Our few days of rain last month, welcome as they were, seem to have been an aberration and we’re now enjoying a normal Townsville winter – cool nights, warm days, blue skies and humidity low enough that static electricity sparks off car door handles. Every second person you meet asks, “Isn’t this weather gorgeous?” and the answer is always some version of, “It sure is!”
I paused at Sandy Crossing quite early one morning last week for this photo. The dew was still on the grass and the birds were moving around the mangroves – Brown Honeyeaters making far more noise than their size seems to warrant, as they so often do; a Rainbow Bee-eater perching watchfully on the power line; and a little gathering of Woodswallows not far away.
Easter seems to me to mark the usual turning point between Wet and Dry seasons here in Townsville, and it has certainly seemed so this year. Cyclone Debbie was looming as we left for Bali on March 25 but by the time we returned, a week ago, humidity had dropped right off, nights were noticeably cooler, the frangipanis were losing their leaves and the prospect of more real rain seemed to have evaporated.
Coucals are infrequent visitors to our suburban Townsville garden but we saw this one this afternoon after seeing another, or perhaps the same one, a couple of days ago. As chance would have it, a friend I spoke to this morning mentioned that he had seen one in Annandale, just on the other side of Ross River from us, in the last few days.
We were inclined to think that they come into town along the Ross River parkland, which forms a continuous wildlife corridor from the (rapidly drying) Ross Dam to the mangrove-fringed estuary in South Townsville.
This post presents more information about the species, so I won’t repeat it here.
I don’t like to brag, but we have so many Cairns Birdwings in our garden that I rarely bother pointing a camera at them. When one poses as beautifully as this, however, and I happen to have a camera in my hand, I do take advantage of the opportunity.
At the moment we have at least two semi-resident male birdwings spending their time chasing each other away from the Aristolochia vines while hoping a female will turn up. They may not have too long to wait, since we do see females as often as males.
We’re well into the Dry season now and, as I said when I introduced the Leaden Flycatcher two years ago, the bird population of our garden builds up as the surrounding countryside dries out. We’re going to see even more this year, actually, since Townsville has just gone on to Level 3 water restrictions, meaning that parks and most gardens will also dry out while our bore water will keep our garden green.
Photographing the smallest birds is a special exercise in patience and luck. Many of them like to forage in dense shrubbery where they can move freely but bigger birds can’t, and where they are safer from attack. They are also safer from the paparazzi, since they rarely offer a clear shot (the oddly blurred background of the photo above is out-of-focus foliage) and they are often in shadow or dappled light.
Which species am I talking about? Particularly Sunbirds (11 cm), these Flycatchers (15 cm) and White-throated and Brown Honeyeaters (both about 14 cm). (By way of comparison, the Cairns Birdwing butterfly has a wingspan of 12 – 15 cm.) Spice Finches (11 cm) are just as small but at least they tend to feed in the open.
The Mistletoebird, Dicaeum hirundinaceum, is another member of the list. At 10 cm and 9 gm (the weight of two teaspoons of sugar) it is one of our smallest, and it flits about erratically, high in the tree canopy.
As Bird in Backyards notes, Mistletoebirds are found Australia-wide and feed on berries of the plants they are named for, having an important role in distributing the seeds. Mine is a male; the females are basically grey, darker above than below. The species is our only member of Dicaeidae, the Flowerpecker family. Its nearest Australian relatives seem to be Sunbirds.