March 3, 2015

Soldier Crabs And Natural Toad Busters: We’re Shaping Up For An Action-Packed Autumn

Today (March 3) is World Wildlife Day, so we're publishing this blog a little earlier that usual to honour all our weird and wonderful wildlife in our backyard...

Lake McKenzie one day after TC Marcia crossed the Queensland coast at Yeppoon  Pic: Ranger Gaz
Autumn has arrived Tree huggers and Fraser Island has come alive as the southerly breezes roll in and the wet season departs.  We’re pleased to report that last month’s Tropical Cyclone Marcia – which hit the headlines worldwide and crossed the Queensland coast at Yeppoon, some 435 kilometres (or a 5 hour drive) to the north of Hervey Bay - scooted around us and did not leave a noticeable footprint on our shores.

In and around the resort this month, our staff and guests continue to be inspired by some of our smallest critters which we have discovered on our daily walks/talks out and about on the island – so we hope you enjoy the read.

Guests on our guided walks are always blown away by the sheer quantity of blue-tinged Soldier Crabs (Mictyris longicarpus) that habitually appear in immense numbers in the inter-tidal zone along the foreshore of the western beach.  These crabs are so named because the males patrol the beach at low tide in large armies walking forwards - not sideways like other species of crabs including the Ghost Crabs (Ocypode cordimana), Sand Bubbler Crabs (Scopimera inflata) and Orange-clawed Fiddler Crabs (Uca vomeris), which are also found right here on Fraser Island.

A lone Solider Crab on the western beach of Fraser
DID YOU KNOW Soldier Crabs feed on detritus (organic matter produced by the decomposition of organisms) and microorganisms in the sand? They do this by travelling across the beach at low tide and by using their claws bring sand up to their mouth – a process which leaves round pellets on the beach behind them.

When the feeding’s done; the tide rises; or if spooked, the crabs bury themselves in a corkscrew fashion under the sand in essentially a sand cocoon with enough room for air and a sand cap on top for added protection against predators such as migratory wader birds and rays.

A stone’s throw from the beach, and we have been under attack in our Wallum heath by the villainous feral Cane Toad (Rhinella marina) – a species that is native to Central and South America and was introduced into Australia to control the native grey-backed cane beetle which were destroying sugar crops.  Since their release, feral toads have bred rapidly and have fast become pests in their own right.
Cane Toad  Pic: camilletravels.wordpress.com

FERAL FACT: According to Wikipedia, the long-term effects of toads on the Australian environment are difficult to determine, however effects include the depletion of native species that die eating cane toads; the poisoning of pets and humans; depletion of native fauna preyed on by cane toads; and reduced prey populations for native insectivores, such as skinks.

In news that has the scientific community on their toady toes, a group of scientists from the University of Sydney have been trialling a new eradication program at Waddy Point on Fraser Island - using the cane toads’ venom against their spawn aims to stop the breeding cycle. Cane Toad tadpoles are attracted by the venom and are caught in traps – researchers caught up to 10,000 a day - whilst native tadpoles are repelled by the venom and hop the other way.

The scientists say results have been excellent and that this novel approach could hold the key to completely eradicating this pest in our island backyard.  Until this happens, we have our very own superhero to help thwart this dastardly foe - the one and only Keelback or Freshwater Snake (Tropidonophis mairii).  This very mild-mannered, non-venomous snake is a part of the Colubridae family of ‘rear fanged’ snakes which includes a couple of other island residents - the Brown Tree Snake or ‘Night Tiger’ (Boiga irregularis), and the Common or Green Tree Snake (Dendrelaphis punctulata).
Keelbacks eat toads and frogs. Pic: canetoadsinoz.com

Rarely seen around the resort, you’ll find Keelbacks in well-watered habitats near creeks or in low lying areas on Fraser Island as well as along the eastern and northern coasts of Queensland.

What we love is that this species has become a true unsung hero of Fraser Island - and Queensland for that matter - as they are one of the only native snake species to have a tolerance to the bufotoxin, which Cane Toads produce from glands along their backs and behind their eyes.  This, of course, has allowed them to successfully prey upon our island feral Cane Toads and help control population numbers.

As you can see, it’s been an action-packed last month and, if you’re an environmental nerd like us, or just have a natural curiosity for nature – then we definitely have something here on Fraser Island to pique your interest.  Until next time fellow eco-enthusiasts, this is Ranger Aaron signing off from Kingfisher Bay Resort.

