Animals of winter time at home in Southeast Queensland

The winter solstice has passed and days are getting longer, but early mornings and evenings are still chilly

We are hearing whistling tree frogs calling throughout the night in the pond nerar our house. Most other frogs are silent now, except the clicking froglets along the creek. We’re not seeing many frogs, but I did find a large green tree frog in a neighbour’s toilet last week.

Rose robins and golden whistlers are visiting our valley, which they usually do in winter when the forests of higher altitudes have less insects for them to find. We have also been seeing mixed species flocks – a mostly winter phenomenon, while the insectivorous birds are not yet defending breeding territories. Birds of different species with different styles of foraging, such as  shrike-thrushes, thornbills, silverfeyes, pardalotes,  ‘robins’ (Australian robins are not rteally robins) and fairy-wrens travel along togther, each hoping to catch insects  the others disturb. Grey fantails dance around in the air or sit restloessly on neighbouring branches, ready to catch any insect making a break for it on the wing.

Close to the house we  a family of brown quail and a family of red-backed fairy-wrens that have been regularly working their way through the vegetable garden, and the quail sometimes take the risky step of helping themselves to a bit of dog food when the owners of the bowls aren’t looking. Just beyond the vege garden a couople of mornings ago a red-necked wallaby was quietly cropping the freshly-mown grass – probably more nutritious than the grass of  their usual foraging areas on the higher slopes which have been affected by recent frosts.

This morning a small group of yellow-tailed black cockatoos flew overhead towards the sheoaks, calling to one another, sounding like branches rubbing toegther in the wind.  While the red-tailed and glossy black cockatoos eat the seeds of the sheoaks, I mostly see the yellow-tailed delving into the bark of the branches, apparently looking for grubs.

This is about the time of year the platypus usually settle on where they will be foraging throughout breeding season, so we’re starting to keep a mor watchful  eye on the three parts of our creek they have most often used for this. Last year we didn’t have any breeding, as they had all disappeared with the severe flooding of January 2008 (the first tie in almost three decades we haven;t had them here). They have however made a re-appearance just recently, so we hope things will soon be back to normal (though whether with our original individuals or different ones, we have no way of knowing).

First outback tour a success

kangaroos near Currawinya National Park
kangaroos near Currawinya National Park

I don’t feel like I’m in the outback until after St George (about 500 km west of Brisbane). That’s where red sand country begins, there are rangelands instead of farms and long stretches between towns. Our guests, both keen bird photgraphers, agreed it was worth the drive.

Stopping many times to let red kangaroos and emus cross the road, watching brolgas, major mitchell cockatoos and blue bonnet parrots, and soaking in warm mud that left our skins feeling wonderful left us with no doubt that we were having a true outback experience

Cockatoo coming to drink at water hole
Cockatoo coming to drink at water hole

Currawinya National Park was our main destination, famous as an internationally-important Ramsar-listed waterbird breeding site and as the place where captive-bred bilbies were released into an extensive (and secret) area surrounded by cat/fox/rabbit proof fencing. Uniofrtunately the large saltwater lake was almost dry, and although the freshwater lake was full, there had not been enough time for the small invertebrates to build up to a point where many waterbirds could make extensive use of it, so there were not as many of these as we had hoped. Still, the landbirds around some of the waterholes and the whole experience of being in wide expanses of semi-arid vegetation kept the excitement levels high, and it was a delight to see wild brolgas up close..

The banks of the Paroo River in the national park provided a great place for bird-watching
The banks of the Paroo River in the national park provided a great place for bird-watching

We used a mixture of a high-quality motel, a cattle station and a small outback pub for accommodation, and next time may also camp within the national park near a spot where we saw many birds in the trees near the Paroo River. Meals ranged from picnics to outback pub fare (surprisingly good) to an award-winning restaurant (a bit of luxury for our first and last evenings in the Riverland Motel at St George).

