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Acrobatic Woodswallows

Monsoon brings bonanza for Australian woodswallows.
The White-Breasted Woodswallow of Tropical North Australia is also known as the Shallow-strike. Its Latin name is Artamus leucorynchus*.

  • While artists who paint in oils wait for the weather to lift, other creatures enjoy a feast. Woodswallows dart through the misty air of Monsoon season, hunting insects that falter as their delicate wings become laden with water vapour.
  • The small birds display amazing manoeuvrability as they spin and even flip upside-down in flight, gulping a beakful of insects on each pass. We watch these small birds swoop, in groups of five to seven individuals, as the Monsoon turns the air surrounding our Cairns backyard from clear to opaque.
  • The vista of Trinity Harbour, the lush greens of the valley leading down to its foreshore lined with tall buildings, the mountain range which curves out towards the Coral Sea – all of this vanishes in a white curtain of dense water-vapour. We may not see sunshine for whole days at a stretch during the Wet Season, lasting from late February through to mid-April.
  • We'd be crazy to complain about it, though. It's the reason we have the glories of the Tropical rainforest to enjoy. Nature follows its own cycles and we humans are along for the ride. Further to the South and across the vast Inland, our fellow Aussies battle disatrous bushfires and in other coastal cities, they contend with flooding. Apart from a high-category cyclone every few years, we in the tropics hold a pretty good hand when it comes to weather conditions.
  • The animals with whom we share this territory enjoy the same benefits of equitable temperature ranges, notable for the absence of extremes in either cold or heat. Some folk think we Northerners grow webbed feet or 'go Troppo' in the Monsoon months. There may be a mite of truth in those comments but we shrug them off  as our feathered neighbours do.

The local Kookaburras seem to take the Monsoon times as a chance for a shower – the rain up here is never really cold. A new juvenile swelled the group last month – late for a new chick, we wonder if this one belongs to the pair we call 'ours' or has come – willingly or not – from a neighbouring clan. Kookaburras are well known to entice or even 'kidnap' hatchlings from other groups. This youngster hasn't yet developed the blue patch that signifies its sex, so until it does, I'm referring to it as 'Fluffy.' We'll give it something a bit more dignified in due course.

  • At the right, you can see photos of the Monsoon clouds gather over the mountains and the long roll of cloud that forms over the Inlet to Trinity Harbour. If you look closely at the misty areas between the trees, you'll count 3, then 6 Woodswallows performing their acrobatic flying.©Dorothy Gauvin

*Reference source 'Wildlife of Tropical north Queensland - Cooktown to Makay' published 2000 by the Queensland Museum