All posts by ronda

The Scenic Rim a top tourism destination

Lonely Planet has named the Scenic Rim, Southeast Queensland, as one of the top tourist destinations in the world for 2022. See:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-10-28/scenic-rim-makes-lonely-planets-hottest-destination-list/100575162

Kamarum Lookout, en route to O’Reilly’s and Lamington National Park

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/articles/top-things-to-do-in-scenic-rim

I’m not really surprised. It’s more surprising that it has taken so long to become world famous.

As I said in a workshop I ran for Wildlife Tourism Australia in 2019:

Eastern grey kangaroos at Kooralbyn
Regent bowerbird
Regent bowerbird at O’Reilly’s

Tourism will grow here in coming decades, but must be well-planned. We have great wines, accommodation and activities, but so do many other places. Not all have the mountains, forests, birdlife, wild kangaroos etc. so close to international airports. Wildlife tourism doesn’t displace other kinds of tourism such as wine-tasting, farm-stays or general sight-seeing, but it can substantially add to it, and if it coaxes a tourist to stay another day or two the local economy will benefit, and the tourist will leave with a more rounded understanding of the region. Visitors to Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the Byron Bay area can also make a detour to include this wonderful region in their itineraries.

Kangaroos, koalas, platypus, kookaburras, cockatoos and colourful parrots and are amongst the most famous of our wildlife, no matter how commonplace they may seem to local residents. Echidnas, lyrebirds(world’s best mimic, and only in Australia), bowerbirds (astonishing architects, and only in Australia and New Guinea), wedge-tailed eagles(Australia’s largest eagle), Paradise rifle bird (the only bird of paradise outside of the tropics), carpet pythons (one of Australia’s largest snakes), goannas (our local land monitor is one of one of Australia’s largest lizards), glow worms (only in Australia and New Zealand – although young fireflies are sometimes called glow worms in the northern hemisphere) …. this is truly a part of the continent well-set to attract even more international nature-lovers than it does already.

Add to this wonderful mountain scenery, many kilometres of great walking tracks through rainforest and other forests, two international airlines nearby, several well-established tour companies for walking, birdwatching, general wildlife-viewing and general sightseeing tours that include wildlife, and potential for more, two major population centres nearby (Brisbane and Gold Coast), many excellent restaurants, campgrounds and accommodation of all levels within the Scenic Rim itself, and many opportunities to taste local foods, and the potential for much of the local Aboriginal culture to be better known, as well as the neighbouring beaches, whale-watching and theme parks of the Gold Coast for day-trips … 
Is it surprising that many international tourists ask us why the Scenic Rim is not better known overseas?

https://www.wildlifetourism.org.au/scenic-rim-as-a-wildlife-destination-workshop/
Viewing the heathland on top of Mt French

I invited the CEO of Ecotourism Australia, Mr Rod Hillman, to speak at the same workshop on the potential for the Scenic Rim to be certified as an eco-destination, a process which “assures travellers that certified destinations are backed by a strong, well-managed commitment to sustainable practices and provide high-quality nature-based tourism experiences within the region.”

https://www.ecotourism.org.au/our-certification-programs/eco-destination-certification/

Since then the mayor of the Scenic Rim Regional Council, Mr Greg Christensen, has signed an agreement to work towards such certification. https://www.scenicrim.qld.gov.au/news/article/403/scenic-rim-to-pursue-eco-destination-certification

Black-necked stork, which we sometimes see at Kooralbyn, Tamborine, Rathdowney and other parts of the Scenic Rim

This is wonderful, as we need to ensure that while attracting more visitors into ur very special region we don’t cause it to lose the naturalness that is such an important component. This includes conserving wildlife habitat, tackling threats to wildlife, and enhancing the general environmental credentials of businesses (tourism and otherwise) in the region, in regard to waste management, water usage, buying local and other such matters.

On our own website (Araucaria Ecotours) I wrote some years ago that:

Whiptail wallaby, Kooralbyn

This is one of the most fertile, scenic and species-rich regions in Australia, and has a good climate year-round, World Heritage rainforests, beautiful sandy beaches and much more.

It is readily explored from major tourist destinations and population centres such as Brisbane, Gold Coast or Byron Bay

The Lamington National Park and the Border Ranges National Park together harbour the largest area of rainforest outside of the tropics, not just in Australia, but anywhere in the world.  An extensive  system of walking tracks which together with the moderate climate throughout the year and being in a country relatively free of major political strife, desperate poverty and large predatory animals, makes them one of the world’s safest and most accessible rainforests for visitors of all levels of fitness.

This eastern border area of New South Wales and Queensland is part of the Australia’s third most biologically diverse region (after the wet tropics of Far North Queensland and the Stirling Ranges of southwest Western Australia). This is partly because of the Macleay-McPherson overlap, a geographical and climatic zone including the far southeast corner of Queensland and the far northeast corner of New South Wales, resulting in a mingling of tropical and temperate species of fauna and flora. Many plant and animal species reach their northern or southern limits here. Three gigantic shield volcanoes (Main Range, Focal Peak and Mt Warning) each erupted for about one million years between 25 and 22 million years ago, forming an arc of mountainous country extending from Toowoomba just west of Brisbane. southwards towards the border and then eastwards along the border through Moogerah Peaks, Mt Barney and Lamington National Parks to Springbrook. These mountains now trap much of the moist air coming in from the Pacific Ocean, and the volcanic rocks have contributed many nutrients  to the soil, endowing the whole area with richer soils and better rainfall than most of Australia.

