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.
A beautiful, sunny day and a quiet afternoon with time for a walk but I didn’t get much further than the bird hide. Finally it was my turn to get a good look at the Burdekin Duck family! There had been no sign of them for nearly a week so I was thrilled to have a chance to observe them. They were just coming down to the water as I carefully made my way into the hide without alerting them.
After a splash in the water while staying very close to the bank the ducklings swam along a little channel behind Crake Island.
As I watched the duck family I could see a Magpie goose moving around on Crake Island then the ducks swam behind the island and the goose family walked into the sun with their 3 gangly goslings. The ducks appeared a short distance away on the same little island but only to dry off in the sun before they retreated out of sight.
So where was Betty Barratt while all this splashing and preening was going on? She was in the next door pond hiding fairly effectively in a patch of Persicaria strigosa. This photo of her tail is taken from a safe distance just to illustrate her ability to warm in the sun while remaining less than obvious to a casual observer.
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.
Paddling around on ‘weed patrol’ is not the arduous task it used to be – although it will always be a necessary part of wetland maintenance.
I apologized to a Jacana for disturbing it yet again as I made my way through a carpet of Daintree water lilies while admiring their colours which range from a rich pink through to a violet blue. A movement on the water at the far end of the pond caught my eye and I watched with absolute delight as a pair of Wandering Whistling duck rapidly encouraged their young ducklings to take cover in the sedge. Later in the day I managed a quick photo from a distant vantage point but even then my presence was making the birds nervous so we have left them alone. The photo below is very small but if you click to enlarge then you have a chance of seeing a few of the 13 ducklings I counted.
Well fancy that……..some loud goose talk this morning alerted us to action on the wetland and we watched as the goslings, in single file, followed a parent across one of the ponds. We counted aloud, with increasing disbelief, to ten. Whether its good luck or good management we are unsure but it is more than three weeks since we last saw these goslings and there are many predators about. The goose family is still travelling with its entourage of aunts, uncles and cousins (difficult not to anthropomorphize) and perhaps this contributes to their, so far, successful parenting.
The first photo shows the family standing around on a clump of trampled sedge on which they have been resting in the sun. The goslings look strong and healthy but they stay close to the adults who carefully move them around the edges of the ponds. They do venture into open spaces but only when the scouts have flown around and given an “all clear”.
We were anxious to get some photos and so we tried to sneak up a little closer. Not a chance of success with the scouts well positioned in the tallest trees sounding an alarm as soon as we came in sight. So, we got on with other things hoping that they would move across to the pond nearest the hide. Finally our patience was rewarded and we had our chance to observe the geese without disturbing them.
Although the ‘parent’ geese are constantly searching for food (…up tails all!) to feed the family the goslings were managing to find some nourishment unaided. We watched them tug at lily flowers under the water with some success as well as feeding on other green bits.
As the dusk rapidly descended and the temperature dropped the parents moved the young family out of sight. The remaining adult geese were making the most of a quiet feed without the stress of helping to care for the kids.
We often hear the soft honking of geese at night, particularly when the night is clear and the moon is bright. I find the sound quite evocative as it reminds me that there are many creatures out feeding during the night.
Sorry there is no photo to go with this story but I’ve got to tell………yesterday at dusk I decided to walk to the bird hide just after finishing my watering chores. Nothing visible on the ponds so I walked down on to the bund wall, I heard a Red-necked Crake cackling so I walked quietly towards the direction of the call. In the shallow stream below the spillway I saw a bird with dark wings splashing in the water so I dropped into a squat and stayed still as it was coming towards me. In the rapidly fading light I was able to see the markings around the bill and the breast clearly enough to realize that I was watching a Black Bittern having a bath. After several seconds it became aware of my presence and froze as I had – finally my knees insisted that I stand. Still no movement from the Bittern and by then it was nearly dark and I couldn’t see it any longer although I was aware of a ripple on the water as I moved away. The poor bird was probably getting wrinkly toes waiting for me to go.
More excitement followed this morning:
Magpie Goose & Goslings
As I walked down to the hide this morning several of the Magpie goose ‘scouts’ in the trees gave alarm calls which isn’t unusual but as I sat down I heard a distant and consistent ‘peeping’. On close inspection through binoculars I could pick out a number of goslings with adult geese on Rupert’s pond and I was soon able to see the ten goslings quite clearly as they moved out of the vegetation and onto the water, closely attended by a gander and two females.
It is not the first time Magpie Geese have bred at Wild Wings but they were not successful last year so it is very pleasing to see the expanded family on the water.
Later in the day the goslings were escorted by a number of adults through thick vegetation into Graham’s Pond on which the hide is situated and so finally we were close enough for some reasonable photos later in the afternoon.
Feeding the kids
One of the adult females appeared to be feeding parts of the water lily flower to the goslings. She was diving for the spent flowers under water which we imagine would have started to form seed and so have a higher protein content.
And no we didn’t get a lot of work done today – we made the most of a special experience and we are very happy and content.
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.