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

Honeyeater
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.

Let’s not wait for the rain

brown bugs
Shield bugs mating on the trunk of a guava tree

Townsville is still waiting for the rain – all we’ve had is a 12mm teaser nearly a week ago – but the garden is coming to life anyway. I spotted this mating pair of shield bugs (aka stink bugs, Poecilometis sp., Hemiptera, Pentatomidae) a few days ago, and they are not alone. Hawk moth caterpillars are stripping our pentas plants and madonna lilies (I wonder why they like those two in particular?) and we often see courting pairs of Cairns Birdwing butterflies. Other butterfly numbers are building up, too, especially the Pale Triangle and the Clearwing Swallowtail.

Autumn in Spring?

autumn leaves in spring
Autumn leaves? Spring blossoms?

We don’t really get an Autumn in our monsoonal climate, or a Spring, but it can sometimes feel like both at once.

This is my front lawn, generously strewn with leaves from our poplar gum (Eucalyptus platyphylla) three days after it was raked and mowed.

In the centre of the picture is a pink frangipani under a riot of bromeliads and orchids. It is blossoming well and coming into leaf. The orange flowers at top left are on a poinciana on our front footpath, while the red flowers at top right are our constantly-flowering hibiscuses. They are all saying “Spring!” and so are the Cape York Lilies popping up at the extreme left of the picture.

It looks like the poplar gum thinks it’s Autumn but if you looked up at the tree you would see that what’s on the ground is already being replaced by tiny fresh-green leaves, so it must be Spring as well. What happened to Winter?

poplar gum leaves
Spring leaves

Before hitting “Publish” I will just compliment the tree on its regularity: I posted about this seasonal leaf loss in the last week of November 2012, noted (in the comments to that story) that it occurred again in the last week of November 2013, and here we are again in the last week of November. Raking.