Habitats include cool-temperate forest with Gondwanan-linked Antarctic beech trees and a profusion of ferns and mosses on the mountain tops, lush palm gullies and massive trees in the warm subtropical rainforest, and “dry rainforest” (where plants are adapted to winter droughts on the western slopes, in a “rain shadow” of the high country to the east, which has first serve of the clouds rolling in from the Pacific Ocean). There are also several kinds of eucalypt forest, ranging from low mallee heath to tall majestic forests, as well as sheoak communities fringing creeks and rivers, mountain heathlands, swamps and lagoons, and other habitats.

Birds tend to be active (and often vocal) most of the day in the rainforests (as compared to more open habitats where they tend to be quieter after mid-morning). Over half the bird species of Australia, including all of its raptors (eagles, falcons etc.) have been seen in this region. Migratory birds such as koels, channel-billed cuckoos, dollarbirds and rose-crowned fruitdoves and many wading birds visit regularly, while many others appear less predictably as nomads or vagrants. Many others are present year-round. 

There are more mammal species in this region than anywhere else in Australia, including the country’s richest diversity of macropods (members of the kangaroo family), and some of iconic species such as koala and platypus, as well as five species of gliding possum and the largest mainland marsupial predator (spotted-tailed quoll, a small relative of the Tasmanian devil). A few local mammals are large and conspicuous (eastern grey kangaroo, whiptail wallaby) but many are small, shy and nocturnal, and so rarely seen. 

There is a rich diversity also of reptiles, frogs and other wildlife.  Land-snails that trace their ancestry to Gondwana days are diverse, and colonies of glow worms (larvae of fungal gnats, NOT fireflies) can be seen at night on moist rocky ledges near creeks amid the fiorest. 

Many resident creatures are found nowhere else, including the hip-pocket frog (the male shelters the eggs and tadpoles in groinal skin-folds), Albert’s lyrebird (one of the world’s greatest mimics), the highly endangered Coxen’s figparrot, the Lamington cray (a blue or red freshwater crayfish of mountain streams)  and the Richmond birdwing (Australia’s second-largest butterfly).

https://www.learnaboutwildlife.com/southeastqueensland.html

I’ve also written about the natural history of the Scenic Rim in a bit more detail on the website for the Scenic Rim branch of Wildlife Queensland:

https://scenicrim.wildlife.org.au/the-region-its-wildlife/wildlife-of-the-scenic-rim-overview/

Two of Australia’s oldest ecotourism ventures, O’Reilly’s and Binna Burra, established long before the word “ecotourism” existed , are within the Scenic Rim.

The former dining room at Binna Burra, destroyed in the 2019 mega fire, but there is now dining once again at Binna Burra, and many other venues in the Scenic Rim for hearty, tasty and healthy meals, many emphasising local products

The emphasis within the Scenic Rim in recent years on eating local product is good for the environment (less fossil fuel used to cart foods for long distance), good for local producers, and good for visitors from afar who want a genuine taste of local fare. Some venues also include locally native herbs, spices and leaves in their meals.

My love affair with the Scenic Rim started many years ago.

As a child growing up in Adelaide, the driest of all Australia’s capital cities (and this in the driest of all non-polar continents), reading everything I could on animals of the world, both fact and fiction (e.g. Kipling’s Jungle Stories), I longed to visit rainforests.

The first rainforest I ever walked into, and was immediately captivated by. The start of the Caves Walk at Binna Burra.

I was tremendously excited when my parents decided to head to Queensland and spend a week at Binna Burra, on the edge of Lamington National Park. I still remember my thrill at seeing my first epiphytes on the trees by the roadside, my first experience of being alone in a rainforest, watching a active little rufous fantail, hearing what were then (to me) the strange calls of whipbirds, currawongs and catbirds, finding a variety of attractive moths under the lights of the bathroom at night, walking through wonderful lush forests and looking out over valleys that had no sign of human interference, thinking that this must have been how the Indigenous Australians saw them, how it was even before they arrived.

I later wrote a school essay on the place I wanted to live, but trying to decide between the Rocky Mountains of Canada (which I had visited with my parents the previous year) or Southeast Queensland near the rainforests.

View from near the campground at Binna Burra

Just over 40 decades ago I took my husband and infant daughter for a 2-week camping trip to Binna Burra, and they loved it too. Two years later we found a property a little to the west of Lamington National Park, with a beautiful creek, rainforest on the property and another national park (Mt Chinghee) adjacent to us, and have been here ever since, with no regrets.

I continued to visit Binna Burra, and for one summer was seasonal ranger in charge of interpretive activities. I also led interpretive walks and other activities at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat on the other side of the national park, and brought the family to the opening of the world’s first canopy walk within a rainforest.

Gradually we continue to explore other parts of the Scenic Rim, a truly wonderful region.

Wompoo Fruitdove eating bangalow palm fruits on Tamborine Mountain

My post-doctoral research on birds that disperse the seeds of rainforest plants (Green, R. J. 1993. Avian seed dispersal in and near subtropical rainforests. Wildlife Research 20: 535-557) was conducted almost entirely within the Scenic Rim politically (the Scenic Rim Regional Council area) and entirely within the broader, geographic definition which includes the Border Ranges of northern New South Wales, adjacent to Lamington National Park

In 1996 we decided to start leading ecotours to share our love of the area and also as a way of introducing visitors to Australia’s wildlife generally, as there is such a diversity of examples to show them here. Accordingly, I converted the lecture notes from a course I convened at the Southern Cross University in Lismore to a booklet offering a comprehensive introduction to Australia’s wildlife, and we started our first tour, a 3-day wildlife tour that was a kind of mini-course in Australia’s wildlife while visiting a number of different habitats. We later added some one-day tours and some other multi-day ones.

