A visit to Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island is very beautiful and is only twenty minutes by ferry from Townsville but we only get over there a couple of times per year. Here are some souvenirs, with minimal commentary, from our visit last weekend.

Landscapes

magnetic island walks
The beginning of the walking track up to Hawkings Point

Two walking tracks lead up from the Eastern end of Picnic St, Picnic Bay – one towards the Recreation Camp and the other, new us, to a lookout on top of Hawkings Point.

That’s the one we took, early on Saturday morning. It’s a short walk – less than an hour going up, even with stops for photography – and is rewarded by expansive views Continue reading “A visit to Magnetic Island”

Forts Walk, Magnetic Island

koala
Koala in a gumtree beside the Forts walking track

We visit Magnetic Island several times per year, often to share its pleasures with visitors from other parts of the country or overseas. Two of each were in town this week and we walked up to the Forts with them yesterday morning before spending the early afternoon around Alma Bay and Geoffrey Bay; I came home with enough wildlife photos to be worth sharing with a wider audience, so here they are.

half a dozen brown bats
Microbats clinging to the ceiling of a WW2 building

Five different species of microbats (i.e. not flying foxes) are listed for the Island. These may be Little Bentwing Bats but I’m not at all sure because I see bats so rarely. The whole cluster is only about 100 mm across.

lizard with orange head
A small skink beside the Forts track

Skinks are more familiar to most of us than bats but present a greater identification challenge: twenty species have been recorded on the Island, Steve Wilson devotes one third of his excellent  Field Guide to Reptiles of Queensland to “this large family” without saying how large it is, and Australian Geographic reckons there are nearly 400 species in Australia.

So far everything has been perfectly harmless, even the enormous Golden Orb-weaver whose net spanned our path (I wrote about them here and won’t repeat myself) and our English visitors were beginning to think that our gleeful stories of dangerous tropical wildlife were entirely fanciful. They weren’t, of course – we do have crocodiles, sharks and box jellyfish, even if we don’t really have drop-bears – but the most dangerous animals we saw on our walk were insects:

paper wasp nests
Paper wasp nests dangling from twigs just off the track

Paper wasps may be small but they defend their nests vigorously. Each wasp can sting many times (unlike a bee) and anyone disturbing a nest is likely to be attacked by all of its inhabitants. I wrote about them here (mostly about a different species but the life cycle is the same) and a close-up of these wasps (Ropalidia) is here.

black and gold beetle
Tortoise beetle – about ladybird size

This pretty little beetle is not dangerous at all unless you happen to be a plant. It is a Leaf Beetle (Chrysomelidae), a member of a large and varied family of mostly-colourful small beetles, and this kind is known as a Tortoise Beetle because of its shape. If we call it a Leaf Tortoise Beetle, as some people do, we know what it eats as well as what it looks like.

After the walk we took the bus back to Arcadia and spent most of the afternoon nearby. Our visitors enjoyed a low-tide stroll on Geoffrey Bay beach and loved the curlews around (and in!) the hotel, and the rock wallabies near the old car-ferry jetty. Rock Wallabies (Petrogale assimilis) are quite numerous on the island according to the Magnetic Island Wildlife site (“island-wide on rocky slopes, will use lowlands also when food or water are scarce”) but I have only ever seen them in this one location, where they are regularly fed:

Rock wallaby at feeding station
Rock wallaby at feeding station
two wallabies on rock
A smaller friend arrives
smaller rock wallaby with food
In sole possession

More information:

  • National Parks people have put together a good overview of Magnetic Island habitats and their non-human inhabitants.
  • Koalas are not native to the island but have been introduced. For general information about them, visit the Australian Koala Foundation or (especially for their evolutionary history) Wikipedia.
  • Curlews and a reef walk on Geoffrey Bay have already featured on Green Path.
  • There is more about curlews (my photos but not my text) here, on the Wildlife Qld branch blog.
  • More about the Rock Wallabies: Rootourism

Reef walks on Magnetic Island

coral reef flat
Geoffrey Bay reef flat at very low tide, with corals and algae exposed

In the last two months I have been offered not one but two opportunities to join guided reef walks on Magnetic Island, one with Reef HQ Volunteers (I’m not a volunteer any more but still have a family connection) and the other with Wildlife Queensland.

As a matter of fact, reef walking opportunities arise frequently: whenever the tide is low enough, anyone can walk out onto the reef flat at Geoffrey Bay. Low tides of 0.1 – 0.2m or thereabouts allow easy walking in ankle-deep or shin-deep water, and tide heights are freely available, e.g. here. The only special equipment needed is an old pair of joggers, or something similar, to protect feet from the coral. Most of us, though, will benefit immensely from expert commentary; I know I did, when I went with Reef HQ people on September 7.

I had good intentions of writing about the walk for Green Path but ran out of time. Meanwhile a good description of the very similar WQ event has been published here on the WQ blog, and a belated parallel description seems pointless. However, I have uploaded to Flickr an album of photos I took on the day and they can be viewed here.

