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.

 

Lionfish

Two lionfish
Two Lionfish, Pterois volitans, in Reef HQ Aquarium

The spectacularly beautiful lionfish are amongst my favourite creatures in Reef HQ Aquarium, Townsville.

They are a local Reef species but are also found all the way round the Australian coast from southern WA to southern NSW (by way of the Kimberley, Darwin and Cape York, naturally) and elsewhere in the tropical Indo-Pacific. They have a bewildering collection of ‘common’ names: Butterfly Cod, Featherfins, Fire Fish, Red Firefish, Scorpion Fish, Scorpion-cod, Turkeyfish, Zebrafish and probably more.

The ‘Scorpion’ names are justified by the fact that they are members of the Scorpion fish family, Scorpaenidae, which includes many other species (including our Stonefish), most of them well armed with poisonous spines. The poison, I suppose, accounts for the ‘Firefish’ names, while ‘Butterfly’,  ‘Turkey’  and ‘Lion’ probably all refer to those gorgeous fins and ‘Zebra’ refers to the stripes. But ‘Cod’? No connection that I can see, except the very basic point that some fish are cod.

More information:

P.S. (19.6.12) showing why they are called ‘Butterfly’ Cod:

Front view of Lionfish with fins spread
Obviously a Butterfly Cod