Birds on the Town Common (and a few insects)

olive bird with white belly
White-throated Honeyeater

As promised, here is some of the wildlife I saw on the Town Common a few days ago, beginning with the birds.

  • White-throated Honeyeater, Melithreptus albogularis, above and (a more identifiable photo) on flickr.
  • Rainbow bee-eaters – lots, perching high in bare trees and swooping for their food.
  • White-breasted Woodswallow, Artamus leucorynchus, several competing with the Bee-eaters for good high perches.
  • Welcome Swallows, Hirundo neoxena, quite a large group feeding in mid-air above the lagoon at Payet’s Tower.
  • Peaceful Doves, several.
  • Bar-shouldered Dove, Geopelia humeralis, in two different locations.
  • A pair of Fairy-wrens, probably Red-backed but too far away for me to be sure.
  • Plovers (two)
  • Ibis (two)
pond
The lagoon in front of Payet’s Tower, with its lone Egret

… and one each of …

… and not even one Magpie Goose or Cormorant!

The usual butterflies were reasonably abundant – Swamp, Plain and Blue Tigers, Crow, Glasswing, Grass Yellow, Migrant and Argus – but I didn’t come across any aggregations like this over-wintering group. On the other hand, I did see a small group of Oak Blues deep within a group of small trees in a gully on the Many Peaks path.

purple-blue butterfly
Shining Oak-blue inside the tree

Oak Blues (I think mine were Shining Oak-blues, Arhopala micale) are amongst the largest and brightest of a family of small butterflies, the Blues or Lycaenidae. I don’t see them very often, so this one is a bit special.

In spite of the common name of the family, nearly all Lycaenidae imitate dry leaves with their underside coloration and few are brightly coloured even on the upper surface of the wing (see them all here).

The most numerous insects on the Common that day were the grasshoppers and green-ants. I also saw a very handsome native cockroach (click here to see it, especially if you don’t believe cockroaches can ever be attractive) and a few dragonflies.

brown dragonfly perching
Common Glider

Ross Creek mangroves and birds

mangroves with stilt roots in water
Mangroves – not a million miles from the city

One of the nice things about Townsville is the network of parks threading through the suburbs. Some of them seem to have no particular reason for existence until the wet season arrives and they become floodways for a day or two, but the most important network is associated with Ross River; the parkland along its banks is almost continuous from the Dam down to the city, and bike paths run through most of its length.

The city centre, however, is not on the river but on a tidal mangrove creek, Ross Creek, which runs from Hermit Park past the Civic Theatre to the ferry terminal; this map may make the situation clearer. Its inland end looks like it connected to the river not too long ago but the river banks have been built up and the creek now just peters out in parkland.

Between them, the River and Ross Creek are wonderful wildlife corridors between the coast and the inland. Vegetation corridors, too, bringing the rich mangrove eco-systems right into the suburbs. The photo above was taken on the upper end of Ross Creek, where Queens Road crosses it. I stop there often on my way home from the city if I have spare time, because fifty metres from the road might as well be a couple of hundred. My last two visits rewarded me with photos of Brown Honeyeaters, a Great Egret, a flock of Little Black Cormorants and a ding-dong battle between a two crows and a brahminy kite.

small olive-brown bird in branches
Brown Honeyeater in the mangroves
Great Egret taking to the air
Great Egret taking to the air
birds against the sky
Little Black Cormorants

The cormorants were just passing through (this time, anyway – a year ago I saw a similar flock on the ground here) but I was able to watch the other two for much longer. I sat for twenty minutes on a low branch of the mangrove tree which the Brown Honeyeater was treating as his home base, repeatedly flying off and returning to sing; and on my next visit I followed the Egret quite a long way upstream as he fished in the shallows, flew a few metres and resumed fishing.

The Town Common in the Dry Season

lagoon, reed bed, mountain
Looking from the Pandanus viewing point towards Many Peaks Range

The Town Common Conservation Park is very close to Townsville and I try to get down there every few months (some previous visits are documented here). It is renowned, nationally and even internationally, for the bird life it attracts in the dry season so I seized an opportunity for an early-morning visit on Friday. Continue reading “The Town Common in the Dry Season”

Great Egret

Great Egret, Ardea alba, fishing in Ross River
Gotcha! Great Egret, Ardea alba, fishing in Ross River

The nearest part of Ross River is only two blocks from home and a bike path and a strip of parkland extend several kilometres both upstream and downstream so it’s always good for a walk with a friend and/or a camera.

Waterbirds are common along the river banks. This Great Egret flew in from the direction of Mount Stuart to land in the shallows for a spot of fishing before dark. You can call it either a Great Egret, Ardea alba modesta, or an Eastern Great Egret, Ardea modesta, depending on which authority you prefer to accept. Either way, it is the largest of the four (sub)species and is found from Australasia through SE Asia to India, while the others are found in Africa, Europe and the Americas.

Great Egret, Ardea alba, in Ross River shallows
Ready to try again.

We have several smaller species of egret: Cattle, Reef, Little and Intermediate. All are slim white wading birds but only the Intermediate is large enough to be readily confused with the Great, which stands nearly a metre tall. They often do stand tall, too, e.g. here is my egret looking around before starting to hunt.

Birdwatching with the Conservation Volunteers

View across the Common from the elevated hide. Cattle Egrets in foreground
View across the Common, with Cattle Egrets in foreground

Conservation Volunteers Australia has a new summer programme (pdf here) of excursions open to everyone and we went along to one this morning – birdwatching on the Town Common. A CVA worker met us at the park gate and took us or led us, by mini-bus or our own cars, to the bird hides where members of the Bird Observers Club were waiting with identification checklists and telescopes.

It was my first visit to the bird hides on the Common and I was impressed by their siting and construction. From the first of them we saw Pelicans, Black Cormorants and a young Jabiru quite close to us, with the adult Jabiru and some Brolgas in the distance. Here are Black Cormorant (represented by a neck sticking up out of the water) and Pelicans fishing together. The Cormorant are divers while the Pelican spear from above, so each scares prey towards the other – a win-win strategy, except from the prey’s point of view.

Pelicans and Cormorant
Pelicans and Cormorant fishing together

From the second, elevated, hide we saw dozens of Cattle Egrets and a scattering of other birds – Glossy Ibis, Jabiru and Brolga, Honeyeaters, Grebes – as in the top picture. I didn’t use my checklist but I know I saw several more species, too.

The children with the group enjoying ticking off their checklist and some of them were very good at spotting birds for us. Right at the beginning, while we were waiting at the gate for the group to assemble, one of them pointed out a family of Tawny Frogmouths – adult and two well-grown chicks – in a pandanus palm ten metres from the road.