Cape Hillsborough National Park

wallabies on beach

Campers watching wallabies in the early morning

Cape Hillsborough National Park and Eungella are both just north of Mackay, which means they are a little too far from Townsville for an easy weekend trip, but both are beautiful and I decided to take advantage of four clear days to visit them last week. I came back (as my regular readers will no doubt have expected) with lots of photos and will spread them across several posts, beginning with these Cape Hillsborough landscapes.

There is a happily low-key camping ground and resort nestled in the coastal scrub behind the beach within the national park – the sort of place that Aussie parents have been taking their kids camping for the last fifty years. Bird life is abundant and Agile Wallabies (Macropus agilis) move freely around the camp-ground and picnic areas; they regularly feed on the beach at dawn, too, although I have no idea what they might be finding there.

wallabies on flat beach

Agile wallabies – what are they eating?

beach and headland

Looking along the beach on a drizzly morning to the northern headland

beach and headland

The northern headland in full daylight

forested hills

Looking inland from the beach in the golden light of late afternoon

rock wall around sand floor

Remains of aboriginal fish trap, Cape Hillsborough National Park. A stone wall links natural outcrops to enclose a large shallow pool which drains at low tide.

A short drive from the camping ground takes the visitor to the remains of an aboriginal fish trap and an indigenous food trail. A boardwalk and walking trail through the mangroves are a similar distance from the resort, on the road to Seaforth.

Also, a walking track to the north of the resort leads over the ridge to Beachcombers Cove and loops back (except at high tide!) to its starting point via the beach. And at low tide it is possible to walk out along the natural causeway, on the horizon in my first two photos, to the island at its end.

Future posts will look at some of these excursions.

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Reef walks on Magnetic Island

coral reef flat

Geoffrey Bay reef flat at very low tide, with corals and algae exposed

In the last two months I have been offered not one but two opportunities to join guided reef walks on Magnetic Island, one with Reef HQ Volunteers (I’m not a volunteer any more but still have a family connection) and the other with Wildlife Queensland.

As a matter of fact, reef walking opportunities arise frequently: whenever the tide is low enough, anyone can walk out onto the reef flat at Geoffrey Bay. Low tides of 0.1 – 0.2m or thereabouts allow easy walking in ankle-deep or shin-deep water, and tide heights are freely available, e.g. here. The only special equipment needed is an old pair of joggers, or something similar, to protect feet from the coral. Most of us, though, will benefit immensely from expert commentary; I know I did, when I went with Reef HQ people on September 7.

I had good intentions of writing about the walk for Green Path but ran out of time. Meanwhile a good description of the very similar WQ event has been published here on the WQ blog, and a belated parallel description seems pointless. However, I have uploaded to Flickr an album of photos I took on the day and they can be viewed here.


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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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