High summer in the Goomburra rainforest

December 2013 had some of the hottest days on record for this part of the world. Not an ideal time to visit a rainforest, but I head south anyway, driving through sun-blasted, open farmlands until I meet the western foothills of the Great Dividing Range.

Sunlit Tree Ferns (Cyathea sp.) reflected in a quiet pool on Dalrymple Creek. All photos Robert Ashdown.

Sunlit Tree Ferns (Cyathea australis) reflected in a quiet pool on Dalrymple Creek. All photos by Robert Ashdown, taken on an Olympus OM-D EM-5.

Goomburra, within Main Range National Park, is my destination.

The circuit track along Dalrymple Creek heads through wet sclerophyll forest, where giant eucalypts tower above rainforest scrub. At times, the scream of cicadas, known appropriately as Razor Grinders, is almost unbearable — a frenzy of tree-top insect metalworkers. Some recent rain and the hot weather has brought thousands of their nymphs up from their long, dark underground life. Their cast-off ‘skins’ are plastered over tree trunks, while the adult insects are high up in the glorious summer light, males calling females in a non-stop, deafening cacophony. What a dazzling stage of life it must be for an animal that has spent years underground in the cool, dark earth.

The smooth bark of the eucalypts bears evidence of other life, as skinks move across strange circular patterns — the feeding marks of Red Triangle Slugs. While scanning tree trunks I’m soon rewarded with a sighting of a Southern Angle-headed Dragon, clinging to a tree and furiously pretending to be a branch.

< click on any image in this post for a larger view, and use arrow keys to move forward through images or hit ‘escape’ to exit>

A bright, sunny day in rainforest is usually the worst time for a photographer to capture interesting images, as the contrast range between dark shadow and blazing patches of light is beyond the scope of camera sensors, and the resulting photographs never really look like what the eyes saw. However, I’m here to enjoy the walk and in that frame of mind I soon get consumed by the search for intriguing patterns and photographic subjects.

As the Cascades Track winds on and upward, there are window-like glimpses of rainforest slopes above and the multi-hued foliage of emergent trees striving to reach the light. At ground level the sunlit canopy is reflected in pools of water, where another elegant reptile — an Eastern Water Dragon — regards me warily as I traverse its own small patch of paradise. Christmas Orchids flower close to the track, blazes of white among the shadows.

The walk presents an endless kaleidoscope of colours and textures. What more could a photographer hope for?

No place is boring, if you’ve had a good night’s sleep and have a pocket full of unexposed film. — Robert Adams.

I stop at one pool for a break and in the quiet notice all sorts of life. The large tadpoles of Great Barred Frogs move endlessly in the water and a Marsh Snake hunts restlessly for a meal.

I end up spending over an hour stalking Whitewater Rockmasters, one of Queensland’s five species of huge damselflies in the family Diphlebidae. These dazzling insects patrol their small bits of territory, and rather than run all over the place chasing them I set up at one spot to which a large male keeps returning. I could sit and watch these characters all day. 

The Cascades Circuit leads up and out of the cool rainforest, taking me back to my vehicle via open, recently burnt, woodland. Grass Trees have seen it before, masters of surviving fire, and their green and brown skirts add colour to a blackened landscape.

All too soon I’m heading home, windows down and hot air whipping through the car. I’ve visited another world, a place of green shadows and complex life. I will return again, soon, I hope.

The road to Goomburra.

When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence. — Ansel Adams.

Main Range National Park is located on the western part of the Scenic Rim — a spectacular arc of mountains stretching from Mt Mistake to Springbook in south-east Queensland.

Much of the rainforest areas within the park fall within a World Heritage area, known as the Gondwana Rainforest of Australia World Heritage Area. This area conserves more than 1700 species of flowering plants and 500 species of vertebrate animals.


Not just green — frog portraits

I recently caught up with photographer Mike Swan, who was on his way home from a trip west gathering images for a forthcoming field guide to the frogs of Australia. Here are a few images from his far-ranging frog-chasing expeditions.

Giant Banjo Frog (Limnodynastes interioris), Lake Cowal, New South Wales.  Photograph courtesy and copyright Mike Swan.

Giant Banjo Frog (Limnodynastes interioris), Lake Cowal, New South Wales. Photograph courtesy and copyright Mike Swan.

Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peroni), Healesville, Victoria.  Photograph courtesy and copyright Mike Swan.

Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peroni), Healesville, Victoria. Photograph courtesy and copyright Mike Swan.

Green Tree Frog (Litoria caerulea), Lake Broadwater, Queensland. Photograph courtesy and copyright Mike Swan.

Green Tree Frog (Litoria caerulea), Lake Broadwater, Queensland. Photograph courtesy and copyright Mike Swan.

Eastern Snapping Frog (Cyclorana/Litoria novaehollandiae), Glenmorgan, Queensland.  Photograph courtesy and copyright Mike Swan.

Eastern Snapping Frog (Cyclorana/Litoria novaehollandiae), Glenmorgan, Queensland. Photograph courtesy and copyright Mike Swan.

Mike’s a busy bloke  when not out in the bush with a camera he can be found working at Healesville Sanctuary in Melbourne, running an online herpetological bookshop and playing in alt-country band Low Rent.

The Giant Water Lily

The flower is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful of all our native plant species.                   Keith Williams, 1979.

With memories still fresh of my water-level encounter with these Giant Water Lilies at Lake Nuga Nuga in 2013, I recently came across some information on these spectacular plants in Native Plants of Queensland, Volume 1 (1979) by Keith Williams.

The four volumes of this title produced by this eminent Queensland naturalist from 1979 to 1999 contain a wealth of information on the State’s plants and their habitats. I’d encountered very little information on this species of plant when writing my earlier blog post on Lake Nuga Nuga

Water lilies are familiar to people, as cultivated varieties are grown in artificial pools. The Giant Water Lily in its native habitat is a spectacular plant. All photographs taken at Lake Nuga Nuga by R. Ashdown.

From Native Plants of Queensland by Keith Williams:

Giant Waterlily Nymphaea gigantea

This species is found in coastal and sub-coastal areas from north Queensland to the southern border. In many places the pest Water Hyacinth has almost, if not completely, eradicated the water lily.


‘The large flat, floating leaves of the Giant Water Lily have a very prominent, raised network of veins that spread from the junction of the leaf stem on the under surface. The upper surface only is water repellent and a shiny bright green, the under surface is often a very rich purple.’ – Keith Williams.

The Giant Water Lily grows in water of various depths and this varies from the shallow edges of the the quiet waters of the habitat, to water that may be greater than three metres in depth. It has been observed that plants growing in deep water have a tendency to produce larger leaves and flowers than those in shallow water. Many leaves form a single plant and when they reach the surface they may cover an area with a diameter of about four metres.


The flower is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful of all our native plant species. The flowers may be more than 30 cm in diameter. I have observed them to be larger than a dinner plate. The flowers have a delicate fragrance and have a life of little more than one day.


As soon as they open in mid-morning the various insects visit them in numbers and pollination is effected very quickly. The stem then bends several times and this pulls the flower under the water, The seed receptacle forms very quickly, and the small black seeds are released finally when the fruit disintegrates. The plants are rooted in soft alluvial muds and the spongy white roots spread outwards from the tuber for long distances in all directions.



The plant was an important food source for Aborigines, who ate the fresh flowers as well as the seeds. The importance of the plant is evident as the Aboriginal names Arnurna, Yakp-Kalo, Kaooroo, Moi-U, Thindah, Thoolambool, Mille, Thoongoon, Urgullathy and Irrpo all demonstrate. Many of these names referred specifically to parts of the plant.


Giant Water Lilies only thrive in clear water. Where there is constant heavy turbidity the plants die. Many areas where they were once plentiful have been lost because colloidal clays have entered the ponds and as they remain in constant suspension, they inhibit growth by preventing light reaching submerged parts of the plant.


Colour forms are found and they may be pure white, white with blue petals, or some have tips of colour on the outside petals, A very beautiful pink form, the Undulla Lily, occurs in a small creek in southern Queensland.

