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.

January 20, 2014

Summer, The Silly Season And Other Rangery Stuff

Hi there tree huggers, it’s been a little while since our last blog as it has been all hands on deck as we celebrated the busy silly season on Fraser Island and proceeded full-steam ahead into 2014. The stable weather conditions in and around Hervey Bay and on the Great Sandy Strait have produced an abundance of small schooling fish, as well as Mullet (Mugilidae spp), Mangrove Jack (Lutjanus argentimaculatus) and Sand Whiting (Sillago ciliata) off our jetty, much to the delight of visiting fisher folk and attendees at our fishing clinics.
The Brown Cuckoo-Dove. Source: photos.beilby.com

Valentine’s Day is just under a month away for us humans and, in the animal world, this time of year generally marks the start of the breeding season for a lot of our island residents.  During the day, Major Skinks (Bellatorias frerei) sun themselves next to the walking trails and, during our balmy summer nights, our male frogs come out in the Wallum low heath and call to attract a mate.

Our Brown Cuckoo-Doves (Macropygia amboinensis) also start breeding early in the New Year on Fraser Island.  Males have a full chestnut body, whilst the females have a scaly pattern on their breast and both have a long graduated tail. Primarily a rainforest species, we have spotted these guys at The Sand Bar and perched by the main resort pool during our morning bird walks.  Keep an eye out in the forks in the tree tops for their platform-like nest made of sticks and vines.

*DID YOU KNOW: The earliest bird species evolved from dinosaurs
and birds still have the genes to grow teeth?  Beaks and feathers are also thought to be complex, modified scales.

The very distinctive Noisy Friarbird. Source: bushpea.com

Noisy Friarbirds (Philemon corniculatus - pictured left) have a bit of a pre-historic look and been easily spotted on our guided Bird Walks, helped in part by their distinctive call that sounds like a crazy cackling clown and earns them their nickname as a Jester of the bird world.

We have to say, this bird is not the most attractive of the honeyeater family - it sports a bald black head, a prominent bump a third of the way along their beak (called a casque) and non-descript light grey feathers – but it’s certainly one of the larger (and louder) birds we are seeing feeding in and around the resort at the moment.   

Vibrant colours. Source: QPWS
Speaking of honeyeaters, the slow-growing Swamp Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea fulva - pictured right), which is dispersing seeds at the moment,  is a valuable food source for our honeyeater and insect species – particularly in spring when they flower or when they flower as a direct response to a wildfire (or mosaic burning where we reduces the fire load in the bush by burning off patches).  

Swamp Grass Trees were also a valuable food source for the Butchulla tribe who used to dip the flowering spikes in water to make a sweet beverage.  Butchulla kids would even lick the nectar straight off the flower spike like a lollipop.  This Australian native is under threat on the mainland, mainly due to urban development, but can be found flourishing at Kingfisher Bay (generally near the helipad and in the wallum) and across the island. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect to see are our delicious Midyim Berry (Austromyrtus dulcis) bushes fruiting and increased numbers of colourful dragonflies.  We look forward to welcoming you to enjoy these experiences.

November 25, 2013

We’re Springing Towards Summer On The World’s Largest Sand Island

Wide Bay Boronia in bloom
Well Greenies, wildflower season might be over for another year, but here on Fraser Island we have still got gorgeous colouration in the wallum scrub courtesy of our Swamp Banksia (Banksia robur), which bloom from spring through until April; our Lemon-scented Tea Trees (Leptospermum liversedgei); fuschia-petalled Wide Bay Boronias (Boronia rivularis - pictured left); and also from our Native Hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus) – with their stunning yellow/orange/purple flowers – which can be spotted a stone’s throw from Kingfisher Bay’s famous Jetty Hut.

We’ve also spotted Mangrove Lillies (Crinum pedunculatum) on our guided canoe paddles to Dundonga Creek, but haven’t as yet managed to find the elusive Myrtle Mangrove (Osbornia octodonta), which has been spotted in previous years.

As the days start to lengthen and warm up, our native acid frog species will start to become more abundant and vocal in the wallum.

The spotlight is on a Wallum Rocket Frog
There are 18 different species of frog on Fraser and the island is home to several species of rare acid frogs - the Cooloola Sedge Frogs (Litoria cooloolensis), Wallum Sedge Frogs (Litoria olongburensis) and Wallum Rocket Frogs (Litoria freycineti - pictured right) - which have been spotted leaping across our boardwalks during our guided walks and Junior Eco Ranger adventures. Frogs are in decline all over the world, so it is heartening to see them thriving at the moment.

These 'acid frogs' are so named because they can tolerate the acidic waters of coastal wallum swamps and wet heathlands found on Fraser Island. Interestingly, the Cooloola Sedge Frog is a true native and is only found on the island and in the nearby Cooloola area south of us.

DID YOU KNOW:  According to the Queensland Museum’s Frog Expert, Greg Czechura, there isn’t a species of frog in the world that makes a ribbit-ribbit sound? Ribbit-ribbit, Greg says, was simply made up by Hollywood.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle (pic by richard-seaman.com)
In 2009, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) announced the Fraser Coast (including Fraser Island), nearby Gympie (to the south) and the Bundaberg coastline (to the north of Hervey Bay) had been awarded Biosphere Reserve status, which put us on the same status as destinations such as The Galapagos archipelago and Uluru in the red centre of Australia.

