Wasps in winter

brown wasps
Paper wasps sleeping amongst thorns

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 wasps and their nest
The wasps and their nest

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.


Glorious midwinter weather

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.

brown bird in red-flowering shrub
White-gaped Honeyeater

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).

Well, that was Winter

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.

Fruiting body of cycad
Fruiting body of cycad

Living things have noticed the change. The trees flowered. Our cycad fruit matured and got ready to drop its seeds. Butterfly numbers ticked upwards noticeably – Clearwing Swallowtail, Cairns Birdwing, UlyssesEggfly, Crow, Migrant and Chocolate Soldier have all been flitting around the garden. For my part, I cleaned out the swimming pool, checked the water and jumped in for a (quick) swim, my first since about Easter.

The Town Common in the Dry Season

lagoon, reed bed, mountain
Looking from the Pandanus viewing point towards Many Peaks Range

The Town Common Conservation Park is very close to Townsville and I try to get down there every few months (some previous visits are documented here). It is renowned, nationally and even internationally, for the bird life it attracts in the dry season so I seized an opportunity for an early-morning visit on Friday. Continue reading “The Town Common in the Dry Season”

Winter in Townsville

Mt Stuart
Looking across Ross River to Mount Stuart

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:

line of black birds on sandy bank
A flock of Cormorants on the bank of Ross Creek

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:

Cormorant splash
Cormorant splash

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!

Pigeons in grassland
Pigeons in grassland