Cassowaries need to be helped, not feared!

Who said dinosaurs went extinct? The Southern Cassowary certainly doesn’t think so…

 

Deep in the rainforests – and occasionally patrolling the beaches, roads and campgrounds of Far North Queensland – an ancient creature struts its stuff. A tall casque sits atop its head whilst two wattles droop from it’s neck – yes, it’s a Southern Cassowary. The Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuaris) is a large flightless bird found in North Queensland and Papua New Guinea. They forage on the Forest Floor for fruits, of which some can only be digested by the Southern Cassowary; hence the importance of protecting this federally listed endangered species.

The cassowary has coarse hair-like feathers which give it a glossy and rough appearance when seen close up. Its wing stubs carry a small number of long, modified quills which curve around the body and appear rather imposing but serve little function other than decoration. Each heavy, well-muscled leg has three toes, with the inside toe bearing a large 12cm long dagger-shaped claw  used for fighting other birds, not humans as we have been led to believe. Newly-hatched chicks are striped dark brown and creamy white for approximately 6 months then the stripes fade and the plumage changes to plain brown. As the young mature, the plumage darkens, the wattles and casque develop and the skin colour on the neck and wattles brighten.




There are 5 factors in the decline in numbers of the Southern Cassowary, that have made it an Endangered species:

  • Ongoing loss of habitat through clearing for residential development and agricultural expansion
  • Fragmented habitat – ever decreasing forest size (especially from roads and subdivisions)
  • Car strikes – road kills are the number one cause of adult cassowary deaths
  • Feral pigs – impact on their habitat and eat eggs
  • Dogs – attack cassowaries and can often cause death because they are especially aggressive to chicks and juveniles. This also leads to a dislike of Cassowaries by civilians as it encourages a mentality of ‘the Cassowary attacked my poor dog’ regardless of the truth of the situation in which the dog most likely initiated conflict and the Cassowary is a native Endangered species whilst dogs are declared a pest when feral.

 

 

Unfortunately the media does not portray any species of Cassowary in a positive light but as I discovered on my trip to Cape York, the Southern Cassowary is one of the most curious, inquisitive and pleasant birds to share company with, and certainly not deserving of the reputation it has been given. The only time to exhibit extreme caution around the Southern Cassowary is when the Male is taking care of young chicks and even in this situation if you give them room to move you will be fine. If you do stumble across one with young, and it does get defensive, the best option is to hide behind an object, like a tree, or try to appear taller than you are by putting your hands in the air.

I encourage you to slow down when driving through the bush no matter where you are in Australia but also treat yourself and go looking for Cassowary this year, if you’d like to see Southern Cassowary in the wild feel free to contact us on Facebook or at gumnutmail@gmail.com and we can recommend locations to see these ancient and misunderstood birds.

Bird Behaviour Breakdown – Double-eyed Fig-parrots

Birds have one of the most evolved and complex behavioral systems of any animal group. This is due to the extra dynamics birds face living in the skies in comparison to terrestrial animals. Birds need to keep a high metabolism, with higher body temperatures than most terrestrial animals, to upkeep their insatiably high activity rates. Birds also need to keep their feathers in the utmost perfect conditions to ensure that their are no problems during flight. If a bird has damaged wing feathers and attempts to fly, it can cost them their lives.

However during my travels I have observed quite interesting and less obvious behaviors of birds, which often left me scratching my head with confusion until I researched it a bit. The first odd and memorable behavior  I witnessed was that from a Double-eyed Fig-parrot (Cyclopsitta ) I was taking photos of at Gordonvale just south of Cairns.
Cyclopsitta diophthalma race macleayana - Double-eyed Fig-Parrot

At first I though this fig-parrot was eating something growing on the branch of this rainforest tree. I thought it was most likely the lichen. But even from the limited knowledge I knew of Double-eyed Fig-parrots, I knew this could not be the case. Fig-parrots like other parrots, are mainly granivores, meaning they mostly eat seeds.

IMG_0698As I went through the photos it became apparent that the parrot was chewing on the wooden structures of the branch and not actually consuming anything. This is actually a behavior that most bird keepers would know well. In captivity, bird keepers are required to include a cuddle-bone shell for their bird to sharpen their beak on. Wild birds however do not have access to a cuddle-bone and prefer to sharpen their beaks on branches.

