By MIKE GILLAM
Photo © Mike Gillam
Some years an extension of the subtropical monsoon from the north can result in significant precipitation through November and December gifting desert dwellers with restorative and energising spells of cooler temperatures up until Christmas. And there’s nowhere I’d rather be when it rains.
Then there’s January and unless it rains, that’s a harder sell. Still, without the lash of summer, Centralia would lose its harsh outback reputation and McMansions crowding the horizon line would surely follow. In the height of summer, less desert adapted locals often retreat to cooler climes and forsake the excitement of electrical storms, the hum of insects and a desert brimming with life.
Last week the raucous cry of the jungle shattered the stillness of a desert dawn and I looked instinctively skywards for the channel billed cuckoos. The world’s largest cuckoo with a voice to match, CBCs migrate from New Guinea and Indonesia to breed in Australia. They seem early this year, doubtless in step with an early start to the wet season up north.
My best guess has channel bills arriving in Alice Springs around 2000, perhaps the wet years of 2000-2001 might have some bearing on this. Local birders might have earlier records but a note from Bob Gosford in 2007 mentions the first appearance at Yuendumu: “…recorded there for about the last ten years…”
Having discovered the caring nature of our local crows that raise most of their offspring, the CBCs come back each year sometime between late November and early January. I couldn’t find an Arrernte name for this recent arrival.
This morning I watched a frenzy of iridescent blue black wasps, large females digging burrows, stoically focussed despite the bevy of suitors. Literally dozens of wasps active in a few square metres and beyond – nothing. Pheromones are amazing.
As daytime temperatures exceed 38 degrees C, Centralia’s first cicada nymphs have emerged from the ground beneath river red gums, their favourite host plant. While cicadas are visible in small numbers at the start of every summer, they experience major peaks, often every six or seven years. At such times, I’ve observed trees packed with numbers so great that their piss can create a subtle mist, doubtless expelled in my honour or alarmed by my presence.
In the rising heat of mid morning cicadas vibrate the airways, their song reaching a crescendo at dusk. The ‘underground’ nymph stage is called alkngirnere by Arrernte people and when it splits free from its outer shell, the winged tyerraye emerges.