Monday, August 17, 2009

Ella Bay Beach Walk: 13 August 2009

Where does the time go to?

I have been busy on a few conservation projects lately that I unfortunately can’t blog about so the poor Ellabayforever blog has been a bit neglected but I am back with more news!

The 13th of August was a great day not just because the sun was shining and I had a day off work but even better my better half Sara had a day off too so we went for a walk at Ella Bay.

I wanted to record some cultural sites to share with traditional owners who have kindly shared some of their knowledge of Ella Bay with me. I was also keen to get some fresh air into my system after shaking the dreaded flu!

We had barely walked around the rocks at the south end of the bay when we saw a group of Rainbow Bee Eaters (Merops ornatus) a listed marine/migratory species in the EPBC Act.
These birds almost glow with colour as they darted about catching insects. Some were sitting on branches with their feathers all puffed up catching the early morning sunshine.
These wonderful birds nest in tunnels in the ground. Unfortunately their juveniles are often eaten by cane toads as the parent birds don’t seem to recognise them as a threat. It was neat to be greeted by such a magnificent bird and fortunately for us there was more to follow!
Our next bird was one of my favourites from Ella Bay, the Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) another listed marine/migratory species in the EPBC Act.
There is a recorded osprey nest near the location where we saw this bird in the South East corner of the proposed development (yes that’s the same south east corner where the developers Satori are seeking approval to clear remnant forest).
Osprey nests can be huge things containing all manner of material and are referred to as “stacks”. Getting back to this individual he appears to be a male as males are usually skinnier in the chest than females and this is the first time I have seen him without his partner.
The two of them can often be found around the coastal she oaks at the south end of the bay and they are a joy to watch as they plunge feet first into the brine then emerge and magically launch themselves back into the air whilst firmly grasping a fish in their talons.

Speaking of talons ospreys have the unique ability of being able to twist their outer toes around therefore they are able to grasp fish between two front toes and two rear toes. A handy skill if your livelihood depends on your ability to grasp slippery fish. They are the only raptor that dives into the water after fish and they can also close their nostrils to keep water out when they are fishing.

The DEWHA website states “The current main threat to the Eastern Osprey in Australia is loss, degradation or alteration of habitat for urban or tourism development” (Clancy 1989, 1991; Dennis 2007a; Olsen 1998). DEWHA also recommends on their website “Protect breeding habitat by establishing buffer zones around nest sites” (Dennis 2007b; Department of Environment and Climate Change 2005; Olsen 1998.

In their 2008 Fauna Survey Report Satori’s assessors BAAM have stated “Nesting Ospreys were recorded within the study area, but are tolerant of human activity and are known to readily utilise artificial structures for nesting”. It seems to me that they might not be interested in our federal government’s thoughts regarding the treatment of this listed species? No mention of buffer zones from the proponent at all just another listed species? Considering ospreys will vigorously defend a 150 metre zone around an active nest I thought that some sort of protection should have been proposed by Satori within their EIS documentation.

Before we leave the osprey here’s an earlier photograph of an osprey I took in the same nesting area. It clearly shows their bent wing which not only helps them when plunging into the ocean after prey but also helps observers identify them in flight!
Of course there were plenty of Agile Wallabies (Macropus agilis) on the beach.
There is a massive population at Ella bay due to the grazing land available to them and the lack of cattle using the resource (Ella Bay is no longer used for farming cattle however the proponent’s Cassowary EIS compares conversion to a resort complex/urban development with use as a functioning cattle station which in my opinion is deceptive).
Basically the future does not look bright for Ella Bay’s Agile Wallabies and understandably Satori did not wish to use words like cull or shooting in their EIS or fauna studies. Instead more palatable terms like Wallaby Management Plan are used. Only a fool would believe a cull is not the most likely management tool facing the thousands of agile wallabies on this property as the development is approved and takes territory from them. I believe such a cull would not be something Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett AM MP would be too happy to approve. In 2008 a cull of 400 eastern grey kangaroos on defence force land in Canberra (which his department sanctioned) attracted some extremely unpleasant national and international media to the minister and his department. I hope Minister Garrett does not have to endure more of the same with regards to an unavoidable and massive Ella Bay wallaby cull. Time for a change of subject as the thought of slaughtering thousands of these beautiful native animals so the development can go ahead is not a nice one.

The next animal to capture our attention was another raptor, this time a juvenile Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) a listed marine/migratory species in the EPBC Act.
I have bumped into this young bird before in the bay and though quite shy he/she will allow me to get close enough for a photograph or two.
As this bird matures it will acquire the more recognisable white and grey plumage of an adult bird.

Recently I was fortunate enough to photograph an adult sea eagle cooperatively or perhaps opportunistically fishing with rare Indo-pacific humpback dolphins at Ella Bay. Here's more about this encounter.