 

Monsoon skies

Cyclone Oswald is now an ex-cyclone, and an ex-visitor as far as Townsville is concerned, but the monsoonal skies are still here. I took these shots from halfway up Castle Hill this afternoon.

Rain over the Palm Islands
Rain over the Palm Island group
Looking over Ross River estuary to mangroves and Cape Cleveland
Looking over Ross River estuary to mangroves, Cleveland Bay and Cape Cleveland
Magnetic Island with Townsville's North Ward in the foreground
Magnetic Island with Townsville’s North Ward in the foreground

 

One morning on Mount Stuart

View over Town Common, 16 km away, to Palm Island, 70 km away
View from Mt Stuart over Town Common, 16 km away, to Palm Island, 70 km away

Townsville winters are lovely. The weather has been so beautifully clear recently that I figured it would be worth getting up early just to take photos from the top of Mt Stuart of the sun rising over the ocean. Then, I thought, if I take food and coffee with me, I can wander round the mountain-top taking pictures of insects and trees and so on.
And so it was.
I was on the road very soon after 6 a.m. and at the lookout on the mountain almost in time for sunrise. (It took a bit longer to get there than I thought – I’ll have to start earlier next time. Never mind.)
I took some photos walking around the loop track: Magnetic Island, Hervey’s Range, Ross Dam.

Peacock
Peacock

Then breakfast at the lookout with two very friendly peacocks (just cupboard love, I’m afraid) and another walk around the loop. The animal life was stirring by then: lots of Dingy Bush Brown butterflies but not many others; black ants; lots of small spiders – mainly Austracantha and Gasteracantha, the spiky ones; honey-bees having a wonderful time on the grasstree flower-spikes; and magpies but not many other birds. I had seen a couple of roos on the road up the mountain but there were no wallabies at the top as there used to be.
The morning was warming up. My light jacket and wind-cheater came off and my hat went on.
After a bit more wandering around the top, I got in the car and headed for the bottom of the hill, stopping four or five times on the way for landscape views and more bug-hunting.
I added Clearwing Swallowtails and Eurema butterflies, a leaf beetle, three more kinds of spiders (the beautiful green orb-weaver, the very slim Tetragnathid and one hairy grey-brown spider I don’t know), a heavy-bodied dark grasshopper, two kinds of hover-fly and a native bee to my list of species spotted.

Trees in morning light
Trees in morning light

I took the last photos at 10.15 and was in town for morning tea in Ross River parklands – but that’s another story.

The Common Eggfly

Common or Varied Eggfly, Hypolimnas bolina, male

I was looking for an excuse to post the larger photo below and realised that I had just posted another ‘Common’ butterfly – Bingo!

Seriously, this is quite a common and widespread species. Its alternate name refers to its females, which occur in a wide range of colour forms (I have a whole lot of them here).

The males are consistently brown underneath with white markings, and black above with white eye-spots which flare blue-purple from some angles.

Males are territorial and will perch on some convenient vantage point ready to pursue any females and drive off any rivals, but they interpret ‘rivals’ very broadly indeed – not only males of their own species, but medium to large butterflies of any species (I’ve seen them harassing Cairns Birdwings, which are at least twice as big) and even dogs and people.

Most of my photography is done with strictly documentary purposes in mind but it is nice to relax a bit and play with images. I desaturated the one below and then played a bit longer until it pleased me.

Eggfly perching in foliage
Common Eggfly

The very popular shrub

Black wasp on flowering shrub
Black wasp on the very popular shrub

I was walking down the roadway to the old car-ferry terminal (people who know Maggie Island will know where I mean, but it isn’t really important) and stopped at this bush because it was alive with a huge variety of insects. I stood there, snapping away as fast as I could aim the camera, and got pictures of:
Wasps: this one, another black-winged one with a yellow head, one with orange wings and legs and a black abdomen, one with orange wings and black-and-orange abdomen, and at least two black wasps with clear wings.
Butterflies: Common Eggfly, Eastern Brown Crow (Euploea tulliolus), a Pierid (yellow) I haven’t identified, and Australian Rustic (Cupha prosope)
Others: Carpenter bee, a large hairy grey fly, and a hover-fly with unusual black-banded wings.
I’m sure there were others I missed, and I was only there for a short time anyway. What makes the bush so special? Sure, it’s flowering – but the flowers are insignificant little yellowy-white things. My ignorance of botany is encylopedic, so I would be grateful to anyone who can tell me what the shrub is.
Some more of the insects I mentioned – click on the thumbnails for larger pics:

Common Eggfly male on flowering shrub
Common Eggfly male
Black wasp on flowering shrub
Black wasp
Orange wasp on flowering shrub
Orange wasp
Black and orange wasp on flowering shrub
Black and orange wasp
Hover-fly on flowering shrub
Hover-fly