Vote for the environment

My focus here on Green Path is the environment, both as something endlessly fascinating and as something worth protecting. I try to stay away from politics but it’s hard to remain silent during an election campaign so here’s a round-up of news and comment, beginning with local action.

Electoral activism, local and national

Vote for the ReefFight for the Reef is keeping the news flowing on FB and encouraging everyone to use their “Vote for the Reef” logo (left) as a social-media profile picture for the duration of the campaign.

GetUp! and The Wilderness Society Queensland are campaigning vigorously but Wildlife Queensland was still, unfortunately, in holiday mode when last I checked.

Local candidates explain their environmental policies

NQCC  (find them on Facebook)  is hosting Environment and the Election forums in two of our local electorates as follows:

  • Townsville
    Tuesday 20 January at 19:00
    Townsville Yacht Club, 1 Plume Street, City
  • Mundingburra
    Wednesday 21 January at 19:00
    Jubilee Bowls Club, 13 Burdekin Street, Mundingburra
  • A planned forum in Thuringowa for Thursday 22 January has been cancelled.

Save-Solar-TsvThere is also a forum organised by the Australian Solar Council, at which candidates and other politicians will present their parties’ positions on solar power. It runs from 6 to 8 pm on Thursday 22 January; click on the thumbnail for more details.

Cairns readers may like to get along to CAFNEC’s Reef Hour Election Special to meet local candidates, while their blog post, Our Great Barrier Reef is an election issue, is relevant to all of us.

Media

The Brisbane Times came out with an excellent overview of the key election issues on Jan 7:

Queensland Election 2015: The state of play

… If there is a uniform swing of 8 per cent, Cook, Townsville, held by John Hathaway (4.8 per cent) and Thuringowa, held by the LNP’s Sam Cox also near Townsville (6.6 per cent) are under siege.

If the swing against the LNP in North Queensland is higher than 8 per cent, Barron River on the northern outskirts of Cairns (9.5 per cent), held by Michael Trout and Local Government Minister David Crisafulli’s Townsville-based seat of Mundingburra (10.2 per cent) could also be in trouble.

Local campaigns influence voter outcomes more effectively in regional area and pundits expect the swing against the LNP to be lower in North Queensland than in South East Queensland. …

Most pundits expect the swing against the LNP will be higher in South East Queensland – where the LNP has 14 seats with a margin of less than 8 per cent – than in North Queensland.

But that is without considering how the environmental issue will affect results. A hard-hitting article in The Guardian makes up for that:

The Queensland election campaign might well turn on three issues: the environment, bikies and privatisation. On all three, the Newman government has polarised Queensland voters and put policy daylight between it and the Labor opposition. …

Environment

Campbell Newman’s regulatory reforms in favour of large mining corporations – most notably the removal of most people’s legal right to object to mining developments – go further than even the excesses of the Bjelke-Petersen white-shoe era, the veteran environmental activist Drew Hutton has argued …

It seems possible to me that the LNP’s Reef-trashing policies will attract enough opposition up here, where the Reef is central to our identities and to tourism employment, to make the swing greater than the state average.

Vote Compass is an ABC initiative. A questionnaire ascertains your own opinions and the software behind it compares them with the stated policies of the parties.

The primary result is a neat little chart placing you and the parties on a grid (social liberal-conservative graphed against economic left-right; more detail here, where I described it during the last federal election campaign) so that you can see which parties’ policies you’re best aligned with. There will be few surprises for most politically literate people but I must admit that I was surprised to find that the Katter Party was closer to Labor and the Greens than to the LNP.

The secondary result is that the ABC acquires masses of high-quality survey data (e.g. 30 000 respondents in the first day) which will contribute to accurate news about the campaign as it develops.

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Dove orchids in flower

white orchids with yellow tongues

Dove orchids promising rain to come

We noticed that our dove orchids were in bud yesterday and this morning they were all in flower. I went out to take a photo for the blog and couldn’t work out why I was so disappointed with the result until I realised that I was missing the scent … silly, really, but quite unconscious.

I introduced these orchids at some length in November 2011 and won’t repeat all that information here but just say that they are a well-established exotic, Dendrobium crumenatum, and are generally thought to predict rain. My readers have been informally helping me test that theory via their comments to that post, and my summary of the results so far is that it’s beginning to look like we have two patterns:

  1. Flowers appear a few days before heavy rain.
  2. Flowers appear very soon after a thunderstorm breaks a dry spell.

Today’s flowering is our first this year and we haven’t had any thunderstorms recently, so they must be saying rain is on the way. Our weather forecasters agree, saying that there is a moderate chance of a cyclone forming off the northern coast in the next few days and a good chance of some heavy rain from that weather system whether it becomes a cyclone or not. All we can do is wait and see.

 

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Rain at last!

