Hover flies

bee-like fly in mid air

Hover fly earning its name

Hover flies are common in our garden except in the dry season and we are beginning to see them again now that the humidity and temperature are rising. Their common name comes from their distinctive, odd-looking habit of hovering in one spot, darting forwards or sideways, and then hovering again; it is behaviour which make mid-air photos feasible and that’s what you see above.

We see at least a dozen species around our garden (photos here, on flickr) and Graeme Cocks has identified twice that many around Townsville, out of about 6000 species worldwide. Most of them are bee or wasp mimics but appearances are, as so often, deceptive: they are all completely harmless.

My photo shows a Common Hover Fly (Simosyrphus grandicornis, Syrphidae) near Pentas leaves. As I watched, it landed on a seed-head and then took off to fly down into the base of a nearby flower-head and lay some eggs:

bee-like fly

Female hover fly on a Pentas seed-head

fly beneath pink flowers

Hover fly laying eggs on the base of Pentas flowers

That made me wonder about the life cycle because I had always (vaguely, rashly) assumed that the larvae would feed on decaying matter just as the larvae (maggots) of the most familiar flies do. The Australian Museum’s fact sheet on the family told me, “Hover flies are also called flower flies because they are commonly seen during warmer months hovering among flowers, feeding and mating. They pollinate many plants and help keep aphids under control.” That made me look further. Wikipedia to the rescue:

Hoverflies are important pollinators of flowering plants in a variety of ecosystems worldwide. Syrphid flies are frequent flower visitors to a wide range of wild plants as well as agricultural crops and are often considered the second most important group of pollinators after wild bees. However, there has been relatively little research into fly pollinators compared with bee species.
Unlike adults, the maggots of hoverflies feed on a variety of foods; some are saprotrophs, eating decaying plant or animal matter, while others are insectivores, eating aphids, thrips, and other plant-sucking insects. This is beneficial to gardens, as aphids destroy crops, and hoverfly maggots are often used in biological control.

Our Common Hover Fly is one whose larvae are aphid predators, so laying eggs on Pentas makes perfect sense. Brisbane Insects describes a closely related species (their Ischiodon scutellaris is now Simosyrphus scutellaris, putting it in the same genus as mine) as doing the same on hibiscus plants, and provides photos of the larvae.

I’ve got to say, though, that I find the adult flies more attractive than the grubs. Here’s one sipping nectar:

fly on white flower

Hover fly feeding on a basil flower

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Ross River parkland in the Dry season

olive bird on twig

Brown Honeyeater

As I’ve noted in a few recent posts and comments, we’ve had very little rain for about four months now (even as compared to our usual scanty winter rainfall) and the effects of our failed Wet season have been exacerbated. Townsville’s parks and gardens have suffered as much as the rest of the city, as a recent visit to the Ross River parklands just upstream from the Bowen Rd bridge reminded me.

Birds were still around in reasonable numbers – Magpie-larks, a couple of Plovers on mud-banks beside the water, Peaceful Doves, a Gull-billed Tern (Sterna nilotica) winging its way down-river, White Ibis, a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, a Friarbird feeding on the flowers of an African Tulip tree, and lots of Brown Honeyeaters – but the park itself …

dry park

Ross River parkland mid-October 2015

Some time in the next month those dead-looking poincianas at the left of the picture will burst into bright orange-red flower and then, given decent rain, a full suit of broad feathery leaves. Even the grass will come back, although that’s hard to believe now. The onset of the Wet is our nearest equivalent to a temperate-climate Spring and we do look forward to it just as much.

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Mopsus mormon mummy

Green jumping spider with egg sac

Green jumping spider with egg sac

I’m sorry – I couldn’t resist the alliterative title although I know that it will baffle a high percentage of my readers. I had better explain.

Mopsus mormon is the Latin scientific name of one of our most attractive jumping spiders (Salticidae). The one I found yesterday, lurking in a silken retreat in my house, was a female guarding her egg-sac, a mother-to-be if not already a mother dozens of times over (it’s not hard to achieve that distinction if you have babies by the dozen).

spider web on window frame

The retreat before I teased it apart

When I saw the retreat, in the angle between a window frame and the wall, I didn’t know what kind of spider might have made it. All that I could see was a dark blur, but delicately peeling back the top layer of silk revealed its inhabitant and her responsibility.

