April 25, 2014

Dolphins, Dingoes And A House Call For A Sick Pandanus Tree

As early April rolled into Easter, it’s been all hands on deck at the resort as we’ve welcomed guests from all over the globe to our sandy shores for a spot of R&R.  April signals the start of winter Myrtaceae wildflower season for us on Fraser and we’ve noticed our gorgeous Swamp Mahogany (Eucalpytus robusta), Blue Gums (Eucalyptus globulus) and Paperbark (Melaleuca quinquenervia) start to bloom over the last few weeks.

As one would expect, our Honeyeaters and autumn birds are taking full advantage of the veritable feast on offer.  Eagle-eyed bird watchers are most likely to see the easily recognisable male Scarlet Honeyeaters (Myzomela sanguinolenta) and the inquisitive Eastern Yellow Robins (Eopsaltria australis) – as the name suggests, look for yellow underparts - darting through the resort grounds.

That's what we call a ferry ride AND a show!
We’ve had a few grey days on island, but with more than 80% of the state now drought-declared and off the back of one of the driest summers the Fraser Coast has seen in decades; we certainly have welcomed the rainfall.

This month, guests on our ferry service from Hervey Bay were treated to some fun displays as pods of inquisitive Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis) put on acrobatic displays in the Great Sandy Strait.  Photographer, Mark Pryor, was quick enough to capture the action – which was a highlight on his first every trip to Fraser Island and brightened up one of those aforementioned grey days.  Even the fisherfolk and resort guests enjoying a tipple at the Jetty Hut, have seen these animals feeding and playing near the end of the resort’s jetty.

Now, from dancing dolphins to Pandanus Planthoppers... 

Ranger Gordon inoculates our sick tree
We all know that if you have a sick pet, you call a vet… but what do you do when you’ve got a sick tree?  Well, this month Queensland Parks made an unexpected house call to the resort to help us inoculate our Pandanus trees against the dreaded Pandanus Planthopper (Jamella australiae) insect.

DID YOU KNOW: Pandanus trees have cultural significance to the Aboriginal people? They are virtually a one-stop-shop for shade, medicine, tools and food - their nutlike fruit tastes a bit like peanuts when it ripens to a deep orangey colour.

The Pandanus (Pandanus spp), or Screw Pine as it is sometimes called, is native to the east coast of Australia, in fact, there are 17 species in Queensland alone.  Planthopper insects, however, are endemic to Tropical North Queensland. Up in the tropics, these insect populations are kept in check by a native parasitic wasp (Aphanomerus sp.) that lays its eggs in the Planthopper egg rafts (see below). As the wasp larvae hatch, they eat the Planthoppers and the natural balance is restored.

Planthopper eggs on a Pandanus tree
In other parts of Australia – like Fraser Island - we don’t have the TNQ wasp species and these small 8mm insects can cause significant damage to our beautiful trees.  This primarily occurs when they feed on the tree’s sap and then secrete a sticky substance which in turns promotes mould growth and a generally weakening of the tree.

Rangers Gordon and Jenna have treated Pandanus throughout the Great Sandy National Park and arrived at Kingfisher to help our gardeners inoculate our trees.  Generally, there are three main control methods – chemical, physical and biological – and so the team stripped the trees of the affected/dead leaves (physical) before injecting an insecticide in the outer trees (chemical) – which forms a barrier.  Inoculation, however, is not seen by the scientific community as a long term solution, so the QPWS team are trailblazing for the region by developing a management plan and by looking to securing funding for an effective biological solution – introducing a wasp breeding program to control the Planthopper population.

Will our temperate climes be warm enough to sustain this breeding program? Watch this space!

Canoe-eye-view. Thanks to Vanessa and Matt for the share
And to round out a busy month, we end on the news that the Dingo (Canis dingo) has been given its own species status, recognising that it is not descended from dogs or wolves as once thought. Australian Geographic, in a recently published article, wrote: “Canis dingo was the scientific name originally proposed; however, as scientists struggled to establish exactly how the Dingo came to inhabit Australia, or determine its genetic lineage, other names such as Canis lupus dingo (indicating a connection to the wolf - lupus) and Canis familiaris dingo (implying domestication) were used.”

A Fraser Island Dingo, by any name, is still a magnificent creature, so you can imagine our delight when we came across one of these magnificent creatures whilst on a Ranger-guided canoe paddle to Dundonga Creek recently.  We’re not sure who was watching whom, but it was a great, iconic island experience that absolutely blew us away – as the photos show.

