Category Archives: Araucaria Ecotours

trip reports, other news about Araucaria Ecotours

Brahminy kite startles cormorants

While waiting for dolphins at Fingal last year, a group of three little black cormorants  were quietly watching the waves from the basalt columns.

 Little Black Cormorants at Fingal
Little Black Cormorants at Fingal, New South Wales

Suddenly a beautiful brahminy kite appeared above us.

Brahminy Kite
Brahminy Kite

He delighted us but startled the cormorants by suddenly plunging to the water to catch his dinner

brahminyfish

brahminycatchfish2

brahminycatchfish

and then the dolphins arrived….

I tend to think of Fingal as the Gold Coast before it became the Gold Coast (although there are a few natural parts of the Gold Coast as well).

The Araucaria team seek wildlife on an island near Brisbane

The Melaleuca Wetlands are adjacent to the beach
The Melaleuca Wetlands are adjacent to the beach

For some years now we’ve been conducting tours to Coochiemudlo Island, an attractive and varied little subtropical  island with long sandy beaches over which thousands of blue crabs march as the tide recedes, rocky platforms, mangroves, coastal woodlands and red cliffs much prized by the Aboriginals, who used the red ochre for body painting and trade with mainland groups. Bush stone-curlews, with their arresting stares, raptors, butterflies, bush-birds, shorebirds and a variety of sea creatures in rock pools all add to the charm of this island, so close to Brisbane yet often so deserted as holiday-makers rush to the far more commercialized Gold Coast.

Unlike most crabs, they travel forwards instead of sideways' often marching across the beach in search of food as the tide goes out: hence the name 'soldier crab.'
Unlike most crabs, they travel forwards instead of sideways’ often marching across the beach in search of food as the tide goes out: hence the name ‘soldier crab.’
There are plenty of bush stone-curlews wandering around the island, and their weird, wild calls at night add to the atmosphere.
There are plenty of bush stone-curlews wandering around the island, and their weird, wild calls at night add to the atmosphere.

Darren and I have recently been employed by Coochiemudlo Coast Care (under a grant from Redlands Shire Council) to conduct a fauna survey o the Melaleuca (tea-tree) Wetlands over four seasons (mid-summer, mid-autumn, mid-winter and mid-spring, with a view to enhancing conservation management plans. We completed the first session in January, with a team of volunteers to help set, check and wash traps (used to capture animals which are promptly released after identification).

The delights of staying overnight, listening to the weird, wild calls of the stone-curlews, watching the sun and moon rise over the waters and wandering safe bush tracks at night are encouraging us to add overnight stays to our island tours. We may also in future involve our tourists in some weed eradication (an on-going threat to the native understorey plants) in conjunction with the excellent programs by Coochiemudlo Coast Care, and spotting species in a monitoring program.  Let us know in comments below or by emailing us at info@learnaboutwildlife.com if interested.

Exploring the Wetlands. Tea-tree wetlands have disappeared from much of their former range on the mainland.
Exploring the Wetlands. Tea-tree wetlands have disappeared from much of their former range on the mainland.
The Melaleuca Wetlands are on the edge of an east-facing beach, and we were rewarded on our very first night by a beautiful moonrise.
The Melaleuca Wetlands are on the edge of an east-facing beach, and we were rewarded on our very first night by a beautiful moonrise.

Results will not be public until completion of the survey, but here are a few photos from our visit, which included live trapping and release, walking the trails day and night and setting motion-sensing cameras.

Bearded dragon eating one of the thousands of cicadas that were calling during the survey.
Bearded dragon eating one of the thousands of cicadas that were calling during the survey.

 

Striped marshfrogs were plentiful at night.
Striped marshfrogs were plentiful at night.
A net-casting spider. Instead of sitting in a large web they make a small one to throw over their prey.
A net-casting spider. Instead of sitting in a large web they make a small one to throw over their prey.

Eagleby Wetlands wet again

Eagleby Wetlands wet again

It’s great to see the Eagleby Wetlands full of water again after so many months of drought earlier this year and late last year (a drought in our wet season? yes, it does happen)

Part of Eagleby Wetlands looking like Drylands last November
Part of Eagleby Wetlands looking like Drylands last November

And now the tea trees are flowering we’re also getting nectar-feeding birds (including the beautiful little scarlet honeyeater) and insectivorous birds coming in after nectar-feeding insects.

