Brolga courtship, Arcadia Valley. [Click on images for larger view]
A recent work trip to the central Queensland sandstone country provided some great opportunities for bird photography, although much was done on the road in a bit of a rush getting from one spot to another.
Arcadia Valley is between Injune and Rolleston. The brigalow scrub that once covered this area is now largely restricted to Lonesome National Park at the southern end of the valley. Vast fields of sorghum stretched off to distant sandstone escarpments as I drove south in the late afternoon light.
I’ve always loved spotting Red-winged Parrots (Aprosmictus erythropterus), and stopped to watch a small flock of these dazzling birds raiding the grain as long shadows crept across the fields.
Perched uncomfortably in a grey mangrove tree, I was being eaten alive by sand-flies. I was coping with this, however, as I’d just caught a glimpse of my favourite bird.
I sat as still as possible, peering intently into the tangle of foliage on the opposite bank of this small, mangrove-lined creek on the outskirts of Brisbane. A pale grey, ghostly shape had just glided through a gap in the canopy, and the place had fallen silent — not a sound from the other mangrove birds that had been piping away seconds before. The place was tense. A predator was looking for a meal, and all were wary.
My first close encounter with a Grey Goshawk in my local patch of bushland, years earlier, had really sparked my enthusiasm for raptors — our birds of prey. I’d stopped in my tracks to meet the steady, but wary, gaze of this impressive bird as it perched on the end of a eucalypt limb above the walking track, black eyes stark against pale grey feathers. Having seen these birds occasionally from a distance on the edges of distant rainforest, I was stunned to be face-to-face with one in this patch of bush where the suburbs meet Moreton Bay. The bird had quickly and silently taken off, leaving me hooked.
Like many other bird-watchers before me I took a deeper plunge into the addictive world of raptor identification — a pastime equal parts frustration and excitement. What was this raptor doing here in Brisbane, and what others might be around? With fellow local birdwatchers over the next few years, I’d pursued some answers to these questions, and found many raptors hanging out locally. Our finds included Brown and Grey Goshawks; Collared Sparrow-hawks; Pacific Bazas; Brahminy, Whistling and Black-shouldered Kites — and even White-bellied Sea Eagles — all nesting in the area. We soon realised just how important these habitats were for our birds of prey.
Many years later, I still find raptors exciting to watch. Living on the Darling Downs, I’ve seen Spotted Harriers gliding over fields, Brown Falcons flapping about a clear blue sky, and Peregrine Falcons nesting on the cliffs of old quarries. Yet my favourite bird remains the Grey Goshawk, with whom my encounters are still rare and always thrilling. I’ve spotted one gliding over Queens Park in the middle of Toowoomba, and one day near Ravensbourne stood transfixed as a white phase morph of the species (the only pure white raptor in the world) glided past. That was one of the highlights of my life as a naturalist.
A naturalist? I remember telling a colleague that I was one of these, to which I received the shocked response, “You’re into running around with no clothes on?” It seems that being a naturalist (as opposed to a naturist, or nudist), is a pastime little known these days, and certainly less popular than watching football (and possibly running around nude). But it’s a long tradition, and a good-value hobby. Watching the natural world brings endless rewards. Part of the tradition is of course the sometimes obsessive need to impose order on what we see, to collect and categorise. Where once our predecessors kept bird eggs and cabinets of specimens, we keep notes, tick lists, make sketches and take photographs. And, of course, we share stories of what we’ve seen, which seems to close the loop on the enjoyable process of watching wildlife. I think it is the mystery and challenge, and the encounters with wonderful wild creatures, that make being a naturalist so rewarding.
Raptors are a great reminder of the mystery inherent in nature. Despite our technology we can’t just whistle them up, and identification (let alone an understanding of behaviour) takes dedication and skill. Long persecuted as predators that take our chickens or lambs, their ability to survive around us — largely unnoticed and given the chaos we wreak on habitats — is admirable.