Stay tuned Tree Huggers, who knows what’s in store next month!

April 10, 2014

Here On Fraser, We're Marching Towards Autumn

Showers of rain were a welcome sight for the Fraser Coast this month after one of the driest summers in several decades here on Fraser Island. The good news is that the tracks have firmed up; some Fraser Island Great Walks have reopened; both Qld Parks and our team have been out grading the sand in preparation for the Easter holidays; and the sun is back out for visitors headed our way.

March signals the end of the turtle breeding season, but we’re still hearing reports of hatchlings at Sandy Cape and along 75-Mile Beach near the wreck of the Maheno.  The island really comes alive at this time of the year as autumn birds including Grey Fantails (Rhipidura fuliginosa) and Caspian Terns (Sterna caspia) return to our shores, blue Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa spp) are the epitome of 'busy bees' as they start burrowing in preparation for winter; Stingrays have been spotted in the clear waters off our jetty during our Ranger-guided night time walks and the skies in and around our mirror lakes in the resort grounds are awash with Dragonflies and Damselflies.

An Australian Tiger Dragonfly on Fraser
Dragonflies and Damselflies both belong to the order Odonata and all odonates share certain characteristics, including membranous wings, large eyes and small antennae,  There are also clear differences between the two groups, but you might need a magnifying glass to spot them!

Dragonflies are usually stocky and have eyes that touch or nearly touch at the top of their heads; whilst their long and slender Damselfly counterparts have eyes that are clearly separated on the side of their head.  Wing shape is also a dead giveaway - Dragonflies tend to have dissimilar wing pairs and their hind wings are broader at the base; Damselflies have wings that are similar in shape.

Fraser Island is a hotspot for both Dragonflies and Damselflies, with Australian Emeralds (Hemicordulia australiae), Fiery Skimmers (Orthetrum villosovittatum), Arrowhead Rockmasters (Diphlebia nymphoides) and Dune Ringtails (Austrolestes minjerriba) all showing regularly in the Wallum heath and across the island.

April heralds the start of the Dingo (Canis lupis dingo) mating season on Fraser Island, which takes place between April and June each year (and coincides with the Easter school holidays this year).  Litters of between 2 and 6 pups are born between July and September after a fairly short gestation period.  We’re currently hearing dingoes howling in and around the Z-Force Commando Site – which is totally the type of territorial and dominant behaviour we expect at this time of year.

Dingoes are territorial during mating season
DID YOU KNOW: As part of their public Dingo Safety Initiative, Queensland Parks and Wildlife have placed new dingo signs along island tracks and at barge departure points as a reminder to tourists not to be complacent around wild animals. 

The signs have simple rhymes -‘On Fraser never forget, a dingo is not a pet’ – which are designed to stick in visitors’ memories.

To the water, with just under four months to go until the start of the 2014 Whale Watch season – and the arrival of possibly our most watched residents - we’re pleased to report that a two-decade long research study has confirmed that Hervey Bay in south-east Queensland is the world's most important habitat for endangered Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae).

The study, published in February by Southern Cross University researcher Trish Franklin, is the first comprehensive look at how important Hervey Bay is for the survival of the species.  The research shows 95 per cent of whales return on a yearly basis – to the calm waters off Fraser Island - because the bay provides a safe haven for mature females and their calves.  Here on Fraser, the Humpback Whale Watch season runs from 1 August til the end of October with some of the most prolific calm-water whale spotting in Australia.

Humpback Whales are the most surface active
Invariably during the season inquisitive Humpbacks, referred to as ‘friendlies’, will approach whale-watching boats very closely, often staying under or near the boat for many minutes.  Half-day trips depart daily from Kingfisher Bay Resort from 0745 during the season (Aug 1 - 31 Oct) and accommodated packages are available.

It’s been a busy March – scientists even discovered a new species of spider on Fraser Island called the Reinhard’s Leichardt Spider, which was one of 221 new species across Australia - and there’s more wildlife action to look forward to in the coming months, tree huggers.

In closing, we’d like to give a big sound-out to our hard-working resort ranger team and leave you with the news that Australian Traveller magazine has named our popular Junior Eco Rangers program in their top 100 things to do with the kids in summer - but we reckon it's pretty awesome all year round.  What a way to end a great month!