December 17, 2014

Dingo Pups And Paperbarks Make Their Mark On Our Fraser Summer...

Fraser Island has many unique natural values and the diversity of our flora and fauna continues to wow first timers to our sandy shores. Another wow factor comes when guests spot a purebred Fraser Island dingo (Canis dingo) - the apex predator that keeps our sandy ecosystem in balance. At this time of the year, young dingoes become playful and more independent and can be spotted out and about as they learn the fundamentals of hunting from the pack – much to the delight of our guests down on the western beach (outside the dingo fence) and on our Beauty Spots off-road day tours – particularly around Central Station in the heart of the island.

Puppy Love! @Gregorsnell has captured this beautifully
DID YOU KNOW Fraser Island’s dingoes are part of the island’s ecology and are protected by law?  Their survival relies on three management factors—education, engineering and enforcement.

Both Kingfisher Bay Resort and Eurong Beach Resort are surrounded by dingo fences to keep our famous dingoes from being loved too much (that’s the engineering part).  If you’re new to the island, please check out these few simple tips to help you remain DINGO SAFE when you’re in the Great Sandy National Park (education in action) and please don’t feed these animals as heavy fines apply (you guessed it, enforcement!).

A little closer to the resort, recent rainfall has been welcomed by the team and indeed by all across drought-stricken Queensland. On island, it has hardened up the tracks nicely as we head towards the busy Christmas holidays on Fraser. Summer also means blue skies and plenty of sun, which provides the perfect conditions to head out on our Ranger-guided canoe paddles or on our guided walks to spot some of Fraser’s weird and wonderful critters, including our Acid Frogs.  Creek Lilly Pillies (Acmena smithii) are also fruiting this month – their branches weighted down with the mass of berries which is bringing in many fruit eating birds and a few resort rangers.

Paperbarks make for stunning shots at Lake McKenzie
Another iconic Australian species that attracts attention is the Paperbark Tea Tree (Melaleuca quinquenervia), which is commonly found around the resort and on the island.  This species is easily spotted by its paper-like bark – hence the name - and can literally be pulled away from the tree in sheets (not that we advocate this).  You might recognise the shot of Lake McKenzie with the iconic paperbark taking centre stage (pictured left).

The Paperbark was a staple in the Butchulla medicine cabinet - tea tree oil (from the leaves) is a fantastic antiseptic; powder contained in the bark can be used as an antiseptic powder; and the sheets of bark themselves can be used as bandages.

Paperbark is also used in cooking - replacing aluminium foil for dishes like baked fish (just ask our Chefs in our signature, Seabelle restaurant, who have perfected a bush-inspired baked barramundi in paperbark on the menu).

Stonetool Sandblow. Picture: Peter Meyer Photography
RANGER FACT: Nectar from the bottlebrush-like flowers can be mixed with water to make a natural cordial. 

December is also the time that we welcome our visiting “sand man” and one of the country’s leading geomorphologists, Dr. Errol Stock, back to the resort for a series of guest presentations on how earth scientists use their magic to reveal the secrets of Fraser’s dunes.

According to Doctor Errol, it’s easy to fall under the spell of Fraser Island’s dunes. In pulses linked to geological and climatic cycles, and for more than two million years, sand has accumulated on a hard basement of sedimentary and volcanic rocks so that only a few headlands and small outcrops remain visible to hint at nature’s cloaking magic. It’s fascinating stuff – especially for us tree huggers - and we’ll be sharing more in the coming weeks on our blog.

As you can see, it’s been an action-packed few months here on Fraser and we are looking forward to a bright new year filled with plants, animals, beach and sun!  Merry Christmas everybody, cheers Ranger Bec.

November 27, 2014

It’s Been An Historic Month For Fraser Island’s Butchulla People

What a month we’ve had on Fraser Island. Whilst Sydney hosted the World Parks Congress (a once-a-decade landmark global forum for protecting areas of conservation), this month in our own biosphere/backyard, we’ve been enjoying fantastic swimming weather and some wonderful photo opps on our guided walks and talks thanks to the flowering of our Grass Trees (Xanthorrhoea johnsonii).  We've also witnessed some historic events in our island's history, including the handover of Native Title rights to the Butchulla tribe and the discovery of indigenous burial sites on island.