February 11, 2015

February: Love Is In The Wallum And All Around Us On Fraser Island

The heart-shaped Lake Mckenzie. Pic: Caters News Agency
Fraser Island is a haven for nature lovers and, with February 14 just around the corner, it seems our amorous Short-beaked Echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus) are taking full advantage of Cupid’s bow with lovelorn males seeking out female company in the wallum scrub.  On the Great Sandy Strait, an algae bloom hotspot has become a fish feeding magnet which the Hervey Bay fishing industry - and lovers of fresh seafood - is enjoying.

Volunteers are helping our Loggerheads survive on Fraser
And, on the northern most tip of Fraser, our endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) nests are being purged and the eggs/hatchlings are being lovingly cared for by the volunteers - under the direction of Queensland Parks and Wildlife Rangers.  All in all, Valentine’s month is a lover-ly time to be on Fraser.

DID YOU KNOW that the Loggerhead Turtle eggs need to be transported in their original north-south alignment if they are shifted more than one hour after they have been laid?  If this doesn’t happen, the egg contents detach from the shell and become infertile.  Volunteers mark the eggs with the depth they were found, the number of eggs in the nest and the alignment (this magnetic field allows the turtle to return to its birthplace to mate and lay its own eggs).

Halfband Snake Eel. Pic: Australian Museum
In our front yard, Kingfisher Bay Resort guests and staff often glimpse tiny eel-like creatures (about 30cm long with a cream body and brownish and yellow blotches) swimming along the surface of the water at the end of the jetty and come and ask us what they are.

The best answers we’ve heard are baby sea snakes or miniature Moray Eels (Muraenidae are a family of Cosmopolitan eels), but we’re busting those myths right here today and can in fact confirm that these elusive creatures are actually known as Halfband Snake Eels (Malvoliophis pinguis - pictured left) and are one of several species of eels in the family Ophichthidae.

We’ve been able to identify them by the tiny brown spots around the head and their sharp little teeth – which sounds nasty, but they're harmless to humans. The Halfband Snake Eel is endemic to Australia, populating shallow waters from central QLD to southern NSW.  They can be found hunting along the sea floor and can actually slither right under the sand during their search for food.

A splash of pink from this skink. Pic: Normf, Redbubble
On our more formal Ranger-guided walks over the past month, we were delighted to spot two Pink-tongued Skinks (Cyclodomorphus gerrardii) slithering through the grass near the Sunset Beach.  These skinks are similar in appearance to their more widely known cousins, the Blue-tongued Lizards (Tiliqua scincoides) – though the length of the tail is a dead giveaway.

Pink-tongued skinks have a very long tail - in fact, in the dark, we mistook the skinks for snakes at first - and they can grow up to around 30-40cm in length. As their name suggests, their mouth is pink (see pic above) and, when threatened, they open their mouth, inflate their bodies and make hissing noises to warn off their attacker. The majority of their diet consists of slugs and snails and, unlike some large skinks; they can climb to retrieve their food.

The skinks share the island with one of the strangest animals we have on Fraser Island -  our Short-beaked Echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus) - which belong to a group of mammals known as monotremes (a group including the Echidna and Platypus). As we alluded to in our intro, Echidnas are out in force this time of year and can sometimes be seen on the Ranger-guided night walks shuffling around in the undergrowth looking for insects (mainly ants and termites).

Spotted! A Short-beaked Echidna on one of our guided walks
RANGER FACT: Monotremes are quite different from other mammals because they have the ability to lay eggs.  Echidnas lay a single leathery egg and carry this around in their pouch for about 10 days until the baby Echidna (known as a Puggle) emerges. 

The Puggle breaks out of the egg using an egg tooth and then continues to grow in the mother’s pouch for around three months.  

During this time, the Puggle is fed milk from the mother, but it is secreted by pores in the skin rather than a nipple.  Young Puggles develop a soft layer of hair and spines and, once they leave the pouch, remain protected in a burrow - sometimes up to a year - until ready to fend for themselves. 

At Kingfisher Bay, our team are committed to spreading our environmental message - for example, on our jetty,  we use Tangler bins for fisherfolk to dispose of their old lines instead of them blowing into the ocean.  This month we urge everyone to watch what you throw out and where - biodegradable bags may break down in soil, but they cause havoc in our oceans for animals like our Loggerhead Turtles. There’s an awesome campaign called Take 3, which is encouraging Aussies to take three pieces of rubbish with them when they leave a beach or waterway, and we’re certainly encouraging that here on island.

Every little bit counts! Catch you next time, Tree Huggers.

