Travelling – a bathroom with creature comforts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Once in a while I encounter people who are genuinely  happy to share their space with Nature’s not-so-popular creatures: the creepy-crawlies with bad reputations. It’s a joy to interact with these rare people.

I don’t need any encouragement to appreciate the creatures on the bottom of the popularity list. Bugs and small creatures that slither, wriggle, hop and crawl are welcome in my life (on my terms, mind you. I like to know the approximate whereabouts of these hairy-legged and slippery-skinned creatures so that I don’t unexpectedly encounter these potentially scary corner-dwellers at inopportune moments). Okay, I guess I enforce reasonably strict conditions in my own home, but outdoors is a different story altogether.

Whilst travelling and camping, I’m thrilled to be blessed with up-close and personal meetings with all animals with or without hairy legs. The campers’ bathroom here in the Atherton Tablelands in far north Queensland hosts many a creepy crawly, the most delightful being White-lipped Tree Frogs. They settle into corners to rest during the day. I’ve found four of these most attractive frogs lurking in cubicles, and as they were on the top of my ‘must see’ list, I’m a happy camper.

And then there’s Mrs Orb Spider hanging oh-so-resplendently in another corner. Every morning she repairs  her web, discards left-overs from last night’s meal to the floor (more fastidious at her house-keeping than some orb species), and dangles, legs outstretched, to digest her food.

A pair of Orange-footed Scrub Fowls scooted through our camp, strutted into the Ladies, scuttled around briefly, and strutted out again. And the Pale-yellow Robin perched next to the ‘Ladies’ sign before ducking inside to try its luck with bugs inside. It all happens around the amenities block, for those with a keen sense of observation.

A trip to the loo has never been so much fun. It’s a pity it’s not snake season.

White-lipped Tree Frog in campers bathroom

Orb spider campers bathroom

Travelling – The solitude of the beach

060 poster

There are other people on the beach – walking, playing, fishing – but the atmosphere of the wide open space of the beach allows me to ignore them without being impolite. Everyone  is doing their own thing so there is no unspoken expectation to engage with them. I like that. I like being able to find some solitude out in public.

I think it’s the gentle rhythmic rise and fall of the waves that I find so captivating. And the peace.

The protected beaches of north Queensland, with islands and reefs taming the ocean – like the swaying coconut palms overhanging the shore, the waves mimic the peaceful tropical pace. Roll in, disperse, roll out. Repeat. No thundering surf. Just toddler-sized waves, gently turning over shells and coral debris, spreading out onto the beach, soaking into the sand, with the remaining trickle of water returning to the sea. No push and shove. No unrelenting brashness. Just a slow hypnotic chorus. A calmness that permeates my depths.

I cross my legs, wriggle my backside into a comfortable depression in the sand, and let the beauty and tranquillity of nature nurture me. And I am grateful.

Blog beach 1

Channel-billed Cuckoos raised by Pied Currawongs

Channel-billed Cuckoo fledgling 3 being fed by Currawong Yungaburra 3Jan2017
Pied Currawong (left) feeding a juvenile Channel-billed Cuckoo

Observing the behaviour of Cuckoos, their young, and host birds is fascinating. Cuckoos parasitise nests of other birds, laying their eggs in nests of suitable birds, taking no part in incubation or parenting.

Channel-billed Cuckoos are Australia’s largest cuckoo, migrating to the north and east of Australia from New Guinea in spring to breed. They must lay their eggs in nests of large birds so that the  host parents are up to the job of feeding the young. Pied Currawongs, Australian Magpies, crows and ravens are usually the chosen hosts.

According to BirdLife Australia, Channel-billed Cuckoo hatchlings don’t evict the hosts’ young like all other cuckoos – they simply demand all the food, and their massive size ensures they get it (thus, the hosts’ biological chicks perish).

Channel-billed Cuckoo fledgling 1 preening Yungaburra 3Jan2017
Juv Channel-billed Cuckoo preening

While out with Birdwatchers of Hervey Bay at Arkarra Lagoons on 28th December 2016, we witnessed two Channel-billed Cuckoo fledglings being fed by a pair of Torresian Crows. This caused quite a bit of interest as the birdwatchers present (including me)  had not previously seen a nest of two surviving cuckoos.

