28 May
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Fitzroy Island Nature Wrap – May 2016

What an amazing start to the month!!!! First we had a simply glorious day soaked in sunshine, great visibility in the water again and then on the 2nd of May our delighted guests were treated to a genuine thrill during the morning fish feed when a medium-sized shark- unfortunately I could not see it well enough to identify its species- came cruising through the middle of the feed. Some excited guests threw fistfuls of pellets at the water whipping the fish into a frenzy in the hope that the shark might get excited and try to eat the fish; but it ignored the whole affair and just kept on cruising at its leisurely pace. It disappeared into the deeper water at the end of the jetty and we stood and peered after it only for a second figure to materialise- that of a large Shovelnose Ray! Again, no species identification but a decent-sized shark and a good six-foot long Shovelnose Ray are not exactly regular sights at our fish feed so it was pretty special. And up until then my highlight had been the appearance of Radagast; a Black Damselfish and my all-time favourite individual fish (he hadn’t come for a feed in several weeks so it got me excited).

But this month really has to belong to the insects- you’ll have to bear with me as I got a little snap happy this month! The Butterflies have become particularly abundant. You don’t even notice until the first one swoops in front of your face and then as you follow its progress you realise that the air is alive with various species swooping and diving, fighting and performing various aerial displays as they jostle to feed from the flowering trees. I tried my hardest to snap a photograph of each of the species but the smaller species proved particularly difficult. Even using a sports setting for the shutter speed, the best image I managed to capture was a blur. Fortunately some of the others were a little slower. As I stalked them I came to realise that I was not the only one whose attention was captivated by their colourful displays- there were a number of well camouflaged predators hiding amongst the flowers as well…

Photos (Left to Right): A Common Oakblue Butterfly flits quickly between flowers, the Caterpillar of a Geometrid Moth (identification courtesy of Queensland Museum) slowly climbs to look for food, a Green Spotted Triangle Butterfly shows off its incredible markings while a Blue Triangle Butterfly stikes a pose. Photos by Jen Moloney

Photos (Left to Right): The beautiful features of the Blue Tiger Butterfly, an Orchid Swallowtail Butterfly, the only Lemon Migrant Butterfly that staid still enough to photograph… and then I looked closer and realised why! This Hawk Moth got a little confused and had to be put outside after it stunned itself. Photos by Jen Moloney

Photos (Left to Right): A male Predatory Katydid lurks in the shrubs hoping to catch an unwary Butterfly (the brown patch on the back is used to produce sound), a Common Eggfly Butterfly flexes its wings, the Pale Ciliate Blue Butterfly (identification through Queensland Museum) is virtually impossible to capture with its wings open as it is so fast! This Skipper Butterfly (identification by Queensland Museum) rests a moment as it probes its proboscis deep inside the flower. Photos by Jen Moloney

The Butterflies were not the only pollinators hard at work amongst the flowers- there were a number of bugs droning around as well as some very noisy Rainbow Lorikeets (they were more interested in the flowering trees behind the Turtle Centre). One Cardwell Cabbage was so full of busy pollinators that two giant Golden Orb Spiders were able to set up shop and both are happily plucking juicy morsels from their webs with a monotonous regularity. While on the subject of spiders a beautiful spider with a greenish hue was loitering near the bathrooms one day. I managed to get a couple of photos (as I had no idea what I was looking at) which I sent to the Queensland Museum for identification. Dr Robert Raven, arguably Australia’s leading Arachnologist immediately identified it as a male Lichen Huntsmen, Pandercetes gracilis. It has to be the most attractive and delicate Huntsman I’ve ever seen! I was quite happy to spot it again the other day, more than two weeks after its original sighting. It appears to be slowly moving around the Resort, as are several other species.

Photos (Left to Right): the male Lichen Hutsman, an American Soldier Fly (more than one of these have fallen victim to the Orb Spiders), a very dizzy Jewelled Spider that accidently came for a ride on my shorts and was not discovered until it had been dragged quite some distance from its original home and a female Golden Orb that has set up shop next to the Turtle Centre and is doing very well for herself, as is another girl this size. Photos by Jen Moloney

I witnessed some interesting behaviour from the Green Ants this month. One ant was strutting along with a clear ‘bubble’ attached to its abdomen. As it was wiggling its antennae at me at the time and threatening me with its jaws, at first I mistook the bubble for a squirt of the citric acid they keep in their abdomen (they taste delicious). But it soon became clear that the bubble was solid- whatever it was numerous ants swarmed over it and tried to tug it free but they were unable. I captured some blurry photos (I am not particularly in love with my current phone’s camera) which I forwarded to Queensland Museum; I have yet to hear back about what was happening. I also came across what appeared to be a ‘street fight’ for lack of a better term. Walking home one time I noticed a host of Green Ants clamouring over the top of each other in a giant twisted ball. They all appeared to be grabbing at each other and biting. Using my fingers I was able to turn most away except the main two combatants- these two were locked in a fierce embrace and would not separate for the world. I gave up trying to pry them apart and decided to observe their progress instead; they didn’t move their heads much but their limbs were constantly dancing to and fro as they wrestled with each other. With each passing second more ants flooded to the area to join in the scuffle. I don’t know if the two were at war or if they accidentally bit each other by mistake and then suffered lock jaw but whatever the cause, they certainly caused a stir.

