Three species of Ibis

purple-black bird on lawn

Straw-necked Ibis in Sherriff Park, Mundingburra

Australia is home to three species of ibis and all of them live in the Townsville region (in fact they are all widespread, occurring throughout Queensland, NSW, Victoria, most of the Northern Territory and parts of WA and SA) but they are by no means equally common here.

The Australian White Ibis, Threskiornis molucca, is by far the most common and has featured in numerous posts here on Green Path, Percival’s Portrait being the most recent.

The mostly-black species should logically be called the Black Ibis but no, it’s the Straw-necked Ibis, Threskiornis spinicollis. The reason for its name is clear enough in the photo above (but I still think Black would be better).

The Straw-necked Ibis is much rarer around town than the White, outnumbered at least 10:1. Even so, it is more common than the Glossy, which I have never seen in town and rarely seen anywhere else – and the only place I have photographed one is at Billabong Sanctuary.

purplish wading bird beside billabong

Glossy Ibis

The Glossy Ibis, Plegadis falcinellus, is noticeably smaller than the other two (50-60cm rather than 60-75) and doesn’t share their habit of feeding on land, preferring to keep to shallow water.

Ibises and Spoonbills, all large wading birds, comprise the family Threskiornithidae. Wikipedia’s article on the order they have been assigned to (Pelicaniformes) says that there is considerable debate about their evolutionary history but that pelicans, egrets and herons  are among their next-nearest relations. Back in the real world, ibises and our two species of spoonbill often forage together in mixed groups, sometimes with Magpie Geese, Whistling Ducks, Cormorants and other species.

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What is a bug, anyway?

One of my motives for starting Green Path was to document all the small wildlife I was discovering by prowling around my own garden with a camera, that is (to most people) bugs. But what is a bug, anyway, in more formal terms?

orange and black bug

True bug: Horehound Bug (Hemiptera)

If we want to be technical, bugs should really be limited to insects (six legs) so spiders are out. And to be even more technical, entomologists talk about “true bugs” which are a specific family of insects, Hemiptera (the sap-suckers – aphids, shield bugs, plant-hoppers, etc). The obvious implication is that non-Hemipteran insects are not really “bugs”, although I’ve never heard anyone actually say so.

I discussed this profound issue over a beer recently and we decided that all insects except butterflies and moths are bugs. So are millipedes, mites and ticks, which are not insects. Spiders? No, not really bugs, but not insects either. Crabs? Not bugs.

All of the above, however, are invertebrates (i.e. they don’t have backbones) and in fact they are all Arthropods, defined as “invertebrate animals having an exoskeleton (external skeleton), a segmented body, and jointed appendages.”

Mayfly hanging beneath a leaf

Bug: Mayfly (Ephemoptera)

What it all boils down to, I suspect, is that a “bug” is any small arthropod we don’t have a better name for. Frankly, I don’t worry about it too much: if a critter intrigues me or if it’s beautiful, I will want to know more and take a photo.

And “critters” = “creatures” so my scope is even broader than “bugs”. Insects, spiders, crabs, lizards, birds, koalas, people, whales … all critters, all deserving respect and understanding.


Critter: Bennett’s Wallaby

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Liberty in the Age of Terror

libertyA. C. Grayling Liberty in the Age of Terror
Allen & Unwin, $29.99

Terrorism is never far from the headlines these days. One week it’s a terrorist attack, always on ‘innocent civilians’, and the next it’s a government ‘response’ to it, always ‘strengthening national security’.

Somehow, governments never seem to mention that they are reducing their citizens’ freedom as they do that, but Grayling takes up the issue here. He is Professor of Philosophy at London University’s Birkbeck College and one of England’s leading public intellectuals, and he writes lucidly and persuasively. His argument, in brief, is that we have been sacrificing too much in the name of safety and that governments have been too willing to use their security powers for unrelated purposes.

He writes primarily about the UK and USA but the Australian government’s actions over the last ten years have paralleled theirs closely enough that his observations largely apply here as well. He itemises the ways in which governments have limited our fundamental freedoms, especially our privacy, freedom of speech and freedom from arbitrary arrest, in the name of security, and he calls on us to oppose the drift towards authoritarianism. He admits that freedoms entail risks but argues that the freedoms are so important that the risks, which are never as great as governments claim, are affordable. If we allow ourselves to be frightened into living in a police state, he says, the terrorists have won.

His focus is on political responses to terrorism rather than its roots. If terrorism is the jet of super-heated steam leaking from a pressure-cooker, we can suppress it either by attempting to seal the leaks or by turning down the heat. Given the quantity of small-arms in circulation, sealing all the leaks is patently impossible, so (even leaving moral imperatives aside) wouldn’t it be a good idea to look at the other option and begin to tackle the poverty, injustice and inequality which fuel the resentment and anger of millions of people?

But one can’t blame Grayling for failing to do something he didn’t plan to do, and Liberty in the Age of Terror is still an important, timely book.

The review you have just read was the one I wrote for the Townsville Bulletin in September 2009, just after the book was released, and I haven’t changed a word for its republication here.

Sadly, the book is still important and timely – perhaps even more so. If I were to alter it now, I would add that Islam is not really the issue but has become a rallying point and a pretext for millions of desperate people living in an arc from Pakistan to Morocco, in countries which have always been on the edge of habitability and have been pushed over it by a run of bad years.

We were warned repeatedly in 2010, if not earlier, and a search on “drought middle east” will generate a continuing stream of such reports and distressing images.

The first wars driven by climate change? Perhaps.

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Townsville takes part in the Global day of Climate Action

crowd with placards

The obligatory crowd photo

Today’s global day of climate action represents a remarkable collaboration of environmental and community groups around the world, led by Here in Townsville, NQCC provided the leadership and a sizeable crowd assembled on the Strand for music, face-painting and speeches from Wendy Tubman and Sandy McCathie. Rather than a march we had a staged photo-op: dozens of people on the beach with their heads in the sand in imitation of a certain Mr Abbott (certain, that is, that climate change is crap and that he doesn’t need to listen to anyone who thinks otherwise; he’s wrong on both counts, of course).

It was a positive event in the same style as the National Day of Climate Action in June: a gathering of like-minded people for a good cause, having fun in beautiful surroundings as well as making a serious point. is assembling a photo gallery on flickr; Australian images are here. I haven’t yet seen photos of the completed heads-in-the-sand panorama but here’s one showing people beginning to get ready for it.

preparing to  dig

Playing on the beach – seriously

Update, 24.9.14

The media coverage has now peaked:

  • Avaaz has a great collection of photos from around the world accompanied by front-page newspaper coverage.
  • GetUp! has a good collection on instagram.
  • More locally, the Townsville Bulletin had no coverage at all on Monday (except a short report from AAP of the Cairns rally, which was presumably ‘news’ because it was held outside the G20 finance ministers’ meeting) but came to the party on Tuesday with a cute photo of a child in costume and a brief report.
  • The “heads in the sand” photo (below) from Cranky Curlew has attracted quite a lot of attention including a spot on Channel 10’s “The Project” yesterday evening.

Townsville Salutes

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A Brown Honeyeater takes a bath

small brown bird perching on twig

When you’re this wet …

brown bird flapping wings

… you’ve got to shake yourself this hard to dry off

The birdbath in our back garden is well used by a variety of local wildlife. Mud-wasps use it to moisten their nesting material, mosquitoes use it for breeding (unless we keep on flushing and replacing the water), the local frogs use it as a swimming hole and of course birds often come to it for a bath.

This Brown Honeyeater is a regular late-afternoon patron and I was ready with my camera when he (or she – the sexes are similarly coloured) called in last week.

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