January 19, 2015

It's Turtlely Awesome Visiting Fraser Island In Summer

QUEENSLAND: Whilst Mon Repos, near Bundaberg, supports the largest concentration of nesting marine turtle on the Eastern Australian mainland, the annual turtle season is also a wonderful time to visit Fraser Island, Hervey Bay and the surrounding coastal areas.

We’re certainly happy to be seeing a lot of sea turtles - Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas) and the endangered Loggerhead Turtles (Caretta caretta) - near the resort as they head off to lay their eggs on the northern end of Fraser (at the Sandy Cape turtle rookery) and at various spots along 75-Mile Beach on the island’s eastern side.

An early Christmas present for @funfitwellness
With this month's blog, we’re also paying homage to the super-talented Instagrammers who flood the site with gorgeous island pics on a daily basis.  Once such contributor, @funfitwellness, was lucky enough to spot this beautiful Loggerhead at the crack of dawn on Fraser’s 75-Mile Beach on Christmas morning and shared this gorgeous shot on Instagram.  Now that’s what we call a cracker of a Christmas surprise!

What you may not know is that a female Loggerhead Turtle, like the one pictured, can lay around 125 ping pong ball-sized eggs per clutch – and this is after an exhausting journey up the beach to the sand dunes to dig out a nest above the high tide line with their back flippers.

The mother will then cover the nest up to prevent predators – like Fraser’s dingoes and goanna populations - from raiding them.  On Fraser Island, mating usually starts in late October with the majority of baby turtles emerging between February and March.

JUST A REMINDER to all visitors that four-wheel-drives are prohibited on the beach between South Ngkala Rocks and the Sandy Cape Lighthouse between 6pm and 6am from 15 November until 31 March annually as this beach is an important nesting area for our visiting marine turtles.

@darcnett -  harmless Blue Buttons on the eastern beach
Within the resort grounds, our Smooth-barked Apple trees (Angophora costata) have shed their old grey bark to reveal a fresh pink-orange coat and are in full bloom - this gorgeous display is perfect for our Instagrammers and photographers who flock to Fraser to capture awesome nature shots – like Rob Annesley who visited us last year... we’re sure you’ll agree his photos are amazing.  If you’re visiting our shores, be sure to tag your photographs with #fraserisland and #kingfisherbay (or #frasertours if you’re taking a Beauty Spots off-road island tour with us) as we’ll happily feature on our social sites - as we did recently with @darcnett's gorgeous jellyfish shot pictured right.

Around 354 different species of bird have been recorded on Fraser Island and, as Rangers, we are often asked if there are any Kingfishers around Kingfisher Bay Resort.  The answer is an emphatic yes!  In fact, we have several types of Kingfishers here including The Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae), Azure Kingfisher (Alcedo azurea), Forest Kingfisher (Todiramphus macleayii) and Sacred Kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus).

@Louisehak spots a cheeky Kookaburra in the trees
Undoubtedly, the most recognisable Kingfisher is The Laughing Kookaburra - whose loud call resembles a staccato-like cackle (kook-kook-kook-ka-ka-ka).  They are the largest Kingfisher in the area and are the most frequently seen (and heard) – particularly in the trees around our Sand Bar restaurant.

Other Kingfisher species on island are much smaller and we sometimes glimpse our turquoise and white coloured Sacred Kingfishers around the mangroves and paperbark forests where they spend time catching crustaceans, reptiles, insects and sometimes even fish.

Azure Kingfishers have darker blue features with a splash of vibrant orange underneath, and are more often seen around the Wallum heathlands as they search for shrimp and other dainties. In contrast, our Forest Kingfishers have striking blue and white plumage and a large white spot on the bill and, as the name suggests, can be found in open sclerophyll forests, near mangroves or our mirror lakes.

Porter @bryce_mcnickle snaps a pic of our baby guest
As the sun dips on Fraser, probably the most commonly seen nocturnal bird we see is the Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides). Often mistaken for an owl, the Tawny Frogmouth is a species more closely related to the Nightjars and feeds mainly on insects, slugs, worms and snails. Their silver-grey mottled feathers provide excellent camouflage against the bark of trees and, when threatened, Frogmouths often extend their body out and raise their head so as to look as much like a branch as possible.

RANGER FACT: Juvenile Tawny Frogmouths are often found on the ground when they are learning to fly under the watchful eyes of their parents. Always seek the advice of an accredited wildlife carer before handling/removing.