Here are a few recent photos

Flocks of pelicans have retturned, along with stilts, black swans, dotterells and others
Flocks of pelicans have returned, along with stilts, black swans, dotterells and others: this lagoon was never as dry as the one above, but it did diminish considerably
ok, nothing unusual about seeing white ibis near Brsbane, but they do look rather nice flying in a flock
ok, nothing unusual about seeing white ibis near Brisbane, but they do look rather nice flying in a flock

 

Red-browed finches in a sheoak
Red-browed finches in a sheoak
brown honeyeater visiting tea tree (Melaleuca) flowers
brown honeyeater visiting tea tree (Melaleuca) flowers
A rufous whistler seeking insects from foliage and bark
A rufous whistler seeking insects from foliage and bark
a whistling kite soaring over the wetland
A whistling kite soaring over the wetland

 

Two little brown birds: golden-headed cisticola and female of one of the blue fairy-wrens (superb or variegated: the males are easily distinguished but not the females). I don't think either of these deserted during the drought
Two little brown birds: golden-headed cisticola (right) and female of one of the blue fairy-wrens (superb or variegated: the males are easily distinguished but not the females). I don’t think either of these deserted during the drought
Royal spoonbills and two species of ibis rst in a tree by a lagoon
Royal spoonbills and two species of ibis rst in a tree by a lagoon

 

A walk around the island

We hadn’t run a Coochiemudlo Island trip for a while, so it was very pleasant to be back on the island, this time with a gentleman from England who had been on three of our other tours and his friend from USA.

Low tide below the red cliffs
Low tide below the red cliffs

The tide was low as we arrived, so as we neared the red cliffs the island derives its name from I was scanning the beach for soldier crabs hoping they hadn’t already finished their foraging and headed back into their burrows.

Soon they appeared as a vague shadow moving across the sand, so we hurried over for a closer look. A white ibis was also very interested, and it was at least good to see one eating something natural rather than picnic scraps

watchingcrabs soldiercrab IbisEatingCrab

When disturbed, the crabs quickly bury themselves, then reappear a few minutes later.  After feeding, they will all o so and wait for the next low tide.

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Birds seen that day included the following:

Brahminy kite
Brahminy kite
Striated heron
Striated heron
Pied oystter catchers
Pied oyster catchers
Whimbrel
Whimbrel
Bush stone-curlew
Bush stone-curlew, subject of annual counts on the island
Laughing kookaburra, just after pouncing from above to catch an insect on the ground
Laughing kookaburra, just after pouncing from above to catch an insect on the ground
A pied butcherbird apparently helping to protect island residents
A pied butcherbird apparently helping to protect island residents
and an Australian pelican taking a nap near the mainland jetty
and an Australian pelican taking a nap near the mainland jetty

The banksias were starting to bloom, and should soon attract lots of nectar feeders

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I almost expect the mangroves here to start walking like triffids

mangroves

but this rather tattered eggfly found them safe enough to settle on

eggfly

After a seafood lunch at Red Rock Cafe we headed back to the mainland to look for wallabies for our American guest, and found them at two locations within Redands before our final journey back to the city

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Outback tour in spring of 2015?

Our 6- or 8- day small-group outback tours run on demand, but at a maximum of twice a year (once in autumn. once in spring – summer is too hot, and in winter the reptiles aren’t active and we’re usually busy with other tours).

We’ve had an inquiry for a tour this spring, and could do it in early September or mid-October.

Let us know if you’re interested in joining in, so we can start planning.

Email us at info@learnaboutwildlife.com

 

red kangaroo - male
red kangaroo – male

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outback sunset
outback sunset

Butterfies in our butterfly walk from winter 2013 to autumn 2015

blue tiger butterfly
blue tiger butterfly

The butterfly walk on the Araucaria property has been planted out with the food plants of local caterpillars, divided into the five major families of Australian butterflies.

Every month I walk the trail 5 times on 5 separate days, recording the butterflies I see: once in the morning, twice at mid-day (when butterflies ae most active), once late afternoon and once after dark (when some of the caterpillars are more active). For several years we saw no obvious increase in butterflies, but suddenly this summer they more than doubled in frequency of sightings

So far our butterflies include:

lemon migrant buttefly
lemon migrant butterfly

Pieridae (whites and yellows)

  • Most common: Lemon Migrant and Grass Yellow
  • Others: Caper White, Albatross and (introduced) cabbage white
  • Caterpillars: none as yet, but many grass yellows seen apparently laying eggs on Breynia leaves

Nymphalidae (nymphs, browns and danains):

  • Most common: Monarch (introduced), evening brown, aeroplane, lesser wanderer
  • Others: common brown, blue tiger,  jezebel nymph, common crow, varied eggfly, meadow argus, admiral
  • Caterpillars: monarch

Lycaenidae (blues and coppers):