As I sat in the mangroves that day, I was holding my breath. No doubt this mere glimpse would be all I’d get once more. But I was in luck, as a large female Grey Goshawk emerged from the tree line and glided right past me. My hands were shaking so much I could barely hold the binoculars still. Locking them briefly onto the bird’s face, I once more met the fierce and intelligent gaze of this most striking bird, before it was gone — as silently and as quickly as it had appeared.
I went home itchy, clothed and happy.
Herpetologist, author and photographer Mike Swan has been on the road taking photographs for a new field guide to the frogs of Australia. He’s given me permission to share a few images taken during a recent trip to far northern Queensland.
I’ll post more about this book down the track. See here for more information on Mike’s publishing business.
“I met Warren Zevon in Emerald,” said Martin Ambrose, Senior Ranger in the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, as we drove along some dodgy road near Injune. Tracks from the classic 1978 Zevon album Excitable Boy had been blasting out of the speakers for a quite a few kilometres.
I’d discovered that Ambrose and I shared an appreciation of the music of the late Zevon, but this was a bit hard to believe. Zevon, the hard-rocking American singer-songwriter, known for his sardonic humour, brilliant musicianship and heavy partying, hanging out in central Queensland? “I require evidence,” was my response. It appeared a few days later, in the form of this great photograph.
In his blog page on Zevon, ‘Nu Country guru’ Dave Dawson states, “When Chicago-born singer-songwriter Warren Zevon first toured Australia with (well-known Aussie outfit) The Little River Band in 1990 he soaked up Aussie culture from the shade of the Hilton circuit.” Zevon played 23 gigs that year in a tour that visited Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth. Tour lists do not mention that Zevon had briefly ventured off the coastal strip, accompanying The Little River Band when they visited Emerald to play at a charity concert following the big flood of that year. Zevon played two songs at the concert, which was held at the football grounds.
Martin relates how Zevon had earlier in the day planted a tree in the car park — a temporary location for the publicity photo shoot with the Queensland Forestry Department (who Martin them worked for) and Central Queensland News. “Forestry was seeking coverage for the Natureline, a corridor of trees being planted around the town of Emerald to reduce spray drift from cotton spraying around the margins of town. Fred Wild, aka Mr Natureline, got all sorts of famous people to plant trees to publicise the scheme.”
“Warren Zevon will be ten years dead on 7 September 2013. I would like to remember Warren by celebrating his significant contribution to conservation in Queensland.
The fuzzy box tree that he planted in the football ground car park in Emerald in 1990 was later unceremoniously translocated to the back yard of the Central Queensland News journalist Fred Wild, where it grew into a tree affectionately and widely known as ‘Warren’.
In the five years I was in Emerald, ‘Warren’ grew quickly to about four metres in height. The tree flowered and sheltered a fire ring that hosted many camp oven roasts. Under that tree, in a similar fashion to that ghost gum at Barcaldine, a range of well, and lesser-known ‘conservationists’ consumed roast lamb and red wine, while plotting strategies, drowning sorrows and celebrating small wins with contemporary issues in Central Queensland, including land clearing, tree plantings, land suitable for new national parks and wildlife refuges.
The Excitable Boy from New York and his little fuzzy box seedling unwittingly created a regular congregation of dedicated people who now have seniority in their respective careers across Australia.
I believe that ‘Warren’ eventually succumbed to clearing for redevelopment. However, the legend of the tree, and the man who planted it, lives on.”
Had any green Zevon anthems been forthcoming following his trip to the wilds of central Queensland? Almost. As Dave Dawson points out, Zevon indeed used his Aussie trip as inspiration for the title track of his eleventh album Mr Bad Example. No uplifting conservation theme here — the song is a typical Zevon number, bristling with his trademark sardonic humour and caustic wit, a hilarious travelogue parody putting “shonky Aussie corporate crooks on the griller.”