We’ve had 70 – 100 mm of rain in the last couple of days and are nearly ready to say that the Wet has hit Townsville at last. December only brought us 41 mm and our gardens – to say nothing of Castle Hill and the Common – were getting desperate.

The insects have responded to the moisture immediately. I have seen two flights of winged termites, setting off to find mates and establish new colonies, and a walk around the garden this morning revealed a swarm of native bees as well as a variety of other little wildlife.

small black bee

Stingless native bee, smaller than a house fly

The bees (Tetragonula species) were flying in a loose swarm near a couple of pot plants for most of the day. Dozens were in the air at any one time, with smaller numbers resting (like the one above) for a while and then taking off again.

spider and prey

Silver Orb-weaver with bundled-up native bee

Sitting down in the middle of the swarm, as I did to take the photo, felt a bit weird just because we’re so used to the idea that bees sting and should be avoided. These bees don’t sting – can’t sting, in fact – and I was perfectly safe. They didn’t even bump into me. Some of them did, however, blunder into the web of a Silver Orb-weaver just above them and paid the price.

Elsewhere in the garden I saw a beautiful mantis nymph, translucent against the underside of a sunlit leaf, a pretty little green spider in its daytime retreat on a hibiscus leaf (I had to poke it out with a twig to take photos) and a fat green hawk-moth caterpillar happily chomping through the leaves of my sweet potatoes. Oh, and ants and butterflies and grasshoppers … the whole world comes to life with a good fall of rain. Less happily, that means we are soon going to see lots more mosquitoes.

green caterpillar on leaf stem

Hawk-moth caterpillar

green and white spider on leaf

Patterned orb-weaver, about 7 mm

baby green mantis

Mantis nymph – wings undeveloped

mosquito on arm

A mosquito beating the rush

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Compost critters

Brown Centipede

Centipede

Gardening is always a good way to come across the small wildlife around us and sifting compost can be among the most rewarding jobs in this way because it reveals many critters (‘bugs’, if you prefer) which rarely see the light of day.

Centipedes live in leaf litter and other moist shady habitats, and the one above was perfectly at home in the compost until we disturbed it. And why not? Cool, damp, dark, and full of small insects to eat … just about perfect. It wasn’t enormous but at just under 60mm long it was probably big enough to give someone a nasty nip and was treated with due caution during the photo shoot before being released. For more about centipedes, visit the pages of CSIRO or the Queensland Museum.

Fat white elephant beetle larvae are common in the compost, too, and we sometimes see larvae of smaller scarabs – or even the emerging adult, like this beautiful green one. We saw another of these today but it flew off before I could get a photo. All these beetles spend time underground as grubs and dig their way out after metamorphosing into their adult form. They sensibly wait until the soil softens before doing that, so they emerge in great numbers at the beginning of the Wet; we call the pretty ones Christmas beetles but I’ve got to say they are too late for that this season.

A few days ago I found a large beetle pupa (not a cicada nymph as I first thought and said) when I was emptying a plant-pot which had nothing much in it but weeds. We often see the cast-off exoskeleton of the cicada nymph, hanging on a plant like this with its back split open where the adult has emerged, and the elephant beetle larvae, but I had never seen either a living nymph or an elephant beetle pupa. One big difference which I should have noticed is that the cicada nymph has strong digging claws on its front legs but the beetle doesn’t.

Cicada nymph

Beetle pupa extracted from its underground cell

Cicada nymph on its back

Another view

This illustration of the beetle’s whole life cycle depicts a different species but the resemblance is clear.

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Amazing bird behaviour

We don’t habitually think of birds as being very intelligent but sometimes we see behaviour that makes us re-assess them. Video cameras are ubiquitous these days and social media shares anything noteworthy with amazing speed, so more of us see more examples now than ever before. Whether that will lead to a cultural shift in our perception of bird intelligence remains to be seen … let’s hope it does, because we only protect what we value.

These three video clips all appeared in my Facebook feed in the last few months. The first two show swans and a crow indulging in sports we consider specifically human, surfing and tobogganing, and there is no doubt at all that they are doing so for our own reason – it’s fun!

The swan footage was filmed by a local on the Gold Coast, shown on Channel 9 News and quickly went viral, according to the Gold Coast Bulletin. By the time I saw it, Channel 9 had been edited out and the information about location lost, but I tracked down the original:

The crow is using a ‘tool’ for entertainment and that’s pretty impressive but we always knew that crows were among the smarter birds. What about herons?

As one commenter on the YouTube page noted, this goes beyond using a tool for purely mechanical advantage (e.g. a monkey using a stick to increase the reach of his arm) to exploiting predictions about the behaviour of another animal. It’s not unique to this individual bird, either, as I found when looking for the original video: typing “heron fishing bread” into the YouTube search box got me over 100 results and, even allowing for duplications and irrelevancies amongst them, at least a dozen birds of several related species showing similar skill.

“Bird-brain” may take some time to become a compliment, but I do think we need to stop using it as an insult.

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