June 19, 2014

We’ve Sprung Into Winter Here At Kingfisher Bay

FRASER ISLAND: June 1st marked the first day of winter in our sub-tropical backyard, which means we’re in for long, sunny, blue-sky days (average temperatures sit around 22˚ during the day time) and cooler nights and mornings.

As we mentioned in last month’s blog, we’ve already started to see the first of our winter holidaymakers – the Hervey Bay Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) on their annual migration. If you’re driving or on tour on the eastern beach, keep an eye out for their water spouts and breaching!   We’re still two months away from the official start of the Whale Watch season – with cruises leaving daily from Kingfisher Bay Resort on the lee side of Fraser Island.

Fraser's resident raptor finds love in the air!
Already, a few Winter Whiting (Sillago maculate) have been reported in the Great Sandy Strait and, along with the Summer Whiting (Sillago ciliate coming off the flats), they’re feasting on live bloodworms as bait. Threadfin Salmon (Blue Threadfin – Eleutheronema tetradactylum and King Threadfin Polydactylus macrochir) have also been active feeding in the drains and the ledges along Fraser Island have been worth a look for those fisher folk looking for Jewies,

This month, we have also seen some developments in the love life of our western beach resident Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus - see above), who seems to have found a mate on the western beach. On one of our recent guided walks, we spotted these love birds swooping down on a Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax varius), forcing it below the water surface.

We are happy to report that the Cormorant made a daring escape, swimming about 30 metres underwater! Pied Cormorants (Phalacrocorax varius) are large coastal birds and, in all probability, way too large a prey item for raptors like Whistling Kites, so it’s likely that they were trying to force the waterbird to regurgitate its’ fish catch (which is a method they sometimes use to get an easy dinner).

A Whistling Kite nest and chick. Photo: Birdway.com.au

DID YOU KNOW that Whistling Kites are found all over mainland Australia as well as New Guinea, The Solomons and New Caledonia?  

It’s easy to confuse other kites and other raptor species, like the Little Eagle (Hieraaetus morphniodies) - you need to look to their silhouette and body shape to tell the difference.

Over the past month we have had some much needed rainfall on Fraser Island (after the lowest summer rainfall on record), which bodes well for the arrival of kite chicks (see above left).  Whistling Kites like to breed after periods of rainfall, so keep your eye out for a nest (a large platform made of sticks, generally found in the fork of a tall tree) and the arrival of eggs!

Not magical, just fluoro!  Photo: Peter Meyer
Out on Fraser Island’s sand tracks, we’ve seen, the first bioluminescent mushrooms, Omphalotus nidiformis, (commonly known as Ghost Fungus - see right) bloom at the Valley of the Giants – an out-of-the-way spot known to walks on the Fraser Island Great Walk - where giant Tallowwood (Eucalyptus microcorys) rub trunks with enormous Fraser Island Satinays (Syncarpia hillii).

Ghost Fungus can be seen throughout the month of June, creating an eerie green glow in the rainforests by night. This glow in the dark mushroom brings fungus enthusiasts from all around the world to Fraser Island to witness the phenomenon first hand!

Long-nosed Bandicoot on the hunt for food.  
With the start of winter thousands of native truffles have also begun to form underground. This is causing great excitement for our resident mushroom enthusiasts - the northern-Brown Bandicoot (Isoodon macrourus) and the Long-nosed Bandicoot (Perameles nasuta - see left).

It you look closely at the sand in and around the resort, you will see small pot holes - most commonly around the base of vegetation - where the bandicoots use their long noses to dig down and find their favourite treats.

RANGER FACT: Each truffle species has a distinctive, pungent smell (examples include peanut butter and bubble-gum), which helps the bandicoots to discover their whereabouts.  This feeding cycle also helps with the dispersal of the fungi’s spores.
Cane Toad hatchlings.  Photo: herpindiego.com
A sad development this month has been the appearance of hundreds of Cane Toad (Rhinella marina - formerly Bufo marinus) hatchlings in our Wallum Health land, and most likely throughout all of Fraser Island’s freshwater ecosystems.

Cane Toads reached Fraser Island several decades ago and have caused population declines in some of the island’s native species, including the regional extinction of Quolls (genus Dasyurus). 

So what can we do about it?

Extensive research is currently being done to find a biological solution for controlling the Cane Toad. Hopefully these will be more effective than the cane toad itself, which was initially introduced to Australia as a means of controlling the Cane Beetle (Dermolepida albohirtum)!