  • Most common: ? several unidentified (tiny and very fast!)
  • Others: pencilled blue, speckled line-blue, wattle blue
  • Caterpillars: none seen

orchardswallowtail-caterpillarPapillionidae (swallowatils):

  • Most common: orchard butterfly (several on finger lime in our butterfly walk, also on orange tree near house)
  • Others:blue triangle, dingy swallowtail
  • Caterpillars: orchard butterfly, blue triangle

Hesperidae (skippers and darts):

  • Most common: orange palm dart
  • Others: regent skipper, common red-eye, orange ochre and a few unidentified (as for Lycaenid spp above)
  • Caterpillars: orange palm dart, in roll of palm-leaf

 

 

 

Our first snorkelling trip with Cooly Dive

to the boat Twice before we’d booked for snorkelling at Cook Island, which we had so many times looked towards on the third day of our tours while watching for dolphins, but had never visited, with Cooly Dive. Each time the weather had been so bad they had to cancel the cruise. With the cyclone up north I was afraid we’d get some rough weather down our way as well.

We had just led a three-day wildlife tour, but added a couple of extra days at the request of our British guest, to include snorkelling and Aboriginal culture, and he was flying out the following day.

Third time lucky!

Darren life-jacketThe sea is always a little rough as you enter it from the mouth of the river, and we were all given life jackets as a precaution

Unfortunately it was rough enough to make my stomach a bit queasy on the way (I hadn’t bothered with seasick pills as it seemed such a short distance, but maybe I shouldn’t have been taking so many photos while clinging to the edge of the plunging boat)

We soon reached Cook Island, well-known for nesting seabirds and turtles 

Cook Island arrival

Cook Island arrival

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Holding our masks firmly to our faces we each obediently took a big step  outwards from the boat and sank swiftly below the water

snorkelers Cook Island

Ronda underwater
Ronda underwater

We soon saw what the dives here are famous for – a turtle (unfortunately the visibility wasn’t good enough for a better photo).

Turtle Cook Island
If you look closely you can see the shell, head, tail  and flippers of the turtle

We saw another later in the dive, also a wobbegong shark (a small harmless species, and regrettably I didn’t manage a recognisable photo), toadfish and lots of other fish and scattered bits of coral. Our English guest also saw a pike fish.

Unfortunately the water was too murky that day to see the colours of the coral
Unfortunately the water was too murky that day to see the colours of the coral

fish Cook Island

Then finally back to the boat:

Darren about to go under againDarren heading back to the boat

Maybe next time the water will be a little clearer and we’ll get some better photos, but apart from my seasickness (which worsened on the return trip – must remember those pills next time!) it was a nice introduction to diving at the island.

 

 

Outback tour from Longreach, Queensland August 2013: raptors, emus, other birds, red kangaroos …

The Central West Queensland section of the Lake Eyre Basin is a magnificent region of the outback that can be very rewarding for birders, and for those wishing to explore the ecological variety of this semi-arid temperate zone. Summer can be over-whelming, but in August the mean mid-day temperatures are around 26 degrees Celsius, and usually only one or two days have more than a few millimeters of rain, making very pleasant conditions for touring, and perhaps a great escape from southern winters

Black Falcon near Windorah
Black Falcon near Windorah

This birding tour, led by raptor-enthusiast Keith Fisher, will visit Lochern, Welford, and Diamantina Lakes National Parks harbouring that symbol of the outback the red kangaroo, biggest macropod in the world, in its natural habitat. Dams that provided water for cattle on Welford National Park when it was a grazing property have now been removed, ensuring that kangaroos in the park are surviving on natural water levels. Sweeping grasslands, often mixed with rocky sections, ensure that kangaroos easy to see. No less impressive are slightly shorter wallaroos, with their apt scientific name of ‘robustus’ - very stocky and powerful animals that often tolerate a close approach. Grey Kangaroos are also common.

Brolgas Gemma Deavin
Brolgas courting

The region is home to another Australian icon, the Coolibah tree of Waltzing Matilda fame. These trees send their roots deep under the channels that funnel down into Lake Eyre. Parts of this region are in fact often referred to as the ‘Channel Country’ – a network of watercourses that curve across the country. Channels can be very deep, making it possible to sit on the banks watching birds such whistling kites, white-necked herons and other birds hunting down below.

Some of Australia’s endemic raptors, not regularly seen on the coast, are reasonably common in this region. These include the second smallest booted eagle in the world, the ‘little’ eagle (not all that little), and also the spotted harrier and the so-called black-breasted buzzard (not really a buzzard). The brown falcon, a powerful and common bird, does particularly well in this area, and you will be in a zone of intergradation, where pale, dark, and rufous forms of this species intermix. Australia’s largest falcon, the black falcon, is found in this region, and there is always a possibility, though the chances are slim, of seeing one of the rarest birds in the world: the elusive but rewarding grey falcon.