And fourteen hours later I was down in Adelaide
Looking through the wanted ads sipping Fosters in the shade
I opened up an agency somewhere down the line
To hire aboriginals to work the opal mines
But I attached their wages and took a whopping cut
And whisked away their workman’s comp and pauperized the lot
I’m Mr Bad Example, intruder in the dirt
I like to have a good time, and I don’t care who gets hurt
I’m Mr Bad Example, take a look at me
I’ll live to be a hundred and go down in infamy
“Like no other singer-songwriter of his generation, Warren Zevon addressed murder, desperate passion, espionage, crippling loneliness, and f*ck-you excess with a lethal wit and confessional grace that remain unrivalled. When the singer-songwriter-pianist succumbed to lung cancer in 2003, the music world lost a truly original voice.” — Rhino Records.
Thanks to Martin Ambrose for the story, deadly Stratego battles and Zevon road singalongs.
The Black, or Fork-tailed, Kite (Milvus migrans) is a hawk found mainly in Australia throughout the northern and inland parts of the country. It’s a sociable raptor often seen around human settlements, where large flocks frequent rubbish dumps, stockyards, abbatoirs and roads.
This species is also found across much of the world , including Europe, Africa, Asia and New Guinea. In Europe the populations are highly migratory, hence the specific name migrans. Populations of the bird in Australia do not regularly migrate, but are known to occasionally ‘irrupt’ in areas beyond their usual range.
While seen occasionally about Toowoomba in small numbers or individuals, a large movement of these birds across town is from all accounts a fairly uncommon event. However, this is indeed what’s happened over the last month, with groups of these birds numbering up to perhaps a hundred, or even more, moving across the town. Other species of raptor have been seen at times moving with, or through, the groups.
While walking the dog in the park we spotted a large flock of these kites overhead, circling loosely on thermals and heading slowly east. As our small dog sat by itself in the open field, one bird suddenly appeared above us, peering intently at our little mutt.
Says raptor expert Stephen Debus, “The Black Kite’s most characteristic behaviour is its effortless circling in inland or tropical skies, in flocks sometimes numbering hundreds or even thousands. It can ascend beyond the range of human vision or suddenly appear overhead having descended from invisible heights.” Which is what this one pretty much did.
The dog was clearly threatened, peering up and growling before running to hide between human feet. It was hilarious to see this notorious bird-chaser on the receiving end for once!
+ Debus, S (1998). The Birds of Australia. A Field Guide. Oxford.
^ Pizzey, G. and Knight, F. (1997). The Graham Pizzey and Frank Knight Field Guide to the Birds of Australia.
Links and further information:
Cicadas have been described as Australia’s best-loved insect.° What other type of insect has species with such fabulous common names as Greengrocer (Cyclochila australasiae), Yellow Monday (Cyclochila australasiae), Redeye (Psaltoda moerens), Floury Baker (Abricta curvicosta), Razor Grinder (Henicopsaltria eydouxii) and Cherrynose (Macrotristria angularis)?
Since the first Australian cicada was formally described in 1803 (the Double Drummer, Thopha saccata), the list of known Australian species has grown to over 240. New cicadas continue to be found.
Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) ranger Rod Hobson, who shares an office with me and bunch of other characters in Toowoomba, has just had the honour of having his name attached to a recently described species.
Drymopsalta hobsoni sp. nov. is one of three new species of cicada described this year by Tony Ewart and Lindsay Popple.* Tony and Lindsay had participated in a QPWS fauna survey at Bringalily State Forest, near Inglewood in southern inland Queensland. When returning to the site subsequently for a follow-up cicada search, Tony located the new cicada.
D. hobsoni is described as ‘small (less than 15 mm in length) and inconspicuous’ — which is not how I’d describe Hobson. While Ewart and Popple do not suggest a common name, I’d go for something like “The Small and Inconspicuous (Unlike It’s Dodgy Namesake) Brown Cicada”, or similar.
The discovery and scientific description of these three new species of cicada has been part of an ongoing, systematic collection of cicadas throughout Queensland and parts of the Northern Territory. Many new species, especially smaller ones, are being discovered from a wide range of woodland, heath and grassland habitats. Apart from catching the cicadas, researchers also record their distinctive songs, which become valuable tools in identifying known species of these bugs in the wild and for detecting what could be a new species.
