Friday, May 23, 2008

Kingfishers' king fishers

PLENTY of Australians live to fish, far fewer fish to live. Number among the latter, the Little Kingfisher, world's smallest. At 11-13cm it's barely more than half the size of the 'standard' Forest and Sacred species. And it is dwarfed by the Laughing Kookaburra (41-47cm) and the Blue-winged Kookaburra (38-40cm), which are giant kingfishers - and among a rare few Australian bird species to retain an Aboriginal name.

A Little Kingfisher (Alcedo pusilla) shares a branch with a White-lipped Green Tree Frog, a bird eater (see earlier post), but not usually a threat to an alert mature bird.

Most of Australia's 10 kingfisher species would as soon pounce on ground prey as dive into water for fish. A second exception to such preference is the Azure Kingfisher (Alcedo azurea), pictured in a so-so photo saved by a shaft of light.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Catching prey and flights of fancy

GREAT Egret carves out a morning shadow as it stands poised with a small catch snapped up from among the water weed on a water treatment pond near Ingham.

Another Great Egret takes off across a treatment lagoon. Hard to take crisp shots with Panasonic FZ30 because of slow auto focus and narrow ISO range. Also a trial holding all the white tones without blowing everything away.

A digression into the world of entertainment. The lagoon treats water from the largest sugar cane mill in the Southern Hemisphere. Baz Luhrman's latest offering, Australia, features a small railway engine. That engine was puffing away at CSR's mill today, as part of an annual Italian festival in town. Small worlds?


DARTER puts best feet forward as it prepares for one of its typically clumsy crash landings into the top of a melaleuca (paperbark). Seems odd that a bird that spends all its feeding time in and under the water - using huge webbed feet - shows a liking for perching in trees whose tops are all twigs and small leaves rather than substantial bare branches. Also known as Snake Birds, Darters compete with four species of Cormorant for fish and eels.


CHANGE of pace and place with one of those shots that surprises the photographer. Intent was to capture a splash of colour and movement in Ingham's small botanical gardens. I was scarcely aware of a small family group tossing bread into the lotus pools for the resident snake-necked turtles. Only after cropping and adjusting the shot did I spot the children. Small irony: I found them, but their bread found no favour with the turtles.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Some slither, some hop, some fly ...

An Amethyst Python takes a discriminating taste of the air as some big heat-emitter gets in the way at Tyto Wetlands. Couldn't photograph fast enough to stop all movement of tongue. The glistening 3.5 metre snake radiated plump health. After a few more flickers of tongue it untensed and unhurriedly went on its way.


An Agile Wallaby takes a thoughtful bite on the breakfast of choice for champion hoppers - tender grass. The 90-hectare wetlands nourish and shelter hundreds of the species. Agiles bound along athletically enough, but more impressive marsupial agility is shown by various rock wallabies.



Black Kite takes a turn across Tyto's main lagoon. These birds lost out to northern counterparts for rights to the more accurate descriptive title of Fork-tailed Kites. Another unknowing casualty in taxonomy's name games. Yes, I know, it's serious and essential work.




Thursday, May 1, 2008

Rainbows and Rainbow Serpents

Chocolate box rainbow - an old scenic cliche - from the land of the much, much, much older Rainbow Serpent.The colour spectrum arches over Tyto Wetlands in Ingham, Tropical North Queensland, where I watch birds and other wildlife - including the present-day Rainbow Serpent - most days.

The Rainbow Serpent's shaping of all land and waterways is a foundation stone of much Aboriginal mythology, thus it winds back 50,000 to 60,000 years.

The snake that seems most likely to have inspired the many tales among more than two hundred language groups - most now long lost - is limited in Australia to a thin northeastern area (roughly 1000km x 100km).

Amethyst Pythons also inhabit Papua New Guinea and parts of Indonesia. So there may be clues to the path to Australia by the first Aborigines in the distribution of Morelia amethistina.

But snake fossils are rare because the bones are so fragile. The pythons perhaps had a wider range across northern Australia that has vanished over, say, the last 30,000 years.

Also known as Scrub Python, the snake is now rarely over five metres long. Old reports of 8m snakes seem founded on stretched, sloughed skins. However, a living specimen in the pioneering sugar cane farming days of the 1890s was measured at 7m. Shipped south to Sydney in a barrel, it was reported to have overheated and died.


The animal pictured is about 4m. It appeared 14 times through 2007 in a one-tree island close to a Tyto lookout knoll, swimming out at night and spending between two and six days and nights coiled and largely concealed up in the melaleuca (paperbark). The magnificent colours are often muted by skin condition and angle of light.