Once the rain stops, the birds get busy

Tooth-billed Bowerbird (as Toothed-billed Bower-bird from Gould’s ‘The Birds of New Guinea and the adjacent Papuan Islands including many new species recently discovered in Australia’). Public Domain.

Well, there you have it. Predicting the end of the wet season is like hanging out the laundry or washing the car.

The wet season is over, I said.

Next minute…

More than 150 mm (6 in) of rain has fallen since I made my bold statement about a fortnight ago, most of it coming down in the past two days. None of this is unusual. Not the rainfall, and certainly not my emphatic statements being immediately contradicted by reality.

Still, the Pacific Koels and Channel-billed Cuckoos have left, the Sulphur-crested cockatoos…


Plant hunting in Far North Queensland

Rainbow Lorikeet on Golden Penda, Atherton Tablelands. © Bronwen Scott

Golden Penda (Xanthostemon chrysanthus) are in flower. One moment, these small rainforest trees are covered in lime green buds, the next those buds explode like supernovae. Birds, bees and butterflies waste no time. Those flowers are rich in nectar.

John Dallachy arrived in Australia in 1848. Born in Scotland, he had trained in horticulture in the Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens at Chiswick and Kew. After spending a few years in Sri Lanka, Dallachy and his family moved to Melbourne, where he was appointed curator of the city’s newly established botanical gardens. …


A change in season means different sounds in the garden

“File:Pacific Koel — Long Reef.jpg” by JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/) is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 [Image cropped]

Although the Coral Sea cyclone season ends officially on 30 April, I am going to make the call right now. Goodbye, swirly things. Hello, dry season.

I live in the Wet Tropics region of Far North Queensland where ‘dry’ means ‘not as soggy as it is for the rest of the year’. Things are never quite as cut and…er... Some dry seasons see rain into the middle of the year. …


Travelling the old path

Travelling the old way on the Oodnadatta Track, South Australia. © Bronwen Scott

It is 600 kilometres (373 miles) from Marla to Marree on the Oodnadatta Track. The red dirt road follows a path used for millennia. Its route is guided by water.

Salt

The surface is hot and the sunlight dazzles on the salt desert of Kati Thandi/Lake Eyre. It looks barren, but there is life here. Metallic green tiger beetles (Pseudotetracha australis) with big eyes and bigger jaws scuttle across the surface in search of insects. Lake Eyre dragons (Ctenophorus maculosus) rest in the sand beneath the salt crust, emerging to hunt Melophorus ants along the lake’s edge.


Living and working underground in Australia’s Outback

A rare storm over Coober Pedy, South Australia. © Bronwen Scott

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome was filmed in Outback South Australia. So was the Vin Diesel movie Pitch Black. Thomas Engelman, producer of Pitch Black, selected Coober Pedy for the three-sun desert planet because its landscape ‘looked more desolate and dangerous than Mars’.

In South Australia, the Outback starts close to the cities. Past Port Augusta, the houses, factories, and service stations shrink in the rear view mirror. The Stuart Highway cuts north across red dirt dotted with mulga, past gibber plains and salt lakes glittering in the sun. Flocks of green budgerigars swirl…


Nature Walks in a Mining Landscape

Walking paths, Great Northern Mine, Herberton. © Bronwen Scott

Gold finds at the Palmer and Hodgkinson rivers brought thousands of miners to Far North Queensland. As the rushes subsided, prospectors searched for new sources. In the ancient granite hills along Wild River, they hit pay dirt — not gold, but tin. Now all that remains of those gold mining boomtowns are house stumps and flagstones, but Herberton, founded on tin, is still going strong. It is the oldest town on the Atherton Tablelands.

In 1880, John Newell, William Jack and two colleagues bought 60 acres (24 hectares) of freehold land to the east of Wild River. Their Great Northern…


They also compose

Coral fungus, Lake Barrine NP, Far North Queensland. © Bronwen Scott

They seem to come out of nowhere. In higher latitudes, fungi appear in autumn, following the rain and cooling temperatures. In the tropics, they pop up at any time — sprouting from fallen timber, pushing through soil, dotting the landscape as brackets and baskets, fingers and parasols, and strange forms that unwrap and unwind and live for a day like mushroom mayflies.

But this is only a tiny part of the story. What we see above the surface is a fungal flower, an ephemeral structure with the sole purpose of reproduction. …


It’s a long way from the top

The Crater, Mount Hypipamee National Park, FNQ. © Bronwen Scott

In early August 2011, a team of divers descended into the crater at Mount Hypipamee on the Atherton Tablelands to carry out a scientific survey. The water’s surface, covered in a blanket of bilious green duckweed, was almost 60 metres below the edge, and the near vertical walls above it had no ledges or footholds. To reach it required abseiling, aided by pulleys, rope ladders and inner tubes converted into makeshift boats. The water was murky. Above the divers, tiny white shrimp skittered between the roots of the floating weed. Around them, bacteria…


Tales about Snails

The Moon is made of cheese; meteorites are made of jelly

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

So stars appear to drop to us from sky,

And gild the passage as they fly:

But when they fall, and meet th’opposing ground,

What but a sordid slime is found?

Abraham Cowley, ‘Reason, the Use of it in Divine Matters’, 1656

In his book on the customs and folklore of Cornwall, Robert Hunt described is as an apparently common occurrence in Penryn, near Falmouth. Whenever the quarry workers saw a shooting star, they would head where they thought it had fallen. There they would find a blob of phosphorescent jelly, which was assumed to be the remnants of the…


Birds and Words

The magic of tropical wetlands

Feather palm swamp, Cattana Wetlands, FNQ. © Bronwen Scott

After missing the morning tides at Cairns Esplanade, my birding buddy Jen and I decided to kill time at Cattana Wetlands, a 15 minute drive north of Cairns. Although the wetlands had been on my Must See list for a long time, this was my first opportunity to visit them.

Not used to the heat on the coastal plain, I left the camera with its stupidly heavy telephoto lens in the car and carried only binoculars and phone.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a birder no longer in possession of their camera never…

Bronwen Scott

Zoologist, writer, artist, museum fan, enjoying life in the tropical rainforest of Far North Queensland.

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