We’re well into winter, now, with the solstice only a couple of days away. We don’t get as much variation of day length or temperature as, say, Melbourne or Hobart but the change is great enough to affect the activity of ectothermic (cold-blooded) creatures such as insects. I have noted before that our butterflies tend to go to sleep by mid-afternoon at this time of year, and here are some paper wasps (Ropalidia revolutionalis) doing the same. At least they have chosen a spot where no-one is likely to bother them!
The smaller picture (just click on it for a bigger one, as usual) shows the sleeping wasps and their comb-like nest on the twigs of a spiky little conifer.
It’s not a big colony at all, and I suspect it is not getting any bigger. As I said when I wrote about paper wasps’ life cycle here, the colonies do not normally continue from year to year.
It is impossible for the adults to feed themselves and their offspring without a certain level of activity and I think these adults have been caught by the poor Wet season, which has reduced the number of caterpillars in the garden, and the shortening days, which reduce their foraging time.
Saturday was the shortest day of the year, at (officially) 10 hours 58 minutes and 19 seconds, and the weather was perfect: blue skies, no wind to speak of, and a top of 26C after an overnight low of 15. Sunrise was at 6.45, sunset at 5.44, and we had 10.1 hours of sunshine in between according to the BoM.
Today was much the same, and my burst of gardening was primarily an excuse to stay outdoors. So was my prowl around the garden with the camera, so the fact that the birds were not very co-operative, staying well hidden in the foliage like the honeyeater below, didn’t bother me too much.
History may record that winter this year was the week of June 10 – 17, a period in which we had 45mm of rain and a couple of days with no sunshine at all (and we ran the booster of our solar hot water system for longer than we have done for months).
Winter officially ended a couple of weeks ago and one week ago I really noticed that it was over: last Thursday and Friday were just enough hotter to be a bit uncomfortable. Nights are now three or four degrees warmer than they have been, around a 19C minimum, and days are around 29 rather than 27 (see BoM daily weather observations); humidity is up a bit, too, and Mount Stuart often has a little cap of cloud in the early morning. Rain? Not yet. Our whole winter was very dry – rainfall from the beginning of June to the end of August was a meagre 6mm, well down on our average for the period, and we still haven’t had any. We expect to start seeing some rain in October and then increases through November and December to our peak rainfall months of January and February.
When we returned from our holidays, just three weeks ago now, we came back to winter weather. The whole town looked dry – any grass that hadn’t been watered regularly was dry and brown, and shrubs and trees looked parched. Townsville does tend to look dry compared to most places, most times, but more so in winter because we can go months without significant rain. This year, for instance, we had 30 mm in May but have had only 5 mm in the two months since then. There have been grass fires as usual; notice the burnt area of riverbank in the foreground of the photo above.
I took that shot from parkland near Ross Creek, a spot I have previously posted about here and here. Here are more from that visit two weeks ago:
We are seeing more birds as they move from inland areas towards the coast. The flock of cormorants above is a bit unusual in two ways: there are a lot of birds and they are all of the same species, Little Black Cormorants, Phalacrocorax sulcirostris. They are more commonly seen in mixed flocks with Pied Cormorants, Darters, etc. When I got too close to this lot, they went for the safety of the water:
There was also a flock of pigeons, doing exactly what they evolved to do in the environment they evolved to inhabit – foraging for grain in grassland. It’s a much better place for them than urban roof-tops and window-ledges!