While the three new species of cicadas are superficially similar in appearance, their songs are quite distinct from other cicadas — which is usually the case. However, two of the three new species (separated as species by a range of features) have quite similar calls. The buzzing, chirping calls of D. hobsoni and D. acrotela are very close, and the authors describe this as the first formal documentation of a ‘shared calling structure’ between two species of cicada in Australia.
Drymopsalta hobsoni was “Named after Mr Rod Hobson, who organised and arranged the original survey at Bringalily State Forest that led to the discovery of this new species. Mr Hobson has also contributed passionately to furthering the understanding of Queensland’s natural history, particularly in the Darling Downs region*.”
Rod has also had a new species of native snail named after him. See my blog entry from January 2011.
* Ewart, A. and Popple, L. W. (2013) New species of Drymopsalta Heath Cicadas (Cicadidae: Cicadettinae: Cicadettini) from Queensland and the Northern Territory, Australia, with overview of genus. Zootaxa 3620 (1).
° Moulds, M.S. (1990) Australian Cicadas. New South Wales University Press.
^ “The association of a name with a species, by necessity, must be associated in a way that is beyond question. When a researcher is naming a species (or describing a new species as it is often put) a single reference specimen is chosen to represent the species; this is known as the type specimen or holotype.”°
Holotypes form the core of the natural history collections of institutions such as the Queensland Museum (where the holotype of Drymopsalta hobsoni is stored).
A theme is developing. Maybe. More oxide-coloured images from west and east of the Great Divide. [Click on the images for full-screen view].
Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service ranger Bryan Phillips-Petersen recently took this photograph of a Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatis) on a track at Bunya Mountains National Park.
It’s a beautiful reptile — a species that I’ve kept an eye out for at the Bunyas during visits over many years, with only one brief sighting that gave no chance for a photo.
Given its fierce look and common name, this is a snake that might invoke thoughts of an aggressive, attacking reptile. However, while this is a dangerously venomous snake responsible for fatalities, its reputation as a fierce animal is not deserved, according to herpetologist Steve Wilson:
The Tiger Snake has an undeserved reputation as being very aggressive, yet it is quite a timid snake that avoids confrontation. Very large individuals are often quite unconcerned by the presence of people. Even when provoked they give plenty of warning with an impressive threat display, flattening the neck and forebody and hissing loudly. Only as a last resort will the snake strike, but given its abundance around southern cities it is not surprising that this highly venomous species is second only to the Eastern Brown Snake as the most common cause of snake-bite death in Australia.*
Once the most common cause of snake-bite death, Tiger Snakes have now been surpassed by Eastern Brown Snakes. It is thought that this change may be due to the difference in favoured prey items. Tiger snakes like to eat frogs, which have declined in numbers in many areas favoured by humans areas due to habitat clearing and other factors. On the other hand mice — the favourite food of brown snakes — have only increased in numbers around humans.
Tiger Snakes are less common in Queensland than in southern parts of Australia, where they are widespread in cool moist areas such as swamp edges and creek banks. In Queensland they are found in upland rainforests such as the McPherson Ranges and the Bunya Mountains. They can also be found in coastal wallum and heath areas of the Sunshine Coast. An isolated population is found in the Mount Moffatt section of Carnarvon National Park.
*Reference: What Snake is That? Gerry Swan and Steve Wilson, 2008.
Frilly Neck Lizard
when the dinosaurs
were wiped from the earth
you crawled inside
a caveman’s pocket
in my backyard
flaunting the latest look
protective neck wear
The recent rain has been a blessing for frogs. For only the third time in ten years I noticed the call of Graceful Tree Frogs (Litoria gracilenta) in our suburb. Their long, drawn-out wail preceded the deluge of ex-cyclone Oswald by several days. When I heard that mysterious call I knew we were in for some serious humidity.
This week my son’s friend David and his great dog Sam discovered a strange brown amphibian on our footpath one afternoon. To my surprise it was not a Cane Toad, but a Great Barred Frog (Mixophyes fasciolatus). This was a new species for my backyard list (I’m including the footpath of course).
