Frogs and Snakes

Frogs turn up in unusual places:

This is a female Stony-creek Frog (Litoria jungguy):

IMG_7400

 

This  Common Green Tree-frog (Litoria caerulea) spent  the long dry spell in the overflow of an outdoor basin, quite safe from a butcherbird’s beak or a snake’s gaping jaws.

frog in  a hole

Another frog often hopped  back to its hiding place underneath our veranda roof via the birdbath on the veranda railing, leaving behind tell-tales signs :

frog splash

 

After the first substantial showers, our pond hosted several frog orgies. This pair of Barred Frogs (Mixophyes coggeri) was still active after sunrise. The female was keen to get rid of the male, telling him with several deep, short grunts to release his grip on her . This is the only occasion when one hears female frogs calling.

Barred Frogs Feb2015_1

She was probably keen to seek shelter for the day, and rightly so: this large Keelback entered the pond just moments later. When I saw it emerge from the water and disappear into the forest, it did not sport a big bulging belly!

The Keelback (Tropidonophis mairii) is the only Australian snake which can eat the toxic cane toads without ill effect. Its ancestry lies in Asia, where snakes had a long time to adapt to poisonous toads.

Keelback Snake 2015_1

Named for its strongly keeled scales, which give it a “rough”-looking skin, it is easy to identify. The only other snake, which looks similar is the highly venomous Rough-scaled snake (Tropidechis carinatus), which fortunately lives at higher altitudes in North Queensland, and not around Kuranda. You can tell them apart by having a close look at the scales between their eyes and nostrils (preferably by taking a photo and zooming in, rather than approaching the snake too closely!).

Most colubrid snakes, like the Keelback, have a loreal scale between eye and nostril,

Keelback 2015_1

 

whereas in venomous elapid snakes (to which Death Adders, Taipans and Brown Snakes belong), the scale containing the nostril touches the scale which is near the eye:

Rough-scaled Snake2015_1

 

 

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Wet Season February 2015

With the recent advent of rain we have seen an abundance of insects (many stick insects !).

As big as my hand, this Hawk Moth (Coequosa australasiae), came to our light-sheet on a very rainy evening:

Hawk moth

 

Another visitor was this Stag Beetle:

Mueller's Stag Beetle2015

Spotlighting in our rainforest, we came across a pair of sleeping dragonflies:

Sleeping Dragonflies

 

and a group of sleeping male native bees (Mellitidia tomentifera):

sleeping bees_1

This Blue-backed Bee is one of many, collecting pollen in our garden:

Blue-backed Bee,Feb2015_1

 

If you are interested in native bees, you’ll find many photos and descriptions under the native bee project at http://www.bowerbird.org.

Another interesting insect is the Stalk-eyed Fly: The males have their eyes arranged like hammerhead sharks:

stalk-eyed flies

A piece of banana served as battleground:

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News and not- so- good news from the Kuranda rainforest

The one remaining cassowary chick ( see last blog), was not seen again from mid-November 2014. The female (“Missy”) initiated mating  almost immediately. Male and female cassowaries visited us jointly a few times in December, January and early February. There were fewer, compared to previous years, visits by the male. We do not know whether he is sitting on eggs, visiting us in his spare time (this would be unusual), or taking a sabbatical.

By early January most of the daily-visiting Chestnut breasted Mannikins (Lonchura castaneothorax) had left. For many species this is the breeding season. In the case of birds it means they are more vocal/territorial.  This helped in observing Yellow-breasted Boatbills (Machaerirhynchus flaviventer) on our property, they have a distinctive call.

Pacific Bazas (Aviceda subcristata), too, have a very characteristic call, and they have been very noisy around our place recently, flying through or just above the canopy and snatching katydids and other juicy insects from the foliage, which they then ate leisurely.

Pacific Baza Feb2015_1
Again the Sunbirds (Nectarinia jugularis) had a very hard time producing offspring: the Butcherbirds (Craticus quoyi) destroyed two nests with eggs, which were not consumed. Anecdotal evidence around our house: fewer than one in four attempts to raise chicks has been successful .

