Langsat and other tropical fruits

fruit in bowl

Langsat

Another visit to Cotters Market, another selection of tropical fruit … I have been here 25 years but I’m still enjoying discovering fruit that I knew nothing about as a child in country Victoria.

To be fair, Townsville locals don’t know all the fruit now available either, since local growers are constantly experimenting with new species, mostly from Asia. If you grew up here in the 60s you knew Carambola (aka “Five Fingers”), Soursop and Bush Lemon as well as the Bananas, Mango and Pineapple which were the only tropical fruit that I knew, but not the fascinating range we have now.

The Langsat (Lansium parasiticum aka Lansium domesticum), long cultivated in its original home in South-east Asia, is relatively new here. When I saw the fruit on the stall I thought they were some kind of Lychee, Longan or Rambutan but no, they are not related: the Langsat is a member of the Mahogany family. (I won’t say any more about its origins, distribution and cultivation because Wikipedia does it so well: just visit this page.)

A thin leathery skin encloses a five-segmented fruit; each segment may contain a seed but many don’t. The flesh is white and translucent, very like that of a Lychee but less bland in flavour. Langsat are refreshing in the same way that citrus are. I liked the flavour and will buy them again but they are not going to displace any established favourites in my fruit bowl, they will just extend the variety.

Speaking of variety, custard apples are in season now and are the main reason I went to the market on Sunday (yes, they are worth the trip). The Mangosteens and Rambutans looked good, too. While there I picked up some bananas, Goldfinger this time as a change from the Red Dacca, Monkey and Lady Finger we’ve been buying recently. One stall-holder has a variety she calls “Bong” and they are nice, too – very similar to the Monkey bananas but bigger. An online search for more information about them didn’t turn up anything very useful, however. I found its full Thai name, “Kluai Khai Bong”, and its Vietnamese name, “Chuoi bom”, but further searching led me into the over-familiar labyrinth of poorly-attributed names. If any hardy explorer wishes to pursue the elusive Bong further, I commend Banana Cultivar Names and Synonyms in Southeast Asia, a 28-page pdf available here. It correlates the names of each variety in the languages of the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Good luck!

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The dry season is here

open woodland

The lower slopes of Castle Hill in late April

The Dry arrived this week, with an almost-audible thump: humidity halved between Tuesday and Wednesday. After hanging around the high fifties (RH at 9 am, figures from this chart) for the first three weeks of the month, it was 22, 32 and 52% on Wednesday – Friday this week, and the 3 pm figures are comparable. (All my statistics are from the BoM, especially their climate data page.)

What about rain? Well, our dove orchids were nearly right when they predicted rain for the 23rd, since we got a reasonable shower (we reckoned 9mm here in Mundingburra, but the airport only recorded 5mm) on Monday 20th, and it was our best rain all month. On the other hand, it was no torrential tropical downpour.

Townsville has had a very dry “Wet” (yes, I think we need the quotation marks!) and I don’t expect much more rain now for six months; our winters have been getting very slightly wetter over the last 60 years but the total from May – October is still only about 120 mm. (Incidentally, our driest month used to be July but is now September.) The photo at the top of this post is one I took last Sunday on the lower slopes of Castle Hill, on a Wildlife Queensland monthly walk; the early morning light makes it look pretty, but the grass is already dry and there won’t be much green there by August, let alone the end of the Dry.

climate-averages-1951-1980 climate-averages-1981-2010

The much bigger Wet of 2010-11 ended at the beginning of April with a similar, but bigger, final gift of rain, while last year’s change of season, just a week later than this year’s, came in with the same abrupt drop in humidity and overnight temperatures but no rain before it.

This is post number 500 in just over four years of Green Path, according to the methodical alien intelligence which lurks behind the public content. I’m not sure that I ever expected it to last this long, but I’m pleased that it has.

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Forts Walk, Magnetic Island

koala

Koala in a gumtree beside the Forts walking track

We visit Magnetic Island several times per year, often to share its pleasures with visitors from other parts of the country or overseas. Two of each were in town this week and we walked up to the Forts with them yesterday morning before spending the early afternoon around Alma Bay and Geoffrey Bay; I came home with enough wildlife photos to be worth sharing with a wider audience, so here they are.

half a dozen brown bats

Microbats clinging to the ceiling of a WW2 building

Five different species of microbats (i.e. not flying foxes) are listed for the Island. These may be Little Bentwing Bats but I’m not at all sure because I see bats so rarely. The whole cluster is only about 100 mm across.

lizard with orange head

A small skink beside the Forts track

Skinks are more familiar to most of us than bats but present a greater identification challenge: twenty species have been recorded on the Island, Steve Wilson devotes one third of his excellent  Field Guide to Reptiles of Queensland to “this large family” without saying how large it is, and Australian Geographic reckons there are nearly 400 species in Australia.