Keith Albert Walter Williams (1916–2003)

With a wide range of natural history interests — fish, both marine and freshwater; birds; insects, particularly butterflies; and native plants, Keith Williams, as well as being a practical, expert naturalist and photographer, was a dedicated member of The Queensland Naturalists’ Club. An astute observer of wildlife, Keith started writing Nature Notes for the Club Newsletter in May 1963 with his note on the Golden Bower Bird, following this with notes on subjects as diverse as koalas, snakes, geckos, and birds such as white faced herons, red-backed wrens and all kinds in between.

His writing was not restricted to informal Nature Notes, for Keith’s magnum opus was Native Plants — Queensland, the first volume of which was published in 1979 and the fourth and final volume in 1999. These four volumes, of over 1,400 pages, have been, and will continue to be, used by many naturalists and aspiring botanists. If he had no other achievements, this work alone would assure Keith Williams of a place in the ‘Naturalists’ Hall of Fame’.

Keith wrote a number of more formal papers for The Queensland Naturalist among which was one on the fishes of North West Island (1969) which, together with the generous giving of his time, helped many members identify the small fishes of the coral reef pools on future trips.

Source: D. Reeves, The Queensland Naturalist, Vol.44, Nos.1–3, 2006

Keith was born in Ipswich, Queensland, in 1916. He was made an Honorary ranger for the protection of Fauna and Flora in Queensland in 1934. He was a foundation member of the Queensland Ornithological Society and was a life member of the Ipswich Photographic Society and the Queensland Naturalists’ Club. In 1993 he was the recipient if the Queensland Natural History Award and in 1998 was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for services to conservation and the environment, particularly for his contribution to botanical knowledge and the collection of plant specimens.

Some final photos for 2013

A post from the last day of 2013 — another year slips past too quickly.

Despite it being one of the most difficult I can remember in many ways, I was still fortunate to be able to visit a few places, both near and not-so-near, and to be able to photograph some beautiful landscapes and marvellous creatures.

May you have a rewarding, successful and safe 2014.

Rose Robin, Crows Nest National Park.

Rose Robin, Crows Nest National Park. All photographs by Robert Ashdown.

Small Ant Orchid Myrmechila (Chiloglottis) truncata, Crows Nest National Park.

Small Ant Orchid, Crows Nest National Park.

Native Stingless Bees on water-lily, Brisbane Botanical Gardens.

Native Stingless Bees on water-lily, Brisbane Botanical Gardens.

Goomburra National Park.

Goomburra National Park.

Small-leaved Bottle Tree, Salvator Rosa National Park, central Queensland.

Small-leaved Bottle Tree, Salvator Rosa National Park, central Queensland.

The Nogoa River, Salvator Rosa National Park, central Queensland.

The Nogoa River, Salvator Rosa National Park, central Queensland.

Scarlet Percher, Nogoa river, Salvator Rosa national Park, central Queensland.

Scarlet Percher, Nogoa River, Salvator Rosa National Park, central Queensland.

Carnarvon Gorge, Carnarvon National Park.

Carnarvon Gorge, Carnarvon National Park.

Common Grass Blue, backyard, Toowoomba.

Common Grass Blue, backyard, Toowoomba.

Golden Whistler, Crows Nest National Park.

Golden Whistler, Crows Nest National Park.

Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby shaking off rain-drops, Crows Nest National Park.

Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby shaking off rain-drops, Crows Nest National Park.

White-throated Treecreeper, Crows Nest National Park.

White-throated Treecreeper, Crows Nest National Park.

Grey-headed Flying-foxes, The Palms National Park.

Grey-headed Flying-foxes, The Palms National Park.

Whitewater Rockmaster, Goomburra National Park.

Whitewater Rockmaster, Goomburra National Park.

Superb Blue Fairy-wren, Sundown National Park.

Superb Blue Fairy-wren, Sundown National Park.

Red Triangle Slug tracks on eucalypt, Kym and Pete's place.

Red Triangle Slug tracks on eucalypt, Kym and Pete’s place.

Skipper, backyard, Toowoomba.

Skipper, backyard, Toowoomba.

Guest photographs

Here are some wonderful images taken this year by fellow photographers Mike Peisley, Raelene Neilson, Michael Hines and Ross Naumann. All images reproduced with permission and thanks.

Photographing flames

Managing fire is a constant part of a Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service ranger’s job in Queensland.

While photography isn’t high on the agenda for those involved in the business of working closely with fire, rangers sometimes capture dramatic images of flames and burning landscapes.

Wildfire at Castle Rock,  Cania Gorge National Park. Photograph Robert Ashdown.

Wildfire at Castle Rock, Cania Gorge National Park. Photograph Robert Ashdown.

Planned burn at Bringalily State Forest. Photograph by Jonathan McDonald.

Planned burn at Bringalily State Forest. Photograph courtesy Jonathan McDonald, QPWS.

Driving to fire at Orkadilla State Forest. Photo by Teresa Brecknell.

Driving to fire at Orkadilla State Forest. Photograph courtesy Teresa Brecknell, QPWS.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service officers working controlled burn, Pine Ridge Conservation Park, 2013. Photo courtesy Josh Hansen, QPWS.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service officers working controlled burn, Pine Ridge Conservation Park, 2013. Photograph courtesy Josh Hansen, QPWS.

Burning log, late afternoon on a planned burn, Bulli State Forest. Photograph courtesy Brett Roberts, QPWS.

The late Bill Morley was a ranger at Carnarvon Gorge National Park for over 15 years. He was also a keen photographer and naturalist, compiling a large slide collection and detailed notes on natural history at the gorge.

I recently undertook some archival scans of Bill’s collection of Kodachrome slides taken during his time at Carnarvon. Included in the collection is a record of a large wildfire event at the Gorge in 1988. The images are impressive — well composed and often taken in difficult conditions — even more so considering that they were taken while fighting the fire with other rangers. In the end, the fires ran for 53 days and burnt out over 80% of the park.

Park overseer Bill Morley (left)  and ranger John Gresty near giant Sydney Blue Gum (Eucalyptus saligna) at Ravensbourne National Park  in the 1950s. This magnificent tree still stands today. Photo courtesy of Doug Gilmore. Thanks to Karen Smith.

Park overseer Bill Morley (left) and ranger John Gresty near a giant Sydney Blue Gum (Eucalyptus saligna) at Ravensbourne National Park in the 1950s. This magnificent tree still stands today. Photo courtesy of Doug Gilmore. Thanks to Karen Smith.

Here is a small selection of Bill’s images of this 1988 wildfire (which I have restored from slides affected by dust and fungus), accompanied by extracts from the notes he subsequently put together for a slideshow on the fire for future park visitors. 

 Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.

What can be done when a wildfire starts in rough country like this? It had been a good season up until the end of September 1988. But, with the coming of October temperatures soared to around 39°C in the shade. Hot winds blew, and humidity dropped, The green grass became brown  and brittle, and the softer plants and shrubs wilted in the relentless heat. 

  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.

Midday, Sunday 16 October. A lightning strike during a dry storm started a fire in dry grassland and leaf litter on a rocky ridge above Mickey’s Creek gorge, and, although it wasn’t known at the time, another lightning strike from the same dry storm started another fire near the extreme north-east of the park. There would soon be two wildfires in Carnarvon Gorge National park.

  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.

  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.

From vantage points both inside and outside the park, rangers took bearings of fire positions. Contact was made with neighbours and information exchanged on the positions and progress of the fires, Spreading rapidly, the fires in the south-east section dropped down into Mickey’s Creek Gorge, whilst up on the cliff edge, fierce winds caused it to ‘crown’ in the tree-tops in many places. That night, park rangers burnt back along the southern  edge of Mickey’s Creek walking track, to contain the fire front the for the time being.

  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph of Bill Morley.

  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.

  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.   Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.