We rose at or before dawn most mornings to maximize our viewing of birdlife, relaxing in the warmer part of the day as most animals very sensibly do (do you recall the song ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’?), ready for dusk when wildlife again became active.

A new experience for all of us was the mudbath at the Eulo Date Farm. I tried it myself mainly for the novelty, but was so impressed I’ve decided to treat myself to one each time we pass through Eulo (the last town before reaching Currawinya). For $60.00 (not currently included in the tour price) you relax for half an hour in warm mud that is packed with nutrients that have accumulated for mellenia, while enjoying a plate of dried fruit and nuts and cold water and a choice of tea, coffe or wine as the nutrients soak into your skin. This mud is then washed off, you dry yourself and apply a cleansing mud all over your body, let it thoroughly dry and wash that off as well, before rubbing in a moisturiser. I can’t remember my skin feeling so good, and the effect lasted not for hours but for days.

Another new experience for me was a detour we made to the town of Thargomindah, the third town in the wolrd (after London and Paris) to have electric street lights using hydro-electric power. The electricity was generated from high-pressure hot water from an artesian bore, and there are demonstrations each afternoon (which this time we arrived at the worng time for), lighting up one of the original lamps. The bridge into the town was flooded due to heavy rain to the north, just enough for us to splash the red dust from Currawinya off our vehicle as we drove through.

Our next outback tour will be in late May which, if there is sufficient interest, could be extended for two or three days to include the Channel country to the west, where there is currently a profusion of birdlife due to the flooding of waterways. In September we are planning to etend the tour for a couple of days to enjoy the celebrations of National Bilby Day at Charleville. The final outback tour for the year will probably be in the first week of October, and should be great for reptile activity as well as nesting land-birds.

First Australian Outback Tour

Towards Currawynia National Park, Outback Australia
Towards Currawynia National Park, Outback Australia

Red sands, red kangaroos and lots of birds and lizards! We’re gearing up to head way out west for our first-ever outback tour, which will run 18-23 April this year.

Our main destination is Currawinya National Park. We’ll be traveling through many vegetationchanges and looking for red kangaroos, eastern grey kangaroos, western grey kangaroos, wallaroos, emus, Bourke’s parrots, Major Mitchell cockatoos, sand goannas. shingleback lizards andother outback fauna

The diverse and prolific birdlife of Numalla (a large freshwtare lake) and Wyara (a large saline lake) within the National Park, and their importance as breeding grounds, led to their international listing as a Ramsar Wetland site, and we’ll be not only visiting these from within the Park but spending two nights at an outback station near its boundary with views to one of the lakes.

Bilbies, those odd aardvark-looking cousins of bandicoots whose range has severely declined since white settlement, have been released into a 29-square-km area of the National Park protected by a fox-proof, cat-proof fence, and are breeding well. We probably won’t be able to see these delightful creatures, but it’s good to know they;re doing so well.

We won’t be neglecting comfort or compromising on safety, but guests shouldn’t expect a luxury coach or five-star hotels – this is an off-the-beaten track tour away from the usual facilities. We’ll be rsing early so we can be active at dawn, and also exploring at dusk and early evening, having a siesta in the hot part of the day (just as the animals very sensibly do), with meal times being worked in around this. The first and last day of the tour will entail a lot of travel in a 4WD vehicle, but this is a very authentic (and flexible) way of traveling through the real Aussie outback. We’ll be meeting genuine Aussie outack characters, seeing an amazing expanse of brilliant stars, and of course seeing plenty of birds and other wildlife

There are still a few vacancies on this tour.

Raising orphaned fruitbats

I’ve recently joined BatCare Brisbane, and just before Christmas was contacted by the president Louise Saunders who told us there were two 5-week-old black flying fox orphans in need of care. They are now almost seven weeks, and have been hanging from a clothes airer next to our Christmas tree most of the day, having bottles four times a day and bits of steamed apple and other soft fruits (no stone fruit – we don’t want them to learn smells that will attract them to orchards later on) and being tucked up in towels in a cosy wooden cage at night. They will soon graduate to the aviary where they can practise flying and stay awake at night, which is better for their species than for our own (and our house is not really designed for clumsy winged babies flying into objects at all heights).

