Change of season

white pigeon with black tail

Torresian Imperial-pigeon, aka Nutmeg Pigeon, feeding on palm seeds

Townsville is gradually shifting from the Dry Season to the Wet. The change is not as distinct here as in Darwin, where it’s known as “the build-up” and accompanied by intense thunderstorms, but we do notice it all the same. In no particular order …

  • The poplar gum is losing all its leaves. Again.
  • Nutmeg Pigeons, Ducula bicolor, are in town. We’ve had a couple high in our tallest trees for a few weeks, their baritone coo-hoo making their presence obvious even when they are out of sight.
  • The thermometer has forgotten all numbers smaller than 22. Days have been a bit hotter, up to 32 (still far cooler than Western Queensland’s record-breaking runs of 40-plus), and nights considerably warmer (we haven’t dropped below 22 for a fortnight and may not do so for another three or four months).
  • The Cape York Lilies have poked up their first leaves. Exotic (i.e. European) lilies have been flowering too.
  • Frangipani and Poinciana are flowering. The latter flower better when they are watered least, because they put their energy into leaves when there’s plenty of water, so neglected corners of the city shine out in unaccustomed splendour.
  • Chewed mangos have been appearing on our lawn for a couple of weeks, courtesy of the flying foxes which pick them from the neighbour’s tree and hang in our palms to eat them in peace.
  • The lawn has started growing again after looking all right with regular watering (but really just waiting around) over “winter”.
  • Clouds build up most days but haven’t yet done much beyond looking pretty.
  • We’ve had two separate mailouts from the city council reminding us that “Townsville is subject to cyclones” (!) and encouraging us to prepare for floods, storm surges, power outages, etc. I suppose they are necessary, given the numbers of people who are only here for a few years, but after twenty years we are well accustomed to both the weather and the warnings.
  • Our local (LNP) member of state parliament also sent us his newsletter and offered us, “a bright yellow Get Ready USB wrist band,”  free from his office and containing, “all the information you need to ensure you and your family are well prepared for this storm season.” It seems awfully hypocritical and tokenistic in the context of his government’s systematic attacks on the environment, up to and including spending our money on a coal mine which will contribute significantly to climate change if it goes into production rather than (as seems equally likely) being uneconomic, failing to commence operations and merely losing our money.
  • We’ve heard our first cicadas of the season – just a few, but we know there will be more later. Ditto beetles coming to the house lights at night. So far they are mostly small brown scarabs like this chafer but their beautiful green and gold cousins will be here soon, as will the impressive elephant beetles.

In the first year or two of this blog I ran a monthly series of posts on seasonality as it affected my Townsville garden and clicking on the “seasonal change” tag in the side-bar will find them plus more recent, but less regular, posts on the topic.

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greenish bird with red beak

Asian Dollarbird, Eurystomus orientalis, on a powerline in the Ross Dam car-park

The Dollarbird, Eurystomus orientalis, is a wet-season visitor to the Townsville region. Slaters Field Guide says it frequents “forest and woodland” when it’s here (September to April), which I guess is why I have yet to see one in the suburbs.

It reminded me of the (too) common Indian Mynah but is a bit bigger and much more beautifully coloured: its jade-green wings, brown-green back and blue throat set off the red beak and feet very nicely. It gets its name from white patches which are highly visible in flight, the ‘dollars’, under its wingtips.

Dollarbirds are aerial predators taking insects in flight like our Rainbow Bee-eaters. For more information, visit the Birds in Backyards page about them.

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In other news …

There are two new posts on the Wildlife Queensland Townsville Branch blog which I thought deserved a mention because they fit so well with what I have been doing here on Green Path.

The first records a field trip (they are a monthly activity of the branch and I have been on several this year) to a park I visit often, Lou Litster Park which follows Ross Creek either side of Queens Road. From urban wasteland to city oasis, however, does something I couldn’t, presenting the park’s history as a long-term revegetation project. The project was led by Christine Dalliston and Lynn Saunders who acted as guides on the day, so WQ members learned a lot about how its present state was achieved.

There are some nice photos there – not mine, because I wasn’t able to go on the trip – but I thought I might add here a flower which is mentioned there but not shown, the unusual blossom of the Leichhardt tree, Nauclea orientalis.

spiky brown and cream flower

The chestnut-like flower of the Leichhardt tree, around golf-ball size

The second post, What’s in your [Mundingburra] backyard, is even closer to home in two ways: the photos in it are my own because I was invited to drop by with a camera and see if I could get a few good portraits of a curlew family, and the location is within very easy walking distance.

Curlews (more correctly Bush Stone-curlews, Burhinus grallarius) are common enough in our suburb but it is rare for the history of a particular breeding pair to be so well observed over such a long period and the account is well worth reading.

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orange and brownish butterflies

Mating pair of Orange Palm Darts on pentas leaf

Skippers are a family of butterflies which look as much like moths as like ‘real’ butterflies: they are smallish, heavy-bodied, mostly rather plain in colour, and often rest with wings spread. Their flight is often fast and abrupt (that’s where their name comes from) but when this couple flew-fell past me early yesterday evening they seemed quite out of control. Still, they landed on a pentas leaf and seemed happy enough there.

The family, Hesperiidae, comprises nearly a third of Australian butterflies. They are very easy to distinguish from other families but distinguishing one species from another within the family is quite difficult, especially working from photos – visit this collection of my older photos or this collection of all Australian species by Don Herbison-Evans and Stella Crossley  to see why.

The couple above made identification easier than usual because I knew I had male and female of the same species. (That is one reason I take photos of mating pairs when I can; the other is that they tend to stay still longer than if they are just feeding.) They are Orange Palm Darts, Cephrenes augiades, and Braby’s big book of Australian butterflies says that, of ten subspecies worldwide, “only C. a. sperthias is found in the Australian subregion.”

Their larvae feed on the leaves of palm trees. The butterflies were native to the tropical east coast but they have been accidentally spread all around the country by people growing palms in their gardens. Their diet has expanded along the way, too: they have been recorded feeding happily on more than 100 exotic (i.e. introduced) species of palms.

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Heads in the Sand

We did it here first but the Bondi event on November 13 was good to see, too. It certainly drew attention from the world’s media – Reuters, the BBC, CBC and many other mainstream outlets covered it.

It also appeared on Mashable (with a particularly good collection of images) and the blogosphere; one denialist blog tried to make a joke of it, apparently forgetting that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

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