Crows, Currawongs and Choughs

This post parallels my recent Extended Honeyeater family essay and is prompted by the same holiday experiences: visiting Canberra and Victoria before Christmas I saw birds which don’t live around Townsville and wanted to fit them in to my existing knowledge.

It turned out that the birds I was curious about are not all members of the same taxonomic family but all belong to three families within the superfamily Corvoidea, i.e.,

  • Corvidae: crows, ravens (and jays, which don’t occur in Australia)
  • Artamidae: woodswallows, butcherbirds, currawongs and Australian magpie
  • Corcoracidae: white-winged chough and apostlebird

Continue reading “Crows, Currawongs and Choughs”

Extreme upcycling

We all know about recycling, re-using stuff which might otherwise have been thrown away (and we all know that there is no “away”, don’t we?) and “upcycling” is the next refinement of the idea. Many of my favourite examples are in the arts and crafts area – Waste to Wonder‘s inner-tube jewellery, for instance – but the National Gallery of Victoria’s Triennial (Dec 2017 – April 2018) had some extreme examples.

upcycling - cabinet
Computer cases become drawers

Dutch design studio Formafantasma exhibited several pieces of furniture created primarily from tech waste, such as the computer-case drawers at left.
Their design and construction was superlative, and I enjoyed their quirky decorative use of small items of tech junk.

The designers’ notes on the project point out that “by 2080 most remaining metals will have been extracted from the ground” and that, therefore, “the era of above-ground mining is upon us.” Continue reading “Extreme upcycling”

White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike finds a meal

White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike
White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike with lunch

Cuckoo-shrikes, both White-bellied and Black-faced, are occasional visitors to our garden. This one is the former, Coracina papuensis. 

Yes, it has a black face, but the real Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes, C. novaehollandiae, have more black on their face – compare them here. And no, it is neither a cuckoo (Cuculidae) nor a shrike (Laniidae) but is in another family, Campephagidae,  with the Trillers; Wikipedia (previous link) speculates that the ‘cuckoo’ part of their common name may come from a superficial resemblance to some cuckoos.

Common names are unreliable guides to appearance, behaviour or family affiliations, particularly here in Australia where the first European settlers met hosts of strange birds and animals and applied the nearest old-world names to them.

Extended Honeyeater family

What do you think of when you think of an extended family? Cousin Julie, Uncle John, Nanna and the rest? Or a group of related birds or mammals which is broader than a species but narrow enough to be a natural grouping?

Christmas is fresh in my mind as I write, as it may be in yours, but here I’m concerned with the taxonomic extended family, not the rellies. In particular, I have been thinking about  honeyeaters and their next-nearest kin, Continue reading “Extended Honeyeater family”

Townsville’s 2017 rainfall: no relief from dry conditions

As most of us have been expecting for a while now, Townsville’s 2017 rainfall total was on the low side. The BOM’s raw figures show that we had 791 mm for the year, well below our nominal average of 1135 mm.

I say “nominal” average because, as I said here almost two years ago, an average year is not normal: we get dry years (and 2017 is one of them) or wet years (e.g. 2007 – 2012) but rarely get a total resembling the average. Our 2016 total was 951 mm, which is close to average but still on the low side; adding these two years on to the end of the list of rainfall totals shows that we haven’t yet broken out of the succession of dry years which began in 2013.

What this has meant for our water supply is an ongoing crisis, with Ross Dam hovering around 15% of capacity most of the year, water restrictions at Level 3, and pumping from the Burdekin Dam always imminent even if not always under way. Our weak 2016-17 Wet hardly lifted the dam levels at all but an unseasonal May downpour (167 mm)  pushed the dam above 20% for the first time since August 2016.

Playing with the data so freely available online is fun, if sobering, and will show what’s going on better than another hundred words of text, so here’s the link to Townsville City Council’s dam levels page.

What the historical data can’t show, of course, is whether we’re going to get any decent rain in the coming months. Digging into the BOM climate outlook pages shows that they give us a 75% change of 300-400 mm in the next three months (which isn’t as much as we would like) but haven’t got a great deal of confidence in the accuracy of their prediction. “Wait and see” is all we can do.