Theaschen gets some climbing practice
Darren gives Theaschen some climbing practice: note the long thumb and long toes
Tica practices flapping
Tica practices flapping

To become a bat carer, you must nowadays be vaccinated against rabies in case you have the misfortune of being bitten or scratched by a bat with lyssa virus – a rare event despite the paranoia in some quarters. To date there have only been two deaths in Australia, but it’s best to be safe. Anyone taking a risk is risking the bat’s life as well, because when someone is bitten the bat is destroyed so that it’s brain tissue can be tested. Darren, Denis and I all had our rabies shots before going to Brazil some years ago, and our recent tests show we still have protection.

Theaschen and Tica will head to a creche at the end of January to remind them they are bats, not humans, and by the time they are released into the wild will have had plenty of practice at flying, tearing apart pieces of large fruit, and socializing with their own speices

Grant for protecting rainforest restoration on the Araucaria property

Last year we received a grant from the former Beaudesert Shire Council (now part of the Scenic Rim Regional Council) to erect a long electric fence on our property to separate the rainforest regeneration area from the horse-grazing area. Hoofed animals and habitat restoration don’t generally go well together in Australia, and horses (like cows and sheep) eat some plants, trample others, cause erosion on steep slopes and bring in the seeds of weeds.
Our regeneration project will help to protect the edge of the rainfrest of Mt Chinghee National Park and improve the corridor for animals from there to our forest remnant by the creek, as there are only a few parts of the national park which extend down to the water’s edge.

We have isolated 20 plots which we have cleared of weeds alternating with 20 from which we haven’t, and will be noting how soon each starts harbouring new rainforest plant species. We did some baseline bird and butterfly surveys and mammal trapping in early 2008, and this will continue over the next few years or decades to monitor changes in biodiversity and density of populations as the regeneration proceeds. If the movement of pollinators and seed dispersers is enhanced, this should also help to speed the return of our slopes to something approaching their original diversity. Additional habitat for the black-breasted button-quail and other relatively uncommon or threatened species on the property should benefit also.

The grant money helped us to buy the materials and to employ Jason Taylor of Beaudesert to help clear weeds from the experimental plots and from the line through which the fence was to run, and assist with the erection of the fence itself. The electricity is supplied by a photovoltaic cell, so the whole setup is environmentally sustainable, and our only maintenance is the checking of the battery box and clearing any vegetation that threatens to short-circuit the system.

working on the fence to protect our rainforest regeneration
Jason and Darren working on the fence to protect our rainforest regeneration

Python on roof

After a three-day tour followed by a full-day wildlife workshop and then the opening of our WIldlife Information Centre at the end of September, I felt the need to sleep in just a little. Soon after dawn however the Lewin’s honeyeaters started making a commotion just outside the house, and Denis (husband) was over the other side of the courtyard preparing a cuppa, so I stumbled out in dressing gown to find out what was happening. Nothing was visible in the tree apart from the agitated birds, who seemed to be scolding something on the roof. The ladder was still in place from gutter-cleaning, so I climbed it to find myself face-to-face with a large carpet python with several fat ticks on his face. We had seen him a few days before, and I had rung the 1300 ANIMAL number to find out whether ticks could be harmful to a snake, but no one on duty at the time knew, and the number they gave me led only to an answering service. I hope it was the right number – queries from a stranger about ticks on snake faces might seem a bit odd to some – but in any case I never received a return call. So here I was with the snake’s face next to mine, which seemed a good opportunity, and decided he would probably be better off without the ticks anyway, so threw my dressing gown over his head and climbed up next to him. So by the time my cuppa was ready I was sitting on the roof pulling tcks from a python instead of the comfy sleep-in I had planned, but I did make up for it later.

