A visitation of figbirds

Figbirds (Sphecotheres vieilloti) are rowdy gregarious fruit-eaters which visit our garden quite often – not for the fruit they are named for, because we haven’t got any big fig trees, but for the palm seeds.

A large group turned up a few days ago to feed on the Alexandra palm and stayed long enough to be photographed. Long enough, in fact, for a Bowerbird to join them and then wander off again.

Adult females and the young of both sexes are brownish with speckled bellies and grey eye-rings. Adult males are colourful, their red eye-ring and vivid yellow belly contrasting brilliantly with their olive-green back and black head. Young males grow through a transitional stage in which all the adult colours gradually show through the camouflage.

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Bananas – nature and nurture

Six years ago I rescued some suckers from a neglected South Townsville garden and planted them in my own. Two years ago I rescued some more when we moved house, to plant them in my new garden. This week I found myself with a bunch from the original (still neglected) patch and a bunch from my new patch, and here they are, side by side.

large and small bananas
Genetically identical

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Butterfly vines and Swallowtail butterflies

We have been growing a particular vine, for years, just for the Birdwing butterflies whose caterpillars depend on it. Just what the vine is called and which butterflies depend on it are, however, recurring questions – for us as well as for the many other people who love the butterflies. This post pulls together information from botanical and entomological books and websites to try to settle both questions.

Very briefly, all species of butterflies in one group of Swallowtail butterflies have specialised to feed exclusively on one group of closely related plants. The butterflies are the Troidini, a “tribe” (in scientific language that’s a level between “family” and “genus”) of Swallowtails (Papilionidae) and the plants are the Birthworts (Aristolochiaceae).

Our Troidini are the Clearwing Swallowtail (Cressida cressida), Red-bodied Swallowtail (Atrophaneura polydorus) and all of the Birdwings (Ornithoptera species). The Aristolochiaceae we’re interested in are in the genus Aristolochia, or used to be, and many of them are known as Dutchman’s Pipe vines.

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Burdekin Plum Jam

Having collected and ripened enough Burdekin Plums to make some jam, as described in my previous post, I began experimenting. My results after many hours of simmering were mixed – but that’s what experimenting is all about, isn’t it?

Burdekin Plum Jam Recipe 1 – Del Turnbull

Big panful of ripe plums
Water
Sugar
Jamsetta [pectin]

Cover plums with water and boil gently for 1 ½ hours.
Strain and measure juice. (Put fruit out for wallabies, they love them.)
To every 5 cups of juice add 4 ½ cups sugar and ½ pkt of jamsetta.
Boil for 10 mins, try on a saucer in the fridge. If the surface doesn’t crinkle, boil another 5 mins and try again.
When it crinkles pour into preheated sterilised jars (in oven at 50 deg for 10 mins).
And that’s it.

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Burdekin Plum

I was introduced to the Burdekin Plum fairly soon after arriving in Townsville so I’ve known the fruit for twenty-five years or more, but somehow without getting around to eating one or knowing much about them.

A bucket of Burdekin Plums, many of them quite under-ripe

That looked like it would change when we moved into a house that had a big tree in the neighbour’s yard, overhanging our roof, and the time has come: we had the tree trimmed last week and picked up a couple of buckets of fruit afterwards, too many to ignore.

History and botany

The Burdekin Plum, Pleiogynium timoriense, is native to coastal Queensland and its range extends through New Guinea, the Pacific Islands and Indonesia to Malaysia. It has been here, with surprisingly little change to the fruit, for at least thirty million years according to Andrew Rozefelds and Ngaire Kane whose article gives the best introduction to the species I have found.

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