The next day the fire in Mickey’s Creek Gorge was heading eastwards toward the walking track and the fire at the top of the cliffs was spreading fast. Carnarvon Gorge Lodge and Bandana Station grasslands were under threat from advancing flames. Walking tracks in the gorge were now closed to park visitors.

  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.

 Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.

The fire had dropped off the eastern edge of the Goombungie Cliffs, so a back burn from the western edge of the Baloon Cave track was undertaken to neutralise that firefront. Just on dusk, above the cliffs, flames raced up the steep slopes of the Great Divide and hit the top edge of the eastern side of ‘The Ranch’. 

 Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.

 Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.

Visibility became severely restricted at times, as the Carnarvon ranges were absorbed within a huge blanket of smoke. At times, several palls of black smoke could be seen within the overall greyish-white, markings of the second fire now racing across the south-central section of the Consuelo Tablelands towards Carnarvon Gorge, pushed by strong north-eastern winds.

 Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.

 Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.

The next day, thick palls of black smoke signal that the fire is almost at the edge of Warrumbah Cliffs, immediately behind the national park’s workshop area. Cliff-top winds and updrafts contribute towards fire crowning in the trees along the cliff edge. Back-burns continue throughout the next two days to control the fire’s advance.

 Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.

Eight days after the fires began, a few millimetres of rain is recorded, dampening the vegetation and quietening the fires temporarily, but three days after the rain any moisture has evaporated and the fires are whipped up again by steep winds.

 Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.

Fire on no fire, it’s business as usual in the camping ground, the people still come. Four large coaches are parked in the coach zone which is filled to capacity. Not many family campers arrive, as campers are discouraged from coming until the fires are out.

 Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.

Thirteen days since the fires began, and the floor of the inner gorge is aflame and once again a park ranger is stationed at the Art Gallery, and another at Cathedral Cave. A back burn commences to save the cypress pine board-walk from the approaching flames.

Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.

 Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.

Sixteen days after its birth, fire moves in behind Boolimba Bluff and drops over the edge in many places.

 Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.

The remnants of the fires are still going 53 days after their start, when the first good storm occurs, with 75mm of rain. All fire is extinguished in the gorge. Loose soil is washed into creeks and Carnarvon Creek runs a deep chocolate colour, with black ash and charcoal floating on top. A tiny glimpse of the ever-ongoing process of erosion that, over a long time period, changes landscapes.

 Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.  Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.

The rains caused the grass roots to sprout  juicy green shoots and the kangaroos and wallabies feasted, and nests are built by birds as new leaves sprout in fire-singed trees and the insect population increases. A dazzling green rebirth follows, until the next fire.

 Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley. Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph by Bill Morley.


Lake Nuga Nuga reprised

An article written for the Spring/Summer 2013 edition of Wildlife Queensland news.

A nature photographer could not ask for a more perfect spot — it was one of those rare occasions when everything is just right. I was sitting in a borrowed kayak somewhere in the middle of Lake Nuga Nuga, the largest natural body of water in Queensland’s central highlands.

Lake Nuga Nuga_RA (3)

A Whistling Kite wheels above the waters of Lake Nuga Nuga. All images R. Ashdown.

I’d paddled out with camera in the early morning, moving through a surreal field of native Giant Water Lilies, their huge pink flowers still closed. I thought I’d just keep paddling about furiously until I found things to photograph, typically impatient to discover something of interest.

The lake, however, was about to remind me once more of the need to just sit, wait, shut-up and look. I eventually stopped paddling and sat quietly, taking it all in and reminding myself to breathe and enjoy the moment. The sounds of morning on the lake rolled over me as the day’s dramas unfolded with the opening of the giant lily flowers.

Lake Nuga Nuga_RA (1)

The water soon warmed, and small Bony Bream moved to surface, splashing onto the lily pads and catching the attention of Whistling Kites. The birds broke off from preening to make spectacular diving runs into the water, flying off with tiny wriggling silver meals clutched tightly in talons. I’d never been so close these birds and was dazzled by their rich and subtle hues of brown and tan, with eyes burning bright over the desire to catch breakfast.

Other waterbirds also fished around me, cormorants and egrets flying past and into the water next to my small boat. It was as if by sitting still I’d convinced all that I was just another dead tree, many of which are a feature of this lake. I soon discovered that the dead standing trees were not dead at all — flocks of Tree Martins whirled around them and darted inside the hollows of what were clearly multi-story tenements for countless small birds. Once in, they would peer out again, whipping their tiny heads in all directions to catch the action, screaming at each other in tiny voices.

Lake Nuga Nuga_RA (6)

An Intermediate Egret (centre) jostles for perching space with a Little Pied Cormorant (left) and a White-necked (Pacific) Heron.

What life goes on unnoticed in our wild places when there’s no human around to catch it! What a pleasure to think of the places we have managed to protect and the myriad natural dramas played out by the wildlife that call these places home. Yes, we need parks for people, but these wild places are essential to the lives of species other than human.

Lake Nuga Nuga_RA (5)

Intermediate Egret on drowned tree.

Lake Nuga Nuga is one of 13 nationally-significant wetlands that fall within the Southern Brigalow Belt bioregion. Unfortunately the lake itself is not national park, however the small but significant Nuga Nuga National Park sits adjacent to the lake and preserves remnant vegetation communities, including Ooline and Bonewood, largely cleared from central Queensland.

One of those who fought hard over decades for the protection of remnant patches of Central Queensland scrub in national parks, such as Nuga Nuga, was Jim Gasteen. A life member of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, Jim travelled extensively throughout four States, surveying areas for inclusion in proposed national parks. Said Jim in the June 1989 edition of Wildlife Australia, “I am convinced that the entire Queensland Central Highlands complex is one of the foremost biological areas in Australia and that the entire ranges should be designated national park and state forest.”

Lake Nuga Nuga_RA (7)
Jim also wrote, in the March 1984 edition of Wildlife Australia, of a “most remarkable experience at Lake Nuga Nuga.” Jim, his brother and a friend were setting up camp late one afternoon. They soon noticed a small and isolated fledgling cormorant being incessantly dive-bombed by a pair of kites. The tiny bird would submerge, only to be attacked again when surfacing. Things eventually looked final for the small bird. “So intense was this uneven battle that the three of us were on our feet with binoculars, absorbed in the drama and wishing there was something we could do to forestall the inevitable.” Suddenly a group of pelicans, until then fishing nearby, swam toward the cormorant and surrounded it, driving off with snapping beaks the attacks of the kites in the fading light, until the raptors gave up and flew away.

Lake Nuga Nuga_RA (4)

To the surprise of the observers the pelicans then remained in a tight circle around the small bird, without the slightest movement, looking “like sentinels from another era.” Says Jim, “A change had come over the lake — it was something felt rather than seen, for all that were left now were the stars and our own thoughts. We too remained anchored to the spot. Nobody spoke.

Jim wrote again of this “most remarkable swamp drama” in his book Back to the Bush in 2011 — it was obviously an experience he had not forgotten.

Lake Nuga Nuga_RA (2)

The Milky Way above Lake Nuga Nuga on a quiet, clear night.

Such are our most memorable nature experiences formed, through being present in a wild place — large or small — and just watching what happens around us.

I’d been sitting in my tiny kayak for almost three hours watching the kites battling over small silver fish morsels, and things were starting to quieten as the day warmed up. The lily flowers were open for business and the water was alive with dragonflies and bees.

As I prepared to head back to shore a strange rushing sound descended and I looked up to see a massive squadron of Pelicans flying low over the lake, accompanied by a motley collection of cormorants. It was the perfect end to a terrific morning. I thought of Jim and reflected on how important our national parks and wild areas are as the crucibles of experiences that we can carry with us for many years.

More spikes — Cunningham’s Skink

Like the Echidna (previous post), the Cunningham’s Skink is another somewhat shy and nervous animal, at least where stumbling photographers are concerned. I photographed this dark specimen in a pile of rocks just outside the ranger’s house at Sundown National Park.

