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.