Friday, July 12, 2013

How to see a Cassowary

CASSOWARIES - Do they really exist?

Visitors unfamiliar with our wonderful wildlife often ask about Cassowaries. Why are they so hard to find?    Do they really exisit?

Well, be assured, they do.  Cassowaries have their own way of making a living.  They are sometimes secretive, sometimes very visible but provided visitors take account of the cassowary's lifestyle it is relatively easy to spot them in habitats that support them.  For us in Mossman this really means north of the Daintree River but cassowaries have been seen near the Mossman Gorge, on the Rex Highway out of Mossman to Jullaten and in the Tablelands and the Barron Gorge National Park.  Further away cassowaries are often seen at Mission Beach wandering through gardens.  But for us, cassowaries generally mean looking in the Daintree National park.

Cassowaries are members of the Ratite family of birds.  Other ratites include Emus, Ostriches, Kiwis and Rheas.  There are several species of Cassowary, including three in New Guinea and one in Australia - the Southern Cassowary. New Guinea is the cassowary's principal home but "our" cassowary found its way here when sea levels were lower and stayed on in the Tropical Rainforests of Far North Queensland as its habitiat in Australia shrank as rainfall patterns changed over the past 100,000 years.

Cassowaries are big.  An adult stands around 1.8m metres tall and can stretch up to 2 metres.  Females tend to be bigger than males, with larger casques but less colour and smaller neck wattles.  The cassowary's casque is horny outside with a fiberous inside - its purpose is not known.  One explanation is that it magnifies the Cassowaries lowcalls.  Another is to assist the bird to push through thick undergrowth. They are flightless and covered in modified feathers like thick hairs.  They have very large and powerful legs with big toes and long sharp claws. Cassowaries can be dangerous if surprised with chicks or cornered by visitors. Their muscular legs can inflict serious and sometimes fatal wounds. The last recorded death was a young boy in the early years of the 20th century at what is now called Cassowary Creek between Mossman and Port Douglas.

           amusing road sign amended by a local joker and now a icon of the Daintree

So why are they sometimes hard to find?  Firstly they are forest birds, often of the deep forest.  They are visiible only by chance in the forest - they move silently, call infrequently and anyway use only low rumble as a call which is hard to hear.  They feed throughout the day but are most active after dawn and before dusk.  When the cassowary crosses a road is the best time to see it.   But they are birds of habit, and often appear at places regularly, for example near the car park at the Jindalba forest walk just past the Discovery Centre.  Females are promiscuous and mate with as many males as takes their fancy.  The egg/s are looked after by the male who guards the chick through its first year or so of life.  The female plays no part in raising it. Chicks can walk immediately out of the egg; they are brown (with beige latitudinal stripes while really young) until their adult plumage starts to replace it at the end of its first year. 

                        cassowaries are vunerable when crossing roads - Slow Down!

Cassowaries eat fruits, seeds, small arthropods and insects and probably take small animals if they can catch them.  A good way to find out if cassowaries are around is to watch out for their droppings - large piles of voided seeds and fruit husks.  We found eight piles of droppings once in the Barron Gorge, each progressivley warmer, and heard a cassowary calling.  But despite keeping quiet and watching carefully we never caught up with it.  Visits to the Daintree National park normally produce at least one cassowary each visit.  Of course its a matter of luck but provided the timing is right and the habitat suitable visitors armed with the right knowledge can expect to come across this wonderful bird and often its chicks.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Croc tears (by the EHP) for Mo the Mowbray crocodile

Our guardian angels, otherwise the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection have decreed that the wonderful 3m plus croc that lives around the bridge over the Mowbray River (and has done for years) is now a danger to the public, has been seen showing agressive behavior etc etc and must be moved (civil service euphamism for trapped and shot/handbagged (take your pick)).

This brave decsion has come about because the crocodile is now a danger to the public because the public has been feeding it.  Hard to believe really.  Mo just hangs around the area doing what crocodiles do, sleeping, hunting, mating and so on.  There is no access to it - anglers fish of a pier.  Maybe the EHP worry that Mo was going to grow legs and savage one or two passing cars on the Captain Cook Highway.

The public is in much greater danger from passing traffic than from Mo.  But don't let thousands of clearly expressed views by concerned residents not wanting the crocodile to be touched, interfere with the bumbling Nanny State.  EHP manager of wildlife operations Mike Devery said 

"Among other things, the crocodile has been observed by wildlife rangers reacting to disturbance and swimming at speed on the water's surface towards anything that attracts its attention," he said.
"People have been feeding this crocodile from the road.
"This is an unlawful and dangerous practice."

So its all our fault.  Thanks Mike we sleep in our beds more safely knowing you are there for us

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Bump Track

Port Douglas Bump Track

Visitors to Far North Queensland who enjoy walking are often surprised at how few obvious walks there are here.  But there are in fact some really good, lesser known walks and one, the Bump Track has great appeal.

The track was blazed by Christie Palmeston in the 1877 as a route from the Hodgkinson Gold Fields in the western Tablelands to the coast at what became Port Douglas.  It followed a well established but unfrequented aboriginal track from Black Mountain to the Daintree coast.