Cunningham's Skink (<i>Egernia cunninghami</i>), Sundown National Park. There are 11 species of Egernia in Queensland, with some being among the largest skinks in the world. They are out usually during the day (diurnal), and bask in semi-concealed sites near the shelter of rocks or hollow logs. They bear live young . Photograph Robert Ashdown.

Cunningham’s Skink (Egernia cunninghami), Sundown National Park. There are 11 species of Egernia in Queensland, with some being among the largest skinks in the world. They are diurnal (usually active during the day), and bask in semi-concealed sites near the shelter of rocks or hollow logs. They bear live young. Photograph Robert Ashdown.

The Echidna — spikes and spurs

Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus), Carnarvon Gorge. Photograph Robert Ashdown.

Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus), Carnarvon Gorge. Photographs by Robert Ashdown.

I’ve always found Echidnas tricky things to get a decent photograph of. They always seem very wary, burrowing into the earth as soon as you get near one, leaving only a bunch of spines to be photographed.

So, it was a pleasant surprise to at last meet a curious and somewhat confiding Echidna. Lying on the ground in front of the busy mammal, I was soon rewarded with some close-up shots as it trundled up and inspected the camera, even attempting to climb over it.


Eye-protection needed – the Echidna climbs over my camera. “A toothless, highly specialised feeder on ants, termites and other soil invertebrates, particularly beetle larvae. Food exposed by powerful digging and tearing into soil or rotten wood with forelimbs, then licked up with long, sticky tongue.” Frank Knight, A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia .

Echidnas, like Platypus, are monotremes — egg-laying mammals. Female Echidnas carry a single egg, and later, the juvenile in a simple pouch on their belly.

Researchers are still discovering new things about these unusual mammals. One of the unique characteristics of monotremes is the spurs on the hind legs of males. In Platypuses the gland attached to the spur increases in size during the breeding season and produces a venom injected into competing males (the venom is highly toxic, causing excruciating pain that can take months to subside in humans). In male Echidnas, spurs are in the same position and the glands also get bigger during the breeding season. However, the spur cannot be erected and there have never been reports of anyone being envenomated by an Echidna.

Trip to Carnarvon Gorge witn project architect.

The purpose of an Echidna’s spur has until now been a bit of a mystery. Researchers from the University of Sydney have recently found that male Echidnas use secretions from their spurs to mark territory during the breeding season. They are unsure whether the mammals are communicating their readiness to mate, or using this to ward off other males.

Genetic studies of the Echidna have revealed that the secretions were once toxic and may have been used for defence millions of years ago. The gradual disappearance of the venom in the spur secretion indicates a that the gland has evolved a new role.


How the echidna lost its venom (the University of Sydney).

Upper Lockyer Valley Wildlife Calendar

Wildlife of the Upper Lockyer Valley 2014 calendar.

Wildlife of the Upper Lockyer Valley 2014 calendar.

This 2014 calendar was created for the Citizens of the Lockyer Inc., a group working to increase awareness of the rich biodiversity to be found within the Lockyer Valley, just south-east of Toowoomba.

Images, text and design work were donated to the group by Robert Ashdown, Bruce Thomson, Neil Armstrong, Mike Peisley, Catherine Burton, Rob Gratwick, Penny Davies and Jayne Darvell (images), Rod Hobson (text) and Rob and Terttu Mancini, Evergreen Design (design work).

Text Pages from Lockyer Wildlife calendar Rod Hobson. (PDF 344Kb)


The sounds of summer storms

Green Tree Frogs (Litoria caerulea) have not been seen too often in our Toowoomba backyard.

However, with the recent heat and storms, a deep resonating croak emanated from the old rainwater tank in our backyard. This is a sound from the summer storms of my childhood.

Green Tree Frog (Litoria caerulea). Growing up to 16 cm in length, this is a large frog that survives in varied habitats throughout Queensland. These frogs are often found in close association with humans, sometimes taking advantage of the insects attracted by lights.

Green Tree Frog (Litoria caerulea), hanging out in stylish backyard accommodation. This large frog (growing up to 16cm in length) lives in a variety of diverse habitats across Queensland. Often found in close association with humans, they sometimes take advantage of the insects attracted by household lights. All photos R. Ashdown.

Litoria caerulea, Tingalpa, Brisbane.

Green Tree Frog, Tingalpa, Brisbane.

  Litoria caerulea, Tingalpa, Brisbane.


Camera trap candids

Cameras  equipped with infrared triggers, known as ‘camera traps’, are used around the world to obtain information about wildlife and their habitats. Although they sound menacing, these traps do not harm wildlife. They simply capture images of fauna passing by the camera.

Remote cameras are used by rangers with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS)  to collect information about wildlife and ferals in the parks that they manage. Here are a few candid captures from some southern Queensland national parks.



Thanks to the rangers of QPWS, in particular Andy Coward, who looks after Culgoa Floodplains National Park in western Queensland.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Rangers Andy and Rowena, at a very dry Culgoa Floodplains National park, December 2014.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Rangers Andy and Rowena, at a very dry Culgoa Floodplains National Park, December 2013.


In the backyard with a camera phone

I’m not a purist about camera gear, having always enjoyed wringing interesting results out of dodgy bits of gear.

I’m not alone it seems, as retro plastic cameras and mobile phones are the cameras of choice for many these days. Mobile phones were once pretty ordinary as far as taking photos went, but this has rapidly changed. They’re mostly not yet up to the quality a good compact camera, but they’re getting better and if you have them on you then they’ll get used.

Here are some photographs taken locally using my phone.

Australian Painted Lady, backyard, Toowoomba. All photos R. Ashdown.

Australian Painted Lady, backyard, Toowoomba. All photos R. Ashdown.

Common Grass Blues, Toowoomba.

Common Grass Blues, Toowoomba.

 Common Grass Blue drinking from drain, Toowoomba.

Common Grass Blue drinking from drain, Toowoomba.

Girraween National Park.

Girraween National Park.

Common Grass Blues, Toowoomba.

Common Grass Blues, Toowoomba.

Native stingless bees, pine tree, Queens Park, Tooowoomba.

Native stingless bees, pine tree, Queens Park, Tooowoomba.

 Toowoomba Botanical Gardens.

Toowoomba Botanical Gardens.

Green Tree Frog, backyard, Toowoomba.

Green Tree Frog, backyard, Toowoomba.

Giant Spear Lily flowers, Toowoomba Botanical Gardens.

Giant Spear Lily flowers, Toowoomba Botanical Gardens.


Koalas — dead and alive

The parade of dead wildlife on our roads seems endless. I’ve become almost numb to it — a sad fact of life in this speed-addicted, car-mad society, something that most people do not even seem to notice anyway. I still stop (carefully) to check things dead on the road or to hurry-up some critter wandering about the asphalt.

Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus), dead on road, Crows Nest, Queensland. Photo by Robert Ashdown.

Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus), dead on road, Crows Nest, Queensland. Photo by Robert Ashdown.

On a recent early-morning drive north of Toowoomba we spotted a koala on the road. I found a safe spot to pull over (quite difficult on our country roads) and checked it out.

It was a large male, unfortunately dead, but still a beautiful animal. Its distinctive koala-smell transported me back to my childhood, standing at the Currumbin Bird Sanctuary at the Gold Coast holding a koala, totally lost in wonder, posing for a photograph with an ear-to-ear grin. I remember my grandmother’s anxiety leading to her being scratched by the one she was holding. There’d probably be an outcry these days and the place would be shut down and the animals all taken out by a SWAT team, but we did not worry too much then about a few scratches from such an animal.

As I was preparing to post this depressing and confronting image, I received by good fortune some great photos of a koala, very much alive and well, taken by Des O’Neill in his Brisbane backyard. So, to balance out the road-kill image, here’s some from Des, and also a lovely  shot from Raelene Neilson, who also has the good fortune to have these beleaguered icons at her place.

Koala, copyright Des O'Neill

How I’d rather see one. Backyard koala, Brisbane. Photos courtesy of Des O’Neill.

Koala, copyright Des O'Neill.

