Ugg boots and thermals

We are feeling the cold here in the tropics – especially today as the windy gusts bring an extra chill factor.  Putting on some warmer clothes and shutting the doors certainly helps but as the sun goes down we start planning warm meals!  This is not a complaint merely a subjective observation as we don’t possess a thermometer.

Considerable time has recently been spent on some much needed home maintenance as well as some work in the garden and beyond – pruning, dealing with weeds and overgrowth of vines.  Allen continues with regular bird observing while my own efforts tend to be a little haphazard.  We have both enjoyed listening to some interesting night calls, Lessy Sooty Owl and the noise of some Striped Possums [Dactylopsila trivirgata] caught our attention last week.  I heard the possums early in the evening and took a spotlight out to locate them, waiting for them to call before I could work out where to look.  No eye shine but eventually I caught sight of a fluffy tail hanging down from a branch and the back of a small possum.  The surprisingly loud, harsh noise which had alerted me to their presence was coming from another possum higher up and hidden in the foliage.  After a short time they both dropped through the branches out of sight and disappeared further down the gully.

Striped PossumStriped Possum

Striped Possums are often located at night when they are ripping bark to feed on grubs in rotting wood using their elongated 4th finger to scoop out the delicacies.  They also feed on nectar, pollen, fruit and leaves.  Their ‘skunk-like’ appearance is enhanced by a musky odour which is only obvious at close range.

Allen took these photos in our garden in May 2017.

Striped Possum

Pruning hazards

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.

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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.

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A Snake update; under the covers

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.

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1-Carpet with eggs on left; Amethyst on right

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.

Warm fuzzies and heady aromas

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.

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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.

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Orchard News:
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.

 

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Durian flowers beginning to open in the early afternoon

Blossum Bat in Durian Flowers

Some flowers now fully open with Blossom bat feeding.  

 

 

Sunny days again

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.

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Carpet Python (Morelia spilota)

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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!

It’s not always about the birds ……

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.

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Maximizing exposure of its’ body to the warmth of the plastic.

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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.

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Identification has been suggested to be Small-eyed Snake (Cryptophis nigrescens)

 

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 

From dust to green

After nearly four months camping in our tent, while we travelled north to Darwin then west across to Roebuck Bay, we have left the dust behind and returned to the lush green of Daintree.  We’ve now unpacked, cleaned up most of our gear before storing it and the vehicle is mostly clean inside.  Although it’s taken a few days to truly feel ‘at home’ again we are both appreciating the space, the green and the peace as well as our walking tracks.

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Reflections

The water levels in the wetlands are low, as we would expect at this time of the year, and we are not the only ones enjoying easy access.  This lovely girl was enjoying some sun in the swamp this morning and was undisturbed by our presence on the driveway.

Swamp Wallaby

Female Swamp Wallaby

Floscopa scandens ,which we now have growing in several areas around the wetlands,  is looking very lush and healthy with lots of pale pink flowers.  Although the water level has dropped the ground is still holding a lot of moisture, the grass is still green and we’re happy to be here.

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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)