The track is about 6kms long and is quite steep in places.  It makes a good day walk, including the side trip to look at the Mowbray Falls (when its not too wet).  When the track was first used teams of bullocks pulled wagons up the track from Mowbray, with rest stops at several places.  there was even a hotel one third the way up.   When cars made their appearance, horses, and sometimes bullocks were needed to get them up the steepest parts
                                          up the Track in 1928

There are no signs of the hotel or the bullock pens now but helpful interpretive signs tell the story and have some good photographs.

The track starts at Mowbray, just past the Diggers Bridge on Connolly Road.  The first part, Slatey Pinch is the steepest and narowest part.  Thereafter the track broadens and winds its way through rain forest, dry eucalypt scrub and across streams to Black Mountain Road.  There are excellent views from the track to the sea and across to the Mobray Falls.  The track continues across the road but most users terminate their trip here and return to Mowbray, downhill this time!  Look out for the difficult to find orange marker indicating the narrow track to the Mowbray Falls - on the right just past Robbins Creek on the ascent.  In the wet the Falls make an impressive sight but the track can be slippery. 

The trail is used by walkers, mountain bikers and horse trail riders.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Mossman and Sugarcane

Mossman is a sugar town.  Although sugar is the reason for Mossman’s existence, it is not the only thing that goes on here.  It’s position on the main road to Mossman Gorge makes it an important destination and travellers heading north up the Bloomfield Track to the Daintree National Park and Cape York stop here to fill up with food and provisions.

But sugar dominates the landscape.  The early settlers had to take out enormous amounts of forest to create the rolling fields of cane that now runs from the mountains to the sea.  The earliest settlers have left their mark.  Dan Hart, maybe the earliest in 1877, was responsible for the seeds of the rain trees than line the road north from Mossman by the church.  Others planted mango trees that now line the road to the Mossman Gorge – to the estate then called Mungo Park. 

Sugar is a very specialised sub-tropical and tropical grass that originated in South Asia.  In northern NSW the crop takes two years growing to reach maturity but in Far North Queensland – from around Ingham well up to Mossman - sugar is an annual crop. Early sugar varieties tended to last around three years before they need to be grubbed out and replanted but modern varieties can grow and be cut through five or more seasons.  Replanting sugarcane is straightforward.  20mm sections of cane are dropped into furrows – that’s it.  The cane sprouts just like any other grass and soon grows up to four metres high.  The cutting season starts just after the cane flowers, around late June and ends around late October, depending on the weather – too much rain delays cutting.  Around 500,000 tonnes of cane is processed through the Mossman mill annually although with new cane coming from as far away as the Atherton tablelands in 2013 the total will be much more.  The mill, constructed in the late 1890s, but heavily modified since can deal with around one million tonnes.

While the cane grows it needs weeding, feeding and chemical control of fungal diseases like Rust.  Specially designed high tractors can drive through the cane rows.  It’s a continual concern to ensure that runoff of fertilisers do not impact too much on the Barrier Reef so farmers look to ways to minimise the application of inorganic fertiliser.  Mill Mud, a by- product of the cane crushing process, is applied to new fields prior to planting.

sugarcane in Mossman
The cane is cut using machinery adapted from maize harvesters. The harvester cuts about four rows at once, topping the non productive part of the cane which is discharged through a waste shute, and cutting the cane into 20mm pieces.  This is dropped into the waiting truck that follows alongside the harvester
The cane then goes to the mill in trucks or by the narrow guage cane railway.  This railway, first set up in 1887, used also to take passengers between Mossman and Port Douglas but is now exclusively used for cane.  The tracks are cleaned up every May and long trains of many wheeled bins get to the mill through what used to be the main street in Mossman – Mill Street.  The loaded wagons make a great photo and the trains often stop traffic during the cutting season as they have priority over road traffic.

The cane crushing process starts as the trucks or trains wagons discharge the cut cane into hoppers in the ground which take the cane to be washed (producing the mill mud) and then in the crusher. The resulting juice is then boiled in enormous vats and eventually turned into low-GI white sugar, molasses and other sugar by-product.  The liquid products generally go by road to Bundaberg on the south east Queensland coast to be refined or made into rum.  The plant waste, baggasse, has use in animal feed and mulch.
Cane fires were once a regular, and spectacular occurrence.  Until machinery was used to cut the cane the job was done by hand.  Hot dirty and dangerous too.  To minimise the transfer of disease through rate droppings and to improve the sugar content of the cane it was fired just before harvest.  Today cane is still fired but more rarely, although the fields are sometimes fired to return the cane stumps to the soil as potash.  The fire is quickly over but the noise of it like an express train.  Very spectacular!

cane fire from Papillon

Friday, June 7, 2013

Coffee works for us

Papillon has lots of coffee growing in our garden so we wondered about making some coffee from the berries....Our coffee normally comes from the wonderful Bruno Maloberti in Mareeba. Bruno gave us some tips on home production. Don't worry Bruno we will stick with North Queensland Gold!! But it was fun, if very time consuming to try to produce some at home

coffee flowers are very attractive

so are the berries

green beans starting their roasting

nearly ready after 17 minutes

amazingly wonderful pot of coffee from Papillon's garden