“Let’s hope we drive out of this weather” I said as we endured Brisbane’s peak-hour morning traffic under grey drizzly skies, and our guests fervently agreed. We walked in light rain to look at captive bilbies in an attractive little park in Ipswich (also quolls, black cockatoos, wombats, buff-banded rail, magpie geese and other native species) then continued on to the west.
Next morning we walked across the Balonne River under partly blue skies, noting recent flood damage, into what I consider the true outback – no more farms, just free-range stock, native semi-arid woodlands and plenty of red dust. And from then on we enjoyed more and more blue sky, sunny weather and starry nights.
Within half an hour of driving we saw our first emu – the first of many – and soon afterward our first Major Mitchell cockatoos feeding in roadside trees., occasionally raising their beautiful red and yellow crests.
Three beautiful frogs amazed us a little further down the road. This was broad daylight, and here was a holy cross toad crossing the road! I was unaware that holy cross toads occurred this far north,and had never before actually seen one, but nothing can look like a holy cross toad except a holy cross toad, with its wonderful pattern of yellow, red and black bumps. It’s only this bumpiness that gives it the name of ‘toad’ – it’s really a frog. Nearby was a sedge frog (about the furthest west they appear) and a water-holding frog with brilliant mossy pattern. There were still puddles of water from the recent floods along the roadside, and this surely had something to do with all these frogs actively hopping around under blue skies.
Other wildlife seen en route to Cunnamulla included mulga snake, Centralian bearded dragon, yellow-billed spoonbill, royal spoonbill, white-necked heron, black kite, plumed whistling duck, white-breasted woodswallow, white-winged chough, apostlebird and spiny-cheeked honeyeter. There were also many feral goats and a family of very inquisitive sub-adult emus who approached for a closer and closer view of us while their father waited nervously in the background.
Approaching Currawinya National Park we saw our first western grey kangaroos, then eastern greys and a brown falcon, and a large black feral pig that startled us by suddenly hurtling across the road in front of the vehicle.
More frogs (green treefrogs, emerald-spotted treefrogs and purple treefrogs) and lizards (geckos and a sandswimmer) awaited us at our accommodation in Hungerford (a bortder town with a current population of eight: we do leave the crowds behind on these tours!). Our pre-breakfast birding walk in the morning revealed ringneck parrot, royal spoonbills, great egret, white-necked heron, whistling kite, white-breasted woodswallow and plenty of spiny-cheeked and white-plumed honeyeaters.
We heard from the proprietor of the hotel that they had been flooded in for three months, and movements south were still restricted.
The road to the lakes was still flooded, but the ranger later told us the birdlife there has not yet substantially increased with the extra water. Give it a couple of months or so he said, when the algae and invertebrates have had time to build up and prompt more feeding and breeding. Red kangaroos, little corella cockatoos, budgerigars, cockateils, wood ducks, white ibis and more emus appeared on the way to the Granites. Many dead goats were seen near the Granites, and the ranger also later told us they and the kangaroos had been severely harassed by mosquitoes after the floods, many to the point where they couldn’t feed or rest. We all sympathized even with the ferals, agreeing this would be a most uncomfortable death.
A sample of the bilby fence was inspected at the Woolshed, and our guests had already learned about the efforts here to save the unique little bilby.
There were more mozzies than we’d ever camped amongst before at the Paroo River, but those in the tents with zippered doors had no problem. Those of us in hammocks smeared ourselves with insect repellent and kept the hammocks swinging as much as possible through the night. It still felt good out there in the open, listening to owls and watching the changing moods of moonlight, moonless starlight (after the moon had set) and the gradual brightening of the sky and wakening of birds with the approach of dawn.
There were three takers for the mudbath at Eulo, and all enjoyed the experience and agreed their skin felt great afterward.
The birding hotspot of Bowra was a new experience for all of us, and we realized you really need a lot more than one night to explore it properly. We found red-backed kingfisher, brown treecreeper, crested bellbird, white-winged chough, whistling kite and many other birds, as well as a Bennet’s legless lizard, turtle and freshwater mussels.. A nice sandy ‘beach’ by one of the waterholes made a comfortable spot to sit and sip fruit juices while wacthing birds come and go.
This time I remembered to collect a bottle of red sand from the roadside before we left the outback – to be scattered amongst the models of numbat, bilby, thorny devil and other outback creatures in the Australian habitat display of our Wildlife Ecology Centre
Our next outback tours will be September 7 – 13, to include National Bilby Day in Charleville (7 days instead of 6, additional $165), and October 18-23 (possibly with 2 nights at Bowra to explore the birdlife better).