Category Archives: Excursions

Sturt National Park Part 2

There was only one other couple sharing the Olive Downs camp ground with us and as they had driven up from Tibooburra after speaking with a ranger they had information regarding the 4 WD track across to Fort Grey camp-ground which was reportedly in very good condition.  So we packed up camp after our morning walk and had a pleasant drive to Fort Grey stopping on numerous occasions to look at plants or enjoy birds such as the Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush that Allen spotted as we were driving along.  No decent photos of the Quail-thrush but we did have a great view of him perched on a dead branch, then feeding on the ground and so well camouflaged that he would be hard to spot unless you caught some movement.
Roadside flowers were another pleasing distraction which gave us an opportunity to stop and enjoy the scenery.  The yellow inflorescence belongs to Fleshy Groundsel (Senicio gregorii) and the mauve/purple flower behind it is known as Blue Parsnip  (Trachymene glaucifolia)

Roadside flowers Roadside flowers2Then there was a patch of Sturt’s Desert Pea – (Swainsona formosa) just under the sign for the camp-ground what a brilliant sight!

Sturt's Desert Pea

Fort Grey is a large camping area but only a maximum of 4 couples were there during the nights we stayed.  It was as quiet as Olive Downs – if you could hear a vehicle then it was driving into the camp – absolutely no distant roar or rumble of traffic.  It is rare to be able to enjoy such an absence of man-made noise nowadays and without any phone reception there were no outside distractions.  Just the bird calls and the occasional gentle thump of a macropod moving by.

Its a short stroll to Lake Pinaroo –  quite breathtakingly beautiful in the mid-afternoon light.  Rafts of duck, trees decorated with roosting Little Corellas, a trio of Brolga strolling along the shore and mirror-like reflections in the glassy surface of the water.

Lake Pinaroo calm afternoon Brolga on Lake Pinaroo

Coolibah trees that drowned in the huge floods in 1974 provide wonderful perching places for numerous birds but also give the lake a somewhat eerie atmosphere.   Large flocks of Grey Teal, Pink-eared Duck, with a few Freckled Duck and Musk Duck, also Australasian Grebe, Eurasian Coot and a variety of Cormorants.

Large numbers of Tree Martins flew around us feeding – lovely to see them perch and preen for a bit in the afternoon light.
Tree Martins perched in afternoon light

On a morning walk the atmosphere was more hectic with Spiny cheeked and White-plumed honeyeaters feeding frantically with budgies in the flowering Eucalypts.  I never tire of watching budgies, for me they are one of the great delights of travelling inland.

Budgie pair

 

Sturt National Park Part 1

P1010525

Welcome to New South Wales and please shut the gate…… this is the dingo or wild dog fence which is the longest fence in the world.  More on this later.

Welcome to NSW2

Such wide, wide open spaces – its so extraordinary to be able to see so far into the distance.  This country is harsh with extreme temperatures, low rainfall and frequent winds blowing across the flat terrain.  The vegetation is surprisingly varied with some wonderful flowering plants growing vigorously in what appears to be adverse conditions.  We have managed to identify a few of the plants but many are still a mystery to us. The Potato Bush below, (Solanum ellipticum) is quite common but nonetheless most attractive with its silver leaves providing a lovely background to the purple flowers.

Solanum ellipticumWhat never ceases to amaze me is the variety of plant life which is able to survive and in fact thrive in these severe conditions.  The following two photos  show an Eremophila, the shrub didn’t look outstanding from a distance but the blooms were very pretty viewed close up.

Eremophila Eremophila in situ

I don’t know the name of either of these plants;  the first was just creeping among the stones while the second photo shows a plant that looked as though it had been specifically planted on the edge of the path.

P1010552 Vegetation on the Jump-Up

The arid landscape of Sturt is the opposite of our home territory in the wet tropics – the air is so dry that we were constantly applying lip balm.  The considerably cooler temperatures have also provided a challenge for us but we came well prepared with a variety of thermal clothing – its just that sometimes the morning chill seems rather difficult to face!  We spent our first night camped at Olive Downs in the ‘Jump Up’ country – these mesas are a spectacular feature in the landscape.  They were formed because the hard Silcrete crust, which was laid down when these areas were valleys and depressions some 25 million years ago, has not eroded like the surrounding material.  So what was the bottom of the valley floor is now the top of the mesa.