Rainbow Lorikeet feasting on a Grass Tree. Pic: Peter Meyer
Those that have visited recently will know that our Grass Trees have been in full flower at Kingfisher Bay Resort this month which in turn has brought a whole host of animals in close to our bark covered walking tracks for rare photo opportunities while they feed on the tall flower spikes.  Squirrel Gliders (Petaurus norfolcensis) have feasted as have our Rainbow Lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus - pictured left), our White Cheeked Honeyeaters (Phylidonyris nigra) and our Blue Faced Honeyeaters (Entomyzon cyanotis).

DID YOU KNOW Grass Trees are terrifically adapted to suit the Australian environment?

In Australia, especially in areas occupied by Aborigines, fires are a frequent occurrence and as such many Australian plants have evolved to tolerate and sometimes even rely on fire. Grass Trees flower best after exposure to gases released during fire and the old bases of the leaves help to insulate the vulnerable growth points during these extreme temperature events. The trunk of the grass tree appears black from old ash and tends to grow very slowly (only around a centimetre a year).   Here at the resort, we conduct regular mosaic burns to reduce the fire load and to help our native plants propagate.

The end of October saw in an historic day in Fraser Island’s history as the Federal Court of Australia conducted a special on-country sitting at Kingfisher Bay to award Native Title over the land and waters of Fraser Island to the traditional owners of the land – The Butchulla.

Young and old joined in the celebrations. Pic: Jocelyn Watt
More than 400 Butchulla people from Hervey Bay and surrounding areas were in attendance as Federal Court Justice Berna Collier gave out copies of the native title determination to Elders during the event. Traditional music and dance demonstrations took place near a campfire; kids celebrated on the beach; and the smell of the smoke from the ceremonial smoking ceremony added to the atmosphere which really was quite remarkable.

This decision is a significant achievement for all of the local Butchulla people who have worked for many years to be recognised as traditional owners of K'Gari, as the island is known to them.   This ruling allows the Butchulla people to hunt, fish and camp on the island as well as conduct traditional ceremonies (but doesn’t affect existing rights on the island in terms of freehold land, National Parks and conducting tours).

Traditional dancing at Kingfisher Bay.  Pic: Jocelyn Watt
The team at Kingfisher Bay is very supportive of this recognition of a very important aspect of the island’s history and are excited to see what the future brings.  The decision should also see Butchulla opinions on island management and protection having a heavier weighting, and open up opportunities for them in terms of economic development on the island.

Back in our July blog, we mentioned Queensland scientists were searching for a century-old Aboriginal burial ground.  This month, in another significant milestone for the Butchulla people, 70 indigenous graves were discovered on Fraser.

The graves were likely dug during operation of the island’s ill-fated Bogimbah Creek Mission (1897-1904) where many drug or alcohol dependent Aborigines, and those that lived in areas sought after for agricultural development, were relocated into an area on the western side of Fraser Island under a government-run scheme. Tragically, conditions were appalling and many died from disease and malnutrition.

Radars towed behind a research vehicle Pic: USC
Soil scientists used Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to locate the graves and we understand there is no plan to excavate them. The discovery of the site will enable its protection and whilst showcasing a tragic part of the island’s history, the process has had a healing effect on the Butchulla Tribe and Rangers who helped with the search.

As you can see, it's been nothing short of remarkable here on the world's largest sand island and we’re looking forward to a great summer ahead where we can soak up the relaxed beach atmosphere and the phenomenal environment around us.  Hope to see you soon, Ranger Bec.

October 24, 2014

SPRING: We Farewell Our Holidaying Humpbacks And Welcome Our Pups

Springtime is beautiful on Fraser Island as our wildflowers, including the rarely seen and aptly named Fraser Island Creeper (Tecomanthe hilli) – with its clusters of pink tubular flowers – bloom on island.  Lesser Swamp Orchids (Phaius australis) have also been in full bloom near the pool at Kingfisher Bay Resort much to the delight of guests including Cheryl Byrne, who sent us in this great picture (below).