The lumpiness of the eggs suggests that a happy event is not too far away but child welfare is not a concern: that (louvre) window is always partially open, small wildlife is free to come and go, and I’m sure most of the spiderlings will disperse into the garden.

Mopsus mormon, incidentally, is a species for which I have a special affection, just because a male was the subject of one of the first spider photos I was really happy with. From there, a few more pleasing shots of butterflies and other insects encouraged me to sign up to Flickr to submit images to the Encyclopedia of Life project. That was back in 2009, a long time ago in terms of how much I have learned about our local wildlife by wandering around with a camera and then researching whatever it was that I had photographed. This blog, a natural extension of the same process, followed in 2011.

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Looking in vain for rain

black bird on branch

Spangled Drongo … looking for lunch?

All the signs of seasonal change are popping up, one by one, but Townsville (frustratingly) still hasn’t had any rain. Any parks or gardens which haven’t been watered are grey and dusty, and birds still love our garden. Drongos are regular visitors (this one may even be the one I photographed a couple of months ago), we hear the Torres Strait Pigeons calling from the top of our highest trees every day or two (their baritone ‘coo-hoo’ is unmistakeable), and the Friarbirds and Rainbow Lorikeets drown out the calls of the honeyeaters and Peaceful Doves.

Our back-door neighbours have a mango tree laden with fruit. Dozens of flying foxes visit it every night and hang around (literally) in our garden to eat it in peace; we have to walk around with a bucket every morning to pick up the pits and half-eaten fruit.

Temperatures have risen slightly and humidity has kicked up a little more. Our frangipanis have flowered and so has our batwing coral tree – although you would really have to be looking for the flowers to spot any on the latter, because our well-watered garden doesn’t provide the trigger it’s waiting for. Speaking of triggers, our dove orchids promised, nearly a week ago, that rain would be here before the end of the month (see this post for that ongoing story) and we’re still hopeful; a line of storms came towards us on Friday, evaporating before reaching Hervey’s Range but at least reassuring us that they are not too far off.

In other news (and partial excuse for the longer-than-usual gap in postings), I had another weekend of music, cassowaries and goannas at Mission Beach (last year’s photos are here) last weekend and enjoyed a concert from many of the same musicians last night.

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The Dalrymple Track

fan leaf

Looking up to a Fan Palm

The Dalrymple Gap Walking Track is the last remnant of a pioneering road from Cardwell over the ranges to the Valley of Lagoons, one of the earliest pastoral properties in the region. In turn, that road followed a far older walking track, one used by the Warrgamay people for generations.

In its present state, the Track begins one kilometre off the Bruce Highway, at the end of a gravel access road which turns off immediately before the Damper Creek bridge 13km South of Cardwell. The track follows Damper Creek upstream (crossing it repeatedly) through rainforest to Dalrymple’s Gap, a low point on the crest of the range, and soon meets Dalrymple Creek and follows it downstream (again with many crossings) to the parking area 36km North of Ingham. The whole length of the walk is within the Abergowrie section of Girringun National Park and the National Parks site hosts a page about it with some useful maps – although I have to say that their Track map doesn’t provide much detail.

walking track

Halfway up the range from the coastal end of the Dalrymple Track

I walked the inland (i.e. Southern, though it’s sometimes called ‘Western’) end of the Track with a Wildlife Queensland group and our leader has written it up so well that I’m not going to try to compete: just read her report. After camping at Broadwater for a couple of nights I decided to take a look at the Northern end of the Track before heading home.

stony creek bed

Damper Creek in the Dry season, late September

We normally expect the coastal side of the range to be wetter than the inland side, but that wasn’t the case this time. Damper Creek wasn’t running at all, and the forest floor was dry and grey although the trees were still green.

Walking was very easy – a somewhat steeper climb than at the other end but still not too strenuous. I didn’t go all the way to the top but some day I will join up the two ends by walking the whole Track.

The Track is 10km long and walkers are supposed to allow 6 hours for it, so it is too long to walk both ways in a day. Camping is not permitted at either end of the walk or anywhere along the track, so doing the whole walk is logistically tricky; organising two groups, one starting from either end and swapping car keys when they meet, is one solution.

brown-orange butterfly

A Bush-brown, one of the common butterflies on the track

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