August 15, 2014

It’s Winter On Fraser: Fishermen Are Flocking, Wedding Bushes Are Flowering And Dingo Pups Are Exploring…

The Wedding Bush is one of the most unusual plants on Fraser Island in that it can produce both male and female flowers on the one specimen.  At this time of year, when our Wedding Bushes (Ricinocarpos pinifolius) begin to flower their small, snowy white blossoms, we know it heralds the start of the annual running of the Tailor (Pomatomus saltatrix) on island. Winter was usually a prosperous season for the original inhabitants of Fraser Island - the Butchulla tribe - and one of the most important doctrines of tribal life was “if you have plenty you must share”… consequently many visitors would brave the Great Sandy Strait to share their bounty of fish.

Tailor season on Fraser. Pic: Cody Doucette, Matador Network
These days on Fraser, hundreds of fisher folk flock to Fraser hoping to catch Tailor (size limit is 35cm and there is a species’ limit of 20) and Jewfish (Protonibea diacanthus) off the eastern beach.  

Whilst it is still early days in the season, the Tailor have been keeping out wide to feed on huge schools of bait fish, but we expect them to head inshore as the north-westerlies blow.  South of Eurong, they’ve been landing some big Jewies in the gutters near First Creek.

A Dugong in the Great Sandy Strait Pic: The Gympie Times

Back to the western side, one species that we have welcomed back to our shores with open arms is the Dugong (Dugong dugon - pictured right).  These large herbivorous mammals with paddle-like forelimbs and a broad, horizontally flattened tail are on the endangered species list.  

Dugongs are closely related to the extinct Sea Cow (Hydrodamalis gigas) and feast on seagrass meadows - there are seven seagrass species in the The Great Sandy Strait (which separates Fraser Island from Hervey Bay on the mainland) and they are very sensitive to human influence.

Dugong numbers declined locally after muddy waters from the 2011 Queensland floods impacted their food supply by cutting sunlight to the seagrass pastures.  Although Dugong population sizes are hard to determine, due to the large scale movements along the coastline, scientific evidence suggests a long-term decline. 

Dugong are generally solitary or they travel in pairs or small groups – so passengers aboard the Kingfisher Bay Ferry to River Heads were thrilled to see three surface to catch a breath beside the boat late last month.

At this time of year, the Fraser Island Creeper (Tecomanthe hillii) is also in full bloom around our Awinya hotel wing and main pool areas at the resort.  If you’re visiting us, keep an eye out for clusters of bright pink tubular flowers, which create bright splashes of colour among the foliage of the trees they climb up. The creeper is only found in a few small isolated areas of eastern Australia, so the flowers are a real treat for visitors from both Australia and overseas.  Rangers are more than happy to point them out on our Ranger-guided walks in and around the resort.

In last month’s blog we mentioned that White-cheeked Honeyeaters (Phylidonyris nigra) were nesting around the resort. This month, their super cute fledglings are out of the nest and begging for food from their parents.   Our resident White-bellied Sea Eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster) have also been putting on a show during our Ranger-guided canoe paddles - you can imagine our excitement when we saw two eagles fighting in mid air, locking talons and spiralling out of control!

A Dingo in repose at Eli Creek. Pic: Troy Geltch, Air Fraser Island
Winter time in our neck of the woods also marks the time that female dingoes give birth and consequently protect their young and their territory. Interestingly, an American Bear Researcher (Dr Hank Harlow from the University of Wyoming) recently told ABC News that the dingo management practices on Fraser Island are similar to what is used in the Yellowstone National Park for Grizzly Bears.

Dr Harlow says that unlike bears, convincing people to stay away from dingoes can be difficult. He says that you can tell a Grizzly Bear has mischief on his mind whilst people thought that because dingoes looked like pets, there was no danger.

A recent incident on Fraser (and continuous posts of human/dingo selfies on social media) serves as a reminder that dingoes most definitely aren’t pets and there is a need to follow the 'DINGO SAFETY' rules when out and about in The Great Sandy National Park.  Queensland Parks and Wildlife currently imposes hefty fines on visitors who feed these animals and encourage socialisation with humans. Resorts, like Kingfisher Bay and Eurong Beach are surrounded by fences to keep the dingoes from being loved too much by the general public.

Fraser’s totally wild and that's why we love it. Who knows what we’ll see next month - catch you then.