Tracks in the sandhills
Tracks in the sandhills

Australia’s heaviest flying bird, the Australian bustard, lives here, as does Australia’s largest (and the world’s second largest) flightless bird, the emu. Huge flocks of budgerigars are sometimes present. Other flock species which may be seen in large numbers include woodswallows, and flock bronzewings. Along the watercourses, a variety of honeyeaters make their way through the trees, and in the grasslands and in fringing vegetation are finches and quail.

The tour will start 17th August in the outback town of Longreach (which can be reached by train or flight from Brisbane), cover a lot of ground with great variety of outback habitats, clear skies, wide open spaces inhabited by Aussie icons (kangaroos and emus) and of course plenty of birds not often seen even by most Australians.

 

Contact Ronda if interested 

Recent half-day tours to Tamborine Mountain

Cedar Creek Falls
Cedar Creek Falls

Recent half-day tours to Tamborine Mountain

Araucaria Ecotours has recently joined with Living Social and the Starlight Foundation (an Australia-wide organisation dedicated to helping seriously-ill children and their families) to offer discounted half-day tours from Brisbane to Tamborine Mountain (offer now closed). Read more on this in a Tamborine Daily Star article

The waterfalls have been pounding down very nicely after all the rain we’ve had recently. Mostly on this half-day tour we just visit Curtis Falls, but we took a little extra time on our most recent tour to also visit the Cedar Creek Falls, which we haven’t seen so often this year because the road was closed for a while due to flooding.

While there we were visited by a hopeful lace monitor (goanna) while having tea and biscuits under the gum-trees. We don’t feed the wildlife on our tours, but the goannas have learned that some picnickers still do, or at least leave a few scraps behind, so they lumber through the area in with their prehistoric-looking walking style, flicking their forked tongues to determine the direction of whatever scent they find most interesting

Goanna searching the picnic grounds
Goanna searching the picnic grounds

 

Goanna forked tongue
“Now where is that scent coming from?”

Another bit of wildlife action was a female golden orb-weaver spider catching a small dragonfly in her web, and vigorously wrapping it up for later.

 

Orbweaver and dragonfly
Golde orb-weaver preparing to wrap dragonfly

 

The Curtis Falls in the Joalah section of Tamborine Mountain National Park have been putting on a good show – they’re small but in a very pretty setting

Approaching Curtis Falls
Approaching Curtis Falls
Curtis Falls
Not quite as vigorous as last month but still good to see

A special feature of this tour is visiting the glow worm caves on Cedar Creek Estate, which were constructed to take the pressure of wild populations of glow worms

Into the glow worm cave
Into the glow worm cave

No photos are allowed of the actual glow worms in the cave because it causes them to turn off their lights and stop feeding, so the following photo is from a post card:

glow worms
glow worms glowing

And finally, everyone gets to taste half a dozen local wines, some from Cedar Creek Estate itself and some from elsewhere in southeast Queensland

Tasting local wines
Tasting local wines

 

Half-day tours are still running throughout winter, and full-day Tamborine Mountain tours throughout the year (including all the above plus the Skywalk through the rainforest canopy and a gourmet picnic lunch). We also visit the glow worms on our Wildlife and Forests Day-tour

New work on butterfly walk


Butterflies have been happily fluttering around our butterfly walk on the Araucaria property, Scenic Rim. Queensland, although none of them are captive. And although most people hope there plants don’t get eaten, we’ve been happy to see caterpillars munching away on the leaves.

We’ve added a few features recently:

  • colour-coding the butterfly families on our walk with coloured ropes along the tracks
  • planting additional caterpillar foodplants
  • planting extra plants for  attracting adult butterflies
  • planting low-growing herbaceous and shrubby plants with flowers to match the colour theme for the butterfly family
  • constructing a cement path in the shape of a caterpillar leading from the wildlife ecology centre  towards the start of the walk
  • construction a “pupa” to walk through after the caterpillar just before the butterfly walk begins
  • completing the life cycle by painting an egg on the step outside the centre before stepping onto the caterpillar tail

early sign to butterfly walk

butterfly walk sign

caterpillar path

butterfly walk pupa construction(just as well Darren wasn’t still on that ladder when it fell)
Butterfly walk - Pieridae
orchard butterfly caterpillar
orchard butterfly caterpillar

 

Blue Tiger butterfly
Blue Tiger butterfly