Balinese butterflies

paddies
Rice paddies near Ubud

We were based in a guesthouse just north of Ubud for the whole of our two weeks in Bali. It was five minutes’ walk from the nearest road, along a footpath (scooterpath?) through the rice paddies. We could, and often did, walk all the the way into the city on the same track. The forty-minute stroll ran beside the edge of a steep narrow valley much of the way, passing occasional houses, craft stalls, shops and ‘warungs’ – local eating places ranging from very basic food stalls to simple but delightful restaurants.

These walks gave me ample opportunities to indulge in nature photography, especially since the incredibly green, wet surroundings were alive with insect life. I have uploaded photos of a dozen species of butterflies Continue reading “Balinese butterflies”

Townsville’s dry season begins

Pied Imperial-pigeon in treetop
Pied Imperial-pigeon in the topmost branches of our poplar gum

Easter seems to me to mark the usual turning point between Wet and Dry seasons here in Townsville, and it has certainly seemed so this year. Cyclone Debbie was looming as we left for Bali on March 25 but by the time we returned, a week ago, humidity had dropped right off, nights were noticeably cooler, the frangipanis were losing their leaves and the prospect of more real rain seemed to have evaporated.

I would love to be proven wrong on this, because Ross Dam is at 17% capacity, which is historically (and alarmingly) low for the end of the Wet, as I write. If we count December as part of the Wet, our 2016-17 season amounts to just on 500 mm. It follows a close-to-average 950 mm in 2016 and a record-low 400 mm in 2015. It’s not looking good.

Browsing the BoM’s Climate Data Online for Townsville confirms, more or less, my feeling that Easter marks the change of season, since April is consistently much drier than the first three months of the year. Daytime maximum temperatures don’t drop much but overnight minimums do drop about 3C from March to April – enough to make a significant difference to our comfort.

Some seasonal signs haven’t yet flipped, however: I heard this Pied Imperial-pigeon this afternoon and caught it on camera a few minutes later. Incidentally, the latest word from Ian Montgomery of Birdway is that the “Pied Imperial Pigeon has been split into four species. The Torresian Imperial Pigeon occurs in New Guinea and northern Australia,” so I’m using the wrong common name, but our visitors are still Ducula spilorrhoa as I said four years ago when I described them.

Reptiles on your plate: snakefruit and dragonfruit

snakefruit
Fruit stall beside the path into Goa Gajah, Bali. From top: monkey bananas, dragonfruit and snakefruit, and mangosteens

We have recently returned from two weeks in Bali. They were enjoyable and interesting in many ways and part of the fun was discovering new food. Our favourite ‘new’ fruit, by far, was the snakefruit – ‘salak’ in the local language Continue reading “Reptiles on your plate: snakefruit and dragonfruit”

Of Butterflies and Hilltops

Swallowtails and other families

Most of our largest butterflies are Swallowtails (Papilionidae), with the Cairns Birdwing (female wingspan to 150mm) and Ulysses (108mm) notable amongst them, but we also have smaller Swallowtails such as the Blue, Pale and Green-spotted Triangles (Graphium spp.) between 57 and 65mm. Most of the Nymphs (Nymphalidae) – Crows, Soldiers, Tigers, etc – are about this size, with wingspans between 50 and 65mm. Many of the Whites and Yellows (Pieridae) – Migrants, Jezebels and Albatrosses, for instance – are in the same range, too, while the others are all smaller and Skippers (Hesperiidae) and Blues (Lycaenidae) are smaller still. (Links on Latin names take you to collections of my photos on flickr.)

Swallowtails are named for the ‘tails’ which extend from their hind wings but not all Swallowtails have tails: Ulysses and Fuscous do, while others have mere tokenistic points instead of proper tails and the Chequered, Clearwing, Dainty and the Cairns Birdwing manage without any at all. On the other hand, many non-Swallowtails, especially Blues, do have tails.

What, then, are we to make of this handsome butterfly, with its 85mm wingspan and not one but two tails on each hind wing?

Tailed Emperor
Swallowtail or Nymph?

It is the Tailed Emperor, Polyura sempronius, one of the largest Nymphs Continue reading “Of Butterflies and Hilltops”

The difficulty of communicating climate change

I haven’t mentioned RealClimate here for quite some time (old posts are here) but continue to follow its articles and browse the comments pages, because it’s such a great source of informed debate about climate science. This recent exchange amongst the comments on a post about climate “skepticism” caught my eye because Dan Miller’s explanation for the difficulty of communicating the climate crisis is so succinct.

Gordon Shephard said:
… Ernest Becker, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his book “The Denial of Death,” argues that anxiety about one’s mortality is (for the vast majority of people) the psyche’s strongest motivator. It is not that people don’t believe they are going to die, or that they fear death specifically, but that they hope that, somehow, their symbolic immortality will be assured as long as their particular vision of the future of humanity persists. Tell someone that their particular version is doomed, and they will fight you tooth and nail.
Certainly some individuals have conscious motives for “sowing confusion.” But many will feel (unconsciously) that the possibility of a radical change in the course of humanity’s future (such as that which will result from significant climate change) is a direct threat to their vision of their symbolic immortality. They will grasp the thinnest of straws just to say it isn’t so.

Dan Miller replied:
In addition to the psychological resistance to a vision of a failed future, there are other psychological barriers to facing climate change.
Humans evolved to filter information and focus on near-term dangers, like a lion approaching. There are six triggers that get us to focus on a problem: 1. Immediate, 2. Visible, 3. Historical Precedence, 4. Simple Causality, 5. Direct Personal Consequences, and 6. Caused by an Enemy. Until recently, climate change had 0 of 6 (you could now say that it is somewhat visible). Number 6 is an important one… imagine if we found out tomorrow that all the excess CO2 is being released by North Korea in order to destabilize the climate. We would take care of that swiftly!
It’s almost as if the climate crisis was designed by a diabolical genius specifically so that we will not respond in time. You can see more on this in my TEDx talk.