Noisy Friarbird and its cousins

brown bird in yellow flowers

Noisy Friarbird in a raintree

A recent visit to a property between Mingela and Ravenswood introduced me to the Noisy Friarbird, Philemon corniculatus – more correctly, to dozens of them feeding in a profusely flowering golden raintree. And yes, they were indeed noisy. Then again, all their cousins are noisy too, so they didn’t have any special claim on their name.

brown bird with yellow flowers

Noisy Friarbird enjoying raintree blossom

Friarbirds are a small group of large honeyeaters (family Meliphagidae) and I have gradually been meeting them all. The Noisy and Little Friarbird are both about 25-29cm, the same size as the familiar Blue-faced Honeyeater, according to Slaters, while the Silver-crowned (27-32cm) and Helmeted (30-37cm) are somewhat bigger. They are all basically brown with bare skin on their heads. To tell them apart, you have to look at their heads: all except the Little have knobs on their beaks, the Noisy is almost completely bald and has an obvious whitish bib, the Silver-crowned has the bib and a cap, while the Helmeted has the cap but not such an obvious bib.

Helmeted Friarbirds have long been frequent visitors to my garden and I have posted photos and a description here. Little Friarbirds are more recent arrivals – I first saw them here at the end of August; you will find photos here and here  as well as below. I have yet to see the Silver-crowned, a Top End species, although its range is said to extend as far South as Townsville.

brown bird on branch

A Little Friarbird in my poplar gum

I was watching this Little Friarbird, Philemon citreogularis, foraging in our poplar gum a couple of days ago when it suddenly swooped down to the base of one of our big hibiscus bushes. When it flew back up I was able to snap this shot of it juggling its prey, a cicada. That, incidentally, was my first cicada of the season; I have seen two more since then.

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This Changes Everything

I try to maintain a rate of two or three posts here per week but have been somewhat preoccupied recently with upgrading another website and attending the odd movie, amongst other things. The Sydney Travelling Film Festival has been and gone, and we saw TropEco’s screening of This Changes Everything at JCU last week.

This Changes Everything is based on Naomi Klein’s 2014 book of the same name and what Wikipedia says about the book is the key to the movie:

In Monthly Review, Professors John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark praised the book, writing that “Klein, who in No Logo ushered in a new generational critique of commodity culture, and who in The Shock Doctrine established herself as perhaps the most prominent North American critic of neoliberal disaster capitalism, signals that she has now, in William Morris’s famous metaphor, crossed “the river of fire” to become a critic of capitalism. The reason is climate change, including the fact that we have waited too long to address it, and the reality that nothing short of an ecological revolution will now do the job.”

If that sounds a bit dry, the cinematography is great and the movie lives up to its makers’ promise:

Unlike many works about the climate crisis, this is not a film that tries to scare the audience into action: it aims to empower. Provocative, compelling, and accessible to even the most climate-fatigued viewers, This Changes Everything will leave you refreshed and inspired …

Klein-movie-flyer Its argument that we will have to entirely remake the economy in order to solve the climate crisis is thought-provoking, to say the least. Is it necessary? Is it feasible? Is it a new idea or the apotheosis of the 1960s hippie dream? There is another screening in Townsville in ten days’ time and I do recommend it.

Before then, of course, we will have had the Climate March (Saturday 28 November) and Heads in Sand 2 later on the same afternoon. Townsville’s greenies are alive and kicking, if somewhat tired. Naomi Klein would be pleased.

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Peaceful dove

grey dove on branch

Peaceful Dove

Peaceful Doves (Geopelia striata) are regulars in our garden but it’s quite a while since I posted a photo of one (two, actually) and an embarrassingly long time since my last post, so here’s a recent photo to make up for both deficits.

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Northern St Andrew’s Cross spider

orange-brown spider in web

Northern St Andrews Cross spider with water views

Our swimming pool is (ideally) so clean that it doesn’t attract insects or anything that preys on them but this optimistic spider strung up her orb web across one corner of it a couple of weeks ago and is still there. Either she is very patient, and very hungry, or she knows more about pool ecology than we do.

She looks like the St Andrew’s Cross spider familiar to gardeners everywhere in Australia but she is in fact Argiope picta, properly known as the Northern St Andrew’s Cross spider.  Rob Whyte at says:

It is very similar to the St Andrews Cross spider Argiope keyserlingi found in southern and eastern areas, the two ranges overlapping. Zig-zag ribbons of bluish-white silk form a full or partial cross (stabilimentum) through the centre of the orb web. This cross gives the spider its common name.