Koala, Copyright Raelene Neilson.

Koala, Geham. Photo courtesy Raelene Neilson


Fifty years of urban ecology

Several of my images, taken at our place in Toowoomba, have accompanied an article by Dr Darryl Jones in the Winter 2013 edition of Wildlife Australia

Urban Ecology (Large)

Many native species have demonstrated extraordinary abilities to adapt quickly to urban landscapes, giving rise to the also dynamic discipline of ‘urban ecology’.


A most formidable owl

A Powerful Owl —Australia’s largest and most, um, powerful owl — photographed at Moggill in Brisbane by Harry Hines, Senior Conservation Officer with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.

Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua) with Ringtailed Possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus). Photographed at Moggill by Harry Hines.

Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua) with Common Ringtailed Possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus). Photograph copyright Harry Hines.

Powerful Owl, giant of the continent’s nocturnal birds of prey, epitome of solitude and the voice that expresses as no other the essence and grandeur of the mountain bushlands. — David Fleay.


Wing-tip window art

A spell of warm weather, and the Superb Blue Fairy-wrens rise early to once again wrestle with their reflections in the misty windows of our car.

Sometimes they leave their mark — this time two tiny footprints and the swish of a single delicate wing-tip. An instant smile-making bit of window art.

Superb blue fairy wren

Firetail in the reeds

A Red-browed Finch (Neochmia temporalis) peers at me from a clump of reeds on the edge of Lake McKenzie, Fraser Island National Park.

Red-browed Finch, Lake McKenzie, Fraser Island.

A tenuous grip on life. Red-browed Finch at Lake McKenzie, Fraser Island. Photo R. Ashdown.

I like this photo. It’s technically pretty poor, and composed in a fairly ordinary fashion, but it makes me smile as it brings back memories. Crouching in the sand, oblivious to anything else, all personal worries forgotten — completely in the moment with a camera, peering into reeds through a viewfinder and trying to get a single clear shot of a small bird that just won’t separate itself from the shadows. Suddenly it’s there, checking me out in a fashion most fearless for its size, before darting back into the reeds to join its crew.

Another small moment of life in the wild edges. Here’s to moments shared with little creatures of big personality.

A storm sweeps across Lake McKenzie, Fraser Island National Park. Photo R. Ashdown.

A storm sweeps across Lake McKenzie, Fraser Island National Park. Photo R. Ashdown.

An enduring legacy — the Deniss Reeves & Barry Kenway Dragonfly Collection

The dragonfly collection of the late Toowoomba naturalist Barry Kenway has been preserved in the Queensland Museum, where it will contribute to the State’s knowledge of these marvellous insects.

The carefully preserved dragonfly specimens of Deniss Reeves and Barry Kenway have become a part of the Queensland Museum’s collections. The Deniss Reeves and Barry Kenway Dragonfly Collection will be stored in a specially designed cabinet from the United States, purchased with funds raised by the Queensland Museum Foundation. The collection will be catalogued in the Museum’s database and will be accessible to the scientific community and the general public the world over..

The carefully preserved dragonfly and damselfly specimens of Deniss Reeves and Barry Kenway have become a part of the Queensland Museum’s entomology collections. The Deniss Reeves and Barry Kenway Dragonfly Collection will be stored in a specially designed cabinet from the United States, purchased with funds raised by the Queensland Museum Foundation. The collection will be catalogued in the Museum’s database and will be accessible to the scientific community and the general public the world over. Image courtesy of the Queensland Museum Network.

From the Winter 2013 edition of Antenna, the journal of the Queensland Museum Foundation:

Dragonflies and damselflies are one of the world’s most familiar and charismatic insects.

There are 327 known species of Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) in Australia. The Odonata collection held by the Queensland Museum Network consists of over 4,000 specimens, acquired over the past 151 years.

This year, thanks to a generous donation through the Cultural Gifts Program by odonatologist extraordinaire Deniss Reeves, and a bequest from the estate of the late naturalist Barry Kenway, the Queensland Museum Network’s holdings of dragonflies and
damselflies have more than doubled. We now hold one of the most comprehensive and significant Odonata collections in Australia in terms of species representation and geographic coverage.

The names Deniss Reeves and Barry Kenway are synonymous with Odonata throughout Queensland. Over the last four decades, Deniss has devoted his life to raising community awareness and understanding about his beloved dragonflies and damselflies. During his odonatological career Deniss has amassed thousands of specimens, donating many to scientific institutions, and his stunning photographs of dragonflies and damselflies in their natural habitat have featured in many field guides, including the best-selling Wildlife of Greater Brisbane, published by the Queensland Museum Network. In 1999 Deniss’ significant contribution to the world of entomology was rewarded when the Queensland Pin Damselfly, Eurystica reevesi, was named in his honour.

Barry Kenway was a brother, husband, father, grandfather, teacher, sportsman and highly esteemed member of the Toowoomba community. He had an unquenchable enthusiasm for nature, particularly dragonflies. Barry amassed a collection of hundreds of specimens during his own expeditions and field trips with the Toowoomba Field Naturalists’ Club.

Barry Kenway

Barry Kenway, a man with an unquenchable enthusiasm for nature. “The Deniss Reeves and Barry Kenway Dragonfly Collection project will form an enduring legacy, commemorating the steadfast commitment and passion shown by Deniss and Barry to the study and protection of dragonflies and damselflies.” — Queensland Museum Curator Chris Burwell. Photograph taken in 2012 by Robert Ashdown.

Deniss and Barry’s carefully preserved specimens have come to the Queensland Museum Network precisely packaged in paper envelopes and stored in a multitude of plastic containers. Our scientists will now begin the immense, complicated and delicate task of sorting and storing these specimens in a specially designed cabinet from the United States, purchased with funds raised by the Queensland Museum Foundation.

Queensland Museum Network curator Dr Chris Burwell noted that once sorted and stored, each specimen will be catalogued on the Queensland Museum Network database, making our vastly enhanced Odonata holdings, to be known as the Deniss Reeves & Barry Kenway Dragonfly Collection, accessible to the scientific community and the general public the world over.

“Doctoral scholar Alex Bush will use the collection in a research study to predict the impact of climate change on the distribution of these biological treasures and investigate how our system of reserves could be modified and augmented to best ensure their conservation,” Dr Burwell said.

“Importantly, the Deniss Reeves & Barry Kenway Dragonfly Collection project will form an enduring legacy, commemorating the steadfast commitment and passion shown by Deniss and Barry to the study and protection of dragonflies and damselflies”.

Thanks to Sonya Peters, Chris Burwell and Rod Hobson. Copy courtesy of Antenna, Queensland Museum Foundation.


The death of a Buller’s Albatross

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Rangers on Fraser Island have many wildlife encounters. Most of these are enjoyable, but some are deeply disappointing.

Albatross are spectacular birds,  so spotting one is always a joy — unless it’s one that is a species not often seen in Queensland and is critically ill with a longline fishing trace hanging out of its mouth.

Albatross_FI_130530_ 005

In May this year Rangers Linda Behrendorff and Darren Blake found a Buller’s Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri) sitting on the beach one kilometre north of the Pinnacles at Fraser Island. The bird  had a green nylon trace with a large longline clip hanging from its mouth. Although transported back to the Eurong Ranger base for urgent assistance, the albatross died that morning.

In June, the bird’s body was necropsied at the Moggill Koala Hospital  in Brisbane. Dave Stewart, of the Environment and Heritage and Protection Department of Queensland, writes:

When necropsied, the green nylon trace was found to extend down into the proventriculus of the albatross. At the end of the nylon trace was a large hook with both a bent tip and a barb, both of which had punctured the wall of the proventriculus.

Approximately half of the nylon trace line (the section adjacent to the hook) had changed colour, from green to yellow and all except the tip of the stainless steel hook had begun to corrode. As the albatross was frozen shortly after death, for both nylon to change colour and for the stainless steel hook to begin to corrode, suggests that both of these have been in the gastro-intestinal tract of the bird for some time, in particular the proventriculus which is involved with the secretion of digestive enzymes. 

