Town Common in June

town common view
Looking over the Town Common from high on the Many Peaks track

Two weeks ago I took advantage of a free day to visit the Town Common for the first time since the very hot (but not very wet) Wet season and I’m now taking advantage of an unseasonably wet day to post some of the photos I took there.

I walked in from the Pallarenda car-park, around the wetland loop and then up the Many Peaks track for the wonderful views from the top. I continued half an hour further along the track, down from the hill-crest and through a large vine thicket, before returning the way I came. I heard lots of birds at the very beginning of the walk but they didn’t pose for me so the insects are the stars of my gallery. Continue reading “Town Common in June”

Butterflies and other insects on the Town Common

Here are some of the insects I saw on the Town Common yesterday – far more numerous than the birds I talked about in my previous post, although I have to say that wasn’t entirely a Good Thing (more on that later).

Butterflies

  • Marsh Tiger, Danaus affinis
  • Lesser Wanderer aka Plain Tiger, Danaus chrysippus
  • Common Crow, Euploea core
  • Blue Tiger, Tirumala hamata
  • Common Eggfly, Hypolimnas bolina
  • Blue Argus, Junonia orithya
  • Bush Brown, Mycalesis sp.
  • Grass Yellow, Eurema sp.
  • Clearwing Swallowtail, Cressida cressida
  • Black-spotted Flash, Hypolycaena phorbas

Of these, the first two are always abundant on the Common and the next three are nearly as common. All five are about the same size. The next three are all smaller. They are also common but are trickier to identify because close relations in each genus look so much alike (which is why I have just said “Eurema sp. [species]” and so on). The last one is the odd one out, belonging to a different family (Lycaenidae) and being much rarer.

Marsh Tiger butterfly
Marsh Tiger
Plain Tiger butterfly
Lesser Wanderer or Plain Tiger
Common Crow
Common Crow

One of my reasons for posting these three photos as a set is that they happen to show all three species feeding on the same kind of flower, the Tridax Daisy.

Black-spotted Flash
Black-spotted Flash, female

Lycaenidae (Blues) are usually quite small but this one is bigger than most, about the same size as the Grass Yellow.

I did also see many other small butterflies and moths but they were impossible to keep track of.

Dragonflies

Golden dragonfly
Golden dragonfly, unidentified
Red dragonfly
Common Glider, Tramea loewii

Standing water always means dragonflies and they were as numerous as the butterflies. Once again, I couldn’t begin to identify all of them and I’m just posting a couple who posed nicely for me.

And the rest

Add together the numbers of butterflies and dragonflies and you might be close to the total number of grasshoppers; add together the grasshoppers, butterflies and dragonflies and you might be close to the total number of mosquitoes – or that’s what it felt like! The Common is not a place to visit without repellent in the Wet season.

Most of the mozzies were the little standard-model grey-black types but one, seen below attempting to drill through my pants leg, was special enough for a photo.

Brown mosquito
Brown mosquito

She (males don’t suck blood) was about twice the average size – perhaps not as big as the magnificent Metallic Mosquito, but close.

My oddest discovery of the trip was this:

Pandanus leaf
Pandanus leaf

Pandanus leaves are spiked along the edges but this one – and others on the same plant – seemed to have pairs of supernumerary spines coming from the lower face of the leaf. A closer look revealed that each pair of ‘spines’ was a pair of wings attached to plant hoppers (Derbidae, Hemiptera), each of which was attached to the leaf via its proboscis (properly called a ‘stylet‘) and earnestly sucking sap from a vein.

sap-suckers on leaf
Derbid plant-hoppers feeding on pandanus

A riverside ramble

damselfly
Damselfly resting on a creeper on the ground.

Yesterday afternoon’s beautiful weather persuaded me to leave my useful-but-tedious work for an hour or two to ride to Aplin’s Weir, leave the bike under a tree and walk upstream between the bike path and the water (still on the Mundingburra side of the river). It’s quite a wide, rich zone in that stretch of Ross River’s parkland, with a broad backwater, swampy areas and an unmade walking track under mature trees – a bit of everything for the local wildlife and (therefore) for a casual naturalist/photographer like myself. I came home relaxed and with a good haul of photos. I have started with an insect so I will continue with invertebrates before getting to the birds.

