October 25, 2013

Our Raptors Have Us In Raptures This Month On Fraser Island

Hi Tree Huggers, bark falling from our Scribbly Gums (Eucalyptus haemastoma) and our Smooth-barked Apple Trees (Angophora costata) in the Great Sandy National Park has heralded the arrival of October here on Fraser Island.

Short-tailed Shearwaters are washing up in Hervey Bay
Tongue Orchids (Bulbophyllum fletcherianum) are in bloom at Central Station; Red-capped Doterel’s (Charadrius ruficapillus) – looking very much like a miniature Speedy Gonzales – are running a-million-miles-an-hour on tiny legs on the eastern beach; and scientists from the University of Queensland can be seen taking sand-core samples in and around the island to assist with their climate research.

This month, we’ve had a few questions from curious guests, who have ventured over to the eastern beach and noticed a lot of exhausted and dying birds on the waterline.  Short-tailed Shearwaters or Mutton Birds (Puffinus tenuirostris - see above left) migrate annually from Siberia to rookeries as far south as Tasmania and run into trouble when they encounter strong winds and storms out to sea.  Exhausted, they drop to the water and are washed to shore by the current providing a good food source for baby Dingoes (Canis lupis dingo) who are just out of their dens and for Raptors like the White-belled Sea Eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster), and so, the cycle of life continues.

The aerial acrobatics of a White-bellied Sea Eagel
Known as ‘giants of the sky’, our White-bellied Sea Eagles (pictured right) have also been captivating audiences on our Ranger-guided walks from Kingfisher Bay Resort on the western side of the island.  A ‘Raptor’ or ‘Bird of prey’ (which loosely translates from the Latin root, rapere, to mean seize and capture) is the name given to predatory birds - Eagles, Hawks, Falcons and Owls - that have keen vision and hunt with their strong talons and sharply hooked beaks.

White-belled Sea Eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster) have a wingspan that can measure between 1.5 and 2 metres and their wings form a shallow V in flight.  If you have the eyes of a Hawk, you may be lucky enough to spot the nest of one of these feathered giants, which can be situated up to 30 metres high in the tree line.

DID YOU KNOW True Eagles have their legs covered entirely in feathers? On Fraser, our Sea Eagles (despite their name) are in fact a large species of Kite.

A Brahminy Kite is the skies above Fraser Island
Perhaps the most frequently sighted raptor on island is the medium-sized Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus - pictured left), which is easily distinguishable by its deep chestnut brown plumage and contrasting white head and breast.

We often spot Brahminy Kites scanning the coastline and preying on small fish species such as Southern Blue Whiting (Micromesistius Australis) and Australian Herring (Arripis georgianus) as well as carrion (dead animals like the Mutton Birds we mentioned earlier) and small invertebrates such as Soldier Crabs (Mictyris Longicarpus) and insects.

Wing tips like fingers - the Whistling Kite in action
Whistling Kites (Haliastur sphenurus - pictured right) are also spotted frequently and can be fiercely territorial - guarding their nests in pairs and usually with brute force. On one of our recent guided canoe paddles in nearby Dundonga creek, we had the pleasure of witnessing an amazing aerial ‘dog fight’ between paired Whistlers and a rogue White-bellied Sea Eagle, fighting for territory, dominancy and food.

Well our non-feathered friends, it’s time for us to fly.  Stay tuned for next month’s edition of our blog, but until then, soar you later!  Ranger Luke.

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