IMG_0697This behavior I observed of the Double-eyed Fig-parrots is completely normal for wild birds and not as bizarre as I initially suspected. This parrot was prepping his beak ready to crack some rainforest plant seed shells. Which rainforest plant seed does this parrot species prefer? Figs ofcourse! This is where the Double-eyed Fig-parrot gets its common name from.

There is one other explanation of this behavior, which is more exciting! Fig parrots actually chew holes in trees to make their nests. Instead of waiting for fungi and termites to erode away a tree hollow they take it upon themselves to masterfully excavate their own tree hollow. This fig parrot could have been testing the branch to find dampened weak spots to dig a tree hollow in.

Based of the fact this parrot was gnawing on on both the branch and the twig jutting out from the branch, I’d say we were observing the first behavior. It’s still exciting to decipher and ponder this rarely seen behavior in wild birds!

Double-eyed Fig-Parrot (Cyclopsitta diophthalma)

To find out the next strange behavior I encountered, follow the link at the end of this post.




Click here for the next bird behavior breakdown!

SAVE KUARK – GECO Citizen Science Forest Camp

The Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) have been running citizen science camps in Goongerah and Kuark Forest for multiple years. These camps captivate and connect environmentalist from all over Australia to highlight the pristine beauty of the rainforest in the East Gippsland and also reveal and publicise the conservation issues these areas face. The camp is run free of charge in an area of bush approximately 2 hours from Orbost and is family friendly and also provides $ 5 vegan friendly meals which go towards conservation of Kuark Forest

 

The group in the bush

Preparing for forest surveys

 

 

The citizen science forest camps usually consist of 4 days over a long weekend and is run multiple times a year. Volunteers assist in camera survey techniques, vegetation surveys, rainforest plant ID, spotlighting surveys and creek surveys, all for endangered species found in this area. Volunteers also get to engage in seminars on different threatened species found in the area, rainforest plant evolution in Australia and environmental policies, which is held in an outdoor style lecture theater. This event is especially relevant for environmental science students who wish to gain in field experience in these skills, and is also very eye opening to witness environmental conservation issues first hand.

 

Forest lecture theater

Forest lecture theater

 

The habitat found in Kuark Forests are so unique and awe inspiring. This location boasts a collection of rare fauna and flora species, as well as being one of the only places in Australia where cool temperate rainforest intermixes with warm temperate rainforest. The symphony of a multi-species quire of birds can be heard echoing through the rain forest in the misty mornings and as dusk descends, the avian songs are overtaken by frog choruses and owl calls. Its hard to grapple and wrap you’re head around the sheer diversity of plants and animals in this region. Every ten steps you take, you become surrounded by a new set of plant species.

 

The unique Victoriana Smooth Toadlet (Geocrinia victoriana) which is common through the Kuark Forest | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

The unique Victoriana Smooth Toadlet (Geocrinia victoriana) which is common through the Kuark Forest | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

 

Unfortunately VicForests does not do comprehensive environmental impact surveys which often leaves threatened species and protected old growth rainforest in the wake of a forest demolition crew, which leaves GECO and other keen environmentalist scrambling to survey the scheduled logging coupes properly before logging takes place. Almost in every area to be logged, volunteer ecological surveys reveal threatened species and threatened plant communities.

 

Logging destruction

Kuark Forest logging destruction

 

In the most recent field trip, multiple threatened species were found in an area scheduled to be logged by VicForests, some of which were critically endangered. Threatened species found included: Slender Tree Fern (Cyathea cunninghamii) ENDANGERED, an unsubscribed crayfish in the Orbost Spiny Crayfish Complex (Euastacus sp.) ENDANGERED, and a healthy population of the East Gippsland Galaxias (Galaxias aequipinnis) CRITICALLY ENDANGERED. It just goes to show that if this particular citizen science camp did not take place, the East Gippsland Galaxias could’ve been a step closer to extinction, with a reduction of the already narrow distribution of this rare fish species. These finds of threatened species will result in a report which will conserve 20+ hectares of forests.