Shingle-back Lizard

This Shingle-back Lizard greeted us on our way into the park while this    handsome red Kangaroo was content just to watch us as we walked along the path across the “jump-up” late in the afternoon.

Red Kangaroo Olive Downs Jump Up

This is the view from the top of one “jump-up” to another in the morning light.  After this walk we packed up camp and moved to another section of the park – more on this in the next post.

Jump Up Country

Barcaldine to Bindegolly

We’re travelling through outback Queensland on our way further south ….. I do enjoy finding myself in a place that has, up until that moment, been familiar only through the Qld news.  The main attraction in Barcaldine is “The Tree of Knowledge” which has been preserved and now forms part of an elaborate sculpture.  When we visited last year I was enthralled by the whole structure, especially the hanging pieces of timber which move, representative of the manner in which a tree’s leaves move.  This time I paid particular attention to the preserved roots of the tree which are visible under glass as you walk around the tree – they are lit by floodlights and if I had thought about it we should have had a look at night. There are lots of photos of this particular sculpture and, important though it is as part of our history I am including a some pictures of the road just north of Barcaldine.  Long and straight like many of our outback roads there were several mobs of cattle feeding in the ‘long paddock’ along the stock route. They were being attended by modern day drovers, often on motorbikes although there are still some horse riders.
Aramac to Barcaldine Aramac to Barcaldine - on the long paddock

The next day we travelled onto Blackall after a visit to the Barcaldine Botanical Walk which we found useful for confirming the identification of a few plant species and a pleasant morning stroll.  We camped at Blackall for the night so we could take some time to enjoy the sculptures around the town as well as take a tour of the historic steam driven Wool Scour.

Brachychiton rupestris

Brachychiton rupestris or Bottle tree is used extensively in Blackall as a street tree.  Outside the Living Arts Centre is a Bottle tree sculpture.

Bottle tree sculptureThe Eagle’s nest is situated down by the Barcoo River.  It is very effective and an excellent use of recycled materials.

Eagle's nest Blackall

The Wool Scour tourist venue would not be complete without some sheep grazing in the grounds.  Apparently they started off with some Merinos, a breed with which we are all familiar, but a neighbouring Dorper ram got through the fence and now they have a small flock of Dorper X Merino.  The most recent addition to this flock was born on the same day as the new Prince of Cambridge. “Prince” has the colouring and fleece of a pure Dorper, due to the aforementioned ram getting through the fence again.

Prince and Stella

This is the magnificent steam engine which runs the wool scour – a very quiet piece of machinery which is  beautifully maintained.

Wool Scour Steam engine

The next day we drove onto Lake Bindegolly where we have a delightful bush camp and have been enjoying some very beautiful birds as well as the peace and quiet.  There is not much traffic on the road from Cunnamulla to Thargomindah and we’re quite a distance from the highway.

Crimson Chat

This male Crimson Chat is not fully coloured – they are extraordinarily bright.  There were quite a few about during our morning walk and we had a good opportunity to watch this Major Mitchell cockatoo feeding on Acacia seeds – very pretty cockatoo and their call is not as harsh as the Sulphur Crested with which I am much more familiar. We’ve enjoyed watching Black Honeyeaters, Singing Honeyeaters, Orange Chats and White-winged Fairy Wrens.

So, its been a good start to our travels.  We’re heading off towards Sturt National Park tomorrow – new territory for us with the possibility of seeing birds we have not yet seen.

Major Michell Cockatoo

Diamantina to Bedourie

Just outside Boulia we came across a few Waddi trees, Acacia peuce, a rare and endangered wattle. Waddi trees have a beautiful weeping form and at first glance are easily mistaken for a Casuarina with their needle-like leaves.

Although Waddi trees germinate readily from seed, given good conditions, they are extremely slow growing.  They produce a very dense and durable timber –  fence posts have been found showing little sign of decay after nearly a century! Given the opportunity, they can grow to a height of 18 metres and live for 500 years or more.

The local Pitta Pitta people have had many uses for Waddi tree timber, making weapons, digging sticks and dishes as well as  to transport fire by taking small smouldering pieces from camp to camp.

