A riverside ramble

damselfly
Damselfly resting on a creeper on the ground.

Yesterday afternoon’s beautiful weather persuaded me to leave my useful-but-tedious work for an hour or two to ride to Aplin’s Weir, leave the bike under a tree and walk upstream between the bike path and the water (still on the Mundingburra side of the river). It’s quite a wide, rich zone in that stretch of Ross River’s parkland, with a broad backwater, swampy areas and an unmade walking track under mature trees – a bit of everything for the local wildlife and (therefore) for a casual naturalist/photographer like myself. I came home relaxed and with a good haul of photos. I have started with an insect so I will continue with invertebrates before getting to the birds. Continue reading “A riverside ramble”

Jacana in Anderson Park

small wading bird on lily pads
Comb-crested Jacana foraging on the lagoon in Anderson Park

Jacanas (family Jacanidae) have adapted to, and specialised in, one particular kind of habitat, shallow freshwater lakes and ponds with floating vegetation. They live right across the tropics, with various species in South and Central America, southern Africa, India and South-east Asia through to New Guinea and northern Australia. We only have one species in Australia, the Comb-crested Jacana, Irediparra gallinacea, and it is found in northern and eastern coastal areas from the WA-NT border to about Sydney.

They were new and exotic to me when I first came to Townsville from Victoria but are not too uncommon here; I’ve seen them on Ross River, for instance, and on the Town Common, and I spotted this one on the lagoon in Anderson Park, one of Townsville’s three Botanical Gardens. They don’t move very fast but they can still be hard to observe because they tend to stay well out from the edge of the water, where they are safer.

Jacana showing the extraordinary toes
Jacana showing its extraordinary toes

Their adaptation is in their feet. The toes are enormously exaggerated and spread their weight so widely that they can walk on floating lily pads or other water weeds and exploit the food available on them or just under the surface of the water. The penalty is that they are somewhat clumsy when walking anywhere and can’t fly as well as they otherwise might.

Comb-crested Jacana on lily pads
The Jacana is not very big – its body isn’t much bigger than the lotus bud behind it.

Ross River waterbirds

A bike ride from home to the Palmetum yesterday rewarded me with sightings of many waterbirds and photos of some species I don’t see very often.

Magpie goose in flight
Magpie Goose in flight

The Magpie Goose, Anseranus semipalmata, is one of the largest of our waterbirds – not as big as the Pelican but bigger than our ducks and ibis and much heavier than our egrets. They seem to be coming  to the coast now as the inland dries out, like many other birds; certainly, I don’t usually see them along our Ross River parklands but there were lots yesterday.

Bird on waterlily leaves
Comb-crested Jacana on waterlily leaves

The Comb-crested Jacana,  Irediparra gallinacea, is a smallish bird with a chicken-like comb and the most extraordinary feet. Its lower legs are disproportionately heavy, and each of its toes is nearly as big as its shinbone, an adaptation which allows it to forage on floating vegetation in rivers and lagoons by spreading the weight over a large area. It is Australia’s only Jacana, although an Asian relative has been sighted in WA.

Dark birds perched on a branch
Fishing mates: Australian Darter (left) and Little Black Cormorant

The Australian Darter, Anhinga melanogaster, and Little Black Cormorant, Phalacrocorax sulcirostris, are relatively common along Ross River. These two, perched on a branch over the water, were obviously on the lookout for lunch.