So far everything has been perfectly harmless, even the enormous Golden Orb-weaver whose net spanned our path (I wrote about them here and won’t repeat myself) and our English visitors were beginning to think that our gleeful stories of dangerous tropical wildlife were entirely fanciful. They weren’t, of course – we do have crocodiles, sharks and box jellyfish, even if we don’t really have drop-bears – but the most dangerous animals we saw on our walk were insects:

paper wasp nests

Paper wasp nests dangling from twigs just off the track

Paper wasps may be small but they defend their nests vigorously. Each wasp can sting many times (unlike a bee) and anyone disturbing a nest is likely to be attacked by all of its inhabitants. I wrote about them here (mostly about a different species but the life cycle is the same) and a close-up of these wasps (Ropalidia) is here.

black and gold beetle

Tortoise beetle – about ladybird size

This pretty little beetle is not dangerous at all unless you happen to be a plant. It is a Leaf Beetle (Chrysomelidae), a member of a large and varied family of mostly-colourful small beetles, and this kind is known as a Tortoise Beetle because of its shape. If we call it a Leaf Tortoise Beetle, as some people do, we know what it eats as well as what it looks like.

After the walk we took the bus back to Arcadia and spent most of the afternoon nearby. Our visitors enjoyed a low-tide stroll on Geoffrey Bay beach and loved the curlews around (and in!) the hotel, and the rock wallabies near the old car-ferry jetty. Rock Wallabies (Petrogale assimilis) are quite numerous on the island according to the Magnetic Island Wildlife site (“island-wide on rocky slopes, will use lowlands also when food or water are scarce”) but I have only ever seen them in this one location, where they are regularly fed:

Rock wallaby at feeding station

Rock wallaby at feeding station

two wallabies on rock

A smaller friend arrives

smaller rock wallaby with food

In sole possession

More information:

  • National Parks people have put together a good overview of Magnetic Island habitats and their non-human inhabitants.
  • Koalas are not native to the island but have been introduced. For general information about them, visit the Australian Koala Foundation or (especially for their evolutionary history) Wikipedia.
  • Curlews and a reef walk on Geoffrey Bay have already featured on Green Path.
  • There is more about curlews (my photos but not my text) here, on the Wildlife Qld branch blog.
  • More about the Rock Wallabies: Rootourism
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Birds on the Town Common (and a few insects)

olive bird with white belly

White-throated Honeyeater

As promised, here is some of the wildlife I saw on the Town Common a few days ago, beginning with the birds.

  • White-throated Honeyeater, Melithreptus albogularis, above and (a more identifiable photo) on flickr.
  • Rainbow bee-eaters – lots, perching high in bare trees and swooping for their food.
  • White-breasted Woodswallow, Artamus leucorynchus, several competing with the Bee-eaters for good high perches.
  • Welcome Swallows, Hirundo neoxena, quite a large group feeding in mid-air above the lagoon at Payet’s Tower.
  • Peaceful Doves, several.
  • Bar-shouldered Dove, Geopelia humeralis, in two different locations.
  • A pair of Fairy-wrens, probably Red-backed but too far away for me to be sure.
  • Plovers (two)
  • Ibis (two)
pond

The lagoon in front of Payet’s Tower, with its lone Egret

… and one each of …

… and not even one Magpie Goose or Cormorant!

The usual butterflies were reasonably abundant – Swamp, Plain and Blue Tigers, Crow, Glasswing, Grass Yellow, Migrant and Argus – but I didn’t come across any aggregations like this over-wintering group. On the other hand, I did see a small group of Oak Blues deep within a group of small trees in a gully on the Many Peaks path.

purple-blue butterfly

Shining Oak-blue inside the tree

Oak Blues (I think mine were Shining Oak-blues, Arhopala micale) are amongst the largest and brightest of a family of small butterflies, the Blues or Lycaenidae. I don’t see them very often, so this one is a bit special.

In spite of the common name of the family, nearly all Lycaenidae imitate dry leaves with their underside coloration and few are brightly coloured even on the upper surface of the wing (see them all here).

The most numerous insects on the Common that day were the grasshoppers and green-ants. I also saw a very handsome native cockroach (click here to see it, especially if you don’t believe cockroaches can ever be attractive) and a few dragonflies.

brown dragonfly perching

Common Glider

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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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