Waddi Tree - Acacia peuce just outside Boulia on the road to Bedourie

The following is an excerpt from Ockham’s Razor in March ’09

All the stands are located on the fringes of the Simpson Desert, but they are separated by hundreds of kilometres. No-one really knows why these populations are so truncated. Some theories suggest the stands are relict populations of a once widely dispersed forest that spread across the Simpson Desert. The theory goes that the prevailing winds may have smothered tracts of Waddi Tree forests until only these three localities were left. Another theory is that burning may have reduced the population to its current size, because there’s evidence the trees are fire sensitive. More recently, human incursion into the desert over the past 150 years or so, has also had an impact. Pastoralists, for instance, used Waddi Tree wood to make buildings and fences, sizeable trees in the desert must have seemed a bounty to their eyes. Cattle grazing and introduced species such as camel and rabbit have also had an impact.

Waddi trees have now been listed as a protected species on the Register of National Estate.

The road from Boulia to Bedourie is mostly sealed, easy travelling although there are not a lot of stand-out features along the way.   We did find a picnic shelter by the side of the road in the Boulia Shire but as we’d had lunch we drove on.  About 1 km later we crossed into the Diamantina Shire and saw a sign to a lookout on the opposite side of the road.  We decided to drive up, and it was up, quite a steep incline to the Vaughan Johnson Lookout where several large notice boards welcomed us to the Diamantina Shire.   (which we had temporarily left travelling via Boulia).  We then found that we were looking down on the Boulia picnic stop situated on its gentle rise with the road in the foreground.

Boulia Shire picnic shelter-001

The Vaughan Johnson lookout is larger and has several noticeboards with information on the history of roads in the Diamantina Shire and the close relationship the shire has with Hastings Deering (manufacturer of Caterpillar earthmoving equipment).

View from Vaughan Johnson Lookout

And this is the view.

References:  Jacqueline Hodder, PhD candidate from the University of Melbourne talking to Robyn Williams on Ockham’s Razor in 2009.

Australian Govt. Dept. of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Diamantina

The dusty Diamantina – has been on our ‘want-to-visit-list’ for quite a few years.

The name itself is so evocative, the landscape is vast, varied and contains many treasures.  To see it after several good seasons when so many shrubs and herbaceous plants were flowering was simply wonderful and we have many precious memories.

The lime-green flower below is in the foreground of the dune above.  The plant is, as yet, unidentified by us and any assistance will be gratefully received. Thank you Duncan and Denis for your assistance.

Crotalaria cunninghamii

Crotalaria cunninghamii

When we’d finished setting up camp on our first afternoon we heard Woodswallows;  they came down to nectar feed on the Creek Wilga (Eremophila bignoniiflora) and then took to the sky again, hundreds of them in a mixed flock of Black-faced, White-browed, Dusky and Masked.  A fabulous sight in the late afternoon light.  And while we were scanning the Creek Wilga with our binoculars Allen suddenly spotted a Painted Honeyeater which obligingly gave us the opportunity for some good long looks….just as well as we didn’t see any more.

We spent hours wandering the dunes admiring the flowers, we recognized some plant families and some genera, we looked at insects and spotted tracks in the sand until we couldn’t absorb anymore.
Silver Oak (Grevillea  parallela) was just starting to flower.  It was one of the larger dune species, the majority being small herbaceous plants.

Grevillea parallela

And of course there were the Mitchell grasses with the Curly Mitchell grass being one of the most common – here growing on the edge of a huge clay pan.
Curly Mitchell grass on clay pan

Red kangaroos are such a well known symbol of the outback and we never tired of seeing them quietly enjoying their country in a national park rather than being splattered across a highway.  This track was part of the Warracoota Circuit, an 87 km drive through a variety of habitats

We scanned the Gibber for the Gibberbird unsuccessfully but we loved seeing  Crimson Chats flitting about in front of us, Orange Chats with one ‘guard’ always perched high on a shrub keeping look out while the others foraged.   The white-backed Swallow reminded us of a formal dinner suit, such a clean contrast between black and white – we saw one bird in flight on two occasions in the same area.
Horsfield’s Bushlark was a new one for us and we had a good look while the bird was ‘hiding’ by keeping relatively still and relying on its camouflage.