The first segment of the cave at Cedar Creek Estate, where visitors learn about the glow worms before being taken through the chambers where they glow like thousands of tiny stars.

We had some fun trying out different restaurants for lunches and dinners and selecting those with great atmosphere and great foods, as well as exploring new places such as the Glow Worm cave at Cedar Creek Estate and the Tamborine Skywalk, a more recent opportunity for visiting a rainforest canopy.

The 3-day wildlife tour is still running (or rather running again, now Covid lockdowns are easing). It has changed route somewhat but still has the same aims, and my booklet, which we still give to our multi-day tour guests, is now developed into a book, “Understanding Australia’s Wildlife: An Easy-to-Remember Overview of Australian Animals and Why They are so Different”.

Understanding Australia's Wildlife

 Green Publications, Running Creek, Queensland https://www.amazon.com.au/Understanding-Australias-Wildlife-easy-remember-ebook/dp/B08RJ4JY8K/ref=sr_1_1?

We are starting once again to offer a range of tours, both one-day and multi-day to fully-vaccinated guests https://www.learnaboutwildlife.com/tours.html, and look forward to once again showing our visitors what a wonderful area this is.


I was devastated to hear the news of the terrible fire at Binna Burra in 2019 that burned down the cosy, welcoming lodge with its fireplace, dining hall, souvenir shop and library, and all the old heritage cabins. So many great memories, and although I’ve walked amongst the ruins, there are times I still can’t quite believe that I can’t just drive up there and find everything the same as it used to be. In fact just writing this has brought new tears to my eyes. It was such a special place. But the campground remains, and the Sky Lodges, and there are great plans for its future. And the forest itself, apart from some of the eucalypt forest around the edges, is still there and hopefully always will be.

Goanna on the Caves Track near Binna Burra

International migratory bird day

9th October is International Migratory Bird Day

You can read a lot about migratory bird routes, events to celebrate the day, and some of the current conservation problems here: https://www.worldmigratorybirdday.org

Birds do not understand international political boundaries.

I’ve seen some comments recently in social media denouncing the birds that dare to arrive in Australia from other countries to the detriment of our natives, in particular the channel-billed cuckoo.

Yes, the crows, currawongs and other large native species probably cringe when they hear the first calls of the season. They probably don’t quite understand why but they certainly don’t like them. We often see crows chasing this cuckoo (the world’s largest cuckoo) across the sky. I’m told it is often the male they’re chasing, while the female quickly slips back and lays an egg in the nest of the bird doing the chasing. The foster parent’s understanding of what is happening when faced with a large hungry chick that isn’t theirs is rather limited, as they will continue then to feed it while their own chicks have been tossed out by either the parent cuckoo or the newly hatched one.

But are the cuckoos really interlopers, and does it make sense for us to moralise about what they do?

There are plenty of native cuckoos that never eave Australia, and do exactly the same thing, usually to smaller bird species than the targeted by the channel bill.

Is the change-billed cuckoo one of our own native birds or an intruder? Many of them never leave Australia anyway, although most fly up to Papua New Guinea or Indonesia for the winter. Their breeding grounds are here so I would say they are very definitely native, as are the koels, another cuckoo which also spend the winters up north and come down here to breed. Both these cuckoos, as well as eating insects, eat rainforest fruits and disperse their seeds, so play an important ecological role while they’re here. Dollarbirds (rollers, not cuckoos) also visit us from up north to breed here in summer. No humans influenced their decision to come here. And some do’t actually leave Australia anyway, apparently deciding the weather in Far North Queensland in winter suits them well enough to not need to travel further.

So yes, I’d say very definitely they are all native to Australia.

And cuckoos can’t help being cuckoos. No matter what our feelings for the nestlings they destroy or the poor foster parents having to feed the strange “adopted” infant, it is an instinct the cuckoos are born with, and the only way they know how to breed. And some of our other native birds – currawongs, crows, kookaburras, even shrike-thrushes – often help themselves to nestlings of smaller birds as an easy meal.

And during the days of Covid, when we can’t travel to other countries, I rather enjoy knowing that these birds have been traveling to places I’d love to be visiting myself. Also, the arrival here of channel-billed cuckoos, koels and dollarbirds here in the Scenic Rim, southeast Queensland, reminds me that summer is on its way.

We don’t have the enormous influx of migratory forest birds that some of the other continents have, but there are quite a few that make north-south movements. Some others make altitudinal movements, like the golden whistlers and grey fantails that tend to frequent the valleys in winter, presumably because insects are more active in the lower altitudes during the coldest months, and return to mountain forests to breed. Some of the frugivorous birds (wompoo fruit doves, rifle birds and bowerbirds) tend to do the same, but there is less fruit for them in winter in the valleys nowadays since most of the lowland rainforest was cleared many decades ago. That clearing is probably responsible for Coxen’s fig parrot being now critically endangered or possibly already extinct.

But it is the shorebirds who get the most attention for their migrations, and they tend to come from much further afield – Japan, Siberia etc.

