Our next Australian Outback wildlife tour

The banks of the Paroo River in the national park provided a great place for bird-watching
The banks of the Paroo River in the national park provided a great place for bird-watching

The next tour to the outback with Araucaria Ecotours will run from 2lst to 26th April 2010

Both the vast lakes – one saltwater and one freshwater, and important breeding grounds for waterbirds – are now full, and the Paroo River (where we wll camp one night) should be flowing well.

On this trip, for the first time, we will also be spending a night at Bowra Station, a species-rich outback station now owned by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

There are a very few spaces left on this tour – let us know if you’d like to join in

We are also running a special version of the tour in September to coincide with Ntaional Bilby Day celebrations, making a detour to Charleville for this purpose.

Topknot pigeons visit the Araucaria property

I was excited enough the first time I saw topknot pigeons at home a few years ago visiting the native iolvive trees  that grow in our rainforest.

topknot pigeons in flight
topknot pigeons in flight

This year a sudden whooshing of wings alerted us to a flock of abut 50 landing for a rest in a large eucalyptus tree. A few days later there were about a hundred of them, feeding on native olives and figs and possibly other trees I couldn’t see clearly on the steep inaccessible slopes across the creek.

They are important seed dispersers, not only because they can swallow large seeds but because they are string fliers and readily travel over cleared paddocks between forest fragments.

ropknot_pigeonThey are quite unmistakeable, a lare grey pigeon with a crazy hairdo. and usually in or near rainforests (or flying between them).  They shouldn’t be confused with the smaller, crested pigeon, which is sometimes called topknot, and is a bird of open habitats, including suburbs and dry woodlands.

Now, in mid-September, after about a month of daily visits,  they seem to have had their fill, eaten everything readily available, or found something to their liking elsewhere, as we haven’t seen them in the past few days. We’ll look forward to their next visit.

Wildlife Queensland branch to be started in Scenic Rim

Ronda and Darren from Araucaria Ecotours have been active in starting a new group in the Scenic Rim with the hope of forming a Scenic Rim branch of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland (often abbreviated to Wildlife Queensland).

The Scenic Rim, southeast Queensland, is a very diverse area with a rich variety of fauna and flora species. We will be holding talks, discussions and outings over the next few months (and hopefyully years)

Our major theme over the coming months will be that animals have to move – whether daily, seasonally or as the need arises. Some find this easy, others have many problems, such as lack of approriate corridors, disappearing habitats, new roads, feral predators and other barriers to safe movement.

Anyone interested in joining this group should contact Ronda

Outback tour October 2009

Our next Australian outback tour will run from 13-18th October this year. This will be the last outback tour until March or April next year, as the weather out west gets a bit hot for comfort during the summer motnhs.

kangaroos near Currawinya National Park
kangaroos near Currawinya National Park

So if you’d like to experience the genuine Aussie outback this year – red kangaroos, plenty of emus, ranglelands and wilderness rather than farmland, red soils, semi-arid shrublands, lots of parrots and lizards … email us soon (only 4 places remaining on this tour)

Animals of winter time at home in Southeast Queensland

The winter solstice has passed and days are getting longer, but early mornings and evenings are still chilly

We are hearing whistling tree frogs calling throughout the night in the pond nerar our house. Most other frogs are silent now, except the clicking froglets along the creek. We’re not seeing many frogs, but I did find a large green tree frog in a neighbour’s toilet last week.

Rose robins and golden whistlers are visiting our valley, which they usually do in winter when the forests of higher altitudes have less insects for them to find. We have also been seeing mixed species flocks – a mostly winter phenomenon, while the insectivorous birds are not yet defending breeding territories. Birds of different species with different styles of foraging, such as  shrike-thrushes, thornbills, silverfeyes, pardalotes,  ‘robins’ (Australian robins are not rteally robins) and fairy-wrens travel along togther, each hoping to catch insects  the others disturb. Grey fantails dance around in the air or sit restloessly on neighbouring branches, ready to catch any insect making a break for it on the wing.

Close to the house we  a family of brown quail and a family of red-backed fairy-wrens that have been regularly working their way through the vegetable garden, and the quail sometimes take the risky step of helping themselves to a bit of dog food when the owners of the bowls aren’t looking. Just beyond the vege garden a couople of mornings ago a red-necked wallaby was quietly cropping the freshly-mown grass – probably more nutritious than the grass of  their usual foraging areas on the higher slopes which have been affected by recent frosts.