That’s nature folks… and on that note, I’ll say goodbye and catch you next month.
Cheers, Ranger Rach.

May 21, 2014

May: We're Farewelling Our Frequent Flyers And Targeting The Tailor

One of the things we love most about living and working on Fraser Island is that we never know what we’re going to spot as when go about our daily duties and, yes, we all still get excited when unexpected things pop up.  At this time of the year, we say goodbye to our Eastern Curlews (Numenius madagascariensis) and other shorebirds... and hello to the semi-nomadic and autumn/winter migrant species who, as part of their migratory pattern, use the island as a home base during the cooler months.

Australasian Fig Birds. Photo: rwsboa2011.blogspot.com
More than 354 different species of bird have been recorded on Fraser Island including the rarely seen Eastern Ground Parrot (Pezoporus wallicus) and the Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua - whose breeding season is about to start on island).

Ranger Luke was also super excited to spot an Australasian Figbird (Sphecotheres vieilloti - pictured) in the resort grounds recently.

DID YOU KNOW May 10 was World Migratory Bird Day?  Each year more than 5 million shorebirds migrate from Australia to breed in the Arctic?  That’s a 30,000km return journey! That a lot of frequent flyer miles.

In early May, we also welcomed competitors from the Australian Fishing Championships who were on island (and in Hervey Bay) to film recreational fishing segments for their show, which is expected to screen later this year to audiences of more than 330M people around the world.

Richard S gets up close and personal with SPIKE
Grey skies meant we postponed filming on the Great Sandy Strait by a day and headed to the eastern side to throw a line in.  Enroute to our secret fishing hole, Hobie Fishing World Champion, Richard Somerton, from Team Hobie, was lucky enough to spot one of the island’s resident echidnas on the eastern beach. Short-beaked Echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus - pictured right) are rarely spotted on island, but this friendly fella was happy enough to pose for pics and became a social media sensation on our Instagram and Facebook pages.

RANGER FACT: The Short-beaked Echidna has few natural enemies, but may be killed by cars, dogs, foxes and occasionally goannas may take the young.
The first Humpback of the season is spotted from Fraser!

On the western side of the island, teenage dingoes (Canis dingocheck out last month’s blog as the Aussie dingo was given its own species status) have been spotted exploring the intertidal zone.  Breeding takes place between April and June and, as we head towards winter, females will give birth – after a relatively short gestation period - and we start to see pups spring up around the island.

At the moment, resort guests landing Mackerel (a common name applied to a number of different species of pelagic fish, mostly, but not exclusively, from the family Scombridae) and Tailor (pomatomus saltatrix - winter marks the start of the tailor run on the eastern beaches) ) from Kingfisher Bay’s jetty or those that choose to head across island for a great sandy adventure are spotting our migrating Humpback Whale holidaymakers (Megaptera novaeangliae) on their annual migration north to the warmer breeding areas in the Whitsundays.

The first of the Humpbacks were spotted a week ago off Bondi at the beginning of May – which is early – but it was an absolute surprise to see them in the Great Sandy Strait as we headed out on our guided canoe paddles to Dundonga Creek earlier this week.  You can follow all the Humpback action during the season on our dedicated Facebook page or website.

Glider antics in the night sky. Photo: hoothollow.com
As dusk falls on Fraser Island, our resident Sugar Gliders (Petaurus breviceps) - the most common of all the glider species in Australia - come out to play and they've been anything but shy in the night sky.  Be sure to listen for the distinctive YIP YIP YIP cry - on our guided night walks (or, for our villa/hotel guests, from your balconies).

But not all of Fraser Island’s animals are nocturnal and a very friendly Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) has been wowing arriving and departing guests from his hangout near our boat ramp.

As you can see, it’s been a big month of wildlife spotting on island and here's another fabulous spot!  Online travel website, The Escape Lounge, has listed Kingfisher Bay and our fabulous Junior Eco Ranger program, in their Top 5 Fabulous Family getaways blog…  and we’re chuffed. Call us biased, but if you haven’t had a chance to enrol your children in the program when you’re visiting Kingfisher Bay, make sure you do – it’s the best classroom in the world!

Catch you next time, Tree Huggers.