One birder from Europe asked me to take him overnight to a coastal area a couple of hundred kilometres north of Brisbane, which I did, not being entirely clear as to why he wanted that. When he got there he was very disappointed, saying “Where are they all?” He had been advised it was a great spot for waders, which, yes, it was, but not in winter! Had he done a bit more homework or told us why he wanted that trip, he could have been informed that most of the birds he wanted to see would only be there in the warmer months. We did at least still see beach stone-curlews and other non-migratory shorebirds and quite a few forest birds.

It is always exciting to see the eastern curlew, as we sometimes do on Coochiemudlo Island or in the less densely-populated parts of the Gold Coast, probing for crabs and molluscs in today mud-flats. This large, long-billed visitor is an endangered species, so it is encouraging to be reminded that it still exists on our planet and continues to make its often-hazardous journeys each year. It breeds in China and Russia, only coming to Australia to avoid the northern hemisphere winter, as many of our other shorebirds do.

An overview of the 37 species of shorebirds that travel, often over very long distances, to Australia each year, and some of the major problems they now face, can be viewed here, and downloaded as a pdf: https://birdlife.org.au/documents/Shorebirds-FactSheet.pdf.

Our tours don’t visit shores as often as freshwater wetlands, but one of the migratory birds we often see, again avoiding the northern winters, is the marsh sandpiper, at Eagleby Wetlands during the warmer months.

Marsh sandpiper, Eagleby Wetlands

Yes, most of our migratory shorebirds don’t actually breed in Australia, but they are still considered native to Australia and to all the other countries they visit on their journeys, as they willingly bring themselves here, not brought by humans, and it is essential to their existence that they have places where they can stay warm and find plenty of food while avoiding the cold conditions up north. And as I said above, birds don’t understand our political boundaries.

Our whales are also migratory, coming from the Antarctic to our relatively warm winter waters to breed each year, but that’s another story …

Springtime at Araucaria

We certainly know Spring has arrived.

One of our dogs was barking furiously in the courtyard. On investigation, we found the cause to be a young carpet python. Since then a second one has appeared, and also an adult. There must be a second adult around somewhere for these two to have been produced (they weren’t freshly hatched – they would have been young from last season).

Carpet photon on upturned BBQ near our kitchen

Denis then noticed a movement on his computer desk, and saw a green tree snake quietly watching him.

Pythons and green tree snakes are both non-venomous, and we welcome them to control the mice (Australia has been experiencing a few plagues of those).

Next to turn up was a brown tree snake in our carport. They have some venom, but not lethal to humans, and are rear-fanged snakes (colubrids) which would make it difficult for them to bite us anyway.

More alarming for a moment or two was a large goanna, a lace monitor (over a metre in length), the dogs chased inside. My first view of it was a large brown flash of something leaping across the table next to me, after which it sat on a chest in the corner, hissing. We locked the excited dogs in the bedroom, threw a couple of rugs over it (their teeth and claws are pretty long), and Darren carefully took it outside and released it.

This morning our youngest dog was barking at something in the same corner, which turned out to be a little grass skink. We assured him it wasn’t going to turn into a goanna, and released him amongst vegetation in the courtyard.

Other signs are visits by satin bowerbirds on their way to the mountains for breeding, more and more butterflies each week, and the channel-billed cuckoos returning from New Guinea and Indonesia to seek out nests of crows and other large birds to impose their own chicks on.

Satin bowerbird bower built on our property last year and then abandoned. The long blue things are NOT drinking straws, which for environmental reasons we never use.

importance of sustainable tourism recognised in IUCN

For a couple of years or so now I (Ronda) have been part of the Biodiversity Working Group within the TAPAS Group (Tourism And Protected AreaS), which in turn is within WCPA (World Commission on Protected Areas), which forms part of IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). It often means setting my alarm for 1.00am or 3.00am to join conversations, but they are always interesting, and we hope useful!

Many of the groups within IUCN have relevance to sustainable tourism, but there has been no over-lying coordinating theme of sustainable tourism to connect these within the organisation. This gap was noticeable at the World Parks Congress in Sydney in 2014, which was attended by over 10,000 delegates from across the world. Isabelle Wolf (Office of Environment and Heritage, NSW) and myself (as chair of Wildlife Tourism Australia) ran an official Parallel Event, Wildlife tourism and conservation of biodiversity in parks, in Sydney just prior to the Congress, during which we had some invigorating discussions, reported on here.

The chair of the TAPAS Group, Dr Anna Spencely, to ask if she could join our workshop to present a kind of road-map of where to find the various tourism-related presentations and displays within the week-long congress, and of course we agreed with some enthusiasm.

The recent IUCN Congress held in Marseilles in September 2021 presented a valuable opportunity to ask IUCN to take sustainable tourism more seriously as a potential force for both conservation and local communities, as nature-based tourism (including wildlife tourism, ecotourism, geotourism etc.) brings many people into natural habitats, both within Protected Areas and elsewhere, and has the potential to significantly assist biodiversity conservation but unfortunately also the potential for negative impact. I had previously co-authored reports on both the negative and the positive impacts of wildlife tourism on wildlife as well as organising conferences for Wildlife Tourism Australia on balancing the needs of wildlife and people and whether wildlife tourism can be a force for biodiversity and local economies , so was keen to see the motion accepted.

Before the motion could be officially put to the Congress, we had to find a primary sponsor and at least ten co-sponsors (all of which had to be financial members of IUCN). We had little trouble finding co-sponsors. The primary sponsorship proved more of a challenge. Along with WTA Member Angus Robinson (of Geotourism Australia) we approached the New South Wales Department for Environment, Energy and Science, as they are members of IUCN, and the venue for the last World Parks Congress (which only happens once a decade) being Sydney seemed to make it relevant. However we were by now getting very close to the deadline for submitting the motion, and another primary sponsor was found just in time, while the Department (who had shown some definite interest) was still discussing it.

