Birds in my new Townsville garden

Rainbow Lorikeets and Blue-faced Honeyeaters
Rainbow Lorikeets and Blue-faced Honeyeaters feeding on a palm flower

One of the reasons for the long gap in activity on Green Path was that we were moving house. We are still in Mundingburra, and still between Ross River and Ross River Road, but our new garden is quite different so it will attract different birds and insects.

The new garden is dominated by palms instead of huge mango, poplar gum and paperbark trees. Someone removed trees to plant a wide variety of palms at least twenty years ago, and some of them have been allowed to self-seed since then, so we have far more than we need – even after getting a dozen removed.

The under-storey includes Happy Plants (Dracaena Fragrans), Mock Orange (Murraya paniculata), Ponytails (Beaucarnea recurvata), Prickly Duranta (Duranta erecta), cycads and agaves; they all seem to be survivors of a garden which was replanted in the 1970s or 80s and but has been periodically neglected since then. Our neighbours have huge old mango trees and (variously) a Black Bean, a Jakfruit, a Burdekin Plum, eucalypts and more palms, so birds are not short of perches or nesting sites. On the other hand, the deficiency of shrubbery and native flowers makes the garden less welcoming to sunbirds and small honeyeaters.

So far we have seen …

  • Blue-faced Honeyeater
  • White-gaped Honeyeater
  • Little Friarbird
  • Feral pigeon
  • Peaceful Dove
  • Rainbow Lorikeet
  • Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
  • Figbird
  • Peewit
  • Mynah
  • Great Bowerbird
  • Magpie
  • White Ibis
  • Curlew
  • Sacred Kingfisher
  • Rainbow Bee-eater
  • Spice Finches

They are all familiar species and are already documented on this page of birds seen in our previous garden, so I will just add a few more photos to complete this post.

Australasian Figbirds
Figbirds (male on left, female or juvenile on right)

Nectar-feeders are attracted to the flowering of our palm trees but fruit-feeders like these Australasian Figbirds (Sphecotheres vieilloti) are attracted to the fruit.

Indian Mynahs
A flock (perhaps a family group) of Mynas feeding on the nature strip
Sacred Kingfisher
The washing line isn’t the most beautiful background, but it does remind us how small the Sacred Kingfisher is

A very small problem

Sitting at my computer a few days ago, I was distracted by a tiny bug moving around on the screen. My first impulse was to identify it, and the way it moved, its body shape and what I could guess of its leg-count all said, “spider, not insect.”

My next impulse was to remove it without harming it, and this is the point at which things got really interesting: I discovered that it wasn’t on the screen at all, but inside it. That, naturally (for me, at least) called for a photograph. Out came the camera and the macro lens …

spider on computer screen
The distraction

But that was a problem, too, because photographing anything small, moving, poorly lit, obscured by its surroundings, or under glass is a challenge, and this was all five.

Let’s deal with the questions one at a time. Continue reading “A very small problem”

Visiting Turtle Rock on Hervey’s Range

The Townsville branch of Wildlife Queensland has resumed its monthly-except-wet-season excursions and their April trip was to Turtle Rock, an indigenous rock shelter high on Hervey’s Range. It’s a site I had known about for years but never seen, so I was very happy to be able to join the expedition.

Turtle Rock is on private land between Sharps Rd and Edward Rd; access is across the paddocks from the former, a 20 minute walk which can be shortened by driving part-way (as most of us did) or to the foot of the rock (as one of us did). The landowners, the Fryer family, are happy to have people visiting the site at any time but a courtesy phone call is a good idea and may avoid any difficulties with the access track.

Turtle Rock
Turtle Rock rising from a sea of trees

Continue reading “Visiting Turtle Rock on Hervey’s Range”

Unlikely friends: ants and butterflies

Hypolycaena phorbas male
Black-spotted Flash (male) perched on a green-ants’ nest

Walking back down the hill for Tegoora Rock lookout (previous post) I spotted a green-ant nest with – surprisingly – a butterfly perched on it. Living dangerously, surely? Perhaps not.

I had vague memories vague of mutually beneficial partnerships between butterflies and ants so I looked them up when I got home. The butterfly guide books (and sites) generally just note the “attendant ant” species and the food plants, e.g.

The caterpillar is aways attended by the green ants :

It usually hides by day under a leaf, and feeds by night on the leaves, young shoots, buds, and flowers of a wide variety of plants, including :

The Caterpillars pupate on the stems of the food plant, often in groups, head down.

That’s from the Herbison-Evans and Crossley site’s page about the Black-spotted Flash, which they call the Common Tit. (Perhaps it is “common” because it has so many host plants?)

The best short explanation of the relationship’s benefits I found was this:

The butterfly family Lycaenidae (including the Riodinidae) contains an estimated 30% of all butterfly species and exhibits a diverse array of life history strategies. The early stages [i.e. caterpillars] of most lycaenids associate with ants to varying degrees, ranging from casual facultative coexistence [i.e. they help each other but don’t need each other] through to obligate association where the long-term survival of the butterfly is dependent on the presence of its attendant ants. Attendant ants guard the butterflies against predators and parasites during their vulnerable period of larval growth and pupation. The caterpillars, in return, reward the ants by providing attractive secretions from specialized glands in their cuticle.

That’s the introduction to a thesis, Ant Association and Speciation in Lycaenidae (Lepidoptera): Consequences of Novel Adaptations and Pleistocene Climate Changes, by Rodney Eastwood (pdf here). The thesis itself is concerned with tracing associations between ant species, the butterflies they care for, and the butterflies’ host plants; I know a couple of people who would enjoy it but the general idea is enough for most of us.

An article by Eastwood (again) and Ann Fraser in Austral Ecology, “Associations between lycaenid butterflies and ants in Australia,” gives us some statistics:

Nearly 80% of the lycaenid species in Australia, for which the early stages are known, are recorded associating with ants and half of these are obligately ant-associated. … Lycaenids are recorded with five ant subfamilies …  All ant species that tend lycaenids spend at least some portion of their time foraging on vegetation to collect plant and insect nectar.

As I said in an earlier post, male butterflies often hang around their caterpillars’ food plants waiting for females to come and lay eggs, and it is quite likely that the one I photographed is doing just that. And if the ants recognise the caterpillars through chemical cues, the adult probably produces the same cues and will be safe on their nest.

Finally, here is the female of the species, which I photographed at the other end of the Common a few years ago.

Black-spotted Flash
Black-spotted Flash, female