At this time of the year, the Great Sandy Biosphere as we were called – in particular the southern islands of the Great Barrier Reef including the far north west coast of Fraser; Bundaberg and the Cape York Peninsula (in the north of the state) – becomes the major breeding site for endangered marine turtles, which use a remarkable system of navigation to make their way to our shores (using the moon and the magnetic gravitational pull of the earth).

Like clockwork, various turtle species including Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas), Flatback Sea Turtle(Natator depressus), Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), the endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta - pictured above) and the less common Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) species return to the stretch of Queensland coastline where they were born and lay their clutches of eggs from November to January.  From late January until the end of March, tiny hatchlings emerge and make the slow scramble across the sand – at the mercy of predators like dingoes (Canis lupus dingo) and raptors - to the relatively safety of the ocean.

Hatchlings on Fraser (pic by Fraser Coast Chronicle)
On Fraser, you won’t see hatchlings (see right) on the western beach near the resort or on the eastern side of the island.  Queensland Parks and Wildlife do however enforce annual vehicle restrictions in and around the Sandy Cape turtle rookery (at the northern tip of the island) from 15 November until the end of March. Vehicles are prohibited on the beach between South Ngkala Rocks and Sandy Cape Lighthouse to protect the nesting area and help turtle populations to recover.  Encouragingly, the Federal Government has also recently tripled fines for people convicted of killing, injuring or trading protected turtle species including the Green Sea Turtle and the Leatherback.

Closer to home, recent neap tides and northerly winds have made for some tough fishing in the past weeks, but Flathead (from the family Platycephalidae) and Whiting (Merlangius merlangus) are still being caught in the Great Sandy Strait and conditions are set to improve over the coming weeks.  Well that’s all from the Kingfisher Bay Resort Ranger team until the festive season. So long Tree Huggers!

October 25, 2013

Our Raptors Have Us In Raptures This Month On Fraser Island

Hi Tree Huggers, bark falling from our Scribbly Gums (Eucalyptus haemastoma) and our Smooth-barked Apple Trees (Angophora costata) in the Great Sandy National Park has heralded the arrival of October here on Fraser Island.

Short-tailed Shearwaters are washing up in Hervey Bay
Tongue Orchids (Bulbophyllum fletcherianum) are in bloom at Central Station; Red-capped Doterel’s (Charadrius ruficapillus) – looking very much like a miniature Speedy Gonzales – are running a-million-miles-an-hour on tiny legs on the eastern beach; and scientists from the University of Queensland can be seen taking sand-core samples in and around the island to assist with their climate research.

This month, we’ve had a few questions from curious guests, who have ventured over to the eastern beach and noticed a lot of exhausted and dying birds on the waterline.  Short-tailed Shearwaters or Mutton Birds (Puffinus tenuirostris - see above left) migrate annually from Siberia to rookeries as far south as Tasmania and run into trouble when they encounter strong winds and storms out to sea.  Exhausted, they drop to the water and are washed to shore by the current providing a good food source for baby Dingoes (Canis lupis dingo) who are just out of their dens and for Raptors like the White-belled Sea Eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster), and so, the cycle of life continues.

The aerial acrobatics of a White-bellied Sea Eagel
Known as ‘giants of the sky’, our White-bellied Sea Eagles (pictured right) have also been captivating audiences on our Ranger-guided walks from Kingfisher Bay Resort on the western side of the island.  A ‘Raptor’ or ‘Bird of prey’ (which loosely translates from the Latin root, rapere, to mean seize and capture) is the name given to predatory birds - Eagles, Hawks, Falcons and Owls - that have keen vision and hunt with their strong talons and sharply hooked beaks.

White-belled Sea Eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster) have a wingspan that can measure between 1.5 and 2 metres and their wings form a shallow V in flight.  If you have the eyes of a Hawk, you may be lucky enough to spot the nest of one of these feathered giants, which can be situated up to 30 metres high in the tree line.

DID YOU KNOW True Eagles have their legs covered entirely in feathers? On Fraser, our Sea Eagles (despite their name) are in fact a large species of Kite.

A Brahminy Kite is the skies above Fraser Island
Perhaps the most frequently sighted raptor on island is the medium-sized Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus - pictured left), which is easily distinguishable by its deep chestnut brown plumage and contrasting white head and breast.

We often spot Brahminy Kites scanning the coastline and preying on small fish species such as Southern Blue Whiting (Micromesistius Australis) and Australian Herring (Arripis georgianus) as well as carrion (dead animals like the Mutton Birds we mentioned earlier) and small invertebrates such as Soldier Crabs (Mictyris Longicarpus) and insects.

Wing tips like fingers - the Whistling Kite in action
Whistling Kites (Haliastur sphenurus - pictured right) are also spotted frequently and can be fiercely territorial - guarding their nests in pairs and usually with brute force. On one of our recent guided canoe paddles in nearby Dundonga creek, we had the pleasure of witnessing an amazing aerial ‘dog fight’ between paired Whistlers and a rogue White-bellied Sea Eagle, fighting for territory, dominancy and food.

Well our non-feathered friends, it’s time for us to fly.  Stay tuned for next month’s edition of our blog, but until then, soar you later!  Ranger Luke.