A visit to Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island is very beautiful and is only twenty minutes by ferry from Townsville but we only get over there a couple of times per year. Here are some souvenirs, with minimal commentary, from our visit last weekend.


magnetic island walks
The beginning of the walking track up to Hawkings Point

Two walking tracks lead up from the Eastern end of Picnic St, Picnic Bay – one towards the Recreation Camp and the other, new us, to a lookout on top of Hawkings Point.

That’s the one we took, early on Saturday morning. It’s a short walk – less than an hour going up, even with stops for photography – and is rewarded by expansive views across Cleveland Bay to Cape Cleveland and along the coast in both directions.

magnetic island east coast view
View from Hawkings Point past Rocky Bay (foreground) and Nelly Bay to Bremner Point between Geoffrey Bay and Alma Bay
Cape Cleveland from Magnetic Island
Cape Cleveland from Hawkings Point
Alma Bay, Magnetic Island
Alma Bay, one of the prettiest places on the island


Magnetic Island
A dragonfly in woodland behind Picnic Bay beach
Magnetic Island
A Sand Wasp digging its hole on the edge of Picnic Bay beach – now you see it …
Magnetic Island
… now you don’t

This was one of the two different sand wasps we watched making their holes near the beach. Like the Glasswing butterfly (old pic) and the colourfully spotted grasshopper (Greyacris profundesulcata) below (more photos and information here), they are common enough on the Island but not in town. In fact, I’ve never seen the grasshopper anywhere except on the island, although I have seen the other two on the Town Common, beside the mouth of Ross River or even on top of Mount Stuart.

magnetic island grasshopper
Wingless grasshopper on a tree on Hawkings Point
magnetic island bee
Native bee on low-growing bushes in the pea family, Hawkings Point
Magnetic Island
Dusky-blue butterfly beside the Hawkings Point track

The bird life on the island is similarly a little different from what we see in town. Bush Stone-Curlews (old pic), Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Red-tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus banksii), for instance, are all much more common. They are all big birds, and the black cockatoos constantly announced their presence with raucous screeches.

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo Magnetic Island
Red-tailed Black Cockatoo over Picnic Bay Jetty



Naturalist’s Bookshelf 2: Braby’s Butterflies

braby butterfliesThe Complete Field Guide to Butterflies of Australia

Michael Braby

Second edition, April 2016,

400 pp., pbk, $49.95

The publisher’s blurb for this book is so accurate and informative that I’m simply going to quote it:

As fascinating as they are beautiful, butterflies are a pleasure to watch and an important group of invertebrates to study. This second edition of the award-winning book The Complete Field Guide to Butterflies of Australia is a fully updated guide to all butterfly species on Australia’s mainland and remote islands.

Written by one of Australia’s leading lepidopterists, the book is stunningly illustrated with colour photographs, many of which are new, of each of the 435 currently recognised species. There is also a distribution map and flight chart for each species on the Australian mainland, together with information on similar species, variation, behaviour, habitat, status and larval food plants.

The introduction to the book covers adult structure, higher classification, distribution and habitats, as well as life cycle and behaviour. A new chapter on collecting and preserving butterflies is included. There is also an updated checklist of all species, a glossary, a bibliography and indexes of common and scientific names.

There isn’t much more that I need to say about this book except to explain its relationship to two others by the same author:

  • Butterflies of Australia (publisher’s page) appeared in 2000 as two substantial large-format hard-cover volumes describing ‘nearly 400’ species and was universally lauded for its completeness and presentation. It is still acknowledged as the standard reference; real copies are becoming harder to obtain but it is readily available as an e-book.
  • The first edition of the the Complete Field Guide (CSIRO 2004) documented 416 species in 352 pp, so the current edition represents a worthwhile step forward.
  • The sequence of the three books reminds us that we’re still discovering new species – about 10% in 16 years.

The bottom line is that if you only want one Australian butterfly book, the new edition of the Complete Field Guide is the one you want. There are other options, of course, but this one is authoritative and comprehensive while still being portable and affordable.

* Naturalists’ Bookshelf 1: Plants is here.

An Ant-lion visits

We have still had very little rain so far this (nominally) Wet season so the insect activity in the garden hasn’t built up in the way it usually does at this time of year. However, we’re still seeing a few butterflies (Birdwing, Ulysses, Eggfly, Migrant, etc) and getting a few visitors in the house at night, attracted to the lights.