Horsfield's Bushlark

It is difficult to convey the contrasting beauty of flowering shrubs in the  Diamantina landscape of sand, fine silt and gibber but I’ll include a few more flower photos because I just love looking at them.

Pterocaulon sphacelatum- Fruit Salad plant

Pterocaulon sphacelatum- Fruit Salad plant

Hovea

Hovea

Trichodesma zeylanica - Camel Bush

Trichodesma zeylanica – Camel Bush

Carisbrooke Station

Before I continue – a few words on Wild Wings.  We returned home to a very well cared for property, our heartfelt thanks to Bill and Pauline.  The dawn chorus on our first morning back reminded us of what a special place this is and we have been enjoying the sounds of the “summer birds” including the incessant calls of the Cicada bird!

From Bladensburg we drove into Winton for supplies before heading SW to Carisbrooke Station where we spent a couple of nights.  It is a working station with a camping area near a dam and an ablutions block next to the shearing shed which is quite a long walk away.  There are various self-drive tours available on the station but we only had one day and enough spare fuel to allow us to explore Diamantina so we enjoyed our camp, relaxed and did some hand washing.  One domestic note here;  while the dry air plays havoc with my skin it was wonderful to have the hand-wrung washing dry so quickly!

Carisbrooke - track back to the ablutions block

It was  a delight to watch the flocks of budgies coming into the dam to drink in the late afternoon; Black-fronted Dotterel took advantage of the dam’s muddy edges; and there was a Pelican, Spoonbills, Egrets and Grey Teal – armchair bird-watching from the open-air ‘living room’ is lots of fun.  We also had more views of Mallee Ringnecks which we first sighted in Idalia – the colours of the ringnecks and the budgies are just brilliant especially when contrasted against the clear blue skies of the outback.

Budgies drinking

The dam  attracted many birds including quite a population of Black-tailed Native Hens – often camped in a group under vegetation but individuals seemed unconcerned about wading into deeper water.  The trees around the camp supported large numbers of White-plumed honeyeaters as well as the large Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters with their amazingly varied vocals.

Black-tailed Native Hen

Our highlight for Carisbrooke was a Spotted Nightjar, which we heard first and found as we returned from the ablutions block at night.  We walked back with binoculars (we don’t usually have them with us when showering) and managed to walk up slowly and illuminate it with our headlamps and then briefly with a stronger light to get a really good look at the spots.
And this is one of my many favourite ‘outback’ birds – Spinifex Pigeon.  They are not uncommon but they have a habit of walking away quite quickly when they see a camera.  On this occasion there was no Spinifex in which to hide.

Spinifex pigeon

We left Carisbrooke early so we had plenty of time to enjoy the drive into Diamantina National Park – our next destination.

Dawn at Carisbrooke

Bladensburg National Park

Home again after our wonderful camping adventure and here is the first of my retrospective reports.  Internet coverage is only available in the vicinity of a few towns in the western part of Qld. and I didn’t feel like spending much time in front of a computer when there was so much to see so that is my valid excuse for an absence from blogging.

Bladensburg is about 80 km SW of Winton – it was lovely to be in a quiet spot, camped on the edge of a waterhole in the shade of some Eucalypts after the crowded campground in Longreach. We had a view towards a large area of Spinifex through which a Bustard was walking when we arrived, a rather nice welcome we thought.   Large numbers of macropods were present, the majority appearing to be Wallaroos, particularly evident at night when they were busy feeding on the grassy areas amongst the spinifex.  Our bird highlights here were Crimson Chats and White-winged Fairy-wrens but the Rufous-crowned Emu-wren remained elusive in spite of various excursions to suitable habitat.

The flowering plants were lovely but trying to identify them from the books we carried with us was often quite a challenge.  Sometimes we just enjoyed them, whatever they were called!  This Sandalwood was growing on the river bank  just along from our camp.

Santalum lanceolatum - Sandalwood

From the camp-site we drove to Skull Hole and clambered down to the creek bed where we found quite a variety of plants in a somewhat sheltered situation subject to seasonal inundation.  There are a number of subspecies of Senna artemisioides and I am not certain enough of our identification to name them.

And we kept finding more and more Eremophilas which provided a lovely variety of colour and form.

