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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

A Busy Umbrella Tree; Darwin Museum

When we're in tropical Darwin (capital of Australia's Northern Territory - see here for a map) we always make a point of popping into the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. Of course one of our motives is the art and exhibits - notably the indigenous art, the dramatic and moving gallery telling the story of Cyclone Tracy which almost wiped Darwin from existence on Christmas Day 1974, and in a different way the also moving story of Sweetheart, a magnificent 5.1 metre long Estuarine Crocodile which drowned in 1979 while being relocated away from fishing dinghies, to which it had taken a liking.

However of equal attraction is the subsequent coffee or cold drink taken on the café verandah afterwards, looking out across treed lawns to the Timor Sea.
The view from the museum café verandah on a recent sunny day; the Timor Sea
can be seen in the near distance.
Of course the views are not always this clear, especially in the summer wet season.
The same view, taken on a previous summer visit.
In both pictures, a handsome Umbrella Tree Schefflera actinophylla features. This member of the Araliaceae family (which includes ivy and ginseng) is native to tropical Queensland rainforests and wetter monsoon forests (ie 'wetter dry rainforests'!) of the Top End, as the imprecisely defined wet northern sector of the Northern Territory is known.

And because of this tree, we are not the only ones to come to the museum verandah for refreshments. The flowers are small but incredibly numerous, with many hundreds of them on each spray of flowers, which may be two metres long. They are rich in nectar and the birds come to them by day, and bats by night. Later the fruits are also hugely attractive but on our most recent visit it was the flower-visiting birds which distracted our attention, coming in waves to the flowers almost above our heads.

Here are the main visitors.

Little Friarbird Philemon citreogularis, the smallest of the group of large honeyeaters known as friarbirds.
The first one named, the Noisy Friarbird P. corniculatus, was common around Sydney when the first European
settlers arrived; its head is bald of feathers which prompted the disrespectful moniker.
More on them in a separate posting one day.
Little Friarbirds are found across much of eastern and northern Australia.
Helmeted Friarbirds Philemon buceroides on the other hand are solely tropical.
Unusually for honeyeaters the birds were largely willing to permit others to feed nearby, a sure sign that the nectar resource is effectively infinite.
Helmeted Friarbird and White-gaped Honeyeater Lichenostomus unicolor; unusual table-mates.
White-gaped Honeyeater; another tropical specialist.
Its notably loud and stroppy disposition doubtless assists it in being allowed to feed
undisturbed by the bigger bully. This species and the next are on the increase in Darwin gardens.
Brown Honeyeater Lichmera indistincta; both common and species name do scant justice
to its sparky personality and big voice. Unlike the previous species it is found in a huge range
of habitats across western, northern and eastern Australia; I feel it is penetrating further and further
into the dry country too.
Another honeyeater was visiting too, but was being chivvied on by the other bigger and more aggressive birds too quickly for me to get a photo.
Dusky Honeyeater Myzomela obscura feeding in a quieter restaurant elsewhere in Darwin.
And just before we reluctantly moved on, a couple of truly spectacular diners rocketed in and took over.
Red-collared Lorikeet Trichoglossus rubritorquis.This tropical beauty has a chequered taxonomic history, being alternately regarded as a separate species
and lumped in with the ubiquitous east coast Rainbow Lorikeet T. moluccanus.Now however it (and some non-Australian taxa) are widely regarded as separate species.
No doubt if we'd come at another time or sat for longer we'd have enjoyed still more species, but it was a pretty good distraction - or in my case probably the coffee (and even the delightful human company) was more the distraction...


1 comment:

Susan said...

The museum is a definitely not to be missed visit in Darwin. The Cyclone Tracy exhibit is evocative and clever, and the Aboriginal art a terrific primer on the subject.