The motion itself reads:

MOTION 130: Strengthening sustainable tourism’s role in biodiversity conservation and community resilience

The IUCN World Conservation Congress, at its session in Marseille, France:

1. CALLS on the Director General to commit dedicated attention for nature-based tourism by:

a. including Sustainable Tourism as a topic; and

b. integrating nature-based tourism events and activities into future Congresses and IUCN conferences;

2. CALLS on the Commissions to consider creating an inter-commission working group focused on sustainable tourism’s role in biodiversity conservation and community resilience;

3. URGES the WCPA COVID Task Force, in collaboration with other Specialist Groups and Task Forces, to strengthen its Call to Action for Rescue, Recovery and Rebuilding by:

a. producing memoranda for equitable benefit-sharing programmes and emergency strategies for communities and protected areas reliant on nature-based tourism; and

b. developing resources to support local, equal-access outdoor recreation and wildlife tourism programmes in developing countries to increase opportunities for natural heritage experiences that improve health, well-being and conservation values; and

4. CALLS ON Members and Affiliates to:

a. support development of diversified sustainable livelihood activities, skill-training programmes and alternative protein-sourcing markets in tourism-dependent communities to bolster community resilience against current and future adverse events;

b. establish enterprise-based partnerships to incorporate conservation and biodiversity monitoring across the tourism supply chain; and

c. establish more sustainable financing campaigns, including endowment funds, to support key biodiversity assets during tourism industry recessions.

You can read the preamble and other details of the motion here.

The motion was submitted, and passed with over 99% in favour.

Well done to all who put so much work into this!

Araucaria in lockdown

For most of our history, our tours have catered for International guests (>95%) so it was inevitable that in March of 2020we had to shut down for a while, intending to open again in November. This opening was delayed by a few bureaucratic things such as new hordes to getting a reasonably priced public liability insurance (although we have run without incident for over 20 years), and we finally re-opened in May, with our regular tours plus new new ones for seniors, ran a few birdwatching tours until July, then had to cancel all tours for August, September and even October 2021 because most of our guests were coming from Sydney or Melbourne. One seemed ok to join us from Cairns, but then Cairns found itself in lockdown just before she was due to fly.

I did still head to ATE21 (Australian Travel Exchange 2021) in May to meet agents from Australia and New Zealand, and met others from elsewhere in the world on ATE-online, but it will be quite a while before we can once more welcome guests from across the sea.

Lockdown itself (apart from the loss of income) wasn’t bad for us. We live a kilometre from our nearest neighbour and are surrounded by forest, mountains, creek and horse paddocks, so we didn’t feel imprisoned at all.

So, what have we been doing wth no tours to run?

Quite a lot really.

Writing

For some years I’d been meaning to turn the book we give people on our 3-day wildlife overview tours into something publishable, and finally did so, launching it at Wildlife Tourism Australia’s AGM at Binna Burra in November 2020. This is now the version we’ll be giving to our wildlife overview guests, and on sale to others (including through Amazon).

I’m now re-writing my book on wildlife tourism, including more international content, the new challenge of Covid-19, citizen science and conservation activities on tours. I hope to publish later this year.

I’ve also returned to writing about animal-plant mutualism in Australia (chiefly pollination and seed dispersal) and hope to eventually publish this book plus a couple of other in 2022. I’m also trying to continue my own research in this field but now finding a ack of time due to other activities.

In addition I’ve written a few articles for journals, and also edited articles for others (I’m guest editor of Journal of Ecotourism, and a special issue of Sustainability).

Wildlife Corridors

As chair of the Scenic Rim branch of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland (WPSQ), I started a project a couple of years ago for establishing wildlife corridors between habitat fragments in the valleys of the Scenic Rim. We had previously conducted surveys of squirrel gliders, a riding possum which, unlike some of its relatives, seems to prefer the more open forests and woodlands of lower altitudes, and identified areas of good habitat where they seem to be thriving and corridors routes that could help them move from one site to another. There are multiple reasons why animals may need to move, either daily, seasonal or occasionally.

When looking at establishing corridors, on both private and public lands, we decided to cater not only for squirrel gliders but also koalas, grey-crowned babblers, glossy back cockatoos (the rarest of our local cockatoos), native bees, butterflies and other species.

Habitat enhancement planting
Habitat enhancement planting

WPSQ Central called for donations and raised $5000, and the Scenic Rim Council donated almost 1000 young trees and tree guards. Then we received a grant of $10,220 from the federal Communities Environment Program, which paid for couple of workshops, more trees, guards and fencing materials to protect young trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants from cattle grazing, plus a couple of public workshops, and we have now planted on over 20 properties, both for enhancement in the habitat fragments and of course long the corridor routes.

Most recently we have received an even larger grant, this time from LandCare, to extend the project and include plantings of trees, shrubs and vines for frugivorous birds that head to lower altitudes in winter.

We are conducting fauna surveys to test the effectiveness of the corridors over the coming years, both by direct observation and with motion-sensing cameras.

I’ve presented a few talks to community groups on wildlife corridors, also wildlife and fire, and am soon to present another to a local school.