This morning a small group of yellow-tailed black cockatoos flew overhead towards the sheoaks, calling to one another, sounding like branches rubbing toegther in the wind.  While the red-tailed and glossy black cockatoos eat the seeds of the sheoaks, I mostly see the yellow-tailed delving into the bark of the branches, apparently looking for grubs.

This is about the time of year the platypus usually settle on where they will be foraging throughout breeding season, so we’re starting to keep a mor watchful  eye on the three parts of our creek they have most often used for this. Last year we didn’t have any breeding, as they had all disappeared with the severe flooding of January 2008 (the first tie in almost three decades we haven;t had them here). They have however made a re-appearance just recently, so we hope things will soon be back to normal (though whether with our original individuals or different ones, we have no way of knowing).

First outback tour a success

kangaroos near Currawinya National Park
kangaroos near Currawinya National Park

I don’t feel like I’m in the outback until after St George (about 500 km west of Brisbane). That’s where red sand country begins, there are rangelands instead of farms and long stretches between towns. Our guests, both keen bird photgraphers, agreed it was worth the drive.

Stopping many times to let red kangaroos and emus cross the road, watching brolgas, major mitchell cockatoos and blue bonnet parrots, and soaking in warm mud that left our skins feeling wonderful left us with no doubt that we were having a true outback experience

Cockatoo coming to drink at water hole
Cockatoo coming to drink at water hole

Currawinya National Park was our main destination, famous as an internationally-important Ramsar-listed waterbird breeding site and as the place where captive-bred bilbies were released into an extensive (and secret) area surrounded by cat/fox/rabbit proof fencing. Uniofrtunately the large saltwater lake was almost dry, and although the freshwater lake was full, there had not been enough time for the small invertebrates to build up to a point where many waterbirds could make extensive use of it, so there were not as many of these as we had hoped. Still, the landbirds around some of the waterholes and the whole experience of being in wide expanses of semi-arid vegetation kept the excitement levels high, and it was a delight to see wild brolgas up close..

The banks of the Paroo River in the national park provided a great place for bird-watching
The banks of the Paroo River in the national park provided a great place for bird-watching

We used a mixture of a high-quality motel, a cattle station and a small outback pub for accommodation, and next time may also camp within the national park near a spot where we saw many birds in the trees near the Paroo River. Meals ranged from picnics to outback pub fare (surprisingly good) to an award-winning restaurant (a bit of luxury for our first and last evenings in the Riverland Motel at St George).

We rose at or before dawn most mornings to maximize our viewing of birdlife, relaxing in the warmer part of the day as most animals very sensibly do (do you recall the song ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’?), ready for dusk when wildlife again became active.

A new experience for all of us was the mudbath at the Eulo Date Farm. I tried it myself mainly for the novelty, but was so impressed I’ve decided to treat myself to one each time we pass through Eulo (the last town before reaching Currawinya). For $60.00 (not currently included in the tour price) you relax for half an hour in warm mud that is packed with nutrients that have accumulated for mellenia, while enjoying a plate of dried fruit and nuts and cold water and a choice of tea, coffe or wine as the nutrients soak into your skin. This mud is then washed off, you dry yourself and apply a cleansing mud all over your body, let it thoroughly dry and wash that off as well, before rubbing in a moisturiser. I can’t remember my skin feeling so good, and the effect lasted not for hours but for days.

Another new experience for me was a detour we made to the town of Thargomindah, the third town in the wolrd (after London and Paris) to have electric street lights using hydro-electric power. The electricity was generated from high-pressure hot water from an artesian bore, and there are demonstrations each afternoon (which this time we arrived at the worng time for), lighting up one of the original lamps. The bridge into the town was flooded due to heavy rain to the north, just enough for us to splash the red dust from Currawinya off our vehicle as we drove through.

Our next outback tour will be in late May which, if there is sufficient interest, could be extended for two or three days to include the Channel country to the west, where there is currently a profusion of birdlife due to the flooding of waterways. In September we are planning to etend the tour for a couple of days to enjoy the celebrations of National Bilby Day at Charleville. The final outback tour for the year will probably be in the first week of October, and should be great for reptile activity as well as nesting land-birds.

First Australian Outback Tour

Towards Currawynia National Park, Outback Australia
Towards Currawynia National Park, Outback Australia

Red sands, red kangaroos and lots of birds and lizards! We’re gearing up to head way out west for our first-ever outback tour, which will run 18-23 April this year.