Buller's albatross

The hook was identified as a tuna circle hook — used for catching all types of fish, while the short trace indicated a drop line set-up used for many types of fish (except tuna). Dave Stewart:

There are two main periods during the longline fishing when seabirds are likely to get caught. These are during the line setting and line hauling. During line setting, baits are attached to hooks and paid out from the stern of the ship. At this stage of the fishing, seabirds risk getting hooked on the lines and then drawn underwater and drown. During line hauling, seabirds may survive the initial hauling process, but retain the longline hooks, which eventually result in their death or disability.

Presumably, most instances of hook ingestion occur as a result of processing procedures (notably the discarding of hooked fish heads by factory crew) undertaken on non-Australian and/or illegal longlining vessels.

longline hook

This is a medium-sized species of albatross, with a wingspan of 200 to 213cm. Buller’s Albatross are up to about 80cm in length and can live for up to 30 years. They feed mostly on fish, squid and tunicates (barrel-like filter feeders), but also octopuses, shrimps and lobsters.

While Buller’s Albatross visit Australian waters from the south, they are usually seen off the east coast from Coffs Harbour, south to Tasmania and west to Eyre Peninsula. The specimen found on Fraser Island is a rare visitor to our part of the world.  This species was unknown from Queensland until 1991, when a specimen was found dead on Frenchmans Beach on North Stradbroke Island. Since this initial record there have been five specimens found beach-washed (mainly on Fraser Island), while five live birds have been observed offshore from Southport and Mooloolaba.

The Buller’s Albatross is a species is listed as Vulnerable under the Nature Conservation Act in Queensland and the national Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999Recent population estimates for this species of albatross indicate that about 31,000 to 32,000 pairs remain. While this may sound a lot, in biological terms it is a small number.

Buller's Albatross. Photo courtesy Lennaert Steen.

How I think we’d all rather see one of these birds. Photo courtesy Lennaert Steen.

Buller’s Albatross are known to breed on a limited number of island groups around New Zealand and in other southern waters. When breeding, Buller’s Albatross are seen mostly over the shelf and slope waters off southern New Zealand, while some birds will occasionally travel further into the Tasman Sea. After breeding, many of these albatross disperse in the oceanic subtropical waters of the western South Pacific, or the Humboldt Current off the western shores of South America.

Longline fishing is a big problem for the Buller’s Albatross, and has been identified as the main threat to the Buller’s Albatross as a species. These albatross are often included in the estimated 300,000 sea birds drowned each year when they eat fish caught on longlines. It is believed that (an unsustainable) 600 breeding adult Buller’s Albatross are killed each year in Japanese operations off New Zealand alone. Other Buller’s Albatross are killed in the Australian Fishing Zone from longlining and collision with the cables and warps used on fishing trawlers.

Buller's Albatross. Photo courtesy Colin Reid.

A majestic-looking seabird. Photo courtesy Colin Reid.

The CSIRO in Hobart is involved in a study to determine the relationship between fishing activity in the Atlantic and declining albatross populations. It is being funded by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.

Resource modeller with the CSIRO in Hobart, Geoff Tuck, says the study will make recommendations about better managing Atlantic fisheries to reduce the effect on seabirds. He says that fishing agencies are currently setting about 400 million hooks across the Atlantic, and believes that area closures or reductions in effort in particular areas or in particular fleets may help the albatross.

“That’s a lot of hooks and even though a vessel may catch either no birds on a particular set or maybe only one bird or two birds, the problem is that when you multiply that up across millions and millions of hooks then it becomes a problem for our seabirds.”

Photo courtesy John Leonard.

I think you could forget to breathe while watching one of these fly past. I’ve never seen one, and I probably never will, but that doesn’t matter really. I’d just like to think that these exquisite creatures will still be out there, alive and well, for a long time yet. Photo courtesy John Leonard.

Images (not credited) are courtesy Linda Behrendorrf, Jenna Tapply and Dave Stewart. Thanks to Linda and David for the information and images.


  • Stewart, D (2013). A Buller’s Albatross from Fraser Island in May 2013. Unpublished report, Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.

References cited in the above report:

  • Alexander, K., G. Robertson & R. Gales (1997). The incidental mortality of albatrosses in longline fisheries. Tasmania: Australian Antarctic Division.
  • Blakers, M., S.J.J.F. Davies & P.N. Reilly (1984). The Atlas of Australian Birds. Melbourne, Victoria: Melbourne University Press.
  • Brothers, N. (1991). Albatross mortality and associated bait loss in the Japanese longline fishery in the Southern Ocean. Biological Conservation. 55:255-268.
  • EABG (Experimental Analysis of Behaviour Group) 1999. Draft Recovery Plan for Albatrosses and Giant Petrels. Environment Australia Biodiversity Group, Canberra.
  • Environment Australia (EA) (2001). National Recovery Plan for Albatrosses and Giant-Petrels 2001-2005. [Online]. Canberra, ACT: Environment Australia.
  • Gales, R., Brothers, N. and Reid, T. 1998. Seabird mortality in the Japanese tuna longline fishery around Australia, 1988-1995. Biol. Conserv. 86:37-56.
  •  Gynther and Stewart (1998). First Record of Buller’s Albatross in Queensland. 42:494.
  • Murray, T. E.; Bartle, J. A.; Kalish, S. R.; Taylor, P. R. 1993. Incidental capture of seabirds by Japanese southern bluefin tuna longline vessels in New Zealand waters, 1988-1992. Bird Conservation International 3: 181-210.
  • Nel, D.C. & J.L. Nel (1999). Marine debris and fishing gear associated with seabirds at sub-antarctic Marion Island, 1996/97 and 1997/98: in relation to longline fishing activity. CCAMLR Science. 6:85-96.
  • Stahl, J.C., J.A. Bartle, N.G. Cheshire, C. Petyt & P.M. Sagar (1998). Distribution and movements of Buller’s Albatross (Diomedea bulleri) in Australasian seas. New Zealand Journal of Zoology. 25:109-137.

Useful links:

Black Kites death mystery

Black Kites have been mysteriously dying in northern Queensland.

Black Kites at the Mareeba tip. All photos by Raelene Neilson.

Black Kites at the Mareeba tip. All photos courtesy Raelene Neilson.

From couriermail.com.au:

Experts are looking for clues as to why common black kites are falling dead from north Queensland skies.

Black kites, also known as shite-hawks and firebirds, are medium-sized birds of prey and are among the few raptor species which gather in flocks. Testing has so far excluded bird flu and Newcastle disease, both highly contagious viral infections linked to mass deaths of migratory wild birds, and transmissible to humans. But the cause of the latest spate of deaths, possibly linked to a cross-border infection, is still a mystery.

Biosecurity Queensland has confirmed it is testing “several kites in relation to unexplained deaths in the tropical north Queensland region. The exact number of bird deaths is unknown and estimates are not available at this stage of the investigation,” a spokesman told The Courier-Mail.

He said a range of tests were being undertaken for potential causes. “Laboratory testing is ongoing to determine the cause of this mortality incident.” Environment Department wildlife director Beck Williams said her office would investigate if it was suspected the birds might have been illegally killed.

Bird of prey expert James Biggs said it was highly unusual for raptors to die in large numbers or, literally, drop dead from the sky. “If it is not disease, it could possibly be poisoning, but without being familiar with the ongoing tests it is hard to know,” the Cairns Tropical Zoo bird supervisor said.

Black kites prey on insects, small animals and birds, and can spend all day soaring on the wing, hawking insects out of the air and eating them on the fly. “They are often seen hovering around fires, like cane burn-off, where they catch the insects pushed up on the updraft,” Mr Biggs said. “But if there is a road kill they will feed on that too. Whatever it is that is killing them I’d be very keen to know why. It’s a puzzle.”

Black Kites Mareeba. Raelene Neilson.

