Hinchinbrook Island beach clean-up

Hinchinbrook Island lies just off the coast between Ingham and Cardwell. It’s a National Park, with strict limits on camping and (usually) a waiting list of walkers wanting to hike the Thorsborne Trail. Its inner (western) coast is a shallow mangrove-fringed channel, while its outer (eastern) coast is spectacularly beautiful, with rugged mountains rising behind a series of sandy beaches. Those beaches, sadly, accumulate as much marine debris as our mainland beaches.

Tangaroa Blue Foundation is a relatively new environmental NGO, an “Australia-wide not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the removal and prevention of marine debris,” as their website says. They keep themselves busy: their events page lists, for example, 19 days of beach clean-ups in October alone.

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Spring in the Dry Tropics

Spring here in Townsville is so different from Spring in temperate climates that the word sets up all sorts of wrong expectations. Coming out of a cold winter and enjoying the first sunshine for months? Fruit trees bursting into blossom? Sudden wild storms? Everything green and growing? None of the above.

The word needs scare quotes here, or some other warning that it’s nothing like an English Spring, or even a Victorian Spring. I’m going to put it in square brackets: Spring is what Tolkien would recognise, [Spring] is what we get.

We’re well into our Dry season, having had less than 5 mm of rain in the ten weeks since mid-July, and everything is parched and dusty. Many of our native trees drop some or all of their leaves to conserve energy, although some of them (Bat-wing Coral Tree, for instance) do also flower around this time. Exotics like Tabebuia and Poinciana follow the same pattern, so there are always bright spots in our streets and gardens.

townsville from castle hill
Townsville in [Spring], seen from Castle Hill
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Frog

Wildlife is where you find it. Last night I escaped from an uncomfortably warm hall for a few minutes to cool down in the carpark out the back. It was just a patch of gravel, unlit, separated from Lou Litster Park by an unfinished fence, so it wasn’t promising wildlife territory.

However, a little nose was poking up from one of the posts. In the poor light I wasn’t sure whether it was a gecko (my first guess) or something else, but I remembered what I said last week about “always having a useable camera with you” and fetched my phone…

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Photographing insects with your phone

I was so pleased with my bee photos (previous post) that I shared them on social media, which led to this exchange:

Friend: Excellent pictures. I have the blue banded bee but, try as I might, I never get a good shot!

Malcolm: Most camera-lens combinations won’t get a big enough image of an insect to get this sort of detail. I use a DSLR with a 100mm macro lens (both Canon) and add a +4 close-up “filter” (really another lens but it screws on like a filter) for the really small stuff. And then I take lots of shots and throw most of them away.

Friend: And I use my phone

Malcolm: Some phone cameras are pretty good, but you have to get so close to the insect that you usually scare it away. Practice on small flowers – see what yours will do.

Friend: That’s a good idea. I do a fair bit of flower stuff for my Instagram but practicing on insects would be fun.

Malcolm: Slow insects would be next, then. Caterpillars patiently munching leaves, assassin bugs and spiders lurking in ambush, etc. Then work your way up to to ants and bees. Butterflies and dragonflies? Only while sleeping, I think.

Friend: Oh dear. I am really not in need of another obsession…

Malcolm: But this is one that can fill in your free time while you’re waiting for a bus or a friend to turn up. All you need is your phone, some sunshine, and any scrap of garden…

My phone is nothing special – mid-range Chinese and three years old – but after that conversation I had to take it for a walk around the garden to see what it could do.

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An abundance of bees

An abundance of native bees, that is. Australia has about 2000 species of them, according to Terry Houston’s Guide, and recently I seem to have most of them in my own garden.

I exaggerate, of course, but I know I have more than I can keep up with. In the last few days alone, for instance, I’ve caught four species feeding on Coleus flowers at once. Here they are.

Blue-banded Bee

blue-banded bee in flight
Blue-banded bee heading for a coleus flower, with its tongue already extended

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