Wildlife Tourism Australia

As chair of WTA, I’ve been involved in organising and running a series of webinars in lieu of a conference, in both June 2020 and June 2021, as well as a special webinar on overpopulation on World Wildlife Day, 3rd March 2021 and a marine turtle networking group.

I’m also representing WTA in the Biodiversity Working Group within the TAPAS Group (Tourism And Protected AreaS) which in turn is within WCPA (World Commission on Protected Areas) which is part of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), and recently have accepted an invitation to represent both Wildlife Tourism Australia and Ecotourism Australia

Our home property and animals

Bonita (“beautiful” in Spanish) playing with her adopted young brother Guapito (“little and handsome” or “cute” in Spanish)

We lost our beautiful 12-y-o cattle dog early this year, and our other dog was moping around sadly so we introduced another cattle dog puppy into the family. He’s an absolute dynamo, into, onto, and under just about everything and experimenting with anything remotely chewable, but very loveable!

Our goat Tinky lost her elderly companion last year, and was also money, constantly bleating when she couldn’t be near us. We brought home a young male goat who matured faster tan we expected and now we have two quite delightful young kids as well.

Our horses and chooks (Australian for chickens) are doing fine, but we have to watch Guapito, who hasn’t quite learned yet not to chase the chooks.

We don’t deliberately feed any wildlife but we’re now being visited by a family of magpies and a group of satin bowerbirds helping themselves to dog food and galahs and bar-shouldered doves helping themselves to chook food.

We are planning soon to do some serious renovations soon on our wildlife ecology centre and nature trails.

You can read about our regular and new tours here.

Birdwatching is much more than ticking off a list

Brdwatching at Eagleby
Brdwatching at Eagleby

Adding to a “life-list” (a list of all birds you have seen in the wild) can be fun, and can take you to many beautiful and exciting places and offer many hours in the clean air of seaside, desert or forest.

However, just ticking off a bird as seen and rushing off for the next “tick” can cause you to miss out on a lot of enjoyable experiences that give you a much deeper understanding of natural ecosystems.

Little corella, and active and playful species
Little corella, and active and playful species

Birds are not just pretty objects that happen to move around. They are living creatures – quite extraordinary living creatures in fact, with a rather complicated anatomy associated with flight, better eyesight than humans, more intelligence than they’re often given credit for, with a great variety of social structures, and many kinds of ecological relationships with other species. Instead of the “stamp-collecting” approach to bird-watching, you can gain many insights into the life of birds and the ecosystem generally by quietly sitting and watching, even if it is a species you’ve seen many times before.

Male satin bowerbird offering a flower to the female: we watched this during a tour to O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat
Male satin bowerbird offering a flower to the female: we watched this during a tour to O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat

One of the most fascinating to watch is the satin bowerbird during breeding season. The male is a few years old before he even tries to build a bower, and often takes a year or two to get it right before the female is sufficiently impressed. With only his bill for building, he lays down a platform of twigs and then constructs an avenue of twigs into which to attract the females (one at a time) for mating. To accentuate the blue sheen of his feathers he collects blue objects – quite a task originally to find enough feathers, flowers and berries of the right colour, but nowadays often including more readily available drinking straws, bottle tops and other such objects. He struts around, singing, dancing and rearranging twigs and decorations, and when a female arrives continues his song and dance, even sometimes carrying flowers or other gifts to her, before finally consummating their relationship. She then has to build her own nest and raise the kids while he attracts more females.

Brush turkey sunbaking
Brush turkey sunbaking

Female brush turkeys have it better: the male makes an enormous mound of leaves and keeps adjusting it to an appropriate temperature, as the energy originally stored by photosynthesis is released as heat as the leaves decompose. All the female needs to do is lay an egg in this every few days. You would be lucky to catch a visit by the females, but the males are often seen scratching more leaves onto their nests and chasing off intruders.

Grey fantail waiting for flying insects to catch
Grey fantail waiting for flying insects to catch

Keep an eye out for birds who follow other birds. When brush turkeys or other strong-footed birds are kicking the leaf litter around in their search for insects, smaller birds such as scrubwrens often hand around waiting for insects that escape the notice of the large forager. If you see a grey fantail, especially out of breeding season, it is very likely to be following a whistler, a treecreeper or some other species that is foraging in the leaves or under the bark, ready to use its tail to facilitate acrobatic manoeuvres to catch insects trying to escape through the air.

noisy-miner-callingYou can also get to know the different calls of a species: territorial songs, the alarm calls and the contact calls between male and female or members of a feeding flock. You can hear different melodies piped by pied butcherbirds in different districts or listen for the highly complex call, complete with amazing mimicry, of the lyrebird. You can head out at night listening for the calls of owls, frogmouths and nightjars (and no, despite a popular myth that was even believed by Banjo Patterson, the frogmouth does NOT give the mopoke call: the boobook owl does that). You can try to tell the difference between two birds having a dispute or indulging in courtship (sometimes this is obvious, sometimes not).You can sit very quietly in the forest for 20 minutes or so, preferably dressed in greens and browns, to see whether any shy birds, which would be disturbed by footsteps, make an appearance.

Wompoo Fruitdove eating bangalow palm fruits
Wompoo Fruitdove eating bangalow palm fruits

Many birds depend on plants, but many plants also depend on birds. Take note of any birds feeding amongst flowers or fruits. Most of these will be playing a role as pollinators or seed dispersers, although a few damage the flower to reach the nectar without picking up any pollen, and some either avoid swallowing the seeds or, worse still for the plant, digest them.

