I interrupted my intended series of posts about Bali (snakefruit, butterflies) to keep up to date with local subjects but I can now return there in spirit if not, unfortunately, in body.
Here’s the only local flying fox we saw close up, resting beneath its perch outside a restaurant in the hills between Mt Agung and Ubud.
The lovely golden fur was enough to alert me to the fact that it wasn’t a species we have here in Australia but discovering its identity wasn’t easy: Wikipedia tells us that there are at least 60 species worldwide but few online resources go into any more detail.
I wrote recently about Blencoe Falls and the road to them but didn’t say much about the camping ground. The National Parks page provides all the basic information but didn’t make clear (to me, at least) that what is offered is basically free camping along a two-kilometre stretch of creek: when you drive into the nominal “camping ground”, all you find is an information shelter (under the dead tree) and a toilet in dry scrubland.
All the campers were settled down beside the creek, in shady sites well off the road. The creek itself was a tranquil string of broad pools linked by rocky shallows but the sandy, rock-strewn banks confirm the implication of the flood marker fifty metres back from the bridge, i.e. that it must sometimes be a raging torrent.
I found plenty of wildlife beside the creek – lots of birds, including a Sea Eagle (they are not restricted to the coast), a cormorant, parrots and honeyeaters, and a good number of insects (now here, on my flickr photostream).
The most numerous animals, however, were flying foxes – there was a colony of hundreds or a few thousand just downstream from the bridge. They are Little Reds, a nomadic species, so they may not stay long, but they certainly made themselves known aurally and olfactorily during my visit and were an impressive sight as they swirled into the sky to go foraging at dusk.
The flying-fox camp in our Palmetum gardens seems to have become as permanent as flying-fox colonies ever are, having been occupied through the last months of 2012, vacant in December 2012-early 2013, but occupied continuously since then. Numbers fluctuated but were high by the middle of 2014 when the Bulletin grumbled about the “infestation”. By that time the flying foxes had acquired time-sharing co-residents: white ibis were nesting amongst them.
I saw the two species together at about that time and thought it was quite peculiar, but in fact it is not a new habit at all. They were doing it more than ten years ago in a mangrove forest near the mouth of Ross River:
The [Ibis and Egret breeding] colony [on the south bank of the Ross River] is dominated by a tall mixed-species mangrove forest, backed by saltcouch flats and saltmarshes. Several species breed within the colony at various times throughout the year. The Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopica [T. molucca]) and Straw-necked Ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis) are present throughout the year as are small numbers of Great Egret (Ardea alba), Intermediate Egret (Ardea intermedia) and Little Egret (Ardea garzetta). During summer, increasing numbers of Cattle Egret (Ardea ibis) visit the site to breed.
Flying-foxes co-inhabit the colony, in the form of a time-share: as the last birds return to roost, thousands of Black Flying-fox (Pteropus alecto) are heading towards their nocturnal feeding grounds. A seasonal Visitor is the Little Red Flying-fox (Pteropus scapulatus), a very nomadic species. Together these two species can add up to tens of thousands of Flying-foxes in the Ross Colony. …
The Ross flying-fox and ibis colony covers 45 hectares of mangrove forest dominated by Red (Rhizophorastylosa), Yellow (Cenopsaustra/is) and Grey Mangroves (Avicennia madna). The colony is used not only for roosting, but also for breeding for all species who inhabit it. This fact alone is a rare phenomenon. At peak breeding times, the White Ibis have been recorded in their thousands, and the Black Flying-fox and Little Red Flying-fox numbers can both climb into the tens of thousands. An unforgettable sight in the late afternoon is to see the ibis and egrets flocking back to their roosts, and the flying-foxes streaming off for the “night shift”.
The above comes from the Townsville State of Environment Report – 2003 website, and the mangroves are those in the distance in this photo, across the river from the port. My friends over at Wildlife Queensland’s local branch suggest that in fact the flying foxes only took up residence in the Dan Gleeson Gardens and the Palmetum when the Ross River colony was disturbed by cyclone Yasi and the port access road-building work in early 2011, and that they have recently begun to return to their traditional home.
We will never know know which species occupied the mangroves first, or how long either species has been there, but I’m fairly sure the ibis moved in with the flying foxes, not the other way around, at the Palmetum. There have always been plenty of ibis in the park, usually around the lagoon, but I don’t remember them nesting in these rainforest trees (or anywhere else in the gardens) until after the flying foxes moved in.
My conversation with WQ about the movements of our flappy furry friends may lead to further posts about them, either here or on their branch blog. Meanwhile, read this article from Australian Wildlife for more about all Australian flying foxes; it’s long but it is very good and has some lovely photos.
Most of the animals in my garden – in anybody’s garden, for that matter – are insects, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have larger residents. Possums live here (sometimes in our ceiling space!) and so do lots of birds; and we get occasional visitors. I looked up into the top of one of our palm trees yesterday and saw something a bit odd. A bit of broken frond? No. Look again:
It was a flying fox, sleeping through the daytime as they do. We hear them quite often at night, squabbling as they feed on the nectar of our poplar gum or paperbark, or the fruit of our bananas, but they normally fly home to their colonies near dawn.
I don’t know why this one was here alone but it stayed all day – just moving into the shadier foliage of a nearby bauhinia around lunchtime. He or she is a Black Flying Fox, Pteropus alecto (Wikipedia has more information). Here are some close-ups (as usual, click on then for larger images).