Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The dusty Diamantina

Greetings from Boulia! I've been here a few days attending the camel races - a good fun weekend! I'm camped down by the Burke river in the trees and am treated to big mobs of budgies in all the hollows... getting up to all sorts of mischief.

Before that I spent a couple of days down in the Diamantina national park. The great thing about this park is the varied environments that occur in a relatively small area - there are red sand dunes, sculpted mesas, featureless claypans, grassy floodplains, cracking clay river channels as well as permanent waterholes. I camped by one of the waterholes on the main course of the Diamantina - Hunter's Gorge - which is a long, deep channel which enters a sort of gorge of sandstone. Note that even a vague furrow on the surface of the country qualifies as a 'gorge' out here.

I went for a dip in here - the water was coooooold!

There are a few other waterholes around in the park and many of the channels had water in them. A pleasant drive - the Waracoota circuit - takes in many of the area's charms.

Tracks in the sand  on a dune - hopping mouse, ?dasyurid?, invertebrate


Dune crest flowers including my favourite green Crotalaria

Looking out over the green green Diamantina channels

Sculpted mesa country


Saturday, July 18, 2009

On the Burke

A whooshing noise overhead - a flock of pelicans soars just above the treetops in two great Vs. Flapping slowly, gliding effortlessly, following the riverbed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mt Isa

I spent a week with a group of scientists from CSIRO Townsville doing a fauna survey on some of the mining land in the hilly desert country around Mt Isa. Had a pretty interesting time - it was quite cold so there wasn't too much on the move, but we managed to find enough to keep us occupied in the way of reptiles, birds and the occasional rodent and bat.

Spiny-Tailed Monitor in the morning sun (Varanus acanthurus)

One morning when my services weren't required, I took a chair and my camera down to a small, almost dry waterhole in the creekbed near our camp. The spot was a popular one with the birds.

Painted Finches

Diamond doves and a couple of Zebra Finches

White-necked Heron

Occasionally, the diamond doves, budgies and other birds would take flight and a sparrowhawk or goshawk would soar speedily through, trying its luck. After one such occasion I heard a rustle in the grass and watched the spot until the animal emerged.

It turned out to be an awesome snake, the King Brown or Mulga snake (Pseudechis australis). The snake wasn't worried at all about my presence - just cruising slowly around, having a hunt and occasionally stopping to soak up the sun. This species apparently produces record amounts of venom when milked. Herpers often talk about the powerful presence that this species just exudes and I'd have to agree. It appeared totally relaxed and in control. I followed the snake for several minutes until it disappeared - presumably down a hole or under a rock. When I first saw it I thought it must have been at least 6 ft long, but when I actually measured it up in my mind, I reckoned it couldn't have been much over 4 ft. An impressive snake nonetheless, and an unfogettable experience.

There were purple-necked rock wallabies up in some of the rocky hills, and I spent an afternoon staking them. Eventually got this photo which I was rather happy with, given the difficult conditions.

Gulf to the Desert

Phew! It's been a packed three weeks since my last post. From Normanton I headed out west to Burketown then Doomagee, where I turned my car southwards and made for Adele's Grove. I spent a week there with the paleontologist mob, doing a little fossil-digging out at the sites, but mainly having a look around the various ranges and escarpments for rock wallabies with Arthur White. There are probably three rock wallaby species in the greater area - the common one is the purple-necked, but the black-footed occurs not too far away, and another, mysterious species, something like a short-eared has been sighted though never formally identified.

Rock Wallaby Country

As well as plenty of climbing over rocks and spinifex in search of these elusive beasts (with occasional sightings), we did a couple of other memorable things - like snorkelling in a beautiful creek, brimming with rainbowfish, hardyhead, archer fish, glass fish, mouth almighties, spangled perch, eel-tailed catfish, two turtle species, and most exciting of all, freshwater crocodiles. Truly a magical experience, like swimming in a fishtank. Oh, for an underwater camera...

Speaking of swimming - we also had a fantastic swim at Indarri Falls - the stars here were the file snakes, nestled in crevices in wait for their aquatic prey. I saw one big female in the classic pose of the pythons - tail curled around a branch, body bunched into tight S shapes as the snake faced down the branch. This was all about two metres underwater of course. When we were sick of seeing the fish, turtles and snakes (!) here, we swam down the beautiful Lawn Hill Gorge.

Other highlights:

Boating on the Gregory - Arthur with the turtle he described first as a fossil, then again in the flesh: Elseya lavarackorum.

Striking yet stupid - the Spinifex Pigeon

John Scanlon with the little-known Pygmy Mulga Snake, Pseudechis weigeli/Pseudechis 'pailsus'

Young Wedge-tailed Eagle posing

Rock-Ringtail possum

Purple-necked Rock Wallaby disappearing down a rock face

It's beautiful country. I could have spent more time there, exploring, but I was due in Mount Isa to catch up with some CSIRO scientists conducting a fauna survey around the town.

Frogging the Gulf

Notaden melanoscaphus

Litoria dahlii, Dahl's aquatic frog

Cyclorana australis, Giant Water-holding frog