The Great Barred Frog is one of six species of frog in Queensland belonging to the genus Mixophyes. They are usually found along creek lines in, and around, rainforests and wet sclerophyll forests. In the Toowoomba area I’ve found (or heard) them only at escarpment locations such as Picnic Point and Jubilee Park (but haven’t been looking for them too much). It was a great surprise to have one in our busy street, slightly out of the forest.
I’ve only photographed three of Queensland’s six species of Barred Frog. The Giant Barred Frog (Mixophesy iteratus) is a spectacular amphibian, but one also sadly classified as endangered.
The Fleay’s Barred Frog (Mixophyes fleayi) is also classified as endangered. They are found only in mountainous rainforest and adjacent wet sclerophyll forest.
Images from guest photographer Raelene Neilson.
A backyard bird bath is a win-win — the birds will visit and the bird-fan will welcome each visitor. The only problem is how much time can a bird-watcher sit and watch before other things call? The simple things in life can be the best indeed.
Here is a selection of images taken by Raelene at her ground level bird-bath at Geham, north of Toowoomba.
While the impact of development on our coastal habitats is a topic constantly in the news, it’s sobering to be reminded that we are still finding out what species of plants and animals actually live in these fragile places.
For zoologists, the discovery of a new species is always significant. It’s like finding another piece in the threatened and fragile jigsaw of life that surrounds us and on which we depend so much.
The Whitsunday Ngaro Sea Trail is a mix of seaways and picturesque walks across Whitsunday, South Molle and Hook islands. The walk leads through open forests, grasslands and rainforest, and includes climbs up rugged peaks and strolls along winding pathways.
Created by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS), the walking tracks and other infrastructure associated with the Sea Trail were yet more ‘development’. So, before this project was completed, a careful analysis of any associated impacts was carried out, to make sure they’d be kept as small as possible. As a part of that process, new surveys of the fauna and flora of Whitsunday Island were completed.
In 2010, while undertaking one of these surveys, QPWS employees Rod Hobson and Richard Johnson discovered the remains of a freshwater crayfish Cherax sp. These were forwarded to crayfish researcher Jason Coughran for comment. Jason recognised these remains to be those of a yet undescribed species. A return trip was arranged to collect live specimens for description, which was duly accomplished later that year. During this trip a second species of freshwater crayfish was also found on the island.
These crustaceans have now been formally recognised as two new species — Cherax austini sp. n. Coughran & Hobson and Cherax cid sp. n. Dawkins & Furse (Coughran et al 2012).Freshwater crayfish, known variously as yabbies, lobbies, crawchies, craybobs, craydads, marron, gilgies and koonacs, are creatures well known across Australia. There are over a 100 species (family Parastacidae) in Australia, with more than 20 native to Queensland, including one of the smallest in the world (the Swamp Crayfish Tenuibranchiurus glypticus, which reaches about 25 mm in length — by contrast, the Giant Tasmanian Crayfish Astacopsis gouldii reaches up to about 4.5 kg in weight and is the world’s largest freshwater crayfish — see * below)
Queensland species belong to three genera: Cherax (smooth freshwater crayfish or freshwater yabbies); Euastacus (spiny freshwater crayfish) and Tenuibranchiurus (swamp crayfish).
According to the authors of the paper on these two new Cherax species, there is no information on any other species of freshwater crayfish inhabiting islands this far north in the Coral Sea, apart from a single specimen of the Orange-fingered Yabby Cherax depressus collected at Lindemann Island about 12 km south of Whitsunday Island. The next closest island species is the Sand Yabby Cherax robustus, found on Fraser Island, about 700 km south. Interestingly, Cherax austini displays a feature (a median ridge on the cephalon) that is associated with crayfish in the extreme south-west of Western Australia (Coughran et al 2012).
The results of genetic work on the two new species, however, show that they are related to the mainland Cherax depressus group of yabbies, but as with island species of all types, they are busy evolving down their own divergent paths.
While probably confined to Whitsunday Island, the discovery of these two new species highlights the importance of continuing surveys on other Coral Sea Islands. There aren’t many suitable wetlands on Whitsunday Island, so checking out ephemeral wetlands and drainages on other islands in the group may just reveal further new creatures.