Purple dragonfly perching on a tangle of dead creepers
Purple dragonfly perching on a tangle of dead creepers

These gorgeous purple dragonflies, Rhyothemis princeps, were abundant in sunlit spots along the path, and I saw quite a few smaller blue dragonflies as well as damselfllies like the one at the top of the page.

brown butterfly on dead leaves
A Bush-brown butterfly well disguised in the leaf litter
blue-black butterflies
Blue Tigers in deep shade

Butterflies were also abundant. Smaller species like this Orange Bush Brown (“Bush Brown” is a family name; there is also a “Dingy Bush Brown”) and the bright Grass Yellows (Eurema species) were flitting about at shin height, with Crows (Euploea) and others at head height and above. I walked through one large aggregation of Blue Tigers (Tirumala hamata) over-wintering in the kind of moist, shady area they like, and was reminded of a similar group of Crows I found on the Town Common at this time of year in 2012 – see this photo on Flickr. There were far more than I caught in my photo, by the way – they were scattered over a few square metres.


long-legged fly on leaf
Cranefly

This cranefly is not the species I’m most familiar with, the Tiger Cranefly (Nephrotoma australasiae) but one of the other 700-odd (!) species in the family Tipulidae. It’s just a little larger than the Tiger Cranefly, meaning it has a body length of about 15mm and a leg span of perhaps 60 – 80 mm. I didn’t see as many birds as I had expected but enjoyed watching the Jacana foraging on the backwater. I have not zoomed in on it in the photo below because I wanted to show just how mucky its preferred habitat can be: near-stagnant water full of rotting lilies and other plants, algae and all sorts of things we would generally not want to wade around in or (if we had feet like a jacana) on. It’s full of highly nutritious food, though, and that counts for a lot.


small brown bird on weedy lagoon
Comb-crested Jacana foraging on the backwater

Other birds sighted on the walk were a Brown Honeyeater, a Pied Cormorant on the river, Welcome Swallows hunting over the water and a Forest Kingfisher looking for a late-afernoon snack:

kingfisher on paperbark branch
Forest Kingfisher

More dragonflies at the Palmetum

green dragonflies mating
A mating pair of Slender Skimmers, Orthetrum sabina

I’ve written about dragonflies and the Palmetum before so I won’t say much here except that a visit in October 2013 resulted in these photos of three more species. I don’t know how many there are altogether; I’m up to about ten definitely identified and a lot more that I’m not sure of.

Australia has only half as many species of dragonflies and damselflies (closely related but mostly smaller) as it does of butterflies – about 320 – but dragonflies are harder to identify from photographs since the only conclusive method is to check the pattern of veins in the wings. However, size and colour can sometimes be enough and this Brisbane Insects page identifies many of our local species on that basis.

red-bodies dragonfly on waterlily leaf
Red Arrow, Rhodothemis lieftincki
black and yellow dragonfly
Australian Tiger, Ictinogomphus australis

Bug-hunting in Laos

On Monday I returned from a couple of weeks discovering Laos – a whole new country for me, although I had a fairly good idea of what to expect because I had been to Thailand and Cambodia a few years ago.

I travelled with a group of a dozen led by local guides. The tour began in Hanoi (yes, I know that’s in Vietnam) and took us quickly south to Vinh (still in Vietnam) before turning inland to cross the mountains via the Ho Chi Minh Trail into Laos. We were in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, by the end of our (long) second day’s travel. A couple of days later we took a bus to Vang Vieng, where we stayed a few days before continuing to Luang Prabang. Finally, a slow boat on the Mekong took us to the Thai border not far from Chiang Mai where the trip concluded.

The people were nice, the food was interestingly different, many of the temples were beautiful and much of the scenery was breathtaking but my interest here on Green Path is wildlife and the environment so this first post about the trip covers some of the bugs I managed to photograph along the way. All of these pictures are already on Flickr so I have linked  the small versions here to full-size versions there.

brown butterfly on purple flowers
Vientiane

The climate of Laos is not too different from that of Cairns (monsoonal, but wetter than Townsville) and the vegetation is very similar: I recognised most of the cultivated plants and a fair percentage of weeds and other wild plants. It is not surprising, then, that there is a lot of overlap in the insect life too.

Vientiane’s public parks and gardens tend to be neatly clipped, formal and (to my mind) rather sterile. I would have welcomed more shade trees, too, since it was very hot while we were there.  One temple garden provided most of my insect shots. The smallish brown butterfly at left is one I didn’t know, but in the same garden I also saw a flower wasp and a swallowtail butterfly which wouldn’t have surprised me at home.

brown butterfly on bamboo pole
Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng is a small town surrounded by rice paddies and towering limestone mountains which are covered in jungle where they are not too sheer. My best single day of insect photography was the day we went caving and tubing. We had to wait an hour or so in a  clearing between rice paddies and the mountain (limestone mountains = caves, right?) and in that time must have photographed a dozen species of butterfly (thumbnails here) and seen a dozen more including the Green-spotted Triangle and Blue Tiger we have here in Townsville. I have rarely seen such an abundance of butterflies anywhere, and I have never before seen such a profusion of species. Later in the day I caught another three or four species including this big dark swallowtail and these creamy-white Pieridae on the pebbled bank of a stream. Meanwhile, the irrigation ditches were home to a variety of dragonflies (thumbnails here). I would have been photographing smaller insects as well except that my SLR had, infuriatingly, died in Vientiane and I was reduced to a point-and-click camera.

butterfly on fern frond
Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is a bigger (and much prettier) town than Vang Vieng. Half-day trips from it took me to two waterfalls where I enjoyed insect photography as well as the scenery and splashing about in the clear waters.