Carpet python being carried by Ronda from chicken coop
Carpet python being escorted from the chicken coop to the creekbed

The snake may have been the same individual I had to remove from our chicken coop a couple of years ago (pictured here)

He hasn’t sun-baked on our roof again – perhaps being bundled into a dressing gown didn’t appeal to him – and is now mostly seen hanging around one of our storage sheds, hopefully helping to control any rats that might turn up.

Wildlife Expo a success

The Wildlife Expo in Beaudesert, Southeast Queensland, organized by Araucaria proprietor Ronda Green through Wildlife Tourism Australia and the Logan and Albert Conservation Association, was a great success. The event was funded by the former Beaudesert Shire Council with additional sponsors being Araucaria Ecotours and the Beaudesert Lions Club, with prizes donated by Andrew Isles Book Store (the most comprehensive colleciotn of wildlife books in Australia), Andy Remainis (wildlife artist), Binna Burra (a wonderful ecolodge at the edge of the Lamngton National Park), Lilldale Host Farm (an award-winning farmstay at Mt Barney) and Araucaria Ecotours.
Visitors got to meet bettongs, potoroos, koalas, sugar gliders, antechinuses, fruitbats, pythons, turtles, frogs and many other creatures. The wildlife photogtraphy competition show-cased some of our wonderful local wildlife to other visitors and was judged by Australia’s best-known wildlife photographer Steve Parish, the winner Jenny Davis receiving two nights’ accommodation for two at Lillydale and others (Patricia Belcher, Lesley Smetherington and Heike Mack-Behle) receiving lovely books from Andrew Isles. School students showed talent and dedicated work in preparing posters, and children on both the ‘schools’ day and the ‘general public’ day participated in a wildlife puzzles trail which included everything from deductive logic and anagrams to questioning stall holders about wildlife behaviour and conservation and making birds’ nests (thus learning some respect for the skills bird have to learn).
Wildlife Warriors from Australia Zoo, WIldlife Tourism Australia, Logan and Albert Conservation Association, Environmental Proection Agency, Bat Care Brisbane, Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, RSPCA, Focus on Frogs, Geckos Wildlife, Brian the Reptile Man, Trixie the Crow Lady and others, Eco Art, Wildlife Art Australia, Lamington NAtural History Association and others held stalls and spent most of the day chatting about wildlife with visitors from the local area or from regions as far as Brisbane and Byron.
An Indigenous local, Eric Currie, gave a Welcome to Country, and deputy mayor Dave Coburn (who also organized the oan of and helped erect two large tents) gave a welcoming speech and expressed a hope that this would become an annual event. Wildlife behaviour, wildlife conservation, frogs, crows, koalas, care of injured and orphaned wildlife and other themes were presented in the meeting room throughout both days, and there were outdoor displays of wildlfie art in progress, children’s craft, and demsontrations of live wildlife.
A series of wildlife workshops throughout the year had led up to this event. The organizer of these, Ronda Green of Araucaria (as for the Wildlife Expo, working through WTA and LACA, funded by the Beuadesert Shire Council) was sorry to not be in a position to donate the same amount of time for organizing a similar series next year, and was delighted that a Kooralbyn resident, Pamela Elliott, who ran a stall for two days at the Wildlife Expo, is now organizing wildlife workshops each month for the coming year, mostly focussing on care of injured and orphaned animals. She made a very successful start with a meeting on snakes last month.

We are currently discussing plans for a WIldlife Expo to be held either in winter (July/August) or October in 2009, and would be very happy to hear from anyone interested in participating.

Wildlife Information Centre

The Wildlife Information Centre on the Araucaria Ecotours property had its official opening at the end of September 2008. Those who attended enjoyed sangria or fruit juice and a guided tour of the Centre, the nature trails and the creek, and watched a short video on local wildlife with images and music by Darren Green. Ths Centre takes you through 500million years of Australia’s history, current Australian habitats, local fauna and flora, and the behaviour and ecology of wildlife using local examples. There is a children’s corner, an interactive computer and a screen for videos and other presentations. From the Centre lead various nature trails such as the Butterfly Walk

464mm rain leads to worst flood in Beaudesert in 60 years

We needed the rain. But perhaps not so much all at once.