April 25, 2014

Dolphins, Dingoes And A House Call For A Sick Pandanus Tree

As early April rolled into Easter, it’s been all hands on deck at the resort as we’ve welcomed guests from all over the globe to our sandy shores for a spot of R&R.  April signals the start of winter Myrtaceae wildflower season for us on Fraser and we’ve noticed our gorgeous Swamp Mahogany (Eucalpytus robusta), Blue Gums (Eucalyptus globulus) and Paperbark (Melaleuca quinquenervia) start to bloom over the last few weeks.

As one would expect, our Honeyeaters and autumn birds are taking full advantage of the veritable feast on offer.  Eagle-eyed bird watchers are most likely to see the easily recognisable male Scarlet Honeyeaters (Myzomela sanguinolenta) and the inquisitive Eastern Yellow Robins (Eopsaltria australis) – as the name suggests, look for yellow underparts - darting through the resort grounds.

That's what we call a ferry ride AND a show!
We’ve had a few grey days on island, but with more than 80% of the state now drought-declared and off the back of one of the driest summers the Fraser Coast has seen in decades; we certainly have welcomed the rainfall.

This month, guests on our ferry service from Hervey Bay were treated to some fun displays as pods of inquisitive Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis) put on acrobatic displays in the Great Sandy Strait.  Photographer, Mark Pryor, was quick enough to capture the action – which was a highlight on his first every trip to Fraser Island and brightened up one of those aforementioned grey days.  Even the fisherfolk and resort guests enjoying a tipple at the Jetty Hut, have seen these animals feeding and playing near the end of the resort’s jetty.

Now, from dancing dolphins to Pandanus Planthoppers... 

Ranger Gordon inoculates our sick tree
We all know that if you have a sick pet, you call a vet… but what do you do when you’ve got a sick tree?  Well, this month Queensland Parks made an unexpected house call to the resort to help us inoculate our Pandanus trees against the dreaded Pandanus Planthopper (Jamella australiae) insect.

DID YOU KNOW: Pandanus trees have cultural significance to the Aboriginal people? They are virtually a one-stop-shop for shade, medicine, tools and food - their nutlike fruit tastes a bit like peanuts when it ripens to a deep orangey colour.

The Pandanus (Pandanus spp), or Screw Pine as it is sometimes called, is native to the east coast of Australia, in fact, there are 17 species in Queensland alone.  Planthopper insects, however, are endemic to Tropical North Queensland. Up in the tropics, these insect populations are kept in check by a native parasitic wasp (Aphanomerus sp.) that lays its eggs in the Planthopper egg rafts (see below). As the wasp larvae hatch, they eat the Planthoppers and the natural balance is restored.

Planthopper eggs on a Pandanus tree
In other parts of Australia – like Fraser Island - we don’t have the TNQ wasp species and these small 8mm insects can cause significant damage to our beautiful trees.  This primarily occurs when they feed on the tree’s sap and then secrete a sticky substance which in turns promotes mould growth and a generally weakening of the tree.

Rangers Gordon and Jenna have treated Pandanus throughout the Great Sandy National Park and arrived at Kingfisher to help our gardeners inoculate our trees.  Generally, there are three main control methods – chemical, physical and biological – and so the team stripped the trees of the affected/dead leaves (physical) before injecting an insecticide in the outer trees (chemical) – which forms a barrier.  Inoculation, however, is not seen by the scientific community as a long term solution, so the QPWS team are trailblazing for the region by developing a management plan and by looking to securing funding for an effective biological solution – introducing a wasp breeding program to control the Planthopper population.

Will our temperate climes be warm enough to sustain this breeding program? Watch this space!

Canoe-eye-view. Thanks to Vanessa and Matt for the share
And to round out a busy month, we end on the news that the Dingo (Canis dingo) has been given its own species status, recognising that it is not descended from dogs or wolves as once thought. Australian Geographic, in a recently published article, wrote: “Canis dingo was the scientific name originally proposed; however, as scientists struggled to establish exactly how the Dingo came to inhabit Australia, or determine its genetic lineage, other names such as Canis lupus dingo (indicating a connection to the wolf - lupus) and Canis familiaris dingo (implying domestication) were used.”

A Fraser Island Dingo, by any name, is still a magnificent creature, so you can imagine our delight when we came across one of these magnificent creatures whilst on a Ranger-guided canoe paddle to Dundonga Creek recently.  We’re not sure who was watching whom, but it was a great, iconic island experience that absolutely blew us away – as the photos show.

Stay tuned tree huggers, who knows what’s in store next month!

