By MIKE GILLAM
All photos © Mike Gillam
As temperatures rise plant production increases and with it, insect activity. Soon the vigorous fresh growing tips of our whitewoods (Atalaya hemiglauca) will be wilting in response to the sap sucking ‘stink bugs’.
I admit to crushing the occasional black and tan bugs in early years and wiping pungent body juices over the fresh growth of those trees that I was precious about. It deterred the bugs for a while but these days it’s less necessary because we have so many whitewoods that the sap-suckers affections are spread more thinly.
Many of the sap suckers are also fond of nectar producing flowers. The whitewoods don’t ever seem to get a free run. There are bugs that target new growth, those that congregate on the fresh flower buds and yet others that hammer the ripening seeds.
I should add that sap suckers are very beautiful. We commonly see two Eucalypt specialists; both are brightly coloured, one orange and black and the other a powder blue, the colour of sky on a bright Summer, I mean Spring, day.
The tall and slender Eucalyptus thozetiana are flowering profusely. Seed pods are developing throughout the lower branches while newly opened flowers create a creamy yellow flush on the outer margins of the canopy where bats are occasionally visible among the halo of insects.
Perhaps this staged growth will expose the flowers to a wider variety and number of pollinators and extend the period and weather conditions when both flowers and viable seed are available.
The rainbow bee-eaters, a favourite with Alice Springs locals, seem to have timed their return to Centralia perfectly. Clearly they don’t like the northern buildup and have an equal dislike for our cold desert winters. They probably ride south on the early northerlies but the effort can take a toll.
There is a record of disaster in 2018 when a late season cold snap, likely combined with low fat reserves, left bee-eaters bereft of insect prey when they needed it most. Dozens of birds that had been roosting together for warmth were found dead on the ground at Ilparpa, south of Alice Springs.
Daily fluctuations in temperature are not uncommon throughout September and October and it seems hypothermia poses a serious risk for these tropical migrants that spend our winters in the Top End, New Guinea and Indonesia.
The image above of bee-eaters in a huddle was taken on 1 October a few years ago and birds at the nesting burrow in the Todd River during December.
I stopped by the roadside a few days ago to check the insect activity around a swathe of bright yellow daisies looking spectacular despite the lack of rain. The area was alive with flying insects. I counted fifteen species of butterflies, moths, wasps, bees and beetles, not to mention the ants and the spiders in hiding.
I’m taking a raincheck on the usual 2000 word essay to provide more research time for next week’s story on ghost gums. Until then …