Thank goodness for the breeze! What could have been an uncomfortably hot walk was made bearable by the sea breeze which strengthened progressively through the morning, fanning us briskly and making the sea dance with gleaming white-caps. Despite this we confined ourselves to a relatively short walk around the headland as far as Shelley Cove, where some of us could not resist partial immersion (please note, in photo below, I am the sensible one with long pants to ward off potential stingers).
As usual there was considerable interest and identification of the vegetation along the track and of birds along the way and overhead. Among the former, Jackie recognised the Peanut tree (Sterculia quadrifida) which provided a welcome spread of shade across the track. What we at first thought was a specimen of the familiar flame tree, now flowering in suburban gardens, was actually its cousin, the broad-leafed bottle tree (Brachychiton australis). In many respects similar in appearance to the flame tree, its flowers are creamy-white, not scarlet, and appear in late winter or spring, rather than early summer like B. acerifolius. Other familiar trees on the hillside were the northern swamp box (Lophostemon grandiflorus) and the native kapok (Cochlospermum gillivraei), with its open seed pods still displaying the dense mat of silky hairs from which its common name is derived.
The pale silvery-grey colour on the undersides of the leaves helped to distinguish the red ash or soap tree (Alphitonia excelsa). Moreton Bay ash (Corymbia tesselaris) was one of the larger trees, while Terminalia porphyrocarpa were all along the track, some in flower. Other plants noted were: native jasmine (Jasminium simplicifolium), native cherry (Exocarpus latifolius), native gardenia (Larsenaiika ochreata), Indian beech (Millettia pinnata) and the scaly ebony or iron tree (Diospyros geminata). On one of the leafier small trees the leaf-curling spiders (Phonognatha graeffi) had been busy, with the females sitting inside their neatly curled leaves, suspended above their webs, ready to detect the slightest vibration caused by a trapped insect. One of these webs used the large ball of a green ants’ nest as one of its anchoring points. Holes made by lacewing larvae, the somewhat curiously named ant lions (they prey on ants), were also noticed on the track.
At Shelly Cove, apart from cooling off in the shallow water, we noticed a number of pieces of pumice, commonly found here. One was adorned by several unusual looking barnacles, which Denise identified as an oceanic species – indicating the distance travelled by the air-filled pumice. Like corals, barnacles and other shellfish are threatened by increasing ocean acidification since acidic water dissolves the calcium carbonate from which their shells are made. Despite keeping a watch to seaward no dolphin or dugong were sighted.
At the beach we spent some time gazing upwards at a group of five raptors circling very high above the headland – I think the consensus view was 3 whistling kites and 2 brahminy kites. A black kite was seen early in the walk, and later a “probable” eastern osprey flew over our heads, partly obscured by trees. Brush turkeys, peaceful doves, red-tailed black cockatoos, black-faced cuckoo shrikes and Torresian crows, were all seen around the picnic area. Seagulls flew over the beach, a yellow-bellied sunbird perched brightly atop a leafless shrub on the headland, and a koel gave his distinctive call.
Despite our slow progress along the track the tide was still too high for us to return along the shoreline with ease so we retraced our steps along the track at a somewhat quicker pace, anxious for food and shade. We finished the morning with a leisurely pre-Christmas picnic under the shade of paperbarks and a large Burdekin plum (Pleiogynium timorense) – with a wildlife quiz thrown in to keep the brain cells awake. I should not forget to mention that two early risers had enjoyed a swim in the Pallarenda stinger enclosure (shouldn’t that be ex-closure?) before the rest of us gathered for the walk.
Thanks to Laurie and Chris for the photos and to all members of the group who each contributed to species ID and of course to the overall enjoyment of the morning. Hope we can look forward to many more trips in the year ahead – we need such times to recharge our batteries, extend our knowledge, remind ourselves of the values of the bush and its wildlife and stay alert to what is happening or what needs to happen. And, of course, to encourage others to come with us to share and learn. See you in 2014!