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.
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.
Here are some of the insects I saw on the Town Common yesterday – far more numerous than the birds I talked about in my previous post, although I have to say that wasn’t entirely a Good Thing (more on that later).
Of these, the first two are always abundant on the Common and the next three are nearly as common. All five are about the same size. The next three are all smaller. They are also common but are trickier to identify because close relations in each genus look so much alike (which is why I have just said “Eurema sp. [species]” and so on). The last one is the odd one out, belonging to a different family (Lycaenidae) and being much rarer.
One of my reasons for posting these three photos as a set is that they happen to show all three species feeding on the same kind of flower, the Tridax Daisy.
Lycaenidae (Blues) are usually quite small but this one is bigger than most, about the same size as the Grass Yellow.
I did also see many other small butterflies and moths but they were impossible to keep track of.
Standing water always means dragonflies and they were as numerous as the butterflies. Once again, I couldn’t begin to identify all of them and I’m just posting a couple who posed nicely for me.
And the rest
Add together the numbers of butterflies and dragonflies and you might be close to the total number of grasshoppers; add together the grasshoppers, butterflies and dragonflies and you might be close to the total number of mosquitoes – or that’s what it felt like! The Common is not a place to visit without repellent in the Wet season.
Most of the mozzies were the little standard-model grey-black types but one, seen below attempting to drill through my pants leg, was special enough for a photo.
She (males don’t suck blood) was about twice the average size – perhaps not as big as the magnificent Metallic Mosquito, but close.
My oddest discovery of the trip was this:
Pandanus leaves are spiked along the edges but this one – and others on the same plant – seemed to have pairs of supernumerary spines coming from the lower face of the leaf. A closer look revealed that each pair of ‘spines’ was a pair of wings attached to plant hoppers (Derbidae, Hemiptera), each of which was attached to the leaf via its proboscis (properly called a ‘stylet‘) and earnestly sucking sap from a vein.
I visited the Town Common today, for the first time in months, to see what our recent rain had done for it. The good news is that there was plenty of water; the bad news, for bird-watchers, should also be apparent from my photo.
Where are the birds? Flown, in a word – dispersed to inland areas which have also received good rain. This happens in every Wet season, of course, and the birds drift back towards the coast and permanent water as the Dry season progresses, but visiting the Common and not seeing a single magpie goose, or even an ibis, still feels weird. That’s what happened, though – magpie geese, ibis, spoonbills, egrets, cormorants, pelicans: nil.
Smaller birds were still around, however. I saw a couple of Sacred Kingfishers, one Forest Kingfisher, a Dollarbird, several Sunbirds, one White-throated Honeyeater (I think) and a small flock of young Crimson Finches.
These young finches will grow up to be much more colourful, as these photos (on Birdway) show.
Seeing a sunbird improves any day, so I will post one of today’s shots before I sign off. Dragonflies do, too, but I will leave the Common’s abundant invertebrates for another post.