A winter morning at the Palmetum

Mount Stuart under a blanket of cloud
Mount Stuart under a blanket of cloud

Early mornings have been so beautiful recently that staying indoors unnecessarily is … criminal? silly? wasteful? something of that kind, anyway … and a week ago I took advantage of a couple of free hours to visit the Palmetum.

My top photo shows Mount Stuart as it has often appeared recently, with a delicate blanket of cloud which catches the sun beautifully until dissipating mid-morning. On my walk from the park entrance to the lagoon, back through the rainforest, down to the riverbank and back I saw most of the usual birds – darters, cormorants, pee-wits, jacanas, ibis ducks, scrub turkeys, rainbow lorikeets and more.

Australian Darter
Australian Darter drying his wings above the lagoon in early sunshine

The flying foxes which used to time-share the rainforest with the ibis have moved out, for better and for worse: it’s good to be able to walk freely around the rainforest but I do wonder how well the flying foxes have coped with the move.

kingfisher
Forest Kingfisher in a paperbark on the bank of Ross River

As well as all the birds I saw Agile Wallabies and some, but not many, insects – butterflies and dragonflies, spiny spiders in their orb webs and a cute jumping spider on the bench overlooking the river. Early morning tends to be best for the birds and animals but the invertebrates like the warmth of the middle of the day.

Blue-winged Kookaburra, nesting at the Palmetum

Just a quick post today to keep the blog ticking over while I’m busy with other things: three photos taken on a visit to the Palmetum in mid November where we were lucky enough to see a male Blue-winged Kookaburra, Dacelo leachii, identify his nesting hollow for us by visiting it.

Blue-winged Kookaburra
Male Blue-winged Kookaburra in the rainforest area of the Palmetum
Blue-winged Kookaburra nest
That looks like a nesting hollow
Blue-winged Kookaburra nest
Yes, that’s what it is!

There’s more information about the species and its Laughing cousin on this page.

Ibis in flight

white bird carrying branch
Not a dove, not an olive branch; not a stork, not a baby

This lucky shot was one result of a visit to the Palmetum yesterday. It was good to get out for a walk after retreating indoors during the 37 and 38 degree days we had last week.

The bird is, of course, an Australian Ibis or White Ibis, Threskiornis molucca. It probably intends to use the branch (paperbark, I think) as nesting material, since it is flying towards the park’s rainforest zone, which is occupied by Black Flying Foxes and nesting ibises as I wrote here a few months ago.

Flying Foxes and Ibis in time-share accommodation

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.

White Ibis nesting amongst flying foxes in the Palmetum
White Ibis nesting amongst flying foxes in the Palmetum

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 this pdf on 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.

White Ibis amongst the flying foxes in the Palmetum
White Ibis amongst the flying foxes in the Palmetum

More dragonflies at the Palmetum

green dragonflies mating
A mating pair of Slender Skimmers, Orthetrum sabina

I’ve written about dragonflies and the Palmetum before so I won’t say much here except that a visit in October 2013 resulted in these photos of three more species. I don’t know how many there are altogether; I’m up to about ten definitely identified and a lot more that I’m not sure of.

Australia has only half as many species of dragonflies and damselflies (closely related but mostly smaller) as it does of butterflies – about 320 – but dragonflies are harder to identify from photographs since the only conclusive method is to check the pattern of veins in the wings. However, size and colour can sometimes be enough and this Brisbane Insects page identifies many of our local species on that basis.

red-bodies dragonfly on waterlily leaf
Red Arrow, Rhodothemis lieftincki
black and yellow dragonfly
Australian Tiger, Ictinogomphus australis