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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'.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Tyto Wetlands: Ingham's highlight

Ingham is a sugar town in tropical Queensland, and a place where you'd probably not choose to spend a lot of time on your way to more salubrious spots further north. You won't find it hard however to get a decent meal and a coffee there, with over 50% of the population claiming Italian heritage. It's 17km from the sea and sitting in a sea of sugar cane, which rarely makes for environmental benefit or a particularly lovely landscape, though that of course is subjective. Nonetheless, if at all possible you should make an effort to spend a night there on your travels, for just one reason.
Tyto Wetlands comprise some 120 hectares of restored swamp and woodland on
the very edge of town - see the light towers in the background. There are many kilometres of
walking tracks, with hides and raised viewpoints. It is not a gazetted nature reserve, but
seems to be a project of the Hinchinbrook Shire Council - though I'd welcome further information.
With two metres of rain a year, there is generally water present!

Anyone who reads these postings regularly will know that I have a well-developed penchant for pottering around wetlands, and this is an excellent place to potter! It is on the southern edge of town, well away from the busy town centre but still in the suburbs, west of the highway.

As you walk into the complex, initially past the football training fields, the locals will inspect you.
Agile Wallabies Macropus agilis, above, and big male below.
(Most of these photos were taken in the evening or early morning, so the light is muted.)
This is the common wallaby of open country and woodlands across tropical Australia.

There is a mix of open water and reedbeds - inevitably water birds are a feature.
Cotton Pygmy-geese Nettapus coromandelianus, male on the right.
These delightful little ducks are not geese at all, but are generally, though somewhat reluctantly,
placed with the 'perching ducks' - itself probably not a 'real' grouping.
The species is found throughout south and south-east Asia.
Intermediate Egret Ardea intermedia.Another common species and widespread beyond Australia, but too aesthetic - especially in the context
of the water lilies - not to include.
Wandering Whistling Ducks Dendrocygna arcuata (very early morning!).
Another which is found beyond Australia into the islands to the north.
In Australia at least it doesn't actually wander as much as does our other whistling duck,
the Plumed, but it does seem to move around the islands.

Magpie Goose Anseranas semipalmata, the only member of its family, and apparently
descended from a very early split from the main line of ducks and geese.
These are found commonly in the Australian tropics, but I am always captivated by them
(but then, I'm not trying to grow rice!)

As mentioned earlier however, the site does not just comprise swampland. Trees and shrubs are scattered throughout, and many land birds use them.
More views, above and below, across Tyto Wetlands.

Female Blue-winged Kookaburra Dacelo leachii; the male has a blue tail and dark eyes.
This big tropical kingfisher feeds on a range of invertebrates, reptiles and small mammals.
My favourite Australian bird field guide, that of the late Graham Pizzey, memorably describes
the call as 'appalling'. (He does go on to elaborate, but that's an excellent start!)

Crimson Finches Neochmia phaeton are found across much of the tropical north,
generally near water and in tall grassy vegetation.

Rufous-throated Honeyeater Conopophila rufogularis.This inconspicuous little honeyeater is also generaly found near water. Unlike several
of the previous species it is endemic to Australia.
Even weeds can attract birds though (which is not a reason to plant them - the birds like native plants just as much!) One such is the attractive but highly invasive African Tulip Tree Spathodea campanulata, family Bignoniaceae, originally from sub-Saharan tropical and sub-tropical Africa from Ghana to Ethiopia and Zambia, but widely planted in north Queensland, to the detriment of the environment - they are highly invasive and can choke out gullies and waterways. There are moves to eliminate them from wild areas and it is possible that these specimens have been by now removed from Tyto.

Helmeted Friarbird Philemon buceroides in African Tulip Tree.
A large and raucous tropical honeyeaer.

The Yellow Honeyeater Lichenostomus flavus (in the same tree) is found only in tropical Queensland.
Birds aren't the only animals flying around of course; the dragonflies didn't cooperate with my photographic efforts, but this elegant butterfly did.

Orange Bush Brown Butterfly Mycalesis terminus, family Nymphalidae. Her interest in the grass stem is not necessarily
simply as a resting place - she lays her eggs almost exclusively on grasses.
Having said that, one bird really is the star of the reserve - indeed it gave the wetland its name. Tyto is the barn owl genus, and Eastern Grass Owls T. longimembris live in the reedbeds of this wetland. There is even a viewing point dedicated to searching for them when they take flight at dusk.
Owl-viewing platform, Tyto Wetlands.
 Here are a couple of views from the platform.

Maybe you can make out the grass owl that I missed on my most recent visit.

Either way, that's just another excellent reason to stop in next time you're driving to or from Cairns or points further north. My thanks to all those who have worked to restore, and maintain, Tyto into the world-class wetland that it is today.



Flabmeister said...

I tend to agree that sugar cane farms are not scenic nor particularly environmentally great. However they do have some benefits.
1) If we didn't have the cane fields even more of the Pacific islands would be trashed for Palm Oil plantations;
2) Egrets love the frogs and reptiles which are revealed when the fields are harvested!
3) A lot of dentists would be unemployed if simple sugar were removed from our diet; and
4) Two Weavers new to science were discovered on a sugar estate in Tanzania in 1990.


Ian Fraser said...

Martin, that is one of the most impressively eclectic (and largely nonsensical) rationale sets that I've read for some time. Holidays clearly agree with you.

Flabmeister said...

I'd be interested to know which, in your view are nonsensical - apart from #3 which is definitely mischievous!

The other three could all be justified at the expense of your readers download limits!