Our main destination is Currawinya National Park. We’ll be traveling through many vegetationchanges and looking for red kangaroos, eastern grey kangaroos, western grey kangaroos, wallaroos, emus, Bourke’s parrots, Major Mitchell cockatoos, sand goannas. shingleback lizards andother outback fauna

The diverse and prolific birdlife of Numalla (a large freshwtare lake) and Wyara (a large saline lake) within the National Park, and their importance as breeding grounds, led to their international listing as a Ramsar Wetland site, and we’ll be not only visiting these from within the Park but spending two nights at an outback station near its boundary with views to one of the lakes.

Bilbies, those odd aardvark-looking cousins of bandicoots whose range has severely declined since white settlement, have been released into a 29-square-km area of the National Park protected by a fox-proof, cat-proof fence, and are breeding well. We probably won’t be able to see these delightful creatures, but it’s good to know they;re doing so well.

We won’t be neglecting comfort or compromising on safety, but guests shouldn’t expect a luxury coach or five-star hotels – this is an off-the-beaten track tour away from the usual facilities. We’ll be rsing early so we can be active at dawn, and also exploring at dusk and early evening, having a siesta in the hot part of the day (just as the animals very sensibly do), with meal times being worked in around this. The first and last day of the tour will entail a lot of travel in a 4WD vehicle, but this is a very authentic (and flexible) way of traveling through the real Aussie outback. We’ll be meeting genuine Aussie outack characters, seeing an amazing expanse of brilliant stars, and of course seeing plenty of birds and other wildlife

There are still a few vacancies on this tour.

Raising orphaned fruitbats

I’ve recently joined BatCare Brisbane, and just before Christmas was contacted by the president Louise Saunders who told us there were two 5-week-old black flying fox orphans in need of care. They are now almost seven weeks, and have been hanging from a clothes airer next to our Christmas tree most of the day, having bottles four times a day and bits of steamed apple and other soft fruits (no stone fruit – we don’t want them to learn smells that will attract them to orchards later on) and being tucked up in towels in a cosy wooden cage at night. They will soon graduate to the aviary where they can practise flying and stay awake at night, which is better for their species than for our own (and our house is not really designed for clumsy winged babies flying into objects at all heights).

Theaschen gets some climbing practice
Darren gives Theaschen some climbing practice: note the long thumb and long toes
Tica practices flapping
Tica practices flapping

To become a bat carer, you must nowadays be vaccinated against rabies in case you have the misfortune of being bitten or scratched by a bat with lyssa virus – a rare event despite the paranoia in some quarters. To date there have only been two deaths in Australia, but it’s best to be safe. Anyone taking a risk is risking the bat’s life as well, because when someone is bitten the bat is destroyed so that it’s brain tissue can be tested. Darren, Denis and I all had our rabies shots before going to Brazil some years ago, and our recent tests show we still have protection.

Theaschen and Tica will head to a creche at the end of January to remind them they are bats, not humans, and by the time they are released into the wild will have had plenty of practice at flying, tearing apart pieces of large fruit, and socializing with their own speices

Grant for protecting rainforest restoration on the Araucaria property

Last year we received a grant from the former Beaudesert Shire Council (now part of the Scenic Rim Regional Council) to erect a long electric fence on our property to separate the rainforest regeneration area from the horse-grazing area. Hoofed animals and habitat restoration don’t generally go well together in Australia, and horses (like cows and sheep) eat some plants, trample others, cause erosion on steep slopes and bring in the seeds of weeds.
Our regeneration project will help to protect the edge of the rainfrest of Mt Chinghee National Park and improve the corridor for animals from there to our forest remnant by the creek, as there are only a few parts of the national park which extend down to the water’s edge.

We have isolated 20 plots which we have cleared of weeds alternating with 20 from which we haven’t, and will be noting how soon each starts harbouring new rainforest plant species. We did some baseline bird and butterfly surveys and mammal trapping in early 2008, and this will continue over the next few years or decades to monitor changes in biodiversity and density of populations as the regeneration proceeds. If the movement of pollinators and seed dispersers is enhanced, this should also help to speed the return of our slopes to something approaching their original diversity. Additional habitat for the black-breasted button-quail and other relatively uncommon or threatened species on the property should benefit also.

The grant money helped us to buy the materials and to employ Jason Taylor of Beaudesert to help clear weeds from the experimental plots and from the line through which the fence was to run, and assist with the erection of the fence itself. The electricity is supplied by a photovoltaic cell, so the whole setup is environmentally sustainable, and our only maintenance is the checking of the battery box and clearing any vegetation that threatens to short-circuit the system.

working on the fence to protect our rainforest regeneration
Jason and Darren working on the fence to protect our rainforest regeneration