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.
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
I have always found myself attracted to water; whether a vast expanse of sea or a tranquil lake, a cool pool on a hot day, a winding tree-lined river or a waterfall. In my very early days, like most children, my joy was mostly centred around the splashing qualities of water. These days I usually have a reason for getting wet and muddy! Pond maintenance (a bit of weeding) is not really a chore to me as there are so many wonderful distractions, and it is just such a good feeling to be hanging around the ponds.
The cyclical nature of wetlands is a learning process – Allen and I still find the onset of heavy rain and the resulting water flow into the ponds as exciting as always. After months of dry weather it is wonderful to see fresh water flowing over the spillways however there is really so much more to observe when we have mud!
Allen has been spending quite a bit of time with his camera in the bird hide recently; his patience and his quiet observation has resulted in some lovely photos.
Snipe preening – either Latham’s or Swinhoe’s.
Until a definitive photo of the tail feathers being fanned can be obtained we can’t be absolutely sure about this bird’s identification but it is just lovely seeing them so busy feeding.
Snipe feeding together – these two are thought to be Swinhoe’s
Pale-vented Bush Hen – while these birds are resident on the property we mostly only get a glimpse as they dash into the next bit of cover. Their voices however, can be heard loud and clear – a loud and raucous call for a small bird with such a neat appearance.
Black Bittern – standing on the edge of ‘Crake Island’
Another bird that we frequently hear calling at this time of the year but mostly only see once we have disturbed it feeding is the Black Bittern. There have been many calls recently and we expect there may be more than one nest to be found along Barratt Creek.
I had to include a couple more photos of the Great-billed Heron as I get such a thrill seeing these magnificent birds and these photos are better than some of my earlier attempts. We have more than one of these Herons regularly feeding in our wetlands and they don’t seem to be quite as nervous as they used to be although definitely still considered ‘shy’.
In mid November, some tourists on the Daintree River witnessed two Great-billed Herons fighting on the river bank. As the bird watchers keenly observed the fracas, the birds fell into the water and a nearby crocodile took the opportunity to grab one of them.
Subsequent to this event being reported on the local network we noticed that the Great-billed Heron we regularly see on our wetlands was limping and looking a bit sorry for himself. (There has been a presumption that it was two males fighting) During the last week he has improved considerably – we have seen him quite frequently and, perhaps due to his bruises, he hasn’t been in a hurry to fly off as soon as he catches sight of us.
November 21st feeling a bit sorry for itself – a few days after the reported fracas.
Today we were spending some time with a fellow birding friend who was visiting from Cairns and so, after a walk around some of the tracks, we sat in the bird hide chatting and exchanging stories. As we were watching a Little Egret land in a tree in the distance, the Great-billed Heron flew across in front of us and landed on the bund wall in full view. Although we kept chatting the bird was unperturbed by us. It was, however, disturbed by some Figbirds which caused it to ruffle up its plumes then give us a demonstration of its guttural call before eventually flying a little further on to hunt along the exposed muddy bank.
What a privilege to have the pleasure of seeing such a shy bird, not only finding our wetlands a reliable feeding ground but starting to feel less threatened by our presence nearby.
After a glorious winter, the warmer weather has heralded the arrival of our ‘summer birds’. Loud calls from Koels are particularly evident in the morning and at dusk while the chortling of Orioles is a constant in the background. Allen recently observed 20+ Double-eyed Fig Parrots in a flock flying from one part of the property to another and today there were 60+ enjoying a fruiting Fig (Ficus benjamina). Gould’s Bronze-Cuckoo, Brush Cuckoo and Cicadabirds have also been very vocal and Pheasant Coucal make their ‘bottle glugging’ sound late in the afternoon.
Gould’s Bronze-Cuckoo with a Four O’Clock Moth larva (Dysphania fenestrata)
The loudest call is from Great-billed Heron, clearly heard from the creek and occasionally much closer as it has been regularly feeding along the edge of our wetland.
Great-billed Heron waiting patiently in the shallows
As the water level in our ponds drops Great and Intermediate Egret, White-necked Heron, Black-necked Stork, White-faced Heron, Royal Spoonbill and Australian Ibis join the Great-billed Heron in the shallow water.
Female Black-necked Stork
One of the resident Azure Kingfishers provides a dazzling splash of colour as it dives for fish from a variety of perching posts which it shares with Pied Cormorant and Darter. Pacific Black Duck feed happily nearby.
Our major restoration projects are complete and will only become more attractive habitat in future years. While it is rewarding to observe the growth in the vegetation, watch trees mature and to delight in the variety and number of birds residing and visiting the property we feel it is time for us to move on.
Until we find a suitable buyer we are enjoying our paradise and while continuing to maintain and improve many areas, we are also taking time out to just enjoy what we have helped to create. It is a delight to walk along our tracks observing birds and other wildlife so we are going to make the most of just being here.
Late yesterday afternoon, as I strolled quietly into our vegie garden I was startled by a Great-billed Heron call from very nearby. I scanned all the trees within my vision but couldn’t see any tall, shadowy Heron shapes so I went inside for binos and camera……now properly prepared I set off to try and locate the elusive bird. Looking, looking as I walked, changing direction as I heard a couple more calls. The calls were shorter and harsher than usual but what I didn’t associate with them, until I finally set my eyes on the Heron, were the strident calls from a small group of Drongos intent on chasing this large bird out of their territory.
I only had a moment to grab a couple of quick shots before the Drongos succeeded in reclaiming the island for themselves and the poor Heron escaped from its tormentors by flying across to another tree overlooking the next pond. Although I could see it with the binos it certainly wasn’t providing any further photo opportunities.
I’ve included this more distant view just to include two Drongos to the right of the photo.
My photos do not do justice to this magnificent and somewhat stately bird. The Lumix has been tested to its limits but I couldn’t resist posting the photos anyway. Although this is certainly not the first sighting of Great-billed Heron on our property it’s presence always generates excitement and I am happy to have some photographic record. I acknowledge there is room for improvement!
Yesterday’s guests saw this Heron in a couple of locations during their morning visit . In the afternoon I walked to the hide and was surprised to find the GBH in full view on the edge of one of the islands. I watched it for some time before risking a return to the house for the camera. Unfortunately the bird moved to the far end of Graham’s pond, where we have recently slashed some Para grass – not really the background I would have chosen.
The weather is starting to warm up and without any recent rain the ponds are drying up quite rapidly which means there are greater areas of shallow water with a concentrated food source so there are quite a few opportunistic birds enjoying some easy meals.
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.