Interestingly our white breasted sea eagle is closely related to the American bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) a raptor that faced extinction in the 20th century yet was brought back from the brink and is no longer a listed threatened species. I could rattle on about sea eagles all day but I have other things to share with you so I best move on.

The next bird we encountered is one that the Satori’s environmental consultants BAAM say shouldn’t be at Ella bay and I quote the BAAM November 2008 fauna study “Eastern Reef Egrets are generally restricted to rocky coastal outcrops/headlands. One individual was observed at Flying Fish Point and there is no suitable habitat on the study site”.
Sorry BAAM but it seems this fellow forgot to read your fauna study as he literally walked with us for a few kilometers and seemed very happy with Ella Bay judging by all the baitfish he caught in the shallows.
Oops I forgot to mention his name Eastern Reef Egret (Egretta sacra) and this one was the grey morph (they also come in white). It was a pleasure to enjoy this bird’s companionship on our walk and I was surprised at the lack of fear he showed towards us. Then again he was so busy filling his belly with fish I don’t think anything would have disturbed him!
The next critter of interest was a lot smaller and we literally saw thousands upon thousands of them.
It was the Zodiac moth (Alcides zodiaca) a day flying moth which were conducting a north south migration along the foreshore of Ella Bay.
This beautiful moth has the peculiar habit of almost always landing in a head down position and of course can be recognized as a moth by the way it perches with its wings open and spread whereas butterflies land with their wings closed (as I have noted to my frustration many a time when photographing butterflies).

We noticed a tree along the shore which seemed to be a rest stop for the moths and I took photos of the moths swarming around it. Here's a video of the moth tree on YouTube.

Our next encounter as we traveled north along the bay was with a Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) which I was fortunate to sight from a distance as it perched quietly waiting to ambush a lizard or a frog or some other tasty treat for its breakfast!
Sorry about the picture quality but it was quite a long shot. Interestingly this was the first bird species we bumped into that wasn’t listed in the EPBC act!!

After a couple of quick photos we continued on our journey north.

We had barely left our kookaburra when we met up with an old and very dead Queensland Groper which I photographed months ago in this blog story.
This time the remains weren’t as smelly and my size 9 next to the skull will give you an idea of how big this fish was when it was alive. At the end of the day dead fish aren’t really that interesting so we continued on our way.

The northern lagoon which parallels the ocean is a crocodile habitat and I urge all visitors to the area to exercise caution in this area as it is home to some rather large and unpleasant residents.
Of course the tannin stained water allows even the largest crocodile to hide and wait in ambush in only a couple of feet of water so it pays to remain cautious in this area.
Though we saw no crocodiles (but I would bet they saw us) we did see plenty of tracks where they have been traveling back and forward between the beach and the lagoon.
After a few track photos we continued on our way and left our reptilian neighbours to lurk away in the lagoon to their hearts content.
Of course Queensland’s saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) is a listed endangered species but not as endangered as I feel when visiting their habitat!

The last birds we photographed were a pair of pied oyster catchers (Haematopus longirostris) that I could not resist photographing for the sake of their beautiful plumage and beaks.
They are not a listed species though they have vulnerable status in New South Wales. They are generally a shy bird but this pair seemed reasonably comfortable with us.
They are a very specialized bird and feed mainly on molluscs. Their beak is designed for this task and they can easily cut the adductor muscles within a bivalve shell which hold the two parts of the shell together therefore gaining access to the meaty goodies inside. I was fortunate to photograph one of the pair doing just that during our walk with a pipi (Plebidonax deltoides).

Well that’s it for this story. Of course there were other things we saw on our walk including cultural sites which I cannot share out of respect for Ella bay’s traditional owners. I twice missed getting photos of a massive grey water bird in the lagoon but there’s always next time.

On this walk I did not see Beach Thick Knees (Esacus neglectus) so I will cheat a little and leave you with a couple of shots of this listed vulnerable species which I took on my last visit.
This species deserves special mention as I strongly believe it is a species Ella Bay will lose if Satori’s inappropriate massive resort complex/urban development is approved with its population of 5000 people in this fragile wilderness area.
Hope you enjoyed the walk!

Cheers Russ


  1. Gorgeous pics Russ.... that footage of the butterflies and moths ignites my fondest memories of this place....

    Thanks for the update :)


  2. Strolls at Ella are special. It's no place for 5000 of us mob - let's leave it to the animals and plants - the wet tropics needs its remaining coastal sites well looked after and used for absolute minimum impact activities. Thanks for continuing to share you experiences and insights Russ.

  3. I loved your photos and this post... thank you for bringing to life the beauty of Ella Bay ~ right to my lounge room via my laptop :)

    I don't have a blog anymore... but I will continue to enjoy visiting many of my favourite blogs, including this one...

    Amanda (Priceless Pearls with the 'blonde' family member :P )


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