Winter in Townsville

Mt Stuart
Looking across Ross River to Mount Stuart

When we returned from our holidays, just three weeks ago now, we came back to winter weather. The whole town looked dry – any grass that hadn’t been watered regularly was dry and brown, and shrubs and trees looked parched. Townsville does tend to look dry compared to most places, most times, but more so in winter because we can go months without significant rain. This year, for instance, we had 30 mm in May but have had only 5 mm in the two months since then. There have been grass fires as usual; notice the burnt area of riverbank in the foreground of the photo above.

I took that shot from parkland near Ross Creek, a spot I have previously posted about here and here. Here are more from that visit two weeks ago:

line of black birds on sandy bank
A flock of Cormorants on the bank of Ross Creek

We are seeing more birds as they move from inland areas towards the coast. The flock of cormorants above is a bit unusual in two ways: there are a lot of birds and they are all of the same species, Little Black Cormorants, Phalacrocorax sulcirostris. They are more commonly seen in mixed flocks with Pied Cormorants, Darters, etc. When I got too close to this lot, they went for the safety of the water:

Cormorant splash
Cormorant splash

There was also a flock of pigeons, doing exactly what they evolved to do in the environment they evolved to inhabit – foraging for grain in grassland. It’s a much better place for them than urban roof-tops and window-ledges!

Pigeons in grassland
Pigeons in grassland

Ross River waterbirds

A bike ride from home to the Palmetum yesterday rewarded me with sightings of many waterbirds and photos of some species I don’t see very often.

Magpie goose in flight
Magpie Goose in flight

The Magpie Goose, Anseranus semipalmata, is one of the largest of our waterbirds – not as big as the Pelican but bigger than our ducks and ibis and much heavier than our egrets. They seem to be coming  to the coast now as the inland dries out, like many other birds; certainly, I don’t usually see them along our Ross River parklands but there were lots yesterday.

Bird on waterlily leaves
Comb-crested Jacana on waterlily leaves

The Comb-crested Jacana,  Irediparra gallinacea, is a smallish bird with a chicken-like comb and the most extraordinary feet. Its lower legs are disproportionately heavy, and each of its toes is nearly as big as its shinbone, an adaptation which allows it to forage on floating vegetation in rivers and lagoons by spreading the weight over a large area. It is Australia’s only Jacana, although an Asian relative has been sighted in WA.

Dark birds perched on a branch
Fishing mates: Australian Darter (left) and Little Black Cormorant

The Australian Darter, Anhinga melanogaster, and Little Black Cormorant, Phalacrocorax sulcirostris, are relatively common along Ross River. These two, perched on a branch over the water, were obviously on the lookout for lunch.