You may not always understand what a bird is doing or why. Sometimes it becomes clear just by watching for a few minutes, or sometimes it is an intriguing observation that keeps you puzzled for some time. Maybe others have observed it, or maybe not. There are various Facebook pages and other websites where you can put a question to the group, e.g.: “has anyone seen a xxx do this? Any idea why?”

Mudlark and nestling
Mudlark and nestling

A final note: some avid life-listers get so carried away with their hobby they forget the welfare of the bird. The occasional recorded call in a seldom-traveled area may not bother birds too much, but when male territorial calls are repeatedly played to the same birds in a popular birding spot, especially during breeding season, it can waste a lot of a bird’s much-needed energy in defending his territory, with the potential of stressing it to the point where it shifts home, possibly to a less optimal habitat, or is so drained of energy it is more vulnerable to disease, parasites or predation. Waking up a diurnal bird at night or a nocturnal bird during the day can cause it to blunder off clumsily, possibly into danger. Getting too close to a nest may cause temporary desertion by the parent, exposing eggs or chicks to predation and uncomfortable or even dangerous temperatures. Different species and different individuals within the species have different temperaments, but it is better to err on the side of caution than risk the welfare of the individual bird or, in the case of rare species, their conservation chances for the future.

To Adelaide and back. Part 5. Central NSW (Parkes and Dubbo)

Through central New South Wales

On the road

Crossing another  important river, the  Murrumbidgee, made famous in the song "The Road to Gundagai"
Crossing another important river, the Murrumbidgee, made famous in the song “The Road to Gundagai”

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Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo

This was the first free-range zoo in Australia, opened in 1977, now harbouring over 1000 animals..

SafariVehicleGiraffesWPZ

White rhino and youngster. Some are suggesting wearing more rhinos to Australia's outback (contained of course, but in enormous enclosures) to protect them from poaching inter hime countries.
White rhino and youngster. Some are suggesting wearing more rhinos to Australia’s outback (contained of course, but in enormous enclosures) to protect them from poaching inter hime countries.

The female needs a rest.  They had a very energetic mating session right in front of us.
The female needs a rest. They had a very energetic mating session right in front of us.

MeerkatRestingWPZTiger-WPZooCheetahWPZ

 

The Parkes Telescope

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The Dish stands about 15km from where my mother was born (Parkes) and spent most of her childhood years (a sheep and wheat farm near Alectown)
The Dish stands about 15km from where my mother was born (Parkes) and spent most of her childhood years (a sheep and wheat farm near Alectown). It achieved fame when asked film Armstrong’s first steps onto the moon, an event later to be made into an entertaining  movie, “The Dish.”.

TheDish TheDish2

Within the information centre are other signs letting us know the fact and the fiction in the movie.

Passing through Alectown, we made a very brief stop at the little church where my parents were married in the 1930s

AlectownChurch

Many years ago I visited with my parents. Each signed the visitor’s book, and each of my parents wrote “married here.”  I wanted to put “result” after my name but wasn’t allowed

 

Then back to Mullumbimby to return Axel to his mother and dog, and on to Running Creek, to be greeted by our dogs and Denis

 

 

 

To Adelaide and back. Part 4. Lake Mungo

We had wanted to see Lake Mungo in western New South Wales – famous for Aboriginal history and palaeozoology – for many years.

An early start from Adelaide and a very sleepy look at Australia’s largest river- the Murray

dawn

Axel-sleep

Crossing the RiverMurray, SA
Crossing the RiverMurray, SA

 

By the time we got close to Lake Mungo it was obvious we were now truly in the outback, especially the last 60km or so along a bumpy dusty road with saltbush and other semi-arid shrubs to either side.

A kangaroo hopes through the saltbush shrubland
A kangaroo hopes through the saltbush shrubland

 

Emu near Lake  Mungo
Emu near LakeMungo

 

 

Lake Mungo

Well, it used to be a lake, until about 20,000 years ago, when it rapidly dried out. You can still clearly see the ancient sand dunes along the edge (even from the air – I saw them on a flight to Adelaide earlier in the year).

Before then it was alive with active Aboriginal communities as well as diprotodons and other now-extinct megafauna (and some not so mega). 20,000-year-old human footprints surprised and intrigued researchers and others. There was even more surprise when the remains of Aboriginal people found there (especially Mungo Man and Mungo Lady) which proved to be 40 – 45 thousand years, and decorated to suggest a ritual burial.  Two surprises here – first that humans had been in Australia for such a long time (recent discoveries elsewhere have now suggested over 60,000 years) and secondly that ritual burial had such a long history.

The remains of Mungo Man have recently been returned to his home country of Lake Mungo.

20,000 years ago saw an episode of climate change causing Australia to become colder, drier and windier, gradually drying up the lake

Read more here about Lake Mungo’s history

In the museum at Lake Mungo

In the museum at Lake Mungo

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Driving towards the old lake (dry for the past  20,,000 years)
Driving across the old lake (dry for the past 20,,000 years)

 

 

Scenes from Lake Mungo

An interpretive signal the start of our walk
An interpretive signal the start of our walk

MungoLandscape3 MungoLandscape4 guide-group-Mungo

Mungotalk

photo-middenMungo MungoLandscape

backalonggullyAxelDarrenMungo Mungoscape

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Next: on to Parkes and Dubbo …

 

 

To Adelaide and back. Part 3. Adelaide

Our main purpose was to spend 4 days meeting travel agents from around the world and explaining our tours to them, at Australia’s biggest annual trade show, the ATE. It is very tiring, a bit like four straight days of speed-dating,  but also very enjoyable meeting a lot of friendly and interesting people, making potentially valuable contacts and gleaning new ideas, and also sampling foods from the various states and territories.