During the next week while Grahame and I were on a birdwatching trip to far north Queensland, we witnessed the same observation, with the host parents being Pied Currawongs.

It was an amusing and unusual spectacle, so we relaxed on our camp chairs in a park watching this odd family with very stressed and overworked parents. I’m sure my toddlers weren’t this much trouble!

Channel-billed Cuckoo fledgling 2 being fed by Currawong Yungaburra 3Jan2017

Large-billed Gerygones nesting

Large-billed Gerygone 01 Rollingstone 15Jan2017 Nesting

We discovered Big Crystal Creek a day before we left our camp at Rollingstone, and wished we’d checked it out sooner. What a fabulous spot for watching birds.

While Grahame camouflaged himself as good as was possible considering the heat and humidity keeping an eye on a Noisy Pitta’s nest, I sat and watched a pair of Large-billed Gerygones building their nest – an untidy slender pendulum hanging low from the outer foliage of a medium-sized tree.

One gerygone (pronounced jer-igg-onn-y) worked on securing the top of the construction to the twig it was hanging from, while the other put finishing touches to the porch, and did some interior decorating. There was nowhere for me to hide, so I just sat back and enjoyed the activity. The birds were obviously working to a schedule, not bothering about the spectator. They worked frantically.

Large-billed Gerygone 02 Rollingstone 15Jan2017 Nesting

This was my first positive identification of the Large-billed Gerygone, so now I can add this interesting little bird to my list of identified species. Lovely.

Large-billed Gerygone 03 Rollingstone 15Jan2017 Nesting

 

Bush Stone-curlews breeding

My first encounter with Bush Stone-curlews was a rather unsettling one. Picture this: camped with our two young children in a floor-less tent in an unpowered camping reserve (no lights), and in the middle of the night I wake to a frightening sound akin to that of a wailing old woman. I shine a torch over the kids to check that they’re alive and well, then wriggle down into my sleeping bag hoping we all survive the night.

Daylight came, and I asked a fellow camper about the screaming in the night. “A Curlew”, he says. “A strange bird that sleeps by day and screeches by night.”

I consulted my bird guide: drawn out mournful wail or screech mainly at night. Mystery solved. And thankfully we were fortunate enough to get an up-close look at the culprit to put a face to the call.

Bush Stone-curlew 1 Yungaburra sitting on eggs 3Jan2017
Wet and bedraggled Bush Stone-curlew sitting on eggs

Since that meeting, I’ve always been rapt and amused to set eyes on the odd, gangly-legged Bush Stone-curlew performing what it believes to be a disappearing act – it’s bulbous unblinking eye all that betrays its existence as it blends into the surroundings.

A summer trip to Far North Queensland this year scored several Bush Stone-curlew breeding observations, and ‘captivating’ hardly seems descriptive enough.

We also discovered that these peculiar birds can aggressively ward off intruders with a raspy hiss and dramatic defensive posturing to rival a far bigger and scarier beast. So well-camouflaged are these birds as they sit on their eggs, that we didn’t see mother curlew as we strolled around Yungaburra until she reared up at us like a raging bull, startling the daylights out of us. I reckon she could probably see off a wayward dog or cat that got too nosy. I hope so.

Bush Stone-curlew 2 Yungaburra protecting eggs 3Jan2017
Defensive pose – eggs centre far left

Further into the Atherton Tablelands (at Mt Malloy), we happened upon a pair of curlews with a pair of chicks. What adorably peculiar babies, body prostrate on the ground with bill pointing out the front of the flattened fluff-ball body, and fat knobbly legs stuck out the back. Both parents wandered off innocently, bobbing up and down diverting attention away from the youngsters. We admired the chicks for a few moments, and then left the family to carry on.

Bush Stone-curlew 3 chick Mt Malloy 6Jan2017
Fluffy chick ‘hiding’

Bush Stone-curlew 4 chick and adult Mt Maloy 6Jan2017
Adult bird standing over chick both extremely well camouflaged

As always, I felt privileged to get a glimpse into the breeding habits of our native birds – albeit unwelcome from the birds’ point of view.