Wildlife at the Mareeba Wetlands

Morning all,

After my lack of internet (and thus pictures) for the last few posts, I thought I’d make up for it with a ludicrously picture heavy post of some of the wildlife around the reserve/in my lodgings while I was at Mareeba. I’ll put names to as many as I can, but unfortunately I only had a few ID books in Mareeba, and so there was a lot which went enjoyed, but unidentified while I was there.

Unfortunately many of the best pictures are from inside my accommodation, where the wildlife seemed less inclined to run away.

To give you a brief overview of the habitat, Mareeba is approx 800-900 metres above sea level, around 70km to the west of Cairns. It is on the Atherton Tablelands, a large raised plateau on which there is a lot of farming (mangoes, bananas, avocados, limes, sugar cane, and bits of tea tree and other things). The Mareeba wetlands were originally earmarked for sugar cane plantations, as much of the surrounding land is, however due to some complex geology, they were deemed unsuitable. The Wildlife Conservancy of Tropical Queensland (as it is now called) then put forward an alternative plan to turn the area into a giant wetland, using water which was just being carried down an irrigation channel, and discharged back to the river. After a vast amount of negotiations, this project got the green light, and funding from various sources.

The

The “bush” habitat, with one of the larger lagoons in the distance, and the Hahn Tableland behind that.

Now the water from the irrigation channel flows out into 8 totally man made lagoons (sorry Ed) of varying sizes, and then returns back to the river. The wetlands attract over 200 species of bird as well as a load of reptiles, amphibians, and mammals, and are now a major breeding ground for many of those species. There are also various conservation programmes occurring at the wetland, including a reintroduction programme for Gouldian Finches, which are arguably some of the most attractive birds I’ve seen in a long time.

A Gouldian finch. Both the males and females are this colourful!

A Gouldian finch. Both the males and females are this colourful!

So first up I’ll start with this chirpy pair (in fact there were 8 of them, but they hung around in pairs). These are Welcome Swallows (a name, not a description… though they were very welcome). As with everywhere that there are buildings and swallows, they built their nests in the rafters of the visitor centre, a fact which resulted in the staff putting hanging baskets under each nest to catch the copious amount of excrement which is fired out in the breeding season. While these guys were out eating insects at every opportunity, they still didn’t seem to dent the mosquito population around the centre… or if they did, I hate to think what it’d be like without them. Fear not though, as the mosquito’s die off in the cooler autumn and winter (where apparently the temperature can get down as low as 7 degrees at night!). Anyway, the swallows have taken to sitting on the back of the chairs at the centre, and only fly off when you get within a metre or so. The reserve also has Tree Martins, which actually do nest in trees in preference to buildings. Weird huh?

A pair of Welcome Swallows hanging out in the cafe.

A pair of Welcome Swallows hanging out in the cafe.

Another common sighting around the reserve were the White-Lipped Tree Frogs. These are reasonably large frogs, which range from green to brown, depending on what they’re sat upon (somewhat Chameleon-esque). Apparently they can change from one extreme to the other within half an hour. I was amazed by how well they gripped to surfaces and how utterly sedate they were. We managed to take this postcard out of the holder and the frog did not move a muscle (we then put it back of course).

