Thursday, July 16, 2009

Not quite Attenborough

I've just spent a few weeks at my parents' house in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. I spent some time in the bush, getting all David Attenborough in the hope of a blog-worthy sighting. Unfortunately I didn't see very much, despite sitting at a water hole (the one in the photo below) for two hours in the hope that something interesting would come along. Perhaps the cold weather was responsible for the lack of animal activity. Alternatively, as I realised some time into my stake-out, the oversized, bright red puffy parker I was wearing wasn't exactly subtle camouflage gear.

I did see, and take a bad photo of, an agitated scrub turkey. If you're from Queensland, you already know that scrub turkeys are not a particularly noteworthy sighting. But they do have some interesting habits. And in the absence of, say a Richmond Birdwing butterfly, let's talk about scrub turkeys.

Here's a picture my dad took of a scrub turkey nest further further along the same river. The male turkey constructs a mound of rotting vegetation, which is typically a metre or so high and several metres across. Unlike many other birds, scrub turkeys are not monogamous. The male waits until a female comes along and decides to lay an egg in his nest. Obviously, the male turkey is not the father of the egg, but he isn't completely cuckolded. In exchange for providing the nest, he is allowed to mate with the female, in the hope that his genetic offspring will be incubated by the male in whose nest the egg is laid. Several different females may lay eggs in the nest of a single male.
The male turkey doesn't need to sit on the egg, because the heat given off by the rotting vegetation is enough to incubate it. He can measure the temperature of the mound with his beak, and adds or removes leaves with his large feet in order to keep the temperature constant. When the young hatch, they scratch their way out of the mound, and run off into the rainforest. Their father (who is most likely not their biological father) provides no parental care, and their mother is long gone, probably off the rainforest attempting to mate with with as many different males as possible. Scrub turkeys are truly the bogans of the bird world, hence their diminutive name of scrubbers.

My other exciting sighting was up at the dam (above). Admittedly, a cane toad is not really an interesting find. But this cane toad was dead, lying on its back, and appeared to have had its abdominal skin torn open and its organs and forearm muscles removed. One of the reasons for the rapid spread and population growth of cane toads is that most parts of their bodies are highly toxic, and so they have very few native predators. However, in the last decade, there have been reports of crows and magpies learning to eat cane toads by flipping them onto their backs, thereby avoiding the poison glands. They then eat the internal organs, which are not poisonous. This could have been the fate of this toad. I promise this is the last gory toad picture for this blog.

I also came across some intriguing insect larvae, which were too small to photograph, and which I haven't yet had the chance to identify. I have to admit, apologetically, that David Attenborough would have done it better. Perhaps I'll do another stake-out in Summer, when the heat drives more animals towards to the water, and puffy red parkers are unnecessary.