary food. The thought of this ‘big chook’ running after me for food, like our laying hens do, is sufficient to quell any desire of mine to make sure she doesn’t go hungry.
This morning I made up a grain mix for our laying hens and called out as I approached their pen ‘special breakfast for you!’ I went into the outside section of their pen to put down the container and straightened up to see this cassowary looking at me through the wire. I explained politely that this was not for her and she soon moved on and disappeared into the forest again.
I am relishing the opportunity to observe a sub-adult cassowary investigating our world and hope that she will continue occasional visits.
Flocks of Wompoo fruit-doves have brought colour into our lives this winter as they, along with Top-knot Pigeons, continue to feast on many fruits available in our garden and restored landscape. Quandongs and Palm fruits are popular but there are many other smaller fruits readily consumed. I have spent many happy hours ‘playing’ in the garden and smiling at the Wompoos calling, feeding and flying from tree to tree. Many years ago we attempted to establish a ‘palm forest’ in one of our swampy areas but our efforts were hampered by vigorous pig activity in addition to invading exotic grasses. Now we find that several native palms have naturally established themselves in a variety of suitable areas and they are providing valuable food for many bird species. One of the joys of revegetating an area is the continuing restoration work carried out by our native wildlife, in particular the birds. The diversity and number of species increases with time.
Late one afternoon, a couple of weeks ago, I saw an adult cassowary with two juveniles in our orchard. I was not carrying a camera (again) so I raced back to the house to alert Allen but the birds were not to be found again! They could easily wander into the forest adjacent to the creek and they would be invisible to us but it was lovely to know we had been visited.
Bold splashes of colour have appeared where the spectacular climbing Pandanus is now well established. The arresting orange splashes against the green background are bracts, the flower spikes in the centre gradually change from a pale green to a deep blood red.
Tropical gardens are often dominated by bold colour statements and there are some spectacular examples. Much smaller and unobtrusive this Blue Flax Lily is a Dianella, a small plant with strap-like leaves and delicate flowers. I am unsure of it’s species which doesn’t take away the beauty of the water droplets hanging like jewels on a damp day.
This weekend’s wet and windy weather has delivered 48 mm of rain to a grateful garden. In addition I was pleased to have our emergency water tank refilled after I accidentally emptied it. Allen had helpfully put a hose on the tap so I could water a new garden bed and after my error it hasn’t rained for weeks!
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.
Allen has spent many hours observing life at Wild Wings & Swampy Things this summer. I greatly admire his patience and dedication in recording the life around us especially in the very wet conditions we have been experiencing.
These eye-catching birds, with their long white ribbon tails, visit our north tropical area for a few months each year to tunnel into termite mounds and lay their eggs. In the event that they are able to hatch their eggs and rear their young without mishap they feed the nestlings until they are capable of flying out on their own and feeding. The adults and young fly north before the winter chill.
Allen has not tried to photograph Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfishers when they are nesting as we are just happy to know that they have returned for another year. To hear Paradise kingfishers calling and to catch glimpses of those gorgeous colours or a flash of white tail through the trees puts smiles on our faces.
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.