The Town Common after a failed Wet season

dry landscape panorama
The Town Common looking from the Many Peaks track towards Castle Hill and Mt Stuart, April 2015
green floodplain
Looking towards Bald Rock from the same location

Townsville has had one of its driest and hottest Wet seasons on record and the consequences for the Town Common wetlands have been dire. We had 185mm of rain in January (not too bad), but only 31.8mm in February and a mere 4.8mm in March, for a total of about 220 instead of our average of around 650.

I took these two photos yesterday from a lookout above Tegoora Rock (they are almost a split panorama, since the trees at the right of the first are the trees at the left of the second). Later in the morning I drove around to the Freshwater Lagoon bird hide, stopping at Payet’s Tower on the way. There was no open water to be seen at Freshwater Lagoon, none to be seen from the road between there and Payet’s Tower, and only a small area to be seen from the Tower itself. The Wetland Walk loop track near the Pallarenda carpark was similarly dry: everything was still green but the ground was already hard.

At this time of year, the Common should look like this or this or this (the last is from a National Parks promo), to cite just three photos from better years. This is what it looked in August 2013, with far more open water than it has now; what it will look like by August – let alone November – this year is hard to envisage.

I saw few waterbirds yesterday, of course. Most of them have gone in search of greener pickings; the parklands along Ross River have been resonating with the soft hooting of Magpie Geese for some time now, and we have even had reports of adults leading their goslings down suburban streets. Ross Dam is probably more crowded than usual, too (I haven’t been there to check), but it is at levels low enough to be causing alarm in the local newspaper:

TOWNSVILLE’S dam levels have fallen to a seven-year low after the ­region ­experienced its hottest and ­driest March on record.

Ross River Dam is at just 55 per cent and Paluma Dam is sitting at 64 per cent, with water levels dropping about 2.5 per cent every week.

If the region’s dry spell continues, heightened water restrictions could be imposed on Townsville residents by as early as July. Townsville City Council may have to pump water from the Burdekin Dam at a cost of up to $170,000 a week. …

Weather bureau senior forecaster Andrew Cearns said that while the city was likely to receive minor showers over the long weekend, it would not receive any subsequent significant rainfall until the next wet season, starting in November.

The Bulletin makes no mention of the influence of global warming on our poor Wet season, and one can’t entirely blame the reporter, but all of our weather now must be considered in that context. No single weather event can be blamed entirely on climate change but many, including this one, can be seen to be exacerbated by it. In this case, our hotter, drier summer is absolutely in keeping with the trends observed by the Bureau of Meteorology over the last forty-five years; visit the trend maps and play with them to see what I mean. I am not saying, of course, that this year is the ‘new normal’, but it is far more ‘normal’ now than it would have been forty or fifty years ago.

My trip to the Common was by no means wasted in spite of the conditions, since I had a good walk and saw lots of wildlife. I will post some of the birds and insects here soon but sign off now with my one major reptile, a nearly-two-metre goanna which crossed my path near Payet’s Tower, startling both of us. Neither of us ran away, so I was able to take some photos.

goanna in grassland
Wary but not too worried

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