My last two days in Laos were insectless because we were on a boat in the middle of one of the world’s great rivers. We reckon the Burdekin is a big river, and it is: the fourth largest in Australia by volume of water, in fact. But the Mekong is seven times as long and discharges an astonishing 40 times as much water. I will upload some landscapes when the images are sorted. Meanwhile, all my worthwhile bug photos from the trip are in three sets on Flickr: Laos wildlife, Vietnam wildlife (an astonishing two insect photos from Hanoi!) and the more recent section of Thailand insects and spiders (earlier images are from my 2009 trip).

What’s around – mid September 2012

The biggest event in the garden in the last month has been the flowering of our poplar gum, plus the paperbark, macadamia and bottlebrush. All attracted their quota of nectar-feeders – birds and flying foxes as well as insects.

The weather news is simple: we had a little bit of rain which triggered the flowering of our trees, and since then we have had rather warmer nights and slightly warmer days, with slightly higher humidity. Temperatures are now consistently dropping to 16C overnight (not 8 or 10) and going up to 28 in the daytime, and I do mean ‘a little bit’ of rain – the BoM recorded 1.4mm on August 20 and none before or since. The invertebrates have responded to the warmth and food with a surge in numbers and variety:

Butterflies and Moths (Lepidoptera): numerous Chocolate Soldiers and Eurema; a few Varied Eggfly and Evening Brown; and visiting Cairns Birdwing, Orchard Swallowtails and Ulysses. Magpie Moths are common again, and I loved the Zodiac Moth on the poplar gum. Nearer ground level, I spotted a pretty white moth, Amerila rubripes. It does have a ‘common name’ – Walker’s Frother but it’s not well known enough to be a genuinely common name.

hairy orange caterpillars
These very hairy caterpillars fell from the poplar gum and ended up on a weirdly photogenic blue textured glass louvre

Flies and their relations (Diptera): Tiger craneflies are abundant, to the extent that I saw half a dozen mating pairs in half an hour one morning, and the orange-headed Plecia flies are also mating. Our tiny metallic Dolichopodidae are as common as ever, and there are a few blowflies too. Mosquitoes? Yes, unfortunately, but not too many.

Paper wasps on a chain of nest cells
A new, small paper wasp nest. Its structure is enough to identify the wasps as Ropalidia revolutionalis

Wasps, Bees and Ants (Hymenoptera): Honey bees came to the flowering trees and various native bees are also around. The small parasitic wasps (Braconidae) are back, and so are paper wasps and mud-daubers.

Spiders and other Arachnids: The orb-weavers suffered housekeeping agonies from the poplar gum as flower debris kept falling into their webs, making them useless for trapping prey. Spiny spiders and the Silver Orb-weaver are the commonest at the moment, with a few St Andrew’s Cross spiders for variety. Jumping spiders, Lynx and flower spiders are all to be found, too.

Others: A praying mantis was resting on our lounge-room wall last night and I have seen a few dragonflies cruising through our airspace. There very few grasshoppers of any size or variety but lacewings, both green and brown, have been attracted to our lights in the evenings. Of the Hemiptera, my little aqua-legs sap-sucker is back and I have seen a few others; not many, though, and I suspect they are waiting for more new greenery.

Last monththis time last year

Midwinter dragonfly

Just for those who have been missing dragonflies …

Dragonfly resting in long grass
Midwinter on Mount Stuart

Even in midwinter we have dragonflies and other insects, even on the very exposed top of Mount Stuart. This photo was taken on almost the shortest day of the year and well into our dry season. I’m not sure whether the cold or the dry has the greater impact on insect numbers, to be honest, but they are well down at this time of year even in sheltered spots like my garden.

On the same visit I saw a hover-fly, an orb-weaving spider or ten (Nephilengys and two species of Leucauge, plus the spiky Austracantha), quite a lot of grasshoppers, an orange and black mud-dauber wasp, some little yellow Eurema butterflies, a couple of spotty moths and one or two other insects. Getting out of the house did me good and the views are terrific, but I have to say that the bug-hunting will be better in a few months’ time.