 

Slender Tree Fern (Cyathea cunnghamii), main ID feature is having a trunk < 10 cm | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Slender Tree Fern (Cyathea cunnghamii), main ID feature is having a trunk < 10 cm | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Undescribed Orbost Spiny Crayfish (Euastacus sp.) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Undescribed Orbost Spiny Crayfish (Euastacus sp.) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

East Gippsland Galaxias (Galaxias aequipinnis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

East Gippsland Galaxias (Galaxias aequipinnis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

 

It’s tough to deal with such senseless destruction first hand, especially when you are hit with the facts:

  • VicForests is a government enterprise which means that they have a certain amount of government protection and have only been brought to court over the multitude of threatened species habitat destruction breaches ONCE.
  • The government has enforced laws to try to stop environmentalists surveying their logging coupes so that their breaches aren’t identified, with on the stop fines for anyone who enters areas to be logged.
  • VicForests logging turn high quality rainforest habitat into low quality products such as wood chips and paper.
  • Companies from Japan, China and Korea buy these wood chips off us because it is cheaper for them.
  • Despite all the destruction and removal of threatened species habitat, VicForests still have been loosing money with losses of 22.1 million dollars (of tax payers money!) in the last few years.
  • VicForests never run comprehensive surveys of the areas proposed to be logged and rely on outdated and inaccurate vegetation maps on GIS programs. Do to this kind of devastating and invasive work in pristine forest habitat, their needs to be comprehensive surveys of these areas for threatened species and for rainforest habitat with independent ecologist. 
  • The old growth forests (which are meant to be protected by law) still get logged unnecessarily which will never recover to that state again. Old growth forests take hundreds of years to develop and have extant trees which can be up to 700 years old.
  • The unique beauty of this area has the potential to make far more money via ecotourism and is a conservation tourism franchise waiting to happen.
  • The bottom line is the wood harvesting industry is a dying business. Email replaced paper years ago…

 

I encourage all Sydney siders to get down to Victoria and experience the amazing old growth rainforest for yourselves! To help in conservation of the unique rainforests of East Gippsland donate or volunteer with the Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO).

Other simple steps you can take to help conserve the forests in East Gippsland is to ensure you purchase sustainable and ethically produced paper, or primarily use email, as a lot of the forests which are logged in the Gippsland are ultimately turned into paper for the company Reflex Paper. Click here for more information.

Comment below if you have explored the forests in East Gippsland!

SAVE KUARK

 

The Rainforest of Thunder and Frogs: Bruxner Park Flora Reserve

Only a 15 minute drive from Coffs Harbour lies a luscious rain forest full of strangler figs and cat birds. The Bruxner Park Flora Reserve is home to a spectacular and tranquil section of almost untouched tropical rain forest. This was one of the places I had to visit which I was going up the coast. There are a few bushwalks and 4WD tracks, but the most obvious start when venturing into the reserve is to check out Sealy Lookout which has a forest sky pier, overlooking the bush, the entire of Coffs Harbour and right out to the sea.

 

The view from Sealy Point Lookout | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

The view from Sealy Point Lookout | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Birds eye view of the rainforest from Sealy Point Lookout | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Birds eye view of the rainforest from Sealy Point Lookout | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

After witnessing the rain forest from a birds view, it makes it evening more enticing to go frolicking in the forest. The tracks through the rain forest are quite short (only a few km long) and have good accessibility. The first feature of the walks you are bound to notice is the huge canopy, being made up of towering Flooded Gums (Eucalyptus grandis), some with a Strangler Fig (Ficus watkinsiana) taking hold. Where ever you look there are epiphytes and ferns, mixed with the calls of rain forest frugivorious birds. There are also pebble creeks and leaf litter filled tributaries running intermittently throughout the park. These spots piqued my curiosity for the potential frogs found here which meant I just had to come back at night!

 

A huge Strangular Fig (Ficus watkinsiana) with huge buttress roots | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

A huge Strangular Fig (Ficus watkinsiana) with huge buttress roots | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

The base of a giant Flooded Gum (Eucalyptus grandis), which is several meters in diameter | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

The base of a giant Flooded Gum (Eucalyptus grandis), which is several meters in diameter | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

My curiosity about the potential amphibian fauna was piqued even more so after finding small tadpoles in a ditch made my a 4WD… Can anyone have a guess who these tadpoles might belong to? I will reveal the proud parent of them towards the end of this article.