Cheryl  Byrne has perfectly captured this delicate orchid
This particular endangered species exhibits fantastic clusters of colourful purple, white and russet flowers that typically stand around waist height. The natural range of the Lesser Swamp Orchid is the eastern coast of QLD and coastal areas of NSW as far south as Port Macquarie in NSW, but the species is under threat from industrial development where swamp areas are cleared or drained, and also by the illegal collection of the species for horticulture and cut flowers.

At Kingfisher Bay, our Head Gardener, Pete, has been lovingly propagating the species in our nursery and several of the plants have been placed around the resort providing our guests with a rare viewing opportunity.

Spring is a time when we farewell our migrating humpback whales and welcome this year’s dingo pups (Canis dingo) from their dens on island! The annual dingo breeding season is from April to June with pups being born around nine weeks after conception – it’s a very short gestation period)

It's a dingo's life on Fraser Island. Pic by Troy Geltch
The pups are typically born in early spring and begin to emerge several weeks after this. Litters usually range from four to six pups but can be as large at ten pups. The alpha pair in each pack are the only successful breeders and subordinate animals help to rear the young.

Subordinate females actually suckle the alpha pair’s pups which enables the maximum chance of survival for the newest generation of the pack.

Please remember to follow our simple Dingo Safety rules when out and about in the Great Sandy National Park.

DID YOU KNOW that Queensland Parks and Wildlife have installed wildlife cameras on Fraser Island? If you’re headed our way, be sure to check out the brand-new dingo interp (featuring fabulous footage of our new dingo pups) at Central Station.  Parks have also installed rhyming dingo signage on Fraser and it’s quite the talking point.

Fifty shades of green. Pic by Peppergrass.org
Back at the resort, we’ve spotted Green Paddle Worms (Phyllodoce novaehollandiae - see right) on our Ranger-guided Beach and Mangrove walks on the western side of Fraser at low tide.  These curious little creatures that inhabit the intertidal zones of eastern Australia and, as the name suggests, are fluorescent green and have thousands of tiny paddle-like appendages along each side of the body. These paddles beat rhythmically and help propel the worm through shallow layers of water above the sand at low tide.

Our resident Green Paddle Worms are a great hit with the kids on our Junior Eco Ranger program as they shine iridescent colours in the sun and, if allowed to travel over the skin, provide a tickling sensation. Little is known about the species and they are certainly one of the wonders of the intertidal zone.

Geoff Cameron had a prime viewing spot to capture the action
This month, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the ‘blood moon’ eclipse in the clear night sky on October 8th. Total lunar eclipses such as this occur when the sun, earth and moon from a straight line and the earth blocks all direct sunlight to the moon.

While the earth’s shadow is cast over the moon it is still visible as sunlight refracted by the earth’s atmosphere falls upon it. The moon appears red because shorter wavelengths of light (such as blues and violets) are scattered by dust particles in the atmosphere to a greater degree than the longer wavelengths of red light.

Total lunar eclipses can typically be seen from any given location every few years, but of course cloud coverage can devastate viewing opportunities.

Thankfully the night was clear and (with the lack of bright city lights in our World Heritage-listed backyard) the Kingfisher Bay Jetty was the perfect vantage point with many guests snapping spectacular photos.  One of our regular resort guests (and one of our island's bridal alumni) Geoff Cameron, managed to shoot some spectacular shots of the moon turning blood red from Kingfisher Bay Resort.

The weather on Fraser is gorgeous at the moment and set to get even better as we head into summer.  Fishermen are still catching Tailor on the eastern beach and, with the rainfall we’ve had, the tracks are not as dry as we’d normally expect at this time of year.  All in all, it’s boding well for a fantastic November and we’ll be here to keep you updated with all things wild and wonderful in our island paradise.  Cheers, Ranger Bec.

September 12, 2014

Let Us Tell You About The Birds and The Bees And The Flowers….

A Tawny Frogmouth chick on Fraser Island 
It is shaping up to be a beautiful month here on Fraser Island and we are seeing some wonderful flowers and animals flourishing in the early stages of spring.  September is also Biodiversity Month in Australia and, for us, it is all about protecting the environment and conserving the species within our Great Sandy Biosphere.

