Dry season – fire season

Castle Hill viewed from the Common
Castle Hill from the Common

Looking back across the Town Common to Castle Hill I saw a plume of smoke rising from beyond its lower slopes. It was my second fire for the day, and a reminder that we are well into our dry season.

As the season advances, all the grass and other low growth that was so lush in the Wet dries out, dies and becomes fuel for any spark. We get a series of grass fires around the city – on Castle Hill itself, on Mount Stuart and its foothills, in road reserves and beside railway lines, and on private property. They are not usually much of a threat to life and property – most of them are quickly contained, and others in rough country can be allowed to burn themselves out – but they are always of some concern.

My first for the day was on Cape Pallarenda just a few hours earlier. I mentioned turning back from the Cape track to explore the Common, and the grass fire (below) which had started near the track not long before was the deciding factor. I considered walking around it, but the small risk seemed unnecessary with so many other places to explore. I didn’t hear any more about it, so I assume it didn’t do too much damage.

Grass fire on Cape Pallarenda
Grass fire on Cape Pallarenda

Butterflies on the Common

In an afterword to my previous post I mentioned an afternoon on Cape Pallarenda and the Town Common. Here are some of the butterflies I saw on that walk. First, along the track over the cape towards Shelly Beach (as usual, click on the image to go to a larger one):

Common Crow butterfly on snakeweed
Common Crow, Euploea core, on snakeweed
Eastern Brown Crow butterfly
Eastern Brown Crow, Euploea tulliolus
Blue Tiger butterfly on snakeweed
Blue Tiger, Tirumala hamata, on snakeweed







They are all about the same size in real life, and the first two are quite closely related (they are in the same genus, Euploea).

I turned back from the Shelly Beach track to walk along the edge of the swampy Town Common. Most of the water has gone at this time of year but there are still open pools between boggy patches of grass and reeds. There were lots of dragonflies (as compared to almost none up on the high ground) and a different collection of butterflies – quite a lot of Lesser Wanderers, Danaus chrysippus, and even more of their near relations the Swamp Tiger, Danaus affinis. Here’s a pair of them enjoying the last of the afternoon sunshine:

Mating pair of Swamp Tiger butterflies
Mating pair of Swamp Tigers

Rainbow bee-eater

Rainbow Bee-eater perched on power line
Rainbow Bee-eater, Merops ornatus

The Rainbow Bee-eater is a beautiful bird whose closest relations in Australia are Kingfishers and Kookaburras. (There are other bee-eaters overseas, but not here.) It is rather smaller than the Kookaburra but has similarly predatory habits – as its name suggests, it specialises in flying insects, which it takes on the wing.

I have seen them quite often in parklands near home but this, the first good photo I have obtained, was taken from my front gate; the bird was perching on our power line to eat his prey. (I saw him spit out the crackly bits afterwards, too, but just missed the shot!)

When I uploaded my picture of the Brown Honeyeater I mentioned the need for longer lenses for bird photography, and this and my recent Flying Fox photos are proof – taken with a borrowed 50-250 zoom lens, they show much more detail than I could have obtained with my 100mm lens.

More about bee-eaters: Birds in Backyards or Wikipedia.

Afterword: Well, I posted the above on Saturday morning and then decided to go down to Pallarenda and the Town Common because it was far too nice a day to spend indoors. While I was walking back along the track through the Common late in the afternoon I saw another Bee-eater fly in to perch in a tree ahead of me. He was kind enough to stay for his portrait, too. It was already a good day, but that made it even better.

What’s around in mid June

I will try to make this a monthly update, as much for my own interest as for anyone else’s, although this time there is actually not much change from mid-May in either the weather or activity on the garden.

Our weather has mostly been settled in its standard, gorgeous, cool dry-season pattern – 10C overnight dawning to blue skies and a top of 24 (each temperature only varying by 2C either way) with low humidity. That pattern has been interrupted occasionally by a few days of cloud and a little rain but we have been watering the garden quite regularly.

As for the wildlife, it’s easier to say what’s different from last month than to list it all again. Of the butterflies, the Eurema, Hesperidae and Orchard Swallowtail have gone but all the others are still here and we now have quite a lot of the Dingy Bush Browns, Mycalesis perseus, and a few resident Melanitis leda. Of the moths, we now have few or no Hawk Moths but that’s the only difference. Everything else is much the same; there’s no reason why not, really, since the weather is much the same.

Days are a little cooler and shorter (and I do mean a little: the shortest day of the year is next week but we will still get 11 hours between sunrise and sunset). That does make the butterflies sleepy earlier in the afternoon; I caught these two Chocolate Soldiers bedded down for the night in a tangle of Pentas at about 3.30 this afternoon.

Two butterflies on Pentas flowers
Chocolate Soldiers (Junonia hedonia)


An unexpected visitor

Most of the animals in my garden – in anybody’s garden, for that matter – are insects, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have larger residents. Possums live here (sometimes in our ceiling space!) and so do lots of birds; and we get occasional visitors. I looked up into the top of one of our palm trees yesterday and saw something a bit odd. A bit of broken frond? No. Look again:

Flying fox in palm tree
High in the palm tree ...

It was a flying fox, sleeping through the daytime as they do. We hear them quite often at night, squabbling as they feed on the nectar of our  poplar gum or paperbark, or the fruit of our bananas, but they normally fly home to their colonies near dawn.

I don’t  know why this one was here alone but it stayed all day – just moving into the shadier foliage of a nearby bauhinia around lunchtime. He or she is a Black Flying Fox, Pteropus alecto (Wikipedia has more information). Here are some close-ups (as usual, click on then for larger images).

Flying fox close-up front
Front view
Flying fox close-up 2
Love the red fur on the shoulders!