Ant-lions are lacewings (Neuroptera, Myrmeleontidae) and adults are easily identified by their size (30-40mm), lethargy (they are clumsy, reluctant fliers) and antennae: nothing else has antennae quite like this.

Close-up of the head

There are about 250 Australian species and most of them are so similar that they are difficult to identify, at any stage of their lives. Mine may be Heoclisis fundata (photos here on ALA), which is fairly common and widespread.

The larvae are more familiar to us in one way, since their little volcano-like pits are common in loose dry soil, but less familiar in that we so rarely see the creature lurking at the bottom. As always, the Brisbane Insects site has reliable information and photos, and their first photo of the lurking predator is a beauty (I’m not sure that’s the right word).

Naturalists’ Bookshelf 1: Plants

Several new, or merely new-to-us, natural history books arrived in this house a couple of months ago – mostly around December 25, actually – and I’ve been meaning to write about them ever since. Here are those which focus on plants:

Visions of a Rainforest – a year in Australia’s tropical rainforest

Text by Stanley Breeden, illustrations by William T. Cooper.

Simon and Schuster, 1992

As The Australian Rainforest Foundation website notes, Queensland’s Wet Tropics region contains the oldest continually surviving tropical rainforest on earth and is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, 12 of the 19 ancient flowering plant families in the world being found here. Naturalist Stanley Breeden settled on the edge of the rainforest near Malanda in the early 1990s and this book, in the form of a sumptuously produced diary, documents his discovery of its plants and animals.

This is a gorgeous book, not least because of the beautiful illustrations by William Cooper, a long-time friend and new near neighbour of the author.

Australian Rainforest Fruits – a field guide

Wendy Cooper, illustrated by William T. Cooper

CSIRO, 2013

If this came from any other authors I would be effusive about its thoroughness and attractive illustrations but it is, in fact, ‘merely’ a cut-down version of an even bigger and better original, the same couple’s magnificent Fruits of the Australian Tropical Rainforest (2004), which I mentioned in connection with wild bananas a couple of years ago. In the present volume, fruits are grouped by colour and each page of illustrations faces a page describing them and identifying the plants. It’s a ‘concise guide’ to 500 of ‘the more common and widespread’ of the 2430 species covered in its bigger brother and will be more than adequate for most of us.

Visions of a Rainforest, a labour of love, has been beautifully and professionally published. Most of the rest of the books here are also labours of love but are self-published, with the quirks and occasional lapses which are regular consequences of that process.

Plants of Tropical North Queensland – the compact guide

John Beasley

Footloose Publications 2006, reprinted 2008 and 2011.

Beasley lives in Cairns and his book covers nearly 500 plants found from Cardwell to Cooktown and inland to Chillagoe, i.e. mostly the Wet Tropics, so the coverage of Townsville’s vegetation may have a few gaps. On the other hand, the more general guides published ‘down South’ deal so cursorily with the tropics that they are likely to have far more gaps, so this one is still worthwhile for Townsvilleans.

Plants can be identified in any of several ways: by browsing through the chapter devoted to the vegetation zones (Coastal Open Forest, Mangroves, etc), or through simple keys to flower colour, fruit colour, leaf shape, plants types or plant families. An ideal back-pack reference for a day in the bush.

Australian pigface and pigweed: tasty native food plants a long tradition

Attila Kapitany

Kapitany Concepts, 2013.

This magazine-sized publication looks primarily at Carpobrotus, Disphyma and Sarcozona, common succulents usually known unflatteringly as ‘pigface’ and ‘pigweed’ and often confused. These plants are a very important source of food and water for animals and insects – and even humans. They are common in sandy, saline or disturbed soils and are very often found in coastal areas. The book covers identification, usage and cultivation. Specialised but recommendable.

A Celebration of Wattle, Australia’s National Emblem

Maria Hitchcock

Rosenberg, 2012

This book, first published under a slightly different name in 1991, belongs more to cultural studies than to botany since, although it contains chapters on propagation and cultivation, its focus is firmly on the Wattle as a national symbol. A history of the Wattle Day movement  is accompanied by an anthology of Wattle poetry, stories and songs from Lawson onwards. It’s a worthy but strangely old-fashioned project: it looks like a new book but its contents wouldn’t have been out of place in a 1950s school library.