Recently, Nick from our housekeeping team spotted a tiny Frogmouth begging for food on the roadside near our villas and let the Rangers know. It had fallen from its nest in a nearby tree and was still much too young to fly.  With no nest or parents in sight and, after consulting a wildlife carer, I fostered and nursed the baby until it could be passed on to a wildlife centre for rehabilitation – it was super hard not to become attached to that needy little ball of feathers pictured above.

@cathyfinchphotograhy's stunning Sundew on Fraser
From the beaches to the forests, there is plenty of wildlife to see on Fraser Island and one habitat - our wallum heathland – is just a stone’s throw from our resort Centre Complex and hotel wings. The wallum really is full of weird and wonderful animals and all perfectly adapted to the harsh conditions as the soils are very low in nutrients.

One plant has a particularly brutal adaptation that enables it to get the nutrients it needs to survive.  Spoon-leaf Sundews (Drosera spatulata) are insectivorous plants that trap unsuspecting insects using a sticky substance known as mucilage.

The Spoon-leaf Sundew appears pink due to the thousands of pink-tipped ‘tentacles’ protruding from the leaf.  Insects looking for a sweet treat step onto the leaves of the Sundew, only to become stuck in the mucilage and eventually die. The insect is then slowly wrapped up by the leaves near the stem and digested.

This is just another day in a world ruled by survival of the fittest!  As you can see, we’ve had a fabulous Christmas, some wonderful weather and an eventful month here on Fraser… and we look forward to seeing what February brings our way. Until next time, this is Ranger Bec signing off for the team.

December 17, 2014

Dingo Pups And Paperbarks Make Their Mark On Our Fraser Summer...

Fraser Island has many unique natural values and the diversity of our flora and fauna continues to wow first timers to our sandy shores. Another wow factor comes when guests spot a purebred Fraser Island dingo (Canis dingo) - the apex predator that keeps our sandy ecosystem in balance. At this time of the year, young dingoes become playful and more independent and can be spotted out and about as they learn the fundamentals of hunting from the pack – much to the delight of our guests down on the western beach (outside the dingo fence) and on our Beauty Spots off-road day tours – particularly around Central Station in the heart of the island.

Puppy Love! @Gregorsnell has captured this beautifully
DID YOU KNOW Fraser Island’s dingoes are part of the island’s ecology and are protected by law?  Their survival relies on three management factors—education, engineering and enforcement.

Both Kingfisher Bay Resort and Eurong Beach Resort are surrounded by dingo fences to keep our famous dingoes from being loved too much (that’s the engineering part).  If you’re new to the island, please check out these few simple tips to help you remain DINGO SAFE when you’re in the Great Sandy National Park (education in action) and please don’t feed these animals as heavy fines apply (you guessed it, enforcement!).

A little closer to the resort, recent rainfall has been welcomed by the team and indeed by all across drought-stricken Queensland. On island, it has hardened up the tracks nicely as we head towards the busy Christmas holidays on Fraser. Summer also means blue skies and plenty of sun, which provides the perfect conditions to head out on our Ranger-guided canoe paddles or on our guided walks to spot some of Fraser’s weird and wonderful critters, including our Acid Frogs.  Creek Lilly Pillies (Acmena smithii) are also fruiting this month – their branches weighted down with the mass of berries which is bringing in many fruit eating birds and a few resort rangers.

Paperbarks make for stunning shots at Lake McKenzie
Another iconic Australian species that attracts attention is the Paperbark Tea Tree (Melaleuca quinquenervia), which is commonly found around the resort and on the island.  This species is easily spotted by its paper-like bark – hence the name - and can literally be pulled away from the tree in sheets (not that we advocate this).  You might recognise the shot of Lake McKenzie with the iconic paperbark taking centre stage (pictured left).

The Paperbark was a staple in the Butchulla medicine cabinet - tea tree oil (from the leaves) is a fantastic antiseptic; powder contained in the bark can be used as an antiseptic powder; and the sheets of bark themselves can be used as bandages.

Paperbark is also used in cooking - replacing aluminium foil for dishes like baked fish (just ask our Chefs in our signature, Seabelle restaurant, who have perfected a bush-inspired baked barramundi in paperbark on the menu).

Stonetool Sandblow. Picture: Peter Meyer Photography
RANGER FACT: Nectar from the bottlebrush-like flowers can be mixed with water to make a natural cordial. 

December is also the time that we welcome our visiting “sand man” and one of the country’s leading geomorphologists, Dr. Errol Stock, back to the resort for a series of guest presentations on how earth scientists use their magic to reveal the secrets of Fraser’s dunes.