Darren and Ronda had been manning the visitor information centre at Binna Burra (Lamington National Park) in early January, and knew from a phone call from Denis that they wouldn’t be able to get home to Running Creek that night, as one of the local bridges was flooded.

Driving through pelting rain, they considered turning back but continued on instead to Brisbane. Rain frtom Lamington National Park drains into the valleys, including Running Creek. Next morning they couldn’t contact Denis or any of their neighbours by phone, so rang the phone company (Telstra) and were told yes, the line was down but it would be repaired withint 48 hours.

Ronda asked how their chaps were going to manage that if the line was under water, and was surprised to be told there was no report of flooding in that area (the phone was in fact unable to be connected for another 11 days, because of the flood damage).

She rang the State Emergency Service and was told yes there was severe flooding, they would not be able to get home but could reach Beaudesert (halfway point) if they left Brisbane immediately, before the flood waters hit the Logan River at Jimboomba.

They reached Beaudesert and continued south for about 10 km to where the road was already flooded and impassable, and what had been paddocks to each side were now vast lakes, with water lapping around the edges of houses on what had been hillsides overlooking the creeks. Dogs and children seemed to be enjoying this.

Worried about Denis (who they knew was now cut off from telephone communications and access to neighbours except over a very steep lantana-covered hillside, and who could be in danger if anytihing prevented him from reaching his asthma medications) they arranged with the emergency folk to send a helicopter the following morning, and spent the night with their friends the Taylors in Beaudesert.

Next day the emergency crew landed ther helicopter near the Araucaria property and found Denis was fine, but also reported that five of the bridges along the road had been destroyed. As soon as the waters subsided sufficiently later that day, Ronda and Darren drove as far as they could, alarmed to see that over 95% of the trees aloing the creekbed had been felled by the flood waters.

After leaving the car at a neighbours and crossing over a log onto the last bridge remaining almost intact, hearing that the next bridge was gone they started the long steep climb towards their property boundary, only to have a lightning storm begin just as they reached the exposed hilltop.

Fifteen seconds between ligthning and thunder, then 7, then 2! They quickly ducked under the fence and lay under the lantana bushes, hoping the plastic trashbags surrounding the laptops in their backpacks were tough enough to keep out the pounding rain. After a steep, slippery, sloshy, lantana-prickly trek down the first hill and an easier walk through grassy eucalypt country down the next, finally all were re-united.

We were told after a similar flood about 20 years ago that it was the worst for about 40 years, and this was worse, so it must be the worst for at least 60. Two bridges across the creek adjoining our property were totally demolished, and three others damaged along the road.

Temporary bridges have been established and work is soon to begin on new bridges that will be better able to withstand any future torrents. A sea wall has been built between our two bridges to prevemt half the road from being washed away again. We hope the telephone lines will at some stage be diverted so that they are less vulnerable.

Tours started again a couple of weeks later. We thought we would have to change the routes of tours to visit only unflooded areas, but this proved unnecessary, as councils on both sides of the border were quick to repair damage to roads to let vehicles through, although along Running Creek Road access was restricted for about a month to local residents and helpers (and our tour guests).

From the Beaudesert Times:

Shire submerged as rivers reclaim region.

Beaudesert Shire has been declared a natural disaster area after widespread flodding cut roads, ruined businesses, washed out bridges and left residents stranded … O’Reillys in Lamington National Park recording 464mm of rain

[the same paper also reported the helicopter visiting Denis, cars being stuck in floods, the O’reilly’s vineyard being destroyed, the township of Rathdowney being cut off by floodwaters on all sides, and many other stories]