February 27, 2013

A Summery Feast For Fraser's Honey Gluttons


FRASER ISLAND: Well, the tail end of summer has brought with it some much needed rain which has, in turn, hardened the island’s tracks nicely for our four-wheel-drive visitors. We’ve also seen lots of Lemon-scented Tea Tree (Leptospermum petersonii) and Swamp Banksia (Banskia robur), which are native to the area, starting to fruit and flower.  And, for treehuggers like myself, we’ve noticed many bird species flocking back to our shores.

Glutton for food - a fledgling Lewin's Honeyeater
Out and about in the resort grounds on our Ranger-guided bird walks we’ve seen (and definitely heard) some old favourites including Lewin’s Honeyeaters (Meliphagos lewinii - pictured right) going about their business in and around the resort’s restaurants and wallum heath area.  Lewin’s Honeyeaters have a distinctive machine-gun-like call and, in addition to insects and fruit, love to feed on nectar and honey (so the Swamp Banksia in the wallum health, on Fraser Island’s western side are ideal).

DID YOU KNOW? The Lewin’s Honeyeater’s Latin name of ‘Meliphagos’ actually means ‘honey glutton’ – which suits these little birds perfectly.  

Before the Europeans came to Australia, the Aboriginal people used fire to help them manage the environment, using a practise called mosaic burning.  Mosaic burning is essentially a controlled, low intensity burn that sweeps through the under-story of the bush in designated areas and creates a patchwork of burnt and unburnt bush areas.

A burst of colour in a barren landscape
Last May the resort conducted a small, controlled mosaic burn in the wallum to reduce the fuel load near our Centre Complex and hotel wings, but this style of burn also helped enhance our ecological diversity in the wallum heath by maintaining plant, animal and habitat needs.

If you take a look at our native Banksia seed pods in Australia, you could be forgiven for wondering how the fragile seeds could possibly break through the hard outer shell.  This is a great talking point on our Ranger-guided walks as we explain that when fire sweeps through bushland naturally (or in this case through the mosaic burn), it causes the pods to open and the seed to fall out and germinate within the ash resulting in a whole new generation of plants.  This is what we’re seeing at the moment in the wallum.

In fact, Mother Nature is truly amazing and within days of the burn, we started to see gorgeous green shoots sprouting up from our Sword Grass (Ghania clarkei - pictured above), Wide Bay Boronia (Boronia rivularis) and the Foxtail Sedge (Cautis blakei) and now, some 10 months later, the heath is looking fantastic.  This mosaic effect allows animals and birdlife can still flourish in the wallum and one species – the White Cheeked Honeyeater (Phylidonyris nigra) - which temporarily disappeared is now flocking back as their food stock is naturally replenished.

A White-bellied Sea Eagle in the skies above Fraser
On the Ranger-guided canoe paddles we have seen some majestic birds of prey, such as the White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster - pictured right) and, more frequently, the Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus) in the skies above us. The White-bellied Sea Eagle is the second largest bird of prey in Australia, and the largest bird of prey on Fraser Island. With a wingspan of almost two metres, it’s not hard to see why they attract attention.

And of course, what would the pool area be like without our Welcome Swallows (Hirundo neoxena). These small and incredibly agile birds dart incessantly as they search for insects.  The fork-shaped tail is just one way we identify them, but with binoculars you’ll truly appreciate the beautiful navy blues and orange hues on their back and chest.

It’s been a busy few months at Kingfisher Bay Resort and as we head into autumn, we look forward to seeing what our furry, feathered and marine friends get up to.

February 7, 2013

The Circle Of Life On Fraser Island


What a start to the summer we’ve had on Fraser Island with absolutely stunning weather all through Christmas and well into the New Year.  Australia Day saw the weather turn briefly as Ex-Cyclone Oswald moved down the Australian coastline… but since then it’s been business as usual for us - aside from some large puddles, downed tree branches and left litter, which the resort gardeners promptly gathered up to use for mulch in our onsite nursery.

We’ve also had a good variety of bush fruits in season around Kingfisher Bay this summer. The aptly-named Blue Tongues have finished fruiting - they were both delicious and amusing for our smaller guests as they tended to stain tongues blue for a few minutes. However, we still have Blue Quandongs, Blueberry Ash, and some sweet and lovely Lillypilly fruit waiting to be discovered during our guided day walks.

The life cycle of a Loggerhead Sea Turtle
The balmy conditions have also been perfect for our Ranger-guided night walks and we’ve seen all manner of creatures great and small.  Regular readers may know there are three species of freshwater turtle commonly found on Fraser Island including the Fraser Island short-necked turtle along with the Eastern snake-necked turtle and the Broad-shelled river turtle.

This month we’ve also seen one of our Sea Turtle species – the Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) - feeding on the oyster shells down near Kingfisher Bay’s jetty on the western side of Fraser.

These animals lay their eggs on the far north-west coast of the island from October with baby Loggerheads starting to hatch around mid-January (see picture below).

What you may not know is that a special group of volunteers – including our own Ranger Guide/Resident photographer Peter Meyer (who has helped in the past) - work tirelessly with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Rangers to assist the turtles during nesting season on Fraser Island.  As the local Fraser Coast Chronicle reported the volunteers spend weeks in isolation at Sandy Cape (on the northern tip of the island) and each day at around 3.30am they go in search of nests.

Loggerhead hatchlings - The Fraser Coast Chronicle
Typically there are about 80 to 100 eggs in every clutch and the volunteers carefully relocate them to a rookery behind the dunes to finish gestating. Once eggs start hatching, volunteers make sure the hatchlings aren’t distracted by bright lights or eaten by predators such as dingoes as they instinctively make their way to the ocean.

DID YOU KNOW? Turtles are one of the oldest reptile groups dating back 200 million years.

A little closer to the resort, we’ve seen plenty of beautiful Bluespotted Stingrays (Neotrygon kuhlii - see picture below) off the jetty.  These animals have their eyes on the top of their head and the mouth and nostrils on their underside and, over time, have had to adapt to feed.  In order to get at the food under the sand, these animals hover over the spot where they sense food is and pulse their sides up and down until the sand fans out beneath and behind them.  It’s then a simple matter to scoop food - mainly crabs - into their waiting mouths.

The Bluespotted Stingray is simply striking
Our amphibian mates have also relished the recent rainfall in the wallum and have made regular appearances during our night walks – with some Rocket frogs (Litoria nasuta) leaping over two metres in a single bound - keeping our guests amused.

As we move further into February, we’ll be turning our attention to the skies above Fraser Island and Hervey Bay with a report on our feathered friends.   Stay tuned tree huggers!