According to Doctor Errol, it’s easy to fall under the spell of Fraser Island’s dunes. In pulses linked to geological and climatic cycles, and for more than two million years, sand has accumulated on a hard basement of sedimentary and volcanic rocks so that only a few headlands and small outcrops remain visible to hint at nature’s cloaking magic. It’s fascinating stuff – especially for us tree huggers - and we’ll be sharing more in the coming weeks on our blog.

As you can see, it’s been an action-packed few months here on Fraser and we are looking forward to a bright new year filled with plants, animals, beach and sun!  Merry Christmas everybody, cheers Ranger Bec.

November 27, 2014

It’s Been An Historic Month For Fraser Island’s Butchulla People

What a month we’ve had on Fraser Island. Whilst Sydney hosted the World Parks Congress (a once-a-decade landmark global forum for protecting areas of conservation), this month in our own biosphere/backyard, we’ve been enjoying fantastic swimming weather and some wonderful photo opps on our guided walks and talks thanks to the flowering of our Grass Trees (Xanthorrhoea johnsonii).  We've also witnessed some historic events in our island's history, including the handover of Native Title rights to the Butchulla tribe and the discovery of indigenous burial sites on island.

Rainbow Lorikeet feasting on a Grass Tree. Pic: Peter Meyer
Those that have visited recently will know that our Grass Trees have been in full flower at Kingfisher Bay Resort this month which in turn has brought a whole host of animals in close to our bark covered walking tracks for rare photo opportunities while they feed on the tall flower spikes.  Squirrel Gliders (Petaurus norfolcensis) have feasted as have our Rainbow Lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus - pictured left), our White Cheeked Honeyeaters (Phylidonyris nigra) and our Blue Faced Honeyeaters (Entomyzon cyanotis).

DID YOU KNOW Grass Trees are terrifically adapted to suit the Australian environment?

In Australia, especially in areas occupied by Aborigines, fires are a frequent occurrence and as such many Australian plants have evolved to tolerate and sometimes even rely on fire. Grass Trees flower best after exposure to gases released during fire and the old bases of the leaves help to insulate the vulnerable growth points during these extreme temperature events. The trunk of the grass tree appears black from old ash and tends to grow very slowly (only around a centimetre a year).   Here at the resort, we conduct regular mosaic burns to reduce the fire load and to help our native plants propagate.

The end of October saw in an historic day in Fraser Island’s history as the Federal Court of Australia conducted a special on-country sitting at Kingfisher Bay to award Native Title over the land and waters of Fraser Island to the traditional owners of the land – The Butchulla.

Young and old joined in the celebrations. Pic: Jocelyn Watt
More than 400 Butchulla people from Hervey Bay and surrounding areas were in attendance as Federal Court Justice Berna Collier gave out copies of the native title determination to Elders during the event. Traditional music and dance demonstrations took place near a campfire; kids celebrated on the beach; and the smell of the smoke from the ceremonial smoking ceremony added to the atmosphere which really was quite remarkable.

This decision is a significant achievement for all of the local Butchulla people who have worked for many years to be recognised as traditional owners of K'Gari, as the island is known to them.   This ruling allows the Butchulla people to hunt, fish and camp on the island as well as conduct traditional ceremonies (but doesn’t affect existing rights on the island in terms of freehold land, National Parks and conducting tours).

Traditional dancing at Kingfisher Bay.  Pic: Jocelyn Watt
The team at Kingfisher Bay is very supportive of this recognition of a very important aspect of the island’s history and are excited to see what the future brings.  The decision should also see Butchulla opinions on island management and protection having a heavier weighting, and open up opportunities for them in terms of economic development on the island.

Back in our July blog, we mentioned Queensland scientists were searching for a century-old Aboriginal burial ground.  This month, in another significant milestone for the Butchulla people, 70 indigenous graves were discovered on Fraser.

The graves were likely dug during operation of the island’s ill-fated Bogimbah Creek Mission (1897-1904) where many drug or alcohol dependent Aborigines, and those that lived in areas sought after for agricultural development, were relocated into an area on the western side of Fraser Island under a government-run scheme. Tragically, conditions were appalling and many died from disease and malnutrition.

Radars towed behind a research vehicle Pic: USC
Soil scientists used Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to locate the graves and we understand there is no plan to excavate them. The discovery of the site will enable its protection and whilst showcasing a tragic part of the island’s history, the process has had a healing effect on the Butchulla Tribe and Rangers who helped with the search.

As you can see, it's been nothing short of remarkable here on the world's largest sand island and we’re looking forward to a great summer ahead where we can soak up the relaxed beach atmosphere and the phenomenal environment around us.  Hope to see you soon, Ranger Bec.