When species are restricted to islands, careful management is needed, as they are potentially vulnerable to various human-induced and naturally-occuring impacts. The value of national parks for protecting biodiversity is once again underlined. Cherax austini was discovered in a single Melaleuca (paperbark) swamp, a particular type of habitat that is classified as an “endangered” Regional Ecosystem. This particular location is one of only four protected areas of this habitat type in Queensland. The specimen was first detected as shell remains in midden formations around the shoreline of the swamp, probably from a predator such as an Eastern Water Rat.
Cherax cid was found in a small, clear flowing stream within notophyll vine forest, a type of coastal rainforest scrub. The specific type of Regional Ecosystem that this locality fell within is found only within six protected areas in Queensland.
The discovery of new species of such well-known creatures as yabbies is a pleasant surprise. It’s a find that once more increases our understanding of the the size and beauty of Australia’s biological diversity — our irreplaceable natural heritage.
*The large and the small (from Rod Hobson, 7/4/2013)
It has long been a matter of Aussie pride among those of us interested in our freshwater crayfish (from perspectives other than gastronomic) that we have both the largest and smallest freshwater yabby in the world. Whilst there is no argument whatsoever about our having the largest our contention that we also have the smallest is hotly contested by our friends from under The Star Spangled Banner. Our local contender is the Swamp Crayfish Tenuibranchiurus glypticus, which is a Wallum denizen of south-east Queensland reaching a grandiose length of 25 mm. South of the Mason-Dixon in the Deep South of the USA the flyweight belt is claimed by the Dwarf Crayfish Cambarellus diminutus. The Dwarf Crayfish is one of 17 species of freshwater crayfish of the family Cambaridae found in Mexico and the Gulf States of the USA. This family are all generally known en masse as dwarf crayfish, or more likely as crawdads or craybobs. Crawdad and craybob have also been absorbed into the Australian vernacular for our freshwater yabbies but are actually American terms. We owe a lot to The Beverly Hillbillies.
Cambarellus diminutus is a rare and threatened species known only from about 15 locations in Mobile County, Alabama and Jackson and George Counties in Mississippi. This crawdad also reaches an upper length of 25 mm so it’s actually a photofinish for the title of the world’s smallest crayfish. It’s a tie and we cannot, in all fairness, claim our crustacean, as the world’s smallest yabby. We still, however have a “no contest” for the world’s largest in the Tasmanian Giant Crayfish Astacopsis gouldi tipping the scales at 5 kilograms wringing wet and attaining a length of 80 cms. In fact not only is Astacopsis the world’s largest freshwater crayfish it is actually the world’s largest freshwater invertebrate. Let’s see someone beat that one!
Coughran Jason, Dawkins Kathryn L., Hobson Rod and Furse James M., 2012. ‘Two new freshwater crayfishes (Decapoda: Parastacidae) from Whitsunday Island, The Coral Sea, Australia’ in Crustacean Research, Special Number 7, 45-51, 2012.
Some more great images by guest photographer Mike Peisley.
These images were all taken in and around the wetlands and coastal areas of the Brisbane bayside areas of Boondall and Shorncliffe. Mike’s patience, observation skills and technical prowess have seen him capture images overflowing with the subjects’ personality.
Some wonderful images of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos enjoying Banksia seeds. Taken by Liz Naumann in her front-yard using a point-and-shoot camera!
A recent work trip to Roma. How had I missed all these Brachychitons on previous trips? Hard to fathom. Here are some of them. OK, no more.
Queensland is still counting the cost of ‘ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald’, with major flooding and damage to property and infrastructure right down the east coast.
Humans were not the only species affected, with seabirds being blown far from home by the wild weather during January 2013.
In the Darling Downs area, a range of unusual species were recorded. Birds either seen flying or found exhausted included Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Sooty Terns, White-tailed Tropicbirds, Frigatebirds and a Bulwer’s Petrel. The latter was a very interesting record — although there have been several confirmed sightings of Bulwer’s Petrels in Queensland over the years, this was the first specimen of this species obtained for the State, and only the second specimen for Australia.