The bear, the dingo, the blind priest and a legendary Finnish rock band

SKAA120130612B00 (Large)

From the ‘letters to the editor’ section of the newspaper Satakunnan Kansa, from the town of Pori on the western coast of Finland. Photo R. Ashdown.

I’ve just had an image printed in a Finnish newspaper. What were they after? A photo of a dingo! Why? Read on …

Hi Rob!

I thought you might need an explanation concerning the use of your dingo photo.

I worked as a news reporter in the newspaper Satakunnan Kansa for nearly 30 years. My specialities in that work were nature, conservation of nature, fishing and hunting. Now I have been editing the readers’ letters for five years. I also do the layout for the two pages.

The “dingo case” started when a bear swum to one of the Pori harbours. The animal was very angry because of  the harbour’s fences. It tried to go through, but couldn’t do that, so it went back to the sea and swam away. The authorities decided that they would have to shoot the bear if it did not go back to the woods. So, they tracked the animal for a while with guns, but stopped when they couldn’t find it.

After all that the newspaper got a letter form a blind priest by the name of Hannes Tiira, who is a keen bird listener and conservationist. He wrote that the city of Pori, which has the bear in its coat of arms, did not deserve the bear as a symbol, as the city had mistreated the bear (I like this guy. His blog looks cool, but my Finnish is dismal —Rob).

He suggested that the dingo or mamba would be a better animal for Pori, because these animals don’t bother us. Why dingo or mamba? The explanation is that Pori is known for its rock bands Dingo and Mamba.

Dingo was the most popular rock band in Finland in the beginning of the 1980s. The composer and singer of the band (Neumann) was a sailor as a young boy and maybe he had seen the dingo. In the summer many fans were waiting outside to see them play, some even sleeping in the open. The album that I have sent you in  the 5th of Dingo. I thought you’d like to hear what kind of music they played.

When I got the letter from Hannes Tiira, I thought that all our readers might not know what a dingo was. I found you on the Internet and saw that you had a dingo photo, so I contacted you  and you had the good will to send me the photo even though I could not pay you.

Thank you again,
Esa-Pekka Avela, Journalist, Pori, Finland

Google ‘Bears and Finland’ to see some absolutely stunning photographs of bears in … Finland!


Dingo, the band. Let’s hope the rangers on Fraser Island don’t have to deal with this lot! (Mind you, some of them have similar hair-styles).
“Dingo is a Finnish rock band formed around 1982 in Pori, Finland. They fused Finnish melancholy with catchy rock melodies, headed by the charismatic singer Neumann (a.k.a. Pertti Nieminen). Their first two albums, Nimeni on Dingo (1984) and Kerjäläisten valtakunta (1985) both sold over 100,000 copies in Finland and they caused mass hysteria among teenage girls as they were seen as the Finnish equivalent of Duran Duran. The hysteria took its toll as the band crashed and burned fast, splitting up in October 1986, after their third album Pyhä Klaani had failed to match the sales of its predecessors.” Bio from LastFM.


Blind Finnish priest, conservationist, bird-listener and bear-fan Hannes Tiira.

Life on the edge

This watercolour painting by Rob Mancini hangs above my desk.
It’s a constant source of inspiration to me.

Crested Terns by Rob Mancini

Crested Terns Sterna bergii.  Watercolour by Rob Mancini. Click on the image for a larger view.

I’ve photographed terns, those feisty survivors of the edges between land and  sea, with mixed results. My photographs never seem to capture the enjoyment of seeing these characters live. This painting, however, has done just that.

This is an image that exudes mystery and majesty. There has been no attempt to nail down the birds with clinical precision, instead, we are granted a dazzling peek into the fast-paced lives of these fabulous animals — burning bright with tenacious life in the salty sea-spray and early light, with their precise but ruffled forms.

I am reminded that no matter how much I might think I know birds I am only ever struggling to get an understanding of them — an outsider peering in, and my human intelligence and arrogance is to no avail when faced with the transient beauty and other-worldly nature of such creatures. This is a brief, shimmering glimpse into another reality.

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.     

― Henry Beston, “The Outermost House: A Year of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod.”

Rob Mancini was a featured artist in Penny Olsen’s 2001 book “Feather and Brush: Three Centuries of Australian Bird Art.” From that book:

The subjects that capture (Rob’s) interest are the waterbirds, especially migratory waders, subtly-plumaged birds that are often over-looked. “I get pretty excited by raptors too, but who doesn’t?’ An accurate rendering alone does not hold much interest for him, rather he hopes to convey a more emotive experience. He believes that the obsession with super-realism has led to some misunderstanding about creating a realistic image. Although certainly interested in scientific accuracy and believability, rather than attempting to render every minute detail he aims to evoke a realistic impression. “It’s worth resisting the temptation to paint every detail, instead allowing the eye of the observer to put them in.”

Rob has just made a selection of fine art prints of his paintings available for sale on his Etsy webpage. Included is a limited edition print of the Crested Tern painting featured here (from an edition of 300, hand-signed and numbered, printed by offset lithography on heavyweight art paper). If you’re ever lost for a gift idea, supporting an Australian wildlife artist by purchasing one of these prints might be the go. Rob also has a collection of his illustrations on his deviantART page.


Lake Nuga Nuga

Lake Nuga Nuga, the largest natural water body within the dry highlands of the Central Queensland Sandstone Belt, is a place of many stories.

About 515 km north-west of Brisbane, this lake is located at the northern (downstream) end of the Arcadia Valley, and lies within the floodplain of the Brown River, a tributary of the Comet River. The Comet River itself falls within the greater Fitzroy River basin (see map below), the waters from which eventually reach the Queensland coast near Rockhampton.

During favourable seasons both the Brown River and Moolayember Creek flow into Lake Nuga Nuga.

Startrails, Lake Nuga Nuga

Standing dead trees in Lake Nuga Nuga are illuminated by campfire in a three-hour exposure (taken on on slide film). All photographs in this post by Robert Ashdown unless credited otherwise.

Lake Nuga Nuga varies in size with the seasons. It is usually somewhere in the order of about 2,000 ha in area, and is about 8 km across in a north-west to south-east direction and about 4 km in width. The lake is mostly below 2 metres in depth, with a maximum depth of about 9 metres. One source records the lake as having been dry only twice — in 1936 and in 1970-71, while Walsh (1988) states the lake as having been dry three times during the 1970s and 1980s.

Nuga Nuga National Park lies adjacent to the lake’s northern banks, but does not include the lake itself.

Lake Nuga Nuga

Lake Nuga Nuga is located within the Central Queensland Highlands, an elevated area of sandstone ranges and wide valleys.

Home of the rivers

Five major river systems have their origins in this sandstone country. The area is sometimes referred to as ‘The Home of the Rivers’.

Lake Nuga Nuga NP. View from Mt Warinilla.

Looking east over Lake Nuga Nuga toward the Expedition Range. Nuga Nuga National Park, which covers the northern edge of the lake seen here, includes some uncleared remnants of the Arcadia Valley’s original vegetation.

Lake Nuga Nuga

Lake Nuga Nuga nearly dry. Photograph taken in the 1950s, courtesy Bill Goebel.

Lake Nuga Nuga

Mt Warrinilla, Lake Nuga Nuga, 1950s. Photograph by Bill Goebel.

A sudden growth …

While today’s visitors to the lake are often awed by the lake’s immense expanse, it has not always looked like this.

Ludwig Leichhardt crossed the nearby Expedition Range in 1844 on his way to Port Essington. He narrowly missed Lake Nuga Nuga while skirting around the area’s brigalow scrubs. He did name Lake Brown, a lake just to the north of Lake Nuga Nuga, after one of the Aboriginal members of his expedition.

Expedition National Park

A view west across Expedition National Park, through which explorer Ludwig Leichhardt travelled in 1844. This national park protects an area of original scrub similar to  that which Leichhardt would have encountered on this journey.

Walsh (1985) believes that Frederick Walker of the native Police may have been among the first to officially record the lake’s existence in early ‘white’ records.