Photos: (Far Left and Left) Look closely to see the ‘bubble’ protuding from the ant’s posterior. The other ants gripped it but were unable to pull it off. I am hoping the experts at Queensland Museum may be able to identify it. (Right and Far Right) Perhaps one of these ants told a ‘your mama’ joke? Neither one would let go of the other and their tussle gradually turned into a wriggling mass of green ants all trying to pry the original two apart. Photos by Jen Moloney

I nearly stood on a Green Tree Snake one morning- fortunately the ground slithered away just as I was starting to put my foot down. Our baby Yellow Spotted Sand Monitor has started to become a little more sporadic in his sightings- he has relocated from the jetty and now he lives in the scrub behind Foxy’s Bar and Grill. Some lucky guests enjoyed a refreshing morning at Nudey Beach where they were greeted with a pod of dolphins playing and a Black Tip Reef Shark hunting the Baitfish collected in the shallows. A few of our guests have been lucky enough to witness that spectacle actually- one morning I happened along a few dead fish that had leapt to ‘safety’ away from the predator below… only to land stranded on the coral shore. They made a good breakfast for our Eastern Reef Egret! One day while wandering around the rocks at low tide I noticed a few tiny Gobies hidden in the miniature ‘rock pools’. I took a photo- how many can you spot? So far I have found ten fish hidden in the image but I am sure I’ve missed a few.

Photo by Jen Moloney- how many fish can you find hidden in this photo?

But the best news of the month is – Ella has left us!!!!! After SUCH a LONG journey and SEVERAL set backs from her original release date (the start of the year) Ella has finally departed Fitzroy Island! She is currently in Cairns being fitted with a satellite tracker which is being specially calibrated to feed the data concerning her movements back to Jennie (Gilbert). And then….. next Sunday (5th of June) she is saying farewell forever and returning to the sea. Needless to say after so long we are both excited for Ella and sad to see her go (although at this point after so many false-starts we are far more excited than sad!). Mind you, once again Ella’s leaving date was marred with issues. One day during a tour I noticed that her water was low (not unusual if she had knocked her pipe out) but as I was checking everything I realised that there was no water coming into the Centre at all. One of the main reasons that the Centre moved out to Fitzroy Island was because the location was an old prawn farm (as those that have visited will attest from all the prawn containers still littering the island). There is a pipe in Welcome Bay that is meant to continuously pump sea water into the turtle tanks to allow a continuous flow of water in and out of the Centre. If no water is coming in then something is seriously wrong. It took nearly two days to identify the problem as we had to start at the pump itself and trace our way back along the line before we found the cause. Actually, most of us were unable to find the problem. A volunteer called Richard was convinced to come out for an afternoon to try to locate the problem and he took up the cause magnificently; having it identified and fixed the issue within two hours of stepping foot on island. Somehow the end of our pipe was damaged in Welcome Bay and it had completely broken the flow of water back to the Centre. The damage was such that we know it was no fish that’s for sure! It would appear that someone put significant pressure on the end. Still we are fortunate that alls’ well that ends well; although we might ask people to be more careful about their activities in the bay. While you should never stand or sit on the coral- it’s not the best idea to stand on the end of a pipe either!

Photos: (Left) Our beloved Ella has finally left us. (Right) Nice try Navy but we know this is not a barge ship!! Photos by Jen Moloney

As I said- I got a little snap happy this month but can you blame me when there are so many cool things about? May ended with two little mysteries. The first was that I swear I saw a Pilot Whale breach out near Nudey Beach- although the others with me only saw the splash afterwards and I have not been able to convince them of what I saw. It is far too early for Humpbacks although the whale in question was all black (from the brief glimpse I saw) and appeared roughly a similar size to a Humpback calf; several Pilot Whales have been spotted over recent months so I am pretty confident (but not 100% sure) that they are what I saw. The second mystery is far cooler. One day while I was strolling back from the Turtle Centre I noticed some guests staring out to the Grafton Passage with a confused expression on their faces. I soon saw that they had spotted a submarine! I managed to snap a quick photo but unfortunately we have not been able to identify which submarine it was. The usual identification aps claimed the vessel was a Barge but a google search of the named barge revealed a distinctly different physical frame (as there generally is between a submarine and a barge!). Nice try but we know it’s not a barge! It disappeared soon after I took its photo. Nearly 80 years after the war and once again there is a mysterious submarine circling Fitzroy Island! Where are the boys of the No. 28 Radar Station when you need them??

Jen Moloney – Marine Biologist & Tours Co-Ordinator

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