Our few days of rain last month, welcome as they were, seem to have been an aberration and we’re now enjoying a normal Townsville winter – cool nights, warm days, blue skies and humidity low enough that static electricity sparks off car door handles. Every second person you meet asks, “Isn’t this weather gorgeous?” and the answer is always some version of, “It sure is!”
I paused at Sandy Crossing quite early one morning last week for this photo. The dew was still on the grass and the birds were moving around the mangroves – Brown Honeyeaters making far more noise than their size seems to warrant, as they so often do; a Rainbow Bee-eater perching watchfully on the power line; and a little gathering of Woodswallows not far away.
Easter seems to me to mark the usual turning point between Wet and Dry seasons here in Townsville, and it has certainly seemed so this year. Cyclone Debbie was looming as we left for Bali on March 25 but by the time we returned, a week ago, humidity had dropped right off, nights were noticeably cooler, the frangipanis were losing their leaves and the prospect of more real rain seemed to have evaporated.
A couple of days ago I said, “We’ve been promised rain every day for a week and seen very little – ‘scattered showers and storms’ is a fairly generous description,” Then it started raining, quite steadily.
A week ago I said, “If there’s a fixed open drain, [grey water on a rural property] might run into a banana patch, since bananas are always thirsty.” Now our bananas are standing in ankle-deep water, run-off from the higher side of our own block and from our neighbours.
People around the city are reporting falls of 30 – 120mm over the last few days as the patchy showers turned into widespread rain. Townsville’s official records only tell us what fell at the airport and are taken at 9.00 a.m. every day; the total to 9.00 this morning was 34 mm and I expect tomorrow’s reading to be much higher.
We still haven’t had any rain to speak of (the Dove Orchids flowering three weeks ago were wrong!) but humidity and temperatures are creeping up and there are showers around, so most living things are beginning to think about hatching, breeding, growing or nesting, according to their natures. We’ve been seeing baby geckos in the house (and one on the poplar gum), the Cape York Lilies have begun to emerge, frangipanis are flowering well, the first gorgeous green Christmas beetles have been seen, and so on – all much as I described the season in 2014.
This year I have seen more Caper White butterflies, Belenois java, than usual – not just along Ross Creek but here in my suburban garden. This one was feeding on our abundantly flowering Coral Vine, Antigonon leptopus. (My extended family, but no-one else, has always called it ‘Maiden’s Blush’). It’s a beautiful creeper and, belying its delicate-looking prettiness, tough as old boots. It grows happily in full NQ sun and survives long periods without water, so it can be a pest.
As I said when talking about the Monarch recently, adult butterflies are not fussy about their food plants but caterpillars often are, so the abundance of Caper Whites this year is probably due to their food plants, the Caper family, having a good season.
Birds have been visiting us in greater numbers than usual thanks to the simultaneous flowering of all our biggest trees, the poplar gum, paperbark and mango. Rainbow Lorikeets have joined our resident friarbirds and honeyeaters (the Yellow Honeyeaters are still around, by the way) taking advantage of the abundance.
In the last week or so I have heard (but not seen) both a Koel and a Torres Strait Pigeon (aka PIP) in my garden. Both are Wet season visitors and both are here earlier than usual, if only by a few weeks. Of course, our weather has not been following ‘normal’ patterns. (Nor has the weather anywhere else, and climate change is largely to blame.) So far we’ve had a warmer and wetter Dry season than usual (120mm in June-July-August, more than offsetting a dry April and May), although not wet enough to relieve our water restrictions.
Friarbirds have returned to our garden after a gap of some months. I can’t say just how long they were absent, because I didn’t notice them stop coming: they were just around less and less often until they weren’t there at all. The Cuckoo-shrikes, incidentally, have likewise returned after a gap of unknown duration.
To lose two such big species so casually might be considered thoughtless but I am not feeling too guilty about it since we have been entertained and distracted by the continual presence of magpies, Peaceful Doves, Drongos and three species of honeyeater (Blue-faced, White-gaped and Brown), and frequent visits of Blue-winged Kookaburras, Willie-wagtails and many more.
I have been calling this species the Helmeted Friarbird, Philemon buceroides, ever since I knew the bird well enough to give it a name, but the local race has recently been granted full species status as the Hornbill Friarbird, Philemon yorki, and the original name is now restricted to Northern Territory birds.
Townsville is still waiting for the rain – all we’ve had is a 12mm teaser nearly a week ago – but the garden is coming to life anyway. I spotted this mating pair of shield bugs (aka stink bugs, Poecilometis sp., Hemiptera, Pentatomidae) a few days ago, and they are not alone. Hawk moth caterpillars are stripping our pentas plants and madonna lilies (I wonder why they like those two in particular?) and we often see courting pairs of Cairns Birdwing butterflies. Other butterfly numbers are building up, too, especially the Pale Triangle and the Clearwing Swallowtail.