The Spectacled Monarch flycatcher (Monarcha trivirgatus) have more success,  although their nest sites appear to be quite exposed to aerial predators. All the nests, which we have found so far, were neat cups,  located in the fork of a small tree, just 2-3m off the ground.

This one is not quite finished, yet:

Spectacled Monarch flycatcher

Until early February North Queensland, including the rainforest areas, was in drought and considerably too hot. Flora and fauna showed signs of heatstress. This pair of Victoria’s Riflebirds (Ptilotis victoriae), was hanging out in a shady spot for almost half an hour – giving me plenty of time to fetch my camera.

Victoria's Riflebird pair

A Red-leafed Fig (Ficus congesta), which we planted near the cabin a few years ago, is fruiting several times a year, and not only attracts Double-eyed Fig Parrots (Cyclopsitta diophthalma) . We also observed two Blossom Bats (Syconycteris australis) and one Tube-nosed Bat (Nyctimene robinsoni)  feasting on figs in December.

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Victoria’s Riflebirds and Cassowaries

Exciting news about two of our iconic species:

Mr Cassowary (“Dad”) has returned with a new chick (he had two this year, but the other one succumbed to a leg injury).

Dad and chick 2014

The little one is already quite adventurous, running across the rocks around our pond, under Dad’s watchful eye:

chick 2014

A large tree was snapped off during the cyclone in April , and we decided to cut off the splintered top of the stump, in the hope that the smoother surface might entice a Victoria’s Riflebird (Ptiloris victoriae) to use it as a dance floor for his courtship display.

Last week a young riflebird (he is still wearing his juvenile plumage, having not yet changed into the splendid black and metallic turquoise adult colours ) rewarded our efforts:

Victoria's Riflebird

Not a very pleasant voice, but he certainly knows how to move (and then he became annoyed by a piece of bark…):

 

 

This Tree Monitor (Varanus scalaris) inspected the tree stump in the afternoon:

Spotted Tree Monitor

Another legacy of the cyclone are a lot of broken branches and tree trunks, which we gathered in a large pile in the forest at our garden’s edge. It now houses a couple of Red-necked Crakes (Rallina tricolor), who emerge regularly to forage for insects and worms.

Red-necked Crake

They like banana, too, as does this Major Skink (Egernia frerei), (this one is about 30cm long):

Major Skink

Many birds are starting to mate and build nests, Pacific Bazas (Aviceda subcristata) and Wompoo Fruit-doves (Ptilinopus magnificus) are especially vocal.

It has been very dry , but as Dad has only one chick to raise this year, finding enough food should not be a problem.

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The (almost) invisible python

Loud scolding by several species of small birds late in the morning brought a 2 meter long Amethystine python (Morelia amethistina) to our attention.
It was making its way up along the frond of a large tree fern, and when it had reached the crown of the fern, it began to coil itself into ever tighter loops until it almost appeared to tie itself into knots! A short while later it had all but disappeared from sight.

amethyst python 1

( Can you see it? Just to the right of centre):

amethyst python 3_1

Soaking up the sunshine in its elevated position, it stayed there all day, but in the early evening started to travel down a fern frond, through a fig tree towards our bird feeder, which also attracts small native rainforest rodents during the night -the python probably detected their smell.

amethyst python 4.0_1

The following photo gives you an idea of the beautiful iridescent coloration of the Amethystine Python:

amethyst python 4_1

In this picture, you can see the heat-sensitive pits  along the lower lip, which is typical for pythons:

amethyst python 6

Yesterday  a rare visitor arrived: a juvenile Satin Bowerbird (Ptilinorhynchus violaceus). It spent all day opposite our front veranda, nibbling fruit. This is our first sighting of this species in Kuranda; Satin Bowerbirds usually occur above 600 meters in north Queensland.

Satin Bowerbird

The fruiting Pandanus  and palm trees, of which we have many, are attracting several Spotted Catbirds (Ailuroedus melanotis) and Victoria’s Riflebirds (Ptiloris victoriae). At present we can watch three brown (female or juvenile) and one adult black riflebird in our garden every day.

