Townsville’s dry season begins

Pied Imperial-pigeon in treetop
Pied Imperial-pigeon in the topmost branches of our poplar gum

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.

I would love to be proven wrong on this, because Ross Dam is at 17% capacity, which is historically (and alarmingly) low for the end of the Wet, as I write. If we count December as part of the Wet, our 2016-17 season amounts to just on 500 mm. It follows a close-to-average 950 mm in 2016 and a record-low 400 mm in 2015. It’s not looking good.

Browsing the BoM’s Climate Data Online for Townsville confirms, more or less, my feeling that Easter marks the change of season, since April is consistently much drier than the first three months of the year. Daytime maximum temperatures don’t drop much but overnight minimums do drop about 3C from March to April – enough to make a significant difference to our comfort.

Some seasonal signs haven’t yet flipped, however: I heard this Pied Imperial-pigeon this afternoon and caught it on camera a few minutes later. Incidentally, the latest word from Ian Montgomery of Birdway is that the “Pied Imperial Pigeon has been split into four species. The Torresian Imperial Pigeon occurs in New Guinea and northern Australia,” so I’m using the wrong common name, but our visitors are still Ducula spilorrhoa as I said four years ago when I described them.


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.

Friday, 3 pm

Caper White butterfly and other seasonal wildlife

Caper White, Belenois java
Caper White feeding on coral vine

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.

Caper White, Belenois java
Caper White on coral vine

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.

Harbingers of the Wet

Juvenile Blue-faced Honeyeater feeding in the Poplar Gum

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.

Rainbow Lorikeet
Rainbow Lorikeet looking for his share

The return of the Friarbirds

brown bird in tree
Hornbill Friarbird

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.