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.
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.
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.
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.
Durian flowers beginning to open in the early afternoon
Some flowers now fully open with Blossom bat feeding.
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
Wonderful to have such good rains in late December just as the ground was becoming really hard and dry – while some may find the humidity taxing it is, to me, infinitely preferably to the crackly, tinder dry atmosphere that precedes so many horrific fires. There is also the bonus of hydrated skin which I am sure makes me look years younger than I appear in dry climates!
After a couple of weeks away enjoying festivities with children and grandchildren we were delighted to return and find Spotted Whistling ducks were temporarily resident on our wetland. Since 2012 these ducks have made an appearance at Wild Wings & Swampy Things during the summer months – some years they have stayed for a few weeks but last year they were only sighted on one day. It is always a good feeling to see birds return and especially when they are feeding and roosting here.
Spotted Whistling duck posing before taking off for the night
Roosting in a tree on the edge of the wetland
One of the other surprises was to find that the Wompoo fruit dove, nesting above our driveway, had steadfastly stayed on its nest through heavy rain and hatched its baby. It has a long way to go yet, the parents will have to be on their guard to protect it from a pair of Black Butcherbirds.
Wompoo Fruit-dove on nest – youngster not visible
Wompoo Fruit-dove nestling
I forgot to mention that all the photos were taken by Allen.
Well not so little really, 9 Spotted Whistling Ducks have been observed feeding in our wetlands and although it is getting a bit crowded in our shrinking ponds they are finding food. The first two photos were taken earlier this morning on our Spring Fed pond – there was at least 1 duck perched in a tree as lookout but when later on they flew over Allen on their way to Graham’s pond he counted 9.
Graham’s pond was also hosting approximately fifty Spoonbills but they are more nervous than the few that have been here for a while and took off for a more secluded area on the property. One Glossy Ibis, a new entry for the Wild Wings bird list is keeping the ducks company.
We’ve had some fairly hot and humid weather which is usual for this time of the year but watching the storm clouds build yesterday afternoon was something of a relief. In the morning I could hear a lot of Magpie Geese honking – so I left the weeding job in the vegetable garden and walked down to the hide on Graham’s pond where one group of about 60 birds had our single resident Jacana skipping around the outskirts of the flock probably feeling overwhelmed by the noisy invasion. There were 4 Wandering Whistling Ducks tucked away in a quiet corner but no sign of the Spotted W.Ds, however I wasn’t too concerned as there are many out-of-site channels and ponds. Later in the day Allen, who has been working in a different part of the property, reported both Wandering and Spotted W.Ds in the same vicinity. Although they were near each other, Allen said that when disturbed, the 4 WWDs gathered close together and moved away.
The gathering storm clouds passed us by, the huge flock of visiting geese departed and sultry conditions persisted until a welcome 52 mm of rain during the night. A quick check of Graham’s pond this morning before we left for a day in Cairns resulted in a count of 10 Spotted W.Ds enjoying some peace and quiet. We’ll have a good look around tomorrow but we often find the Wandering Whistling Ducks will leave as soon as there is a decent shower of rain.
The big questions are – will the Spotted Whistling Ducks remain in the local area?
– we know they rest on branches during the day, do they roost at night?
– and if they do, where do they roost?
We first encountered these unusual ducks in Mungan Kundju National Park in 2009. At first we were totally baffled as to their identity but a quick study of our Field Guide, Pizzey & Knight, gave us the answer …….. Spotted Whistling Ducks are native to Philippines, East Indonesia, PNG and Bismarck Archipeligo. The first sightings in Australia were apparently at the Weipa sewerage farm in 1995. They are now regular and breeding at Weipa and also at Coen and Mungan Kundju N.P. is only just a little north of Coen. As the ducks were on the other side of a large lake we only had a distant view and a very poor photo but felt generally quite pleased about our sighting.
Last September 13 Spotted Whistling Ducks were observed on a pond at Wonga (about 10 km north of Mossman) and since then they appear to have been frequenting a variety of swamps and dams in our area. When we were returning from our weekly shopping expedition to Mossman yesterday we saw them in flight when we were about 10 minutes from home. We have been seeing them regularly on our ponds or perching in low branches overhanging water but when they flew in this morning I only counted 10 . They are quite approachable, although they will keep completely still while assessing a situation with normal behaviour resuming within a minute if all seems well. They are very well camouflaged when totally still!
There is a considerable amount of water weed in our ponds and we’re very happy to see the ducks enjoying it.
Although sometimes its nice to have a bit of variety!
And they also like to perch on branches overhanging the water.
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.