Victoria's Riflebird

A few weeks ago  the first of probably many (last year we had a flock of over 50) Chestnut-breasted Mannikins (Lonchura castaneothorax) arrived; they were joined yesterday by another pair with very demanding and vocal offspring in tow.

A rather enervating youngster, a juvenile Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita) is keeping its parents busy regurgitating food with a constant, demanding wail.

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

 

CASSOWARY UPDATE:

Human activities and the survival of cassowaries are almost always mutually exclusive:

Unfortunately, last week the resident female was killed by a vehicle on Black Mountain Road . As Dad has not made an appearance over the last two weeks, our hope is  that he is currently sitting on her eggs, at least partly keeping her genes in the pool (they had been mating for the last few weeks). She had only replaced Dad’s partner of many years, “Missy”, last year, and was in the prime of her life. Missy is still in the area and will, hopefully, mate with Dad again.

“Wattle”, also known as “Harriet”, was easily recognized by her unusual wattles:

Wattle

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Intriguing Insects

The wet season is finally over, it went out with a bang (cyclone Ita) this time. Insects are around throughout the year, but summer is the best season to find them, they are more active and numerous.
Mayuko , a very keen and knowledgeable 12-year-old visitor from Tokyo , could teach us a thing or three about finding and observing stick insects and other more minute critters.

IMG_6574,trimmed_1

 

IMG_6701_1
Occasionally, we set up a mercury light and a white sheet in the evening to attract flying insects. You never know which fly-by-nighter might be lured down from the sky.
One evening we had 3 Hercules Moths (Coscinocera hercules), one of the world’s largest moth, and several Rhinoceros beetles (Xylotrupes ulysses), as well as almost 30 species of other moths and beetles, katydids and cicadas.

Hercules Moths are members of the Saturnidae family, females have the largest wing area of any moth in the world and a wing span of about 27 cm, the males have very elongated hind wings. They do not feed as adults (their caterpillars, of course, have a voracious appetite and grow to 12 cm long), and only live for a few days.

To give you an idea of their size: this male landed on one of our 16 inch 4WD tyres:

IMG_3367_1

female on left, male on right (both alive, by the way, not pinned or pegged to the sheet!):

IMG_3424,trimmed_1

A close-up of a male’s antennae:

IMG_3420,trimmed_1
Rhinoceros Beetles belong to the scarab family (Scarabaeidae), males sport  2  large, slightly forked horns, which they use to wrestle with other males. They grow to about 60 mm long, and, supposedly, are able to lift 850 times their own weight (they weigh about 85 g). They make a surprisingly loud hissing noise (by rubbing their abdomen against the ends of the wing covers), when one tries to pick them up – quite an effective deterrent , if you do not expect it.

Rhino Beetle

 

More interesting facts about them can be found here: www .qm.qld.gov.au/Learning…/~/…/fact-sheet-rhinocerosbeetles.pdf

Kuranda is an entomologist’s paradise, and we have quite a number of experts living here.

Dr. David Rentz has a blog with very detailed information and great macro-photography about all sorts of insects:

http://www.bunyipco.blogspot.com.au

Alan Henderson is breeding various critters, and his website is also worth a visit for insights into the lives of mini-beasts:

http://www.minibeastwildlife.com.au

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Pygmy- possums

We found our first Pygmy-possum while spotlighting last week. There are 5 species of those very small (about 10cm head-body length) possums in Australia. Here in the tropical rainforest of North Queensland we have the Long-tailed Pygmy-possum ( Cercartetus caudatus). They are quite common in their restricted habitat, but not often seen, due to their minute size and arboreal habits.
The superficially similar Tree Mouse (Pogonomys sp.), a rodent,  also lives here, but they are very flighty, when discovered, and we have not been able to get a good photo of one, yet.
This Pygmy-possum is probably a juvenile, there is only a hint of its dark eye-patches and it was about 7cm long from head to base of tail. When it saw us, it tried to hide by sticking its head into the fold of a Pandanus leaf, but  peered at us with its big eyes after a short while:

Pygmy-possum 2

Pygmy-possum

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