For Love of Trees and Nature: Dendrophilia Nature Refuge

We are proud to announce that our property is now a Nature Refuge, the highest conservation status for private land in Queensland (comparable to National Parks).

Future owners (hopefully in the far distant future!) will be bound by this conservation agreement.between the QLD government and ourselves.

With increasing average and extreme temperatures, the Herberton Range is, together with the tops of Mt Bellenden Ker and Mt Bartle Frere, a most important refugium for many heat-sensitive species in the Wet Tropics (e.g. Lemuroid and Green Ringtail Possums, Golden Bowerbirds).

Professor Steve Williams of James Cook University has undertaken intensive studies over many years in that regard. You can listen to his talk on “Climate Change and Biodiversity of the Wet Tropics” by visiting the “Tree-kangaroo and Mammals Group” website:  https://www.tree-kangaroo.net/documents   or  youtube:

We harbour a faint hope that local councils will eventually awake to the fact that efforts like ours should be encouraged.

 

Cassowaries and Riflebirds

young Southern Cassowary, by Steve Bond

The cassowary mating season is in full swing and we can hear a lot of  booming in the forest. The large female, “Wattle” and her mate, “Goldfinger” have been seen together several times. Another 2 cassowaries have also turned up: “Dad” with one chick is visiting us almost daily, often they are enjoying this sunny spot between cabin and house:

Southern Cassowary male and chick, enjoying the winter sun

Dad is apprehensive in the presence of the female and takes off when she approaches. She doesn’t seem to be really aggressive towards him and is very nonchalant towards the chick. It could well be her own, as Dad and Wattle were together last June, when he came through with 2 chicks (who were about 3 months older than this year’s single survivor).

Yesterday, Dad tried another tactic to evade the female: he crouched down in the densest patch of shrubs, lying as low as possible. Of course, she knew he was there, especially with that chatty chick nearby, and slowly walked towards him. When she got within a few metres of his ‘hiding’place, he lost his nerve and ran.

“M”, the young male or female bird, has drawn the short straw, being chased vigorously by Wattle and very afraid of Dad. This beautiful image was taken by one of our guests, Steve Bond:

young Southern Cassowary, by Steve Bond
young Southern Cassowary, by Steve Bond

 

Our Victoria’s Riflebirds don’t seem to know that they are supposed to take a break from all that displaying business. The adult male and one immature male, who changed into adult plumage last summer, kept going throughout  the molting season and are displaying daily on the favourite post near the cabin whenever a female comes into view.

Here are a couple of Steve Bond’s images:

mature male Victoria's Riflebird, displaying, by Steve Bond

mature male Victoria's Riflebird, displaying, by Steve Bond

We haven’t noticed any offspring this year, so maybe the adverse conditions (a long, very dry 2018, with very little flowering/fruit-setting taking place) didn’t get the female riflebirds into mating and nesting mood.

 

Cassowary mating season 2019

cassowaries female & Mr March

For some time, a young, male cassowary (we call him “Mr March”, because he first visited us in March 2018) has been around several times a week. Judging by his droppings, he is finding rainforest fruits, as well as eating fungi and berries from several sclerophyll shrubs.

He is chasing the other young bird, who occasionally shows up (“Goldfinger”) away, whenever it came too close.

Following up on our last post about the difference of the two, here is another feature: you can see quite clearly.  “Goldfinger” has a ‘hairy’ fringe around its (we are not sure, yet, whether it is a male or female -*see postcript below) crest:

cassowaries Mr March & Goldfinger

Now the tables have turned: A large female made her appearance, and she always gives chase when she sees or hears ‘Mr March’. It is quite a funny sight, when a cassowary gallops down the track with wildly swinging bottom! But you do not want to get between the two running birds!

The female is easy to identify, as she has very distinctive wattles (so we named her “Wattle”) and also a tall casque with a ragged top:

cassowary female
cassowary female

cassowary female, portrait

Here is a comparison of “Mr March” and “Wattle”:

cassowaries female & Mr March

Despite her aggressive behaviour, the male keeps coming back, which makes us think it is the start of the mating season. In that case, the female’s aggression should slowly wane, and the male will become less frightened.

