I haven't contributed for a while, and have a sudden impluse to share with
you a lovely day spent on the Pumicestone Passage on Thursday. The Passage
is just north of Brisbane, and is part of Moreton Bay, a listed Ramsar
site. The following is an email I sent to a friend , who is not a birder,
in Boston. I have snipped personal references in the first couple of pars.
If you're in a hurry I syggest you zap this posting.
...........(snipped)................... But I spent yesterday out on the
Passage, and wanted to empty that before it is erased from my memory.
Water quality testing was the activity of the day. Barb Dickson and I
accompanied Rob King, and I have to say that Barb and I learned a great
deal yesterday. Barb adores the outdoors, and revelled in the activity. We
started from Rob's place at 6am. For this to occur, Barb had to leave her
place at Caloundra by just after five, pick me up at 5.30, to get to Rob's
by 6am. Rob can talk the leg off an iron pot, and was, as usual farting
around doing things he should have had done before we arrived. That delay
told on us at the end of the day, when we were finding our way back to port
in the dark. Thank goodness for the almost-full moon.
We boarded Rob's boat at the bottom of his garden. (Doesn't everyone moor
his boat at the bottom of the garden?) The day was perfect, and mist was
rising from the water surface as we headed out along Elimbah Creek to the
Pumicestone Passage. The creek was alive with the calls of birds greeting
the new day. Darters, true to name, darted low above the water, to land of
exposed sticks and branches, from where they make their fishing sorties
during the day. Magpies warbled beautiful songs to each other. The air was
still, and their songs carried far. We heard the first Koel of the season,
"coo-oo-ee coo-oo-ee", and then saw it, a jet black male, high in a
creekside eucalypt. It has just arrived from Indonesia, and is looking for
the nests of crows and currawongs to parasitise. His call is to attract a
mate. Barb murmured. "This beats sitting in an office."
As we started northwards up the passage proper, we noticed Rob making
frequent notes - number of boats, engaging in what kind of activities,
number of people, numbers of birds. I took a look at his data sheet. Wow,
this boy is really collecting a lot of information. This will be useful
stuff in years to come, we well as right now. He does two runs a fortnight,
each of twelve hours, all the time recording information. The Passage is
30km long, and it was 8.30am before we reached Caloundra at the northern
end. We had counted all of the aforementioned, as well as boat trailers at
various boatramps, and yet we hadn't tested a drop of water. When we
finally got down to the business of testing water, Rob produced a magic
little instrument which measures water temperature, conductivity, salinity,
dissolved oxygen, turbidity. Attached to this instrument by a long
electrical cord is a strange-looking piece of metal equipment which
immerses in the water at various depths as marked on the cord. By doing
this test a few times, Barb and I came to understand how salinity varies
greatly from depth point to depth point. And how all measures vary from
location to location, eg at creek mouths where freshwater plumes meet
saltwater mass. As we rounded a bend near the head of one of the creeks, we
noticed circles of disturbance on the surface of the water. "Gasping fish,"
said Rob, and, sure enough, the dissolved oxygen levels there were very low.
As we travelled along creeks, we stopped regularly at appointed testing
locations, and I marvelled at the variety in readings, most of which Rob
predicted accurately. He is quite familiar with this testing regime, and
can pick subtle visual differences which were, at first, lost on Barb and
me. Rob's enthusiasm, or perhaps I should say commitment, to the task
ensured us a steady stream of explanations all day. I wish I could get some
of the environmental science students out with Rob. A day with Rob would
give them a good appreciation of the practical application of some of the
subjects they are learning.
The Azure Kingfisher is one of our most beautiful, most brilliantly
coloured birds, and it is not a bird I see often. It isn't an uncommon
bird, but I don't frequent places where it lives. Yesterday we had our fill
of Azure Kingfishers. Whilst I have had many brief glimpses of them out on
the passage proper, in the creeks we had long, lingering views of them as
they went about the job of earning a living in the creeks. They sit on
branches or twigs low over the water. Suddenly there is a flash of colour
as the bird darts out into the sunlight, immerses briefly to catch a fish
and returns to its branch. This action might take three or five seconds, so
you have to be lucky to see it.
My main quarry for the day was the Shining Flycatcher, a bird I have only
seen a couple of times before, and only in far northern Australia. People
tell me they see them in the Passage, but I have never been so fortunate.
They have a specific habitat, and are thin on the ground. The Passage is
about the southernmost extremity of their distribution. Rob came to me in a
state of excitement recently, saying he had seen a strange, new bird. He
described it, and asked what it could be. I knew immediately. I asked him
to show me, if he could find it in the field guide. He picked it straight
away - the Shining Flycatcher, a male. Yesterday we drifted around the area
where he had seen it, but we weren't so lucky. But they are always there,
and I just have to keep coming out to the right places to get lucky.
Instead we encountered several pairs of Leaden Flycatchers, close relatives
of the Shinings, and reasonably common birds.
Westaways Creek, on Bribie Island, was the pièce de résistance of the day.
It differs from all the other creeks in that its waters are black, with
very little turbidity. They run clear and dark like black coffee. Like
black coffee, you can't see far into the water. The water is coloured by
tannins which the water picks up as it filters through undisturbed leaf
litter. At its mouth, there is a clear divide between the waters of
Westaways Creek and the waters of the Passage. You can look into a clear
line in the water as the tide flows out. Barb remarked that in South
America people pay big money to journey to the confluence of the Amazon and
one of its tributaries to see a similar "joining of the waters". And here
we have it for free.
Several times during the course of the day we did a different, and
unexpected, type of water testing. The low tide surprised Rob. He has a
feeling for how low each tide will go, but yesterday he saw exposed rocks
and logs which he had never seen before. All day he pondered aloud the
reason for this: siltation after a prolonged wet season; low barometric
pressure, three heavy bums? We kept running aground, reversing, trying
different routes, and, sometimes, getting out and pushing the boat through
shallow channels. One one occasion we had to push very hard to get through,
knowing that we had to at some stage get the boat back over the same
sankbank. It was real hands-on and feet-in water testing.
The last hour was hard work for Rob. He was getting tired and we were
running out of daylight. About 15 minutes before we finished, he asked me
to call his wife on my mobile phone, so that she could meet us at a nearer
boat ramp. No reception. A bit further on, worse still, no battery life.
Damn. We had to get all the way back to the boat ramp, then call Tip from a
public phone, and wait for her to drive across with the trailer. By now it
was dark, and we couldn't even see, despite the moonlight, what possessions
we were retrieving from the boat.
What gets me is that Rob does this run four times a month. He does it in
two consecutive days - north passage, south passage, and then again every
fortnight. He must be a wreck at the end of the second day. I'm a wreck
after just one day.
I'll get some of the photos into Photo Deluxe jpeg and then email them to
you in the next few days. Glad you're enjoying viewing them, and I WILL
improve the quality when I learn how.
Sunshine Coast, Qld
26º 51' 152º 56'
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