August 15, 2014

It’s Winter On Fraser: Fishermen Are Flocking, Wedding Bushes Are Flowering And Dingo Pups Are Exploring…

The Wedding Bush is one of the most unusual plants on Fraser Island in that it can produce both male and female flowers on the one specimen.  At this time of year, when our Wedding Bushes (Ricinocarpos pinifolius) begin to flower their small, snowy white blossoms, we know it heralds the start of the annual running of the Tailor (Pomatomus saltatrix) on island. Winter was usually a prosperous season for the original inhabitants of Fraser Island - the Butchulla tribe - and one of the most important doctrines of tribal life was “if you have plenty you must share”… consequently many visitors would brave the Great Sandy Strait to share their bounty of fish.

Tailor season on Fraser. Pic: Cody Doucette, Matador Network
These days on Fraser, hundreds of fisher folk flock to Fraser hoping to catch Tailor (size limit is 35cm and there is a species’ limit of 20) and Jewfish (Protonibea diacanthus) off the eastern beach.  

Whilst it is still early days in the season, the Tailor have been keeping out wide to feed on huge schools of bait fish, but we expect them to head inshore as the north-westerlies blow.  South of Eurong, they’ve been landing some big Jewies in the gutters near First Creek.

A Dugong in the Great Sandy Strait Pic: The Gympie Times

Back to the western side, one species that we have welcomed back to our shores with open arms is the Dugong (Dugong dugon - pictured right).  These large herbivorous mammals with paddle-like forelimbs and a broad, horizontally flattened tail are on the endangered species list.  

Dugongs are closely related to the extinct Sea Cow (Hydrodamalis gigas) and feast on seagrass meadows - there are seven seagrass species in the The Great Sandy Strait  (which separates Fraser Island from Hervey Bay on the mainland) and they are very sensitive to human influence.

Dugong numbers declined locally after muddy waters from the 2011 Queensland floods impacted their food supply by cutting sunlight to the seagrass pastures.  Although Dugong population sizes are hard to determine, due to the large scale movements along the coastline, scientific evidence suggests a long-term decline. 

Dugong are generally solitary or they travel in pairs or small groups – so passengers aboard the Kingfisher Bay Ferry to River Heads were thrilled to see three surface to catch a breath beside the boat late last month.

At this time of year, the Fraser Island Creeper (Tecomanthe hillii) is also in full bloom around our Awinya hotel wing and main pool areas at the resort.  If you’re visiting us, keep an eye out for clusters of bright pink tubular flowers, which create bright splashes of colour among the foliage of the trees they climb up. The creeper is only found in a few small isolated areas of eastern Australia, so the flowers are a real treat for visitors from both Australia and overseas.  Rangers are more than happy to point them out on our Ranger-guided walks in and around the resort.

In last month’s blog we mentioned that White-cheeked Honeyeaters (Phylidonyris nigra) were nesting around the resort. This month, their super cute fledglings are out of the nest and begging for food from their parents.   Our resident White-bellied Sea Eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster) have also been putting on a show during our Ranger-guided canoe paddles - you can imagine our excitement when we saw two eagles fighting in mid air, locking talons and spiralling out of control!

A Dingo in repose at Eli Creek. Pic: Troy Geltch, Air Fraser Island
Winter time in our neck of the woods also marks the time that female dingoes give birth and consequently protect their young and their territory. Interestingly, an American Bear Researcher (Dr Hank Harlow from the University of Wyoming) recently told ABC News that the dingo management practices on Fraser Island are similar to what is used in the Yellowstone National Park for Grizzly Bears.

Dr Harlow says that unlike bears, convincing people to stay away from dingoes can be difficult. He says that you can tell a Grizzly Bear has mischief on his mind whilst people thought that because dingoes looked like pets, there was no danger.

A recent incident on Fraser (and continuous posts of human/dingo selfies on social media) serves as a reminder that dingoes most definitely aren’t pets and there is a need to follow the 'DINGO SAFETY' rules when out and about in The Great Sandy National Park.  Queensland Parks and Wildlife currently imposes hefty fines on visitors who feed these animals and encourage socialisation with humans. Resorts, like Kingfisher Bay and Eurong Beach are surrounded by fences to keep the dingoes from being loved too much by the general public.