Toowoomba Bird Observers (TBO) president Mick Atzeni has been collecting records of the unusual sightings, adding to the group’s extensive database on the birds of the Toowoomba region.
“To see seabirds flying around paddocks and over local dams was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most people,” said Mick. “It was bitter-sweet, because these birds were starving, exhausted, and lost.”
Wildlife carer Trish LeeHong cared for some of the exhausted birds, which stretched the resources of her always-busy and not-for-profit Wildlife Rescue, Rehabilitation and Education Association. Several were restored to health and released at Deception Bay.
Mick reported that dead Sooty Terns were found in the middle of Toowoomba, at the Murphys Creek township and at Lockyer Siding, while a Wedge-tailed Shearwater was found in James Street near Clifford Gardens, Toowoomba. Exhausted White-tailed Tropicbirds were found at Meringandan and Withcott, while Sooty Terns and a Wedge-tailed Shearwater were seen flying over the Lockyer Valley by TBO members.
“Wedge-tailed Shearwater and White-tailed Tropicbird are new birds for the official TBO bird list,” said Mick. “This was our first live record for Sooty Terns in the area we survey, as the only previous record was a dead one found on the Range Highway in 1976 (during a previous cyclone).”
The body of the Bulwer’s Petrel, which unfortunately died soon after being found, was lodged with the Queensland Museum at Southbank, where its identity was confirmed. Stored as part of the Museum’s natural history collections, the specimen will be valuable for future studies.
Ian Gynther, Senior Conservation Officer with the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, spoke to the ABC about the Bulwer’s Petrel. “It’s only a tiny thing. When they’re not breeding they spend their whole life at sea — you could imagine the waves and wind they put up with at the best of times.”
“This is a prime example of how our knowledge of a bird that’s seldom recorded has been greatly increased by somebody with sharp eyes at Oakey,” said Ian.
Thanks to Mick Atzeni, Mike Peisley, James Hunt, Pat McConnell and Rod Hobson.
Like humans, wild creatures get hammered by storms and cyclones. How do the little things survive? Many of them of course don’t, while others find safe places to ride it out, and some get blown to distant locations. And of course, water brings life in many ways, long after errant ex-cyclones have departed. Once-dry creeks spring to life.
Soon after Oswald my son and I went dragonfly chasing with some naturalist mates. Water ran through patches of sunlight, while all about was evidence that great masses of water had recently torn downhill.
Tropical Cyclone Oswald hit the coast of Queensland in January 2013 and headed south as an “ex-tropical cyclone”, causing havoc and heartache for a considerable length of time.
Three images sent to me by artist Adrienne Williams once again reminded me of the power of water at such times. Adrienne lives at Mount Perry, south-west of Bundaberg — an area hit particularly hard by wind and rain.
It’s difficult to find one site on the web that gives an overview of the history and impact of this particular cyclone. It’s just all too big. The strength of nature when things gets fired up is expressed instead at a local level in images like these from Adrienne.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) website states that “Although the considerable majority of cyclone impacts are located in north Queensland, occasionally a cyclone affects areas further south down the east coast.” Oswald certainly fell into that category, even reaching Sydney eventually.
If you’re after some great stuff on cyclones, the BOM site has a stack of fascinating information on these things in Australia, including the following snippets on Queensland cyclones:
Some of Adrienne’s beautiful artwork can be seen at www.adriennewilliams.com
Stanthorpe shed, January, 2013.
I’ve been gradually enlightened about the mysterious and marvellous world of dragonflies and damselflies. Dragonflies have always fascinated me, but only recently have been I been switched on to their more delicate relatives, the damselflies.
This post is dedicated to Barry Kenway, highly-respected and knowledgeable Toowoomba naturalist, who passed away last week. I had the good fortune to spend some time with Barry, and Rod Hobson, chasing dragonflies in February 2012 (see Rockmasters and other legendary dragonflies). Barry’s knowledge about, and infectious enthusiasm for, these wonderful creatures was a joy. It would be hard to forget Barry’s smile as he spied yet another species of Odonata zipping about a creek sparkling with summer light.
