~Signs Of Nature In The Kimberley~

Written and posted on-line 27th March 2011

In the Kimberley when you are walking around, or living out bush, nature presents you with a system of natural signs & indicators which warn or tell you of certain things. Things such as when the wet season is going to start or end, how high the river is going to flood, when a cyclone is coming, and when heavy rain is going to fall.

I am going to share some of these wondrous secrets with you now...

Out here, members of the bar-breasted honey eater species build elaborately woven grassy-bark sphere nests each year from the tip of a thin tree branch overhanging the river.

The lightweight grass and bark material this avian species uses to build it’s nest, is strong and extremely flexible, allowing the nest to mold to the adult during incubation, then to stretch to accommodate the growing new family of nestlings; The sap from the grass and bark used to build the nest is sticky, which helps bind the nest to the branch to which it is attached. The fact that this bird builds it’s nest at the very tip of tree branches stops the tree snakes getting their eggs and young.

We know how high the river is going to flood in the wet season by looking at the nest of this industrious avian species. Amazingly this bird always builds it’s nest each year during the dry season, just above the highest height the river ends up reaching when in it is full flood during the wet season.

Ants have colonized almost every landmass in The Kimberley. Their colonies range in size from a few tens of predatory individuals living in small natural cavities to highly organized colonies which occupy large territories and consist of millions of individuals. These ants operate as a unified entity, collectively working together to support their colony. Some of the ants up here attack and defend themselves by biting and stinging, with the most ferocious of these being red meat ants...

We know when it is going to rain when the ants start working together to construct and build dam walls around the entrances to their nests...We also know how much rain to expect based on how high the ants build their dam walls. These dam walls are designed around some of the ant holes to stop the water entering the hole. Around other ant holes these dam walls are constructed with a small opening that funnels a direct stream of water down the hole into the nest. The ants do this so that some of the water goes all the way down to the bottom of the hole, soaking the ground at the bottom, thus making the ground soft and easier for the ants to dig, so that they can continue to extend their colony deep underground.

In the Kimberley Dragonflies are usually found around lakes, ponds, streams and wetlands. They come in many different colours such as bright iridescent blue, radiant red, brown, gray and black. We know the wet season rains are going to end soon, when the dragon flies appear and start flying around in groups of large numbers over the surface of the ground.

The Northern Grey box tree provides the most accurate way of showing when the first wet season rains will start. 2-3 weeks prior to the first wet season rains this tree grows bright green new leaves. It can be 42 degrees hot, without a cloud in the sky and this tree will suddenly get bright green new leaves on it.

We know that very heavy rains are about to fall, within a couple of days, when the queen ants emerge from their nests to begin their nuptial flight. The male ants also fly alongside them, although they are smaller and less noticeable. The queens fly around—some very long distances, and others going only a few meters—then mate, drop to the ground where they lose their wings, and dig into the ground and immediately lay eggs in an attempt to start a new ant colony.

So this is just some of the natural signs and indicators that have helped me survive whilst living in The Kimberley over all these years. When you live in outback Australia, as I have done my whole life, you learn to understand the interconnectedness of ecosystems and nature. You learn to appreciate that particular types of things which exist and change of their own accord, such as the weather, affect the matter and energy that composes every living thing, even the tiniest of insects.

That question often posed, “Do the winds change in Africa, when a butterfly flaps its wings in South America?”, commonly referred to as “The Butterfly Effect”, may be just a metaphor that encapsulates the concept of sensitive dependence on initial conditions in chaos theory; namely, a small change at one place can have large effects within a complex giant system. Although this metaphor may be viewed as an esoteric and unusual behavior that predates science, up here in the Kimberley, tiny variations can cause one who is observant and attuned, to give credence to that very metaphor and subsequently, make serious and consequential changes to what they are doing, and what they planned for the immediate future.