ATE18Qld

the Araucaria stand at ATE
the Araucaria stand at ATE

 

This is small part of the crowd
This is a very small part of the crowd

 

Environmentally-friendly transport
Environmentally-friendly transport

 

ATE street entertainment
ATE street entertainment

 

It does get a little tiring
It does get a little tiring

 

After the ATE we collected my grandson (Darren’s nephew) Axel from the airport after his first-ever flight in a large plane so that he could have his first-ever meeting with his Adelaide cousins and first-ever experience of Australia’s outback on our drive back to Queensland.

Axel arriving in Adelaide
Axel arriving in Adelaide

 

We met my niece Britta and her two boys Niki and Alex at the Adelaide Zoo . Lovely see them again. The boys seemed to quickly make friends and enjoy exploring and playing together.

R to L Axel, Niki, Britta Alex, Darren
L to R  Axel, Niki, Britta Alex, Darren

 

squirrel monkey
Axel meeting a squirrel monkey

Panda-Adelaide-Zoo
Giant panda, part of the only pair in Australia, part of a conservation breeding and research program

PandaSolarSign

Giant Aldabra Tortoise- vulnerable species from the Seychelles, hatched at the Zoo in 1976
Giant Aldabra Tortoise- vulnerable species from the Seychelles, hatched at the Zoo in 1976

 

Eclectus Parrot
Eclectus parrot from north Qld: unusual in that the female (pictured is the brighter-coloured (to our eyes at least – the male has an ultraviolet pattern visible to his mate)

 

squirrel monkey
Axel meeting a squirrel monkey

SuperbLyrebird
We wondered why we lost Darren for a long time. He was filming a lengthy video of a superb lyrebird displaying, with lots of mimicry

 

Meerkat - possibly Axel's favourite
Meerkat – possibly Axel’s favourite

 

Then a family reunion dinner

Around table from left: Paul (Britta's husband), Britta, me, Peter (brother, Alison (Peter's wife), Darren, Axel, Niki, Alex
Around table from left: Paul (Britta’s husband), Britta, me, Peter (brother, Alison (Peter’s wife), Darren, Axel, Niki, Alex

 

Next day a family visit to the SA Museum, which I was forever dragging my mother to as a child and later exploring frequently ion my own, followed by the art gallery and a stroll through Adelaide city streets.

fossilmegafauna dinosaur&boys Darrenmuseum

malachite
As a child I used togas at the malachite until I felt I was being absorbed into its depths

Radioactivitydisplay mineralsBH

Important fossils from the Flinders Ranges
Important fossils from the Flinders Ranges

 

SA Art Gallery

artgalleryNiki arttgalleryboys

 

Rundle Mall,  Adelaide

Adelaidesilverballs AdelaideArcade

Axel-pigstatue

 

Next day we (3 generations: myself, Darren and Axel) met with lecturers from the new ecotourism course being offered at Adelaide University (where I graduated with Honours in zoology many years ago), followed by a personal tour of the University, especially the science areas and library, some of which I remembered but much of which was new.

 

Axel's turn to be tired
Axel’s turn to be tired

unipond

Many hours were spent in the Barr-Smith library  during my undergraduate and Honours year, usually with great enthusiasm for exploring so may aspects of our planet.
Many hours were spent in the Barr-Smith library during my undergraduate and Honours year, usually with great enthusiasm for exploring so may aspects of our planet.

 

unilibraryAxel unilab

I remember being quite enthralled by the large models while studying botany
I remember being quite enthralled by the large models while studying botany: not sure if these Arte the same ones

 

Next day it was off towards that site so famous for Aboriginal history – Lake Mungo …….

 

To Adelaide and back. Part 2. Flinders Ranges

 

See previous post for travel to Pilliga and Siding Springs

On to the Flinders Ranges

We settled into the quaint and cosy hotel “The Mill” in Quorn and took a walk just before sunset  along  a very small section of the 1200km  Heysen Trail.

TheMill

HeysenTrail SunsetQuorn

I was pleased to find we could still buy my favourite ice cream – Golden North honey – in the region. At the time I used to visit, many years ago, it was the only place you could in fact buy it.  It arrived in Adelaide some time later.

GoldenNorth

Next day was devoted to a whirlwind trip to Wilpena Pound and Brachina Gorge in the FlindersRanges, where ancient rocks have been uplifted and folded into dramatic shapes.

I had very often camped and hiked here with the Adelaide University Mountain Club many years ago but Darren had never visited.  I was glad he immediately fell in love with these rugged ranges and started missing them as soon as we left

 

To Wilpena Pound

 

ApproachingWilpena

TowardsWilpenaCallitris-Wilpena

WIlpenaDarrenWilpena

WIlpena-gumsShrtubsWilpenaKangaroosGroomingWilpena

trees-cliffs-WilpenaWallabyWilpenaWilpenaWaterhole

 

To Brachina Gorge

I wish we could have had a day or two to explore the time trail here, and just to wander around, and sit in the gorge taking in the whole atmosphere .drivetowardsBrachina

drivethroughBrachinaBrachinaintioBrachinaFlindersOrigin

 

BrachinaTimeTrail

BrachinaSignificanceextinctionsWilpenaPound

More soon …