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen Squirrel Gliders (Petaurus norfolcensis); Eastern Curlews (Numenius madagascariensis);, Tawny Frogmouths (Podargus strigoides - pictured left); and Bush Rats (Rattus fuscipes) among other animals and our wildflowers - including the Dusky Coral Pea (Kennedia rubicunda) and the Wide Bay Boronia (Boronia rivularis) - are beginning to blossom.

For those that like their flowers, the Woombye (Phebalium woombye) is a species of wildflower from the same family as the Boronias (Rutaceae).  Fraser Island’s Woombyes are in full bloom at the moment and the clusters of white flowers can be seen all around Kingfisher Bay Resort, particularly on the Great Sandy Strait Walk (overlooking nearby Hervey Bay) and around Dundonga Creek (just north of the resort). The small white flowers are surrounded by distinctive rusty coloured buds and the overall cluster is very attractive and is a favourite of wildflower lovers around the resort.

Native Bees are easily mistaken for small flies
The flowers are often surrounded by native stingless bees too which can make stunning photographs if you've got a quick eye and trigger finger.  

DID YOU KNOW in Butchulla tribal life, the honey bees – native bees about the size of a small bush fly – were guarded by very strict rules.  Tribe members were very selective when picking and gathering flowers, leaving the white flowers that were favoured by bees to make honey (used as a natural sweetener) and wax (used in canoe construction).  

For those that aren’t familiar with the Australian Native Stingless Bee (Tetragonula and Austroplebeia – see right), they can easily be mistaken for small flies and are one of the primary pollinators of Australian wildflowers. They also produce a honey that tastes great and is sold in small quantities (though it can be expensive since one hive produces only around 1 kg of honey each year).

There are around 14 species of stingless bees in Australia and recent scientific studies have shown that their honey has similar anti-microbial properties to that of Manuka honey - which is used as an effective ointment on wounds to prohibit infection and promote healing.

The complex hives of these bees contain a waxy substance made up of plant resins and bee secretions – called Propolis - which is it is this substance that has the scientific community abuzz as it is thought to help with anything from grazes and burns to oral hygiene issues.  We’ve spotted one of these hives near the beginning of the Sandy Straits walk. If you’re out and about, you can find them in one of two scarred White Cypress Pines (Callitris columellaris) near the beginning of the track, or just ask one of our Rangers!

An Eastern Curlew in full flight over the Great Sandy Strait
For those that have joined us on our Early Morning Bird Walks of late, we’ve been surprised to see of the first Eastern Curlews (Numenius madagascariensis - pictured left) of the season – they're easily identified by their long, curved beaks as the photo shows. 

These migratory birds are listed as near threatened in Queensland though they can be seen from September to November in large numbers. 

Through their life-cycle, they fly great distances from their breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere and can  lose more than half of their body weight – so wetland areas surrounding Fraser Island are an essential habitat which allows them to replenish fat stores .

Also visible at low tide are our Rock Oysters (Saccostrea glomerata), which are a delicacy in restaurants around the world.  Unfortunately, many coastal areas are stripped of natural oysters in areas accessible to people, so it’s a nice treat to have a look at these oysters around our jetty, where they are largely untouched.

DID YOU KNOW in Queensland it is illegal to take oysters from the particular area you find them, although you are allowed to eat them on the spot?

Queensland Rock Oysters.  Pic: Queensland Country Life
Oysters are filter feeders and remove microorganisms from the sea water when they are inundated at high tide. Young oysters are known as ‘Spat’ and attach themselves to solid surfaces.  

In the spirit of biodiversity month, our team will always encourage you to leave the shell of an oyster on rocks after you consume them as it actually provides a good surface for new Spats to attach and helps sustain long term population growth.

Springtime is certainly a good season to explore the environment so, if you’re not headed our way to gorgeous Fraser Island; I’d say get out there and enjoy nature at its best!  Biodiversity month is a great time to start protecting the environment so check out this link for more information on how to do just that! 
Hope to see you on island soon, cheers Ranger Bec. 

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.