Below a sample of her booming, and you can see her whole body vibrating.  You can hear as much as feel the sound when you are close. It is like an elephant’s rumble! Cassowaries call at the lowest frequenzy of any bird, as low as 24-30 Herz (infrasound). This booming call carries a long distance – perfect for communication in dense rainforest.

The casque on the head, which is spongy inside, might function as an amplifier as well as a receiver of the bird’s infrasound vocalisations. Latest research by scientists from La Trobe University suggests that it s main function is thermoregulation.

Postscript:

Today, June 1st, we watched ‘Wattle’ and ‘Goldfinger’ mating. She sat down next to a Rose Gum, and he shuffled up from behind. It was a quick affair (‘Dad’ and ‘Missy’ in Kuranda always took their time!). Goldfinger definitely is a male!                                                                                                                                                                                               Maybe ‘Mr March’ is a “Miss March’! Time will tell.

A Tale of Two Cassowaries

Southern Cassowary

Last March a new juvenile cassowary appeared in our forest. Judging by the size of his casque and wattles and the fact that there were still some brown feathers visible on the back, we tentatively assumed it was a 3 year old male. He had unusually long, light-coloured “fingernails”: the quills sticking out from the rudimentary wings.

Distinguishing features of cassowaries are mainly the casque, which might be straight, leaning to one side or the other, big or small (although in a young bird it would most likely keep growing for a few years), and the wattles, which can be short, long, one longer than the other, or oddly shaped.

Southern Cassowary
Southern Cassowary

He came past our house and the cabin quite regularly, and when we noticed, that he didn’t have his long, golden quills anymore, but shorter, black ones, we assumed that he lost them while moulting.

 

Southern Cassowary
Mr March

To our surprise, he recently showed up with his quills as long and golden as before! Shortly thereafter, they were black and short again! TWO birds! Same size, very similar casques and wattles, but very different quills!

Southern Cassowary
Goldfinger
Southern Cassowary
Mr March
Southern Cassowary
Goldfinger
Southern Cassowary
Mr March

So, when trying to identify individual cassowaries, have a close look at their fingernail as well!

Moths

Queensland Day Moth, Alcides metaurus

Australia has 20-30000 species in the order Lepidoptera, of which about 450 are butterflies. There isn’t a big difference between butterflies and moths. Both usually have a coiled proboscis and four scaly wings. Some butterflies are active at night, and numerous moths  fly during the day,  many of those have clubbed antennae. One of our  more conspicuous species is the large Queensland Day Moth, Alcides metaurus (family Uraniidae):

Classifying moths is often not easy: one might have to look at their genitals, which are usually withdrawn into the abdomen! Therefore, some of the moths featured in our blog posts do not have a name to them (feel free to let us know, if you can identify them!), sometimes we cannot even  determine the family (there are about 80 families in Australia). Birds are so much easier!

A few nights ago, our mothlight attracted, amongst many Christmas and Rhinoceros beetles and other moths:

Aglasoma variegata (family Lasiocampidae): viewed from another angle:and a portrait, showing off the ‘woolly legs’:

Another species, holding the abdomen in an upright position, maybe for better camouflage:

Praesusica placerodes (family Limacodidae):

A front view reveals the striped legs:

and some more moths:

Hawk Moths (family Sphinghidae) are plentiful at the moment:

and so are the often very large Wood Moths (family Cossidae). The famous ‘witchetty grubs’ belong here.

The variety of patterns and shapes seems endless. These moths are well-adapted to life in eucalypt forests. You wouldn’t be able to spot them  amongst dried gum leaves:

or this moth on the bark of a Red Mahogany:

There surely will be more posts to come about moths, featuring our more unusual and/or colourful species!

A most beautifully presented, and very useful guide for identifying our local moths, is Buck Richardson’s book

Tropical Queensland Wildlife from dawn to dusk, Science and Art”.

Contact details for Buck are:

buckrichardson@leapfrogoz.com.au

www.leapfrogoz.com.au