 

Tadpoles in a mud ditch. Each tiny dot represents one tadpole | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Tadpoles in a mud ditch. Each tiny dot represents one tadpole | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

All I needed in hopes for plenty of frogs to be out was some rain. A tropical storm could be heard brewing in the distance, and as if the clouds heard my wish, Bruxner Park was drenched in torrential rain for a good hour.

Starting near the creeks at one of the bush tracks, I set out just at sun set to explore the humid and wet forest. The first encounters of the night were the frogs calling from the stream. There were numerous Mountain Stream Frogs (Litoria phyllochroa) and also the Tusked Frog (Adelotus brevis), which is a strange amphibian, coming from one of the most ancient lineages of frogs found today. I also found a tiny metamorph of a tree frog, with no idea what species it could be.

 

A male Tusked Frog (Adelotus brevis) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

A male Tusked Frog (Adelotus brevis) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

A Mountain Stream Frog (Litoria barringtonensis) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

A Mountain Stream Frog (Litoria barringtonensis) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

A tiny Litoria sp. metamorph sitting on a fallen palm frond | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

A tiny Litoria sp. metamorph sitting on a fallen palm frond | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

After exploring the creek, the bush tracks were my next area to explore. With plenty of attention being showed to the ground, I saw amazing amounts and diversity of invertebrates running around. Its no wonder that there is an abundance of animals within this reserve, as the higher trophic level organisms have a huge range of food to choose from. I photographed some of the interesting invertebrates I cam across.

 

A giant cricket like insect with huge pincers | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

A giant cricket like insect with huge pincers | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

The cricket in comparison to my shoe | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

The cricket in comparison to my shoe | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

A small stick insect found on the forest floor | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

A small stick insect found on the forest floor | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

After a short while searching, I found a dried up tributary with a sizable chorus of Red-Backed Toadlets (Pseudophryne coriacea). These small frogs lay terrestrial nests and wait for there eggs to be washed into a near by pool of water for the tadpoles to emerge. They are an interesting and variable frog species and the taxonomy hints that they may comprise multiple species. The underside of these frogs is brightly marbled and may be used as a flash colouration to deter predators from eating it. Each frog has its own unique belly patterns.

 

The colourful underside of the Red-Backed Toadlet, which has patterns unique to each individual | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

The colourful underside of the Red-Backed Toadlet, which has patterns unique to each individual | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

The Red Backed Toadlet (Pseudophryne coriacea)

The Red Backed Toadlet (Pseudophryne coriacea)

Red-Backed Toadlet (Pseudophryne coriacea)

 

While walking back to the car, I found a relaxed Eastern Stony-Creek Frog (Litoria wilcoxii) which is quite a common frog which are particularly nomadic, and seem to enjoy travelling. You can sometimes find them well away from any water body!

On the way back I heard a stuttering noise. Lo and behold, I found what frog species was breeding in a road ditch…

 

 

Eastern Stony-Creek Frog (Litoria wilcoxii) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Eastern Stony-Creek Frog (Litoria wilcoxii) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

A Sandpaper Frog! (Lechriodus fletcheri) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

A Sandpaper Frog! (Lechriodus fletcheri) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

It made perfect sense to me that a Sandpaper Frog was responsible for these tadpoles. After all they much prefer breeding in highly ephemeral waters.

After the excitement of finding the mystery frog I sat back to watch the lighting storm which had made its way just past Coffs Harbour, onto the sea. That’s when I noticed that Sealy Point Lookout had not been closed yet…

I Instantly took the opportunity to check out the storm from this vantage point (and my presence ruined a couples romantic moment). I say it was worth it since I managed to get some photos of the storm above Coffs Harbour from the lookout. Even if I didn’t have a tripod.

 

Coffs Harbour storm

 

The storm concluded my adventure in Bruxner Park Flora Reserve. This place is a must see for nature enthusiasts which are visiting Coffs Harbour. Next time you are up in the coast of northern NSW, it’s well worth a check out!