What’s around – mid April

The Wet season has departed, we think, since my mid-March report. It went out with a bang (splash?), too: nearly 500 mm in the week of March 15 – 22. In fact, our last night of real rain was the night that brought us a tornado. It swept in past Magnetic Island, cut a narrow but destructive swath through the suburbs of Garbutt, Heatley, Aitkenvale and Annandale, and went on to fizzle out somewhere inland.

We have had a grand total of just 2 mm since then.

Something similar happened a year ago when our Wet also ended with a 150 mm deluge (but no tornado).

In the newly-dry garden, our frangipani are losing all their leaves and the poplar gum is losing some of its heavy canopy but doesn’t look like it will lose the lot. Hibiscus, ixora and pentas are still flowering, but not a lot else. Insects are less active and there has been something of a change of relative abundance.

Grasshoppers, Crickets and Katydids (Orthoptera): Giant and the smaller brown-black grasshoppers are still around, but not very many of either and no nymphs to speak of. I did spot a tiny brown Katydid nymph this morning, though:

Brown Katydid nymph
Katydid nymph - the enormously long antennae tell us it isn't a grasshopper

Dragonflies: Very few are left, just a couple of the beautiful golden Neurothemis stigmatizans and dark-winged Sapphire Flutterers, Rhyothemis princeps.

Wasps and Bees: The Blue-banded Bee, Amegilla sp., is the most common at the moment. I have seen one Mud-dauber Wasp making a nest and a few smaller wasps.

Butterflies and Moths (Lepidoptera): Cairns Birdwings are visiting regularly to lay eggs on the Aristolochia and one of two Clearwing Swallowtails look like joining in. One or two of the large, handsome Orchard Swallowtails have passed through, too. Common Eggfly females are back (“At last!” say the males) and I have seen a courting flight (the male flying close behind and below the female, just as the Cairns Birdwings do – e.g. here) and a female laying eggs on ground-cover plants.
There are a few Zebra Blues flitting around the Plumbago bush, as usual, and some Eurema, Junonia and Hesperidae.
We have noticed the depredations of Hawk Moth caterpillars on our pentas but haven’t seen the moths themselves. That is perhaps not too surprising since they tend to visit in the evening, when we are less often in the garden.

Spiders: I have seen several cute little jumping spiders (Salticidae) and just one young Huntsman since getting back from my trip but the little orb-weavers are doing well – the spiky Austracantha, the Silver Orb-weavers and (especially) the St Andrew’s Cross spiders.
I have gradually been realising that most of our spiders are very very small and therefore escape notice. One that didn’t get away was this beautifully delicate spider, unidentified so far, whose head and body together are about the size of a grain of rice. It was hanging beneath the broad leaf of a weed this morning.

silver spider

At the other end of the scale, we didn’t get any of the huge Golden Orb-weavers here during the wet season at all, although we had them from January right through to July last year. Some people wouldn’t think that was disappointing, of course, but I do: they are impressive in exactly the same way that eagles and pythons are impressive, beautifully formed for their role as top predators in their separate spheres.

Early morning walk at Hidden Valley

I woke at 6.30 on the Sunday morning of our weekend at Hidden Valley and took my camera for a walk down to the river nearby (I would have taken people, too, but they were still asleep). It was barely light enough for photography so my first shots were a bit dark but the little river was so pretty I couldn’t resist.

River at Hidden Valley
Rushing down its rocky bed

My side of the river had been cleared some years ago so I was walking through long grass and scattered small trees, although trees on the other side were much denser and bigger. As I made my way upstream I came to a broad shallow pool:

Calm pool in the river
Still waters

Western rivers are famously transient and this one counts as a Western river since it runs down the Western slopes of the Great Dividing Range (its water must end up in the Burdekin). A few weeks ago it would have been carrying three or more times as much water, as fallen trees and scoured banks attest, but the pool was absolutely still when I saw it. I didn’t see a platypus but I can believe they live here.

Reeds in cloudy blue water
The water is faintly blue with fine silt

It was so early that many insects were still sleeping, some of them prettily dew-draped. Photos of sleeping bees, a mud dauber wasp, shield bugs (not asleep) and a nondescript small triangular moth are all on my Flickr photostream – just click the links to see them. The most beautiful of all was a dragonfly:

Dew-covered red dragonfly
I will wake up when it’s warm enough.