While Spinifex is not very friendly to wander through, I particularly
like the form of this Pincushion Spinifex (Triodia molesta).  The swept back look of the seed heads gives the clump a sense of movement – as if any moment it will take off again or perhaps my imagination has been let loose!

Pin Cushion Spinifex

And while walking through the Spinifex in the early morning, enjoying the warmth of the sun, it is wise to keep a look out for other creatures looking for warmth and food.  We treated this Mulga snake with the greatest respect (after annoying it slightly trying to get a good angle for a photo or two) and it was more than happy to disappear into a nearby clump of Spinifex.

Senna notabilis, another one of the many Sennas in flower, has the very appropriate common name of Cockroach Bush.

Being so used to tall trees in our home environment I found the vast areas of grasses and shrubs to be an interesting contrast.  It is difficult to capture the feeling of vast distance in a photo and so often I decided to enjoy the moment and forget the photo.  However, this lovely specimen caught my eye with its pleasing shape – Bootlace Hakea (Hakea chordophylla) which we found flowering later in the trip.

Hakea chordophylla - Bootlace Oak

Daintree to Longreach

We’ve taken our time to get here spending a couple of nights on the gem-fields  catching up with Allen’s parents and enjoying the company of all the happy campers at Gem Air before a lovely few days at Idalia National Park which is SW of Blackall.  Although we don’t spend a lot of time bird watching when we have a destination for the day we do allow plenty of leeway so we can stop if we see a promising place, hear or see something that needs further investigation. The early mornings can be slow going!

Apostle Bird

Apostle birds also called Happy Jacks or Happy Families, are in great numbers at Gem Air, they move through the park looking for tidbits that campers might have left out.

Wallaroo family

The road into Idalia was through cattle country, heavily cleared and in some cases quite infested with Prickly Acacia.  There were no bird sounds even in the late afternoon and the roadsides were littered with macropod carcasses.  As we drove past the National Park sign there was an immediate change in the landscape with flowering Slender Broom Bush (Jacksonia vernicosa) and flowering Senna (Senna artemisioides) along the roadside amongst the Mulga (Acacia aneura) and Lancewood (Acacia shirleyi) which were not in flower.  It was  delightful to see Grey and Red Kangaroos as well as Wallaroos grazing in peace and no bodies along the pleasant 30 km drive into the camping area.  Suddenly a flash of turquoise past the car window – it didn’t take us too long to find another and get our first good look at the beautiful Mallee Ringneck.  What a wonderful introduction to a beautiful park.

Other birding highlights included Hooded Robin, Red-capped Robin, Crested Bellbird, Hall’s Babbler, Striped Honeyeater, Speckled Warbler and a glimpse of a Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush.

Native Fuschia (Eremophila) provided some more highlights of colour, although we managed to find a few of the many species known to be in the park they were not present in great profusion like the Jacksonia.  We enjoyed every moment of our bush camp in this lovely park but it has been fun to spend the last couple of days in Longreach; hot showers and recharged batteries  before we set off for Bladensburg N.P. tomorrow.

Boodjamulla – Lawn Hill National Park …. Part 2

Although we’ve been home for more than a week it has taken a little while to settle down to writing and we have had the distraction of family visiting as well – that’s enough excuses!  We thoroughly enjoyed our trip and have many treasured memories, not always accompanied by a photo! The following are a few of my favourites.

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Boodjamulla – Lawn Hill National Park

This is just a quick update post – I apologize for the lack of detail as I’m trying to type while wearing my new fingerless gloves as it is very cold sitting in the  little annex of our  tent.   We are now in Mt Isa and some of the caravan people who visited us this evening, to make sure we were okay, told us that frost is forecast for tomorrow night.  We’re glad we went shopping for some extra warm gloves and beanies today – I’m never going camping without a beanie again!

Its hard to know where to start with Lawn Hill …. there have been three good wet seasons there and many species  are enjoying the available food.  The Grevillea flowers look beautiful, especially so when there are honeyeaters working them over and the variety of seeding grasses is a bounty for finches and doves. Grevillea dryandri grows on rocky slopes amongst grasses and boulders,  as does the holly-leaved Grevillea wickhamii in the second photo below.

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