Autumn Equinox in Melbourne
Here are firstly, some general observations of what nature is up to during autumn in Melbourne, Australia, followed by some comments specific to the inner part of this big city.
AUTUMN EQUINOX IN MELBOURNE
WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE DURING THIS TIME?
According to the six-season calendar, ‘Late Summer’ continues through March, with ‘Early Winter’ coming in gradually as we move into April. On the seven-season calendar, March is called ‘Eel Month’ because this is the time when the female Short-finned eels move downstream and into the sea. (The males have already gone, their migration occurring during spring and summer). These eels were an important food source to the indigenous people as were the starchy roots of water plants now dying down after their summer growth.
Autumn days in Melbourne are often balmy and beautiful - a pleasure to the senses – yet you can feel the change, especially at night. We average ~ 52 mm of rain during March so that plants, which have suffered from a lack of water over summer, can now renew their growth. This was the burning time for the indigenous people. Those parts of the land now overly dense with scrub or tussock grass were carefully burned off. In this way the undergrowth was cleared so that small, tuberous food plants could grow in the ashes as the rains came.
Sunrise ~ 7:30 a.m., setting around 7:15 p.m.
In the Northern Hemisphere March 21-April 20 is the time of Aries, however here in Melbourne it is not Aries we see but its opposite: Libra - in the North-east. Then moving the way that the Earth turns on its axis, we come to Virgo, with some of its stars being due north at this time. To the northwest is Leo - look for the Belt of Orion, and Regulus. Continuing around we come to Cancer and Sirius in southwest. The Southern Cross is south-southeast and high, although Centaurus (the second brightest star in the sky) is above it. The Cross is almost horizontal, with the Two Pointers, Alpha and Beta Centauri, directly below it. Glancing back to the East, we see Scorpius and Sagittarius near the horizon. When the native people looked at the Giant Serpent we call the Milky Way, they saw Burrukill, the Kangaroo. Brightest during April, this huge constellation was most important when travel by night was necessary for it guided their way. Currently it arches across the sky from northwest to southeast.
Indigenous flora and fauna
Few plants flower at this time of year but three to look out for are the Banksias, the Long-Leaf Box, and the Silver-leaf Stringybark. Much lower down is the Heath. Known to botanists as Epacris Impressa, it is Victoria’s floral emblem and it brings forth white & pink flowers from now until November. The Running Postman (Kennedia Prostrata) blooms from April to December, with its scarlet pea flowers, and the Correa Reflexa displays its large green & red bells from March to September.
The Kangaroo Apple produces its melon-like fruits. As soon as they turn orange and are ripe, the possums move in for the feast.
Muttonwood is another tall shrub. Distinguished by its leathery, wave-shaped leaves, it now produces small purple-blue berries, which look a bit like grapes.
Mistletoe Berries can also be seen at this time. There exists a symbiotic relationship between the Mistletoe Bird and the Mistletoe Berries. The birds feed on the flowers & berries, and then excrete the seeds on another branch. The seeds, being surrounded by a sticky substance, adhere to the branch and propagate. In time, a new plant grows and a new cycle begins.
We do have a ‘Fall’ here: A carpet of newly fallen eucalyptus leaves litters the ground as evidence of the fact that the trees cannot provide the resources for both the latest season's leaf growth and the older generation of foliage. So the old growth gives way to new.
Late autumn is breeding time for possums, and their babies will spend 3-4 months in the pouch.
Autumn signals the arrival and departure time of some migratory birds. Certain species begin to flock before heading north for winter, while others arrive from Tasmania. Pied Currawongs tend to winter in this area, their loud cries soon becoming quite familiar. Grey Butcherbirds make a loud warbling yodel, and the Mistletoe birds a tinkling sort of sound. March is screeching time for the Barking Owl. The Cattle Egret also winters here, and there are plenty of Rosellas to be seen as well. At Lysterfield Lake, Lorikeets, Sacred Ibis and the Australian Bittern can be seen. The Welcome Swallows are interesting because some fly north while others stay here.
Reptiles & Insects
Black Field Crickets are on the move, centipedes are common, and leaf-curling spiders are in the garden. Soldier Beetles nestle into the Melaleucas. Many aquatic insects emerge as adults, attracting Swallows and Martins. European Wasps gather around swimming pools and pose a threat to some people. Brown-tailed Moth Caterpillars appear on the Mistletoe toward the end of March. A couple of butterflies to watch out for are the Native Caper White (black veins in the outer wing flaps) and the Australian Painted Lady.
- compiled by Elkie White
My Observations of the 2008 Autumn Equinox in inner-city Melbourne, Australia.
My home at Northcote is 7 kilometres from Melbourne city and around the corner from Yarra Bend Park and Merri Creek.
The days range from warm to hot. The nights cool down soon after twilight.
We are currently experiencing, according to the ABC News, an Autumn heat-wave, with temperatures expected to soar over 30 Celsius for the next 6 days.
Bats and Ants
This year I have noticed a large increase in the bat population. Each night at twilight hundreds and hundreds of bats fly over our house heading for – I don’t know where? They seem to be heading in the direction of the city. The ants have also appeared in the last week, and are both busy and prolific, both inside and outside.
Our neighbour’s Fig is dripping with fruit in various stages of ripeness. They are simply delicious! I am in competition with the neighbours for the figs hanging over the fence, but I am blessed some mornings on the way to work with ripe figs waiting for me to pick for my lunch. The Bottle Brush is having a last leafy growth spurt before Winter. Our neighbours Lemon is dripping with fruit, and their Jacaranda has finished flowering except for a few hints of purple in the beautiful ferny leaves.
Our garden survived Summer due to the installation of a rainwater tank in late 2007, and the never ending task of carrying buckets of water from the tank to the plants. I feel that I have a water-well in my garden, where I store and obtain water, which reminds me of how the Ancestors would have stored, collected and used their water. It feels good to water our garden with rain water, rather than drinking water. It also feels good that our water use is not regulated by the government, and rather by the needs of the plants. Hand watering is hard work, but worthwhile and satisfying.
The Oak, Maple and Silver Birch leaves have started their descent back to Mother Earth. The Maple and Vine are glowing orange and red, and they look spectacular with the sun illuminating their beauty and radiance. The geraniums are still flowering in brilliant colours of white, hot pink, red and peach. The basil is covered in white fluffy flowers and the rosemary in small purple flowers. The Ficcus, Olive, Spartan and Box still have a little new growth. Bay is looking forward to a prune and a rest. The cumquat has been flowering since Spring but no fruit has come forth. We had a bountiful harvest last year so perhaps it was taking a well-earned rest this year.
I always exclaim at the beginning of Autumn how much I love this time of year, but it has occurred to me that at the beginning of all the seasons I have strong feelings towards the season that is about to be born. So for now Autumn is my favourite time, but when the Wheel turns again I will probably think how much I look forward to Winter, hearty soups, thick doonas, coats and scarves, spiced mead, and weekends in the warmth of the hearth.
autumn, southern hemisphere