The differences between the two species are so slight they are difficult to describe as well as to notice. Broad white bands across the abdomen broken either side of the centre are my primary way of identifying a female as A picta rather than A keyserlingi. Differences in overall coloration between the species are much slighter than the differences each species shows as it matures, going from greyish, to orange with lighter stripes, to a very dark brown with yellow and white stripes.

And that’s only the females; “the males … of both species are much smaller and essentially indistinguishable from each other to the naked eye,” to quote Whyte again. Fortunately, picking the difference doesn’t matter much to any creature in the world except the spiders themselves – and I’m sure they know!

I will just mention two related posts before hitting “Publish”:

  • Fishing spider talks about another spider in my pool – a water-loving species, so the location is less peculiar.
  • Two spiny spiders compares another pair of near-twin species, the spiny (southern) Christmas Spider and its northern cousin.

There’s always something new to discover.

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Flying Foxes and Ibis in time-share accommodation

The flying-fox camp in our Palmetum gardens seems to have become as permanent as flying-fox colonies ever are, having been occupied through the last months of 2012, vacant in December 2012-early 2013, but occupied continuously since then. Numbers fluctuated but were high by the middle of 2014 when the Bulletin grumbled about the “infestation”. By that time the flying foxes had acquired time-sharing co-residents: white ibis were nesting amongst them.

White Ibis nesting amongst flying foxes in the Palmetum

White Ibis nesting amongst flying foxes in the Palmetum

I saw the two species together at about that time and thought it was quite peculiar, but in fact it is not a new habit at all. They were doing it more than ten years ago in a mangrove forest near the mouth of Ross River:

The [Ibis and Egret breeding] colony [on the south bank of the Ross River] is dominated by a tall mixed-species mangrove forest, backed by saltcouch flats and saltmarshes. Several species breed within the colony at various times throughout the year. The Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopica [T. molucca]) and Straw-necked Ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis) are present throughout the year as are small numbers of Great Egret (Ardea alba), Intermediate Egret (Ardea intermedia) and Little Egret (Ardea garzetta). During summer, increasing numbers of Cattle Egret (Ardea ibis) visit the site to breed.

Flying-foxes co-inhabit the colony, in the form of a time-share: as the last birds return to roost, thousands of Black Flying-fox (Pteropus alecto) are heading towards their nocturnal feeding grounds. A seasonal Visitor is the Little Red Flying-fox (Pteropus scapulatus), a very nomadic species. Together these two species can add up to tens of thousands of Flying-foxes in the Ross Colony. …

The Ross flying-fox and ibis colony covers 45 hectares of mangrove forest dominated by Red (Rhizophorastylosa), Yellow (Cenopsaustra/is) and Grey Mangroves (Avicennia madna). The colony is used not only for roosting, but also for breeding for all species who inhabit it. This fact alone is a rare phenomenon. At peak breeding times, the White Ibis have been recorded in their thousands, and the Black Flying-fox and Little Red Flying-fox numbers can both climb into the tens of thousands. An unforgettable sight in the late afternoon is to see the ibis and egrets flocking back to their roosts, and the flying-foxes streaming off for the “night shift”.

The above comes from this pdf on the Townsville State of Environment Report – 2003 website, and the mangroves are those in the distance in this photo, across the river from the port. My friends over at Wildlife Queensland’s local branch suggest that in fact the flying foxes only took up residence in the Dan Gleeson Gardens and the Palmetum when the Ross River colony was disturbed by cyclone Yasi and the port access road-building work in early 2011, and that they have recently begun to return to their traditional home.

We will never know know which species occupied the mangroves first, or how long either species has been there, but I’m fairly sure the ibis moved in with the flying foxes, not the other way around, at the Palmetum. There have always been plenty of ibis in the park, usually around the lagoon, but I don’t remember them nesting in these rainforest trees (or anywhere else in the gardens) until after the flying foxes moved in.

My conversation with WQ about the movements of our flappy furry friends may lead to further posts about them, either here or on their branch blog. Meanwhile, read this article from Australian Wildlife for more about all Australian flying foxes; it’s long but it is very good and has some lovely photos.

White Ibis amongst the flying foxes in the Palmetum

White Ibis amongst the flying foxes in the Palmetum

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