Fraser’s totally wild and that's why we love it. Who knows what we’ll see next month - catch you then.





July 28, 2014

July: Close Encounters Of The Animal Kind On Fraser Island

It’s always really interesting, when you live and work on Fraser Island, to see people’s reactions when they start exploring for the first time.  Fraser Island the only place in the world where rainforests grows in sand (at elevations of 200 metres) ; one of only two places in the world where Humpbacks whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) take time out of their migration schedule to socialise in calm waters; and sports the world’s largest and highest perched dune lakes.

It’s also a place of incredible beauty… where something as simple as four-wheel-driving through sandy tracks and out ontothe gazetted 75-Mile Beach Highway can make a visiting tourist’s entire Aussie holiday.

Here on Fraser, we’ve been seeing whales galore this month, including a Southern Right Whale mum and calf (Eubalaena australis) just metres off the resort’s jetty and our Humpbacks have been putting on plenty of impromptu shows on the eastern and western side of the island and for our Fraser Island ferry passengers.

We've even had a fur seal pop by for an extended holiday on the eastern beach. It's very difficult to tell the difference between the two species - New Zealand Fur Seals (Arctocephalus forsteri) are slightly smaller than their Aussie counterparts (Arctocephalus pusillus) and are best distinguished by their much darker colouration.

Everything you need to know about our Humpback holidaymakers... and more!
DID YOU KNOW: For their first time since 1946, Japan will not hunt whales in the Southern Ocean?  This follows a ruling by the International Court of Justice in March this year.

Humpback Whale displays close to shore on Fraser Island
With just hours until we start our daily Humpback Whale Watching tours from Fraser Island, there’s been an exciting development for the tourism industry.  Today, it was announced that a select group of whale watching operators will host immersive whale tours on a trial basis – allowing visitors to swim with the whales in the calm waters off Hervey Bay.  Under the Nature Conservation Act, strict guidelines will be in place to ensure the safety of both whales and swimmers.

To say that we’re excited is an understatement!  And, if you've ever wondered what it's like to hear a Humpback sing, here's your chance!

For those out and about on the western side of the island, you might also be lucky enough to see a group of scientists from the University of the Sunshine Coast (USQ) who are using ground-penetrating radar to located disturbed ground, human remains and artefacts for indigenous burial sites. We'll keep you updated with any developments.

Guests venturing to the eastern side of the island may see smoke in the skies above Waddy Point and at Orchid Beach this month.  Fire is a really important element for Fraser Island’s ecosystems. Many of the tree species that grow in our wallum (coastal heathland) and eucalypt forests require fire for their seeds to germinate.  To help these environments to flourish and to prevent an unexpected wildfire, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service will be conducting controlled burns around Fraser Island right up until the end of the month.

As we mentioned last blog, our local Northern Brown Bandicoots (Isoodon macrourus) and Long-nosed Bandicoots (Perameles nasuta) dig for fungi underground - this action helps to cover leaf litter that would otherwise be a fire hazard and is just one of the many eco services provided by the bandicoots, which are commonly seen a night around Kingfisher Bay Resort.
A White-cheeked Honeyeater  in repose

In and around the resort, our beautiful White- cheeked Honeyeaters (Phylidonyris nigra - pictured left) have been nesting, and this is providing excellent photo opportunities for keen photographers. The nests are hidden well in the undergrowth and are not easy to find, so our team are only too happy to point them out on our daily Ranger-guided walks.

Off the Kingfisher Bay jetty, there have been small Spanish Mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson), Trevally (Gnathanodon speciosus) and Dusky Flathead (Platycephalus fuscus) caught through the days. Around the full moon, big Black Jewfish (Protonibea diacanthus) were caught in the evenings and, at night, our Rangers have been seeing our small insectivorous Micro-bats hunting with echolocation over the window lakes here at the resort.  Bats are classified in a single Order, Chiroptera - Order being a biological term meaning a taxonomic group containing one or more families.

All in all a great month to live, work and visit paradise, Tree Huggers. Catch you next month.


June 19, 2014

June: 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!