A White-Lipped Tree Frog hanging out in one of its favourite places

A White-Lipped Tree Frog hanging out in one of its favourite places

Now it’s time to dispel a myth of Australia. Yes, there are snakes, yes some of them are deadly, no they are not everywhere. Indeed generally if a snake is aware of you, they’ll leg it (well, “slither it”), and they usually are aware of you. Though snakes are deaf, they’re very sensitive to vibration, and humans walk around like elephants. I spent at least part of (pretty much) every day for 30 days walking in the bush, either for fun or work, and in that time I saw exactly zero snakes in the bush. I’m reliably told that there are many snakes out there, including some of the more deadly species (taipan’s, red-bellied black snakes, death adders), but I only saw two species. The first was the little guy pictured below (acting as a draft excluder at my front door), which is a water python. They like to hunt around the lagoons, and pose about as much threat to humans as an angry hamster. They’ll bite of you get very close to them (though they are aren’t poisonous), but generally if you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone. The other species of snake I saw was the Brown Tree Snake (of ” eating everything on Guam” fame), however I only saw these up in the rafters, and always disappearing. In true snake style, as soon as they knew I was there they wanted to get away, and they didn’t even hang around long enough for a photo. I believe brown tree snakes give a bite similar to an Adder in the UK: it hurts, but it’s not dangerous. That being said, you’d have to be doing something pretty stupid to get bitten by one.

A Water Python disguised as a draft excluder.

A Water Python disguised as a draft excluder.

So while we’re on animals which people don’t like, let’s tackle the spiders. Personally I’m not terribly phased by spiders. While I don’t particularly want one wandering about on me, I happy for them to go about their business. Again, with spiders you can follow a few basic rules and you’ll have no trouble whatsoever. Rule 1 is “shake out your shoes”. Spiders like dark corners to hide in so that they don’t get eaten, and shoes make excellent hiding places. Of course if there’s a spider in your shoe and you try putting it on, you’re going to get bitten. Rule 2 is ” don’t stick your hands where you can’t see”. Exactly the same logic as the shoes. Rule 3 is “don’t be an idiot”. If you see a spider and start prodding it, you can expect to get bitten. Anyway, the two big juicy species I saw regularly were the brown huntsman, and the banded huntsman. Both reach perhaps 10-15cm diameter (including legs of course), and both give a painful bite, which isn’t dangerous. They tend to be active hunters at night, wandering around eating cockroaches and other things you don’t particularly want around you. So they’re good to have really.

A Brown Huntsman spider in a shed.

A Brown Huntsman spider in a shed.

A Banded Huntsman hanging out on the bedroom door. Notice that it has been in a fight and is regrowing its two front left legs.

A Banded Huntsman hanging out on the bedroom door. Notice that it has been in a fight and is regrowing its two front left legs.

So while we’re on invertebrates, I’ll chat a bit about dragonflies. In the UK I very rarely seem to see dragonflies. I’m sure they’re about, but it just seems very difficult to actually see them. In contrast, on the wetlands dragonflies were everywhere (in a much more literal sense than you might think). This was a joy to me, as Odonata (the taxonomic order to which dragonflies belong) are one of my favourite groups of animals. Unfortunately, Odonata over here pose two big problems to the casual observer. The first is that they are generally quite flighty, so unless you have a pretty decent lens on your camera (and a steady hand and fast reactions), it’s difficult to get a good photo. For me with my happy snappy waterproof camera, with only a 4x zoom, this proved particularly difficult. The second problem is that many reasonably common species over here seem to lack common names (so they only have the Latin name), which makes it difficult to remember which species is which. Anyway, I have a few good photos of species which didn’t seem at all scared of me. The first is (I think) a “Graphic Flutterer”, which was very common on the wetlands, and very friendly, the second is…er…. red (sorry, it wasn’t in my very limited ID book of “animals in Queensland”).

A Graphic Flutterer. The most friendly of dragonflies.

A Graphic Flutterer. The most friendly of dragonflies.

Just one of many species of dragonfly I failed to identify.

Just one of many species of dragonfly I failed to identify.

So to round out the post, I’ll just dump in a bunch of other photos of various critters from the wetlands. Enjoy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I believe this is the nest of some Green Ants.

I believe this is the nest of some Green Ants.

Until next time

Dave

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2 responses to “Wildlife at the Mareeba Wetlands

  1. Those spiders are impressive beasts. They look like an arachnophobe’s worst nightmare. The frog is adorable. I know what you mean about the dragonflies, esp the red ones, of which there seems to be plenty of very similar species. I can just about bear the fact that the wetlands are manmade, though I have posted a letter to Tony Abbot asking them to be drained.

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