Just one more day at home. Tomorrow I head to Brisbane, and Tuesday will be on my way to South Africa!
The trip was originally to present some research findings on the germination and survival of native fig seeds spread by local birds to the International Frugivory Symposium in the Drakenburgs late next month. Now I’ll also be presenting a paper on wildlife tourism and biodiversity conservation to the Best EN Think Tank conference at the edge of Kruger National Park.
Of course I can’t get that close to Kruger without spending some time there, so will be traveling with the NP for almost 2 weeks before the first conference.
I’m also visiting an elephant sanctuary, one that apparently uses elephants rescued from potential unhappy lives, not calves taking for the purposes from their mothers. I’ve heard many calls for all places offering elephant rides to be closed down throughout the world because they are all cruel. I suspect not all are based on cruelty, and the place I’m visiting in Hazyview seems committed to animal welfare and conservation, so I want to see it for myself. I know firsthand that there are cruel methods and gentle methods of training horse, dogs and other animals, so suspect it is the same with elephant training.
The events of next week don’t seem quite real yet, and maybe won;t until I’m actually in Africa. Internet access will be limited, but I’ll try to record some of what happens along the way!
Dugongs and more at Tangalooma, Moreton Island, near Brisbane
I had a delightful surprise at a business breakfast meeting run by the Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC) a couple of months ago. I dropped my business card as usual into the bowl of cards while preparing to listen to a speech by our opposition tourism minister, and won the draw for an overnight trip for two to Tangalooma Resort, including return ferry journey, dolphin feeding, accommodation and buffet breakfast.
So two of us (Ronda and Denis) headed off in pre-dawn light to the wharf on Brisbane River, pleasantly surprised to find they had also allowed us free parking for two days.
So we were soon leaving Brisbane and heading for the one of the world’s largest sand islands
Near the resort is a grim reminder of the island’s whaling days – now the whales are appreciated more as magnificent, intelligent, playful animals than for their body parts. This harpoon was bent during such an animal’s struggles while its captors waited for it to slowly exhaust itself
Nearby a whistling kite fought his reflection in a resort window (they’re nesting nearby and don;t want rivals), and also rebuffed some crows that were protesting his presence
A white-faced heron sat nearby
A pied cormorant wandered down towards the bird feeding area
While waiting for our room to be prepared, we watched fish and seabirds being fed
Now the bit I’d really been waiting for! After lunch we headed off on the eco-cruise to seek dugongs and other marine life.
And sure enough, within 20 minutes we had found a dugong
They don’t leap out of the water like dolphins, just quietly feed on the sea-grass (they’re sometimes called ‘sea-cows’) and come every couple of minutes or so to the surface for a breath of air. Our guide told us they do some farming – pulling out the sea-grass species they don’t like so much, which facilitates the growth of their favoured species
I had previously patted an Amazonian manatee (one that had been confiscated as an illegal pet and being prepared for rehabilitation into the wild, near Manaus) and seen a captive dugong a tSeaWorld, but this was my first sighting of a wild dugong, so I was quite enthralled. He surfaced several times before we left I’m to seek other creatures
A cormorant dived for fish alongside our boat
The wrecks that were deliberately sunk as artificial reefs for fish and other marine life are popular with kayakers and divers
That evening we indulged in the activity Tangalooma is famous for – dolphin feeding
The feeding of the dolphins is carefully regulated, based on research on effects offending practices her and elsewhere
Lines of visitors are speed out so that the dolphins also spread out, not crowding together, competing for food and knocking each other over. Thy are not fed enough fish to satisfy ten, so have to keep up their skills at catching wild fish each day. Visitors are requested to hold the fish under water so dolphins don’t strain their muscles trying to reach up for them. Frozen fish are thawed in fresh water to avoid them being too salty. Young dolphins are not fed while still feeding from their mothers. Visitors are advised not to pat or otherwise touch them while giving them the fish, to avoid any stress.
The close contact with these wild creatures does have an emotional impact, and we hope that many of the people participating now have a more positive attitude towards them as a result
Next morning we enjoyed a hearty buffet breakfast (also included in our prize)
We spent the day relaxing, watching birds and finally watching another bird feeding session and dolphins feeding session before finally leaving. We would have loved to spend a few more days
Snorkelling at Agincourt Reef, Far North Queensland
What to do with a break from wildlife-iewing? Perhaps go wildlife-viewing!
I had a meeting of the Rainforest and Reef Research Centre to attend in Cairns, and since it was close to both Christmas and our wedding anniversary, this time Denis came with me and we spent a couple of days after the meeting in Port Douglas and one day out from there to the Great Barrier Reef.
Our first morning atPort Douglas was breakfast with the birds at Wildlife Habitat – more on this later
We also booked a full-day tour with Quicksilver which took us to three locations on Agincourt Reef (level with Cape Tribulation) on the Great Barrier Reef
Here are some photos with the digital camera we hired:
Birds of the Esplanade, Cairns, Tropical Queensland
It wasn’t a great start to my one free morning in Cairns earlier this month: The coral reef was out there with its swirling, colourful pageant of fish I wouldn’t have time to see. Tropical rainforest and the chance of wild cassowaries would also have to wait for another trip. I could still stroll along the esplanade, famous for its birds…
I could stroll along the esplanade, famous for its birds, but the sky was grey and rain was starting to fall. I decided to go anyway .
The first birds flying toewards me looked like seagulls until I noticed the black on their their heads. They were terns, and for several minutes swooped back and forth over the shallow sea, every now and then dipping into the water to catch small fish. Visibility wasn’t great, but I’m pretty sure they were gull-billed terns (see the strong, dark bill in the photo), which could help explain why i thought they were gulls at first. This species is more associated with inland waters but does visit coasts as well, and is found on every continent.
Indian mynahs (introduced long ago to Australia) and silver gulls were common enough on the sand and rocky platform, and I saw the occasional pair of masked lapwings, all of which are common in southern Queensland. Then I noticed a long down-curtved bill on a pale brown bird: my first whimbrel – not very common down south – for many years. In fact my last sighting had also been right here, from the Cairns Esplanade
I was not expecting to see kingfishers, but suddenly there were two sacred kingfishers, which I associate more with woodlands than coastal mudflats, flitting across the water and landing on rocks and stumps
Further out, a few common sandpipers were probing for invertebrates in the mud
A bit of a diversion from birds: I came across a wonderful (but obviously temporary) sand sculpture – I was later told it was done by Swiss visitors
Back to birds, a conpicuous flock of pelicans awaited. They had probably been feeding during the night (pelicans often do) as they didn’t seem interested in anything other than sleeping or preening.
My final two sightings for the morning were both young birds. The first thus had me confused for a moment, and I wondered if it was a reef heron before deciding it was a white-faced heron without much white on the face (because it was not fully adult). The other was a nankeen night heron, not yet as pretty as it will be when mature, but still a lovely bird
Definitely more satisfying than spending the morning in a hotel room or cafe (I did enjoy a nice hot chocolate afterwards)