April 10, 2014

Here On Fraser, We're Marching Towards Autumn

Showers of rain were a welcome sight for the Fraser Coast this month after one of the driest summers in several decades here on Fraser Island. The good news is that the tracks have firmed up; some Fraser Island Great Walks have reopened; both Qld Parks and our team have been out grading the sand in preparation for the Easter holidays; and the sun is back out for visitors headed our way.

March signals the end of the turtle breeding season, but we’re still hearing reports of hatchlings at Sandy Cape and along 75-Mile Beach near the wreck of the Maheno.  The island really comes alive at this time of the year as autumn birds including Grey Fantails (Rhipidura fuliginosa) and Caspian Terns (Sterna caspia) return to our shores, blue Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa spp) are the epitome of 'busy bees' as they start burrowing in preparation for winter; Stingrays have been spotted in the clear waters off our jetty during our Ranger-guided night time walks and the skies in and around our mirror lakes in the resort grounds are awash with Dragonflies and Damselflies.

An Australian Tiger Dragonfly on Fraser
Dragonflies and Damselflies both belong to the order Odonata and all odonates share certain characteristics, including membranous wings, large eyes and small antennae,  There are also clear differences between the two groups, but you might need a magnifying glass to spot them!

Dragonflies are usually stocky and have eyes that touch or nearly touch at the top of their heads; whilst their long and slender Damselfly counterparts have eyes that are clearly separated on the side of their head.  Wing shape is also a dead giveaway - Dragonflies tend to have dissimilar wing pairs and their hind wings are broader at the base; Damselflies have wings that are similar in shape.

Fraser Island is a hotspot for both Dragonflies and Damselflies, with Australian Emeralds (Hemicordulia australiae), Fiery Skimmers (Orthetrum villosovittatum), Arrowhead Rockmasters (Diphlebia nymphoides) and Dune Ringtails (Austrolestes minjerriba) all showing regularly in the Wallum heath and across the island.

April heralds the start of the Dingo (Canis lupis dingo) mating season on Fraser Island, which takes place between April and June each year (and coincides with the Easter school holidays this year).  Litters of between 2 and 6 pups are born between July and September after a fairly short gestation period.  We’re currently hearing dingoes howling in and around the Z-Force Commando Site – which is totally the type of territorial and dominant behaviour we expect at this time of year.

Dingoes are territorial during mating season
DID YOU KNOW: As part of their public Dingo Safety Initiative, Queensland Parks and Wildlife have placed new dingo signs along island tracks and at barge departure points as a reminder to tourists not to be complacent around wild animals. 

The signs have simple rhymes -‘On Fraser never forget, a dingo is not a pet’ – which are designed to stick in visitors’ memories.

To the water, with just under four months to go until the start of the 2014 Whale Watch season – and the arrival of possibly our most watched residents - we’re pleased to report that a two-decade long research study has confirmed that Hervey Bay in south-east Queensland is the world's most important habitat for endangered Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae).

The study, published in February by Southern Cross University researcher Trish Franklin, is the first comprehensive look at how important Hervey Bay is for the survival of the species.  The research shows 95 per cent of whales return on a yearly basis – to the calm waters off Fraser Island - because the bay provides a safe haven for mature females and their calves.  Here on Fraser, the Humpback Whale Watch season runs from 1 August til the end of October with some of the most prolific calm-water whale spotting in Australia.

Humpback Whales are the most surface active
Invariably during the season inquisitive Humpbacks, referred to as ‘friendlies’, will approach whale-watching boats very closely, often staying under or near the boat for many minutes.  Half-day trips depart daily from Kingfisher Bay Resort from 0745 during the season (Aug 1 - 31 Oct) and accommodated packages are available.

It’s been a busy March – scientists even discovered a new species of spider on Fraser Island called the Reinhard’s Leichardt Spider, which was one of 221 new species across Australia - and there’s more wildlife action to look forward to in the coming months, tree huggers.

In closing, we’d like to give a big sound-out to our hard-working resort ranger team and leave you with the news that Australian Traveller magazine has named our popular Junior Eco Rangers program in their top 100 things to do with the kids in summer - but we reckon it's pretty awesome all year round.  What a way to end a great month!

February 20, 2014

Fraser’s Fabulous Fauna Flock In For A February Feast

February has offered up a moveable feast for Fraser Island’s animals along with some spectacular weather and fantastic wildlife spotting in and around the resort grounds.  The island’s native Midyim shrubs (Austromyrtus dulcis) love the sunny aspect near the resort’s tennis courts and are fruiting at the moment and our gorgeous Mistletoe birds (Dicaeum hirundinaceum) are in constant competition with Ranger Luke for the juiciest berries.