What’s around – mid March

What’s around in the garden today is just rain but we have had enough clear weather lately to keep the insects happy. Our bright yellow Eurema butterflies are beginning to return and we are seeing more Ulysses swallowtails passing through. I occasionally disturb an Evening Brown, Melanitis leda, late in the day as well, but I think they are actually here all the time, just extremely shy. I don’t see Hawk moths very often, either, but a few of their caterpillars are still to be found eating our Madonna Lilies and Pentas. Common and Blue-banded Eggfly males are still around, still without any females; also Hesperidae and occasional Clearwing Swallowtails, Cairns Birdwings and Orchard Swallowtails.

Most of my recent photography has been at the Palmetum and Pallarenda (here, for instance, are a dragonfly and a butterfly I have never seen at home) but I did capture a mating pair of Lemon Migrants here a couple of days ago:

Mating pair of yellow butterflies
Mating pair of Lemon Migrants, Catopsilia pomona

Incidentally, they neatly illustrate one of several reasons for being happy to photograph mating pairs:  they look different enough to be different species but they are showing us they do belong together.

Amongst the other kinds of insects:

  • Mud-daubers are currently the dominant wasps, and there aren’t many bees around.
  • Flies are not particularly numerous but we have more than enough mosquitoes to make up.
  • We do have lots of grasshoppers munching their way through the greenery but there aren’t may sap-sucking shield bugs or leaf-eating beetles.
  • Of the spiders, we are seeing quite a lot of small orb-weavers, now including St Andrew’s Cross spiders, and some Lynx and Jumping spiders. However, our spiky Austracantha and Golden Orb-weaver are still absent.
Webs catching the sun
Orb webs catching the sun

Dragons and damsels at the Palmetum

The Palmetum is one ‘campus’ of Townsville’s Botanic Gardens, the other two being Queen’s Gardens in North Ward and Anderson Park near us in Mundingburra.

The Palmetum is beside Ross River just off the main road between town and the university/hospital area. Its speciality is, obviously, palms but that means a broad variety of habitats from arid to rainforest and swamp, with a correspondingly broad range of insects and birds. Here are four of the ten or more (I haven’t yet sorted them all out) species of dragonflies and damselflies I photographed in one slow walk around the lagoon yesterday.

Graphic Flutterer, Rhyothemis graphiptera
Dragonfly: Graphic Flutterer, Rhyothemis graphiptera
Orange dragonfly Tholymis tillarga or Twister
Shy dragonfly: Twister, Tholymis tillarga, hanging amongst grass seed-heads
Blue-bodied dragonfly, Black-headed Skimmer, Crocothemis nigrifrons
Dragonfly: Black-headed Skimmer, Crocothemis nigrifrons
Orange-bodied damselfly, Ceriagrion aeruginosum, Redtail, male
Damselfly: Ceriagrion aeruginosum, Redtail (this is a male – females are greenish)

Dragons and damsels are closely related, all grouped together in Odonata, but damselflies are mostly smaller than dragonflies so the last image you see here is all the pixels I’ve got, while clicking on any of the others will get you a bigger image.

Nocturnal visitors

Black and green dragonfly, family Telephlebiidae
Dragonfly attracted to house lights

We have a constant stream of nocturnal visitors.

Most of them have six legs and arrive by air.

We don’t appreciate those which would like to suck our blood (mosquitoes are a pain), but the others are welcome enough. The dragonfly above was larger and more handsome than most and didn’t mind posing for a series of photographs, although I do think he has been unduly influenced by the trend for picking grimy industrial backdrops for fashion shoots. I mean, really, there are more attractive settings than the scrap timber stored under the house.

Fawn moth on desktop
Small moth

This tiny moth, about 7 mm long, is a more typical guest, flying into the house and landing on my desk. A look at my Flickr photos reveals the bizarre moth-fly (a fly that looks like a moth, not vice-versa) on the same background a couple of months ago and this beautiful olive-green moth on the wall nearby. If I left the windows wide open and the lights on, I could have hundreds like this instead of only tens.

Just now, flying ants are common. As I said about the Green-ant queen, warmth and moisture induce the emergence of swarms of winged ants on their way (they hope) to breed and set up new colonies. The one below failed spectacularly, coming to rest on … my mouse.

Black ant, winged
Flying ant on alien artifact