Here’s a slideshow of damselflies I’ve encountered over the last few years. They are a challenge to photograph! [Click on arrow-box, bottom right, to enlarge the slideshow.]
Most working days I walk through Queens Park on my way to and from town, passing a beautiful Queensland Bottle Tree (Brachychiton rupestris).
While I’m a bigger fan of wild areas, there are always things to discover in parks. The more I looked at this tree, the more I saw and liked. Walkers, dogs, joggers ands cyclists pass directly under its canopy, lost in their thoughts and usually oblivious to its charms.
Over the next three months I kept looking, photographing it with whatever I had on hand. Not knowing anything about Brachychitons I was concerned when it shed most of its leaves in the hot, dry October/November weeks, thinking it was drought stressed.
However, a bloom of new orange and pink foliage belayed my fears. I found out later that this is a characteristic of these trees — they often do this before flowering, and they can also shed leaves to conserve moisture during prolonged drought.
Also known as the Narrow-leaved Bottle Tree, this is one of 31 species of Brachychiton, with 30 found in Australia and one species in New Guinea. The common name “bottle tree” refers to the characteristic trunk of the tree, which can reach up to seven metres in circumference. Fossils from New South Wales and New Zealand have been dated at 50 million years old.
Queensland Bottle Trees are endemic to a limited region of Australia — Central Queensland through to northern New South Wales. In 1845 the explorer Thomas Mitchell led an expedition seeking an overland route from Sydney to the Gulf of Carpentaria. He ran into these trees on his journey, within the brigalow (Acacia harpophylla) scrub that covered much of central Queensland. Mitchell found some trees so wide that a horse standing side on was said to disappear from view. This tree would be the saviour of many early squatters.
The Bottle Tree’s most striking characteristic was that its trunk was not made of sapwood like ordinary trees, but rather consisted of a spongy fibre, which was also filled with moisture. In times of drought, settlers would cut down bottle trees and peel off the bark — exposing the fleshy fibre, which cattle would eat. A large tree could satisfy a hungry, thirsty herd for weeks.
Indigenous peoples of course knew the value of this tree, carving holes into the soft bark to create reservoir-like structures, and the seeds, roots, stems, and bark have all been a source of food for people and animals alike long before white settlers arrived. The fibrous inner bark was used to make twine or rope and even woven together to make fishing nets.
Deemed a ‘useful’ tree, bottle trees were often left by settlers when they were clearing land. Today, solitary specimens are often seen in fields. To me they are reminders of times not so long ago when vast areas of central Queensland were covered in scrub.
In the brigalow-dominated landscape of the Queensland bio-region known as the Brigalow Belt, Queensland Bottle Trees were found within pockets of ‘softwood scrub’ — or ‘semi-evergreen vine thicket’, a type of scrubby, dry rainforest. These ecosystems show some of the characteristics associated with the wetter tropical type of rainforest but are less luxuriant, lacking species such as tree ferns, palms and epiphytes. They also have a reduced canopy height and are simpler in structure.
Adaptations found in these forests to drier environments include smaller, thicker leaves, swollen roots and stems, and an (optional) deciduous habit — meaning that plants can preserve moisture by losing their leaves in times of extreme drought.
Since white settlement approximately 83 percent of this type of ecosystem has been cleared, and the remaining patches are classified as endangered ecological communities.
About 20 percent of the remaining patches are found in protected areas, such as Cania Gorge, Carnarvon, Bunya Mountains and Expedition national parks. I’ve spent some magic hours walking within these remaining patches of softwood scrub, and it’s always exciting to come across a large bottle tree within its original habitat.
Bottle Trees are also sought-after ornamentals, and line the streets of towns from Brisbane to Roma.
My solitary Queens Park tree, looking down onto Toowoomba’s central business district, seems odd and out of place to me in this cultivated landscape — a strange, silent, and somewhat troubling reminder of wild times past, when tangles of un-tamed vine scrub ruled much of the land now civilised and ordered by farms and towns.