Shepherd's Crook Orchid (Source: wildwings.com.au)
Squirrel Gliders (Petaurus norfolcensis) have been seen feasting on wattle blossom and sap near the hotel and Australian Spotted Mackerel (Scomberomorus munroi),  Broad-barred King Mackerel (Scomberomorus semifasciatus) and young Golden Trevally (Gnathanodon speciosus) have been hanging out under Kingfisher Bay Resort's jetty.

In the resort grounds, Shepherd's Crook Orchids (Geodorum densiflorum - see left) are “going nuts at the moment” and are displaying flowers along long curving peduncles.  This species - which is listed as vulnerable as it is sensitive to disturbance - is easily identifiable by its pale pink lateral petals with crimson veins and a splash of bright yellow in the centre.

The Shepherd’s Crook Orchid is actually a terrestrial herb – which lays dormant in the winter and burst into life in January/February here on Fraser – and is a fixative for ochre painting in Aboriginal culture on the mainland.   Butchulla women kept a ‘mental map’ of the location of these plants so they could dig up the nutritious tubers in winter when no leaves or flowers were visible above ground.

A raucous Rainbow Lorikeet (Source: Leighton Wallis, Flickr)
The tail end of summer on Fraser has brought with it a little rain which has, in turn, hardened the island’s tracks for our four-wheel-drive visitors. We’ve also seen lots of Lemon-scented Tea Tree (Leptospermum petersonii) and Swamp Banksia (Banskia robur), which are native to the area, starting to fruit and flower.  And, for tree-huggers like myself, we’ve noticed many bird species flocking back to our shores.

The island’s exuberant Rainbow Lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus) and other parrots species love this time of year and spend their days getting drunk on fermenting Swamp Mahogany (Eucalyptus robusta) blossom.  This is a really important food tree for heaps of species (from insects to fruit bats) and current research suggests that perhaps the nectar and sap are particularly high in nutrients.

DID YOU KNOW: On the Butchulla Aboriginal bush calendar, the arrival of Lorikeets was thought to signal an increase in fish species of good eating size - such as Mackerel (Scomberomorus spp) to the region?
Butchulla Butterfly nets were very effective on Fraser
Here on Fraser Island, the Butchulla people used to catch them in butterfly nets made of native hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus) string and young bendable sapling.  With a net in each hand, Butchulla hunters would 'shepherd' the fish (with a movement much like a butterfly’s flapping wings) into shallow water, towards their mate with a fishing spear.

In the skies above, Fraser Island Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) - which nest in treetops on the western beach both to the north and south of the resort -  are taking advantage of the sunny conditions by making use of the thermal pockets.  Our Whistling Kites (Haliastur sphenurus), however, are extremely territorial and put on impressive aerial exhibits if the Osprey dare to invade their territory.

Our International guests and Junior Eco Rangers are fascinated by the arrival of another winged-species – the large colonies of Grey-headed Flying Foxes (Pteropus poliocephalus) which fill the night skies at dusk over Fraser and use their incredible sense of smell and the lights from nearby townships to navigate their way to and from their feeding grounds.

As well as favouring fig and palm fruits, these fruit bats love the pollen and nectar of native hardwoods such as our Eucalypts and flock to Fraser to feed at night before returning to roost in Hervey Bay during the day.  Believe it or not, these little critters actually play a vital role in maintaining the health of our environment by pollinating and dispersing the seeds of native trees and contribute directly to regenerating our forest ecosystems.

Fraser Island's famous beachside residents
DID YOU KNOW: that mainland Australia has four species of Pteropus (wing-footed) flying-fox, all of them found in Queensland? The species are the Black, Grey-headed, Little Red and the Spectacled Flying Fox.

And, as we wrap up this blog, we’re pleased to report that Fraser Island’s most famous (or should that be notorious?) resident, the dingo (Canis lupis dingo) has been spotted on the western beach by guests enjoying a tipple at our Jetty Hut on dusk.

At this time of year our dingoes avoid the warm summer sun and tend to be more active at night as they hunt for food.   Well, after a fabulous February, we can’t wait to see what March brings on our guided walks, talks and paddles! Until next time tree-huggers, keep enjoying yourselves in our wonderful World Heritage-listed backyard.