In 2006 researchers Finlayson and Kenyon published a paper on Lake Nuga Nuga, sourcing original files and the results of lake core sediment samples. They studied the records of surveyor Vernon Brown, who travelled through the Arcadia Valley in 1865. Brown recorded Lake Nuga Nuga as small, being only about one kilometre in diameter, within an extensive area of swamps and flood-prone country covered by open forest and ‘open brigalow scrub’, ‘oak scrub’, ‘open scrub’ and ‘open flooded box flat’.

Vernon Brown's map of Lake Nuga Nuga

Vernon Brown’s 1865 map of Lake Nuga Nuga. The lake was about one kilometre in diameter and set within an area of swamps. (Coloured notes are my estimations only and may be incorrect).

About 1880 the dimensions of Lake Nuga Nuga dramatically extended over a short period of time.

It is thought that heavy rain and the subsequent flooding of the Brown River filled the small existing lake and surrounding swamps, before a scouring flash flood in Moolayember Creek transported large amounts of silt into the vicinity of the lake. When these waters reached the creek’s right-angle junction with the Brown River, turbulence caused the silt to form a natural levee bank at the lake’s northern end.

Lake Nuga Nuga today

Lake Nuga Nuga today, a much larger expanse of water. (Blue colour may not be the current amount of water in the lake, as it recedes and fills seasonally).

Finlayson and Kenyon believe that Lake Nuga Nuga is unusual geographically because it is a particularly large example of a lake associated with a river levee, and also because it is a rare case where the main stream (the Brown Rover) has been blocked by a smaller tributary, here  Moolayember Creek.

The many dead trees throughout the water area may support the larger lake’s relatively short period of existence. The lake has, despite expanding and contracting with seasonal conditions, gradually continued to expand.

Moolayember Creek looking west toward Carnarvon Gorge from Lake Nuga Nuga.

Looking west from Lake Nuga Nuga. Moolayember Creek, surrounded by a thin strip of vegetation within a largely cleared area, snakes toward the lake (foreground) from the distant Carnarvon ranges.

... and looking back from the other direction (ie, to the east). Lake Nuga Nuga seen from the Woolpack, a sandstone outcrop on the Carnarvon Ranges. Photo by Bernice Sigley.

… and looking back from the other direction (ie, to the east). Lake Nuga Nuga seen in the far distance from the Woolpack, a sandstone outcrop on the Carnarvon Ranges. Photo by Bernice Sigley.

 … and a mysterious disappearance

A strange event occurred at Lake Nuga Nuga in the 1940s. The water of the lake apparently drained overnight, leaving the bodies of thousands of dead fish, eels and turtles scattered around the lake’s shoreline.

From the September 13, 1946 edition of the Western Star:

The waters of Lake Nooga Nooga, normally about five miles in diameter and situated just north of the Carnarvon range, have mysteriously disappeared.

The edge of the lake has been steadily receding, and muffled explosions have been heard from the direction of the lake from Christmas Eve, 1944. Last week the manager of Warinilla Station (Mr W Logan) found that only a strip of mud 100 yards by 20 yards remained. Three months ago there were 400 acres of water. Mr Logan said that the water had been disappearing too fast for evaporation to be the explanation.

The explosion, which is believed to have been a subterranean disturbance, killed all the fish in the lake, which was previously well stocked. Mr Logan said: “We found the fish lying dead in the mud around the lake bed. You can still scoop up their bones.”

One theory held in the district is that the disturbance opened a connection with an underground shale layer believed to run through to Springsure about 70 miles to the north-west.

Mr Logan said that he had never heard of the lake being dry before, but evidence of charring on timber of the “drowned forest” which filled the original lake bed indicated that at some time it must have been swept by bushfires.

The drowned forest, Lake Nuga Nuga

The drowned forest, Lake Nuga Nuga.

Lake Nuga Nuga

The quiet waters of Lake Nuga Nuga on sunset. Photograph by Linda Thompson.

Walsh (1985) reports one persistent local theory for this event:

It is believed that American bombers flying on the Darwin to Brisbane route had jettisoned their bomb load directly into the lake’s waters. The explosion was thought to have opened some fissure or fault in the floor of the lake and permitted the water to escape. Careful examination of the lake bed during the 1970s drought failed to discover any evidence of such disturbance or of bomb shrapnel.

Pelicans over Lake Nuga Nuga.

A squadron of pelicans over Lake Nuga Nuga.

Walsh quotes a newspaper article about a group on a fishing expedition camped on the lake shore at the time of the event:

The night before, muffled explosions like thunder exploded in the distant hills and rocked their holiday camp and swirled the lake’s waters angrily on its sands.

Apparently activities normally associated with earth tremors were recorded at least as far south as Timor Station, near Injune. It was reported that crockery in the kitchen cupboards rattled furiously in the night in question.

The original locals?

The Aboriginal name for the lake was, and still is, Wagan Wagan. This means ‘running’ and may have originally referred to the small dotterels and wading birds that can be seen running around the lake’s shoreline.

From Walsh (1985):

The origin of Wagan Wagan Lake has a direct association with one of the most significant creatures in Australian Aboriginal mythology: the Rainbow Snake. This creature is found in mythology in many countries, and in Australia is often responsible for forming particular landscape features such as rivers and lakes. Within the sandstone belt area this fearsome creature was commonly known as Moondagarri or at times Moondungera. Areas reputed to be the home of the Moondagarri (also known as Mundagurra) are held in great reverence and the Lake Nuga Nuga area is exceptional in that it is the home of not one but two Rainbow Serpents.

Star Trails, Lake Nuga Nuga NP.

Star trails and Dhanamany (Mt Warrinilla/Round Mountain), beneath which rests one of two Mundagurra (Rainbow Serpents). Lake Nuga Nuga was created to keep the skins of these serpents moist. Should they be disturbed, the Mundagurra will leave the area and the lake will dry up.

The two prominent mountains on the northern lake edge and which form the southern extremity of the Fantail Range are now known as Mt Warrinilla or Round Mountain (known by Aboriginal people as Dhanamany) and Mt Kirk. One Rainbow Serpent is said to reside under each of these mountains.

Lake Nuga Nuga NP.

Mt Kirk, home of the second Mundagurra.

Lake Wagan Wagan was originally created by the travelling Rainbow Serpents as their final home, and maintain the water in the lake to keep their bodies moist. It is said that if the Rainbow Serpents leave their homes under the mountains the lake will dry up forever.

There was plenty of evidence in the early 1900s that the Lake Nuga Nuga area was of great significance to Aboriginal people long before the advent of European settlers. Writes Walsh:

An extensive complex of ledge burials was found in the area in the 1950s and in spite of its remote location was totally pillaged within a decade, an event all too typical within the entire sandstone country in decades past. A wealth of information was lost to science.

It was a bit more than a loss of information. I’d add that the appalling desecration of burial grounds held sacred to Aboriginal people was inexcusably thoughtless and ignorant, no matter how you look at it.

Lake Nuga Nuga NP.

,  In the shadow of Mt Warrinilla.

Burial cylinders, made of elaborate bark constructions, were taken from the area decades ago. It is thought that large amounts of material accompanied the burials, including bone awls, dilly bags, skin bags, ceremonial stones and clapsticks. Walsh believed this to be:

one of the greatest single sources of material data in pre-contact Aboriginal lifestyles yet discovered in central Queensland.

Controversy over the removal of a burial cylinder from the area in 1982 gathered media interest, attracting greater public support for the official protection of archaeological sites.

Lake Nuga Nuga NP. Nankeen night herons.

Roosting Nankeen Night Herons, Lake Nuga Nuga.

In the 1970s drought it was reported that numerous stone tools lay in an area not far from the shoreline of the lake, still not covered by the deposits of sediment. Clay and stone ground ovens were also visible on the lake bed.

... and one more. Photo by Bernice Sigley.

Photo by Bernice Sigley.

Despite what is written about the “lost tribes of the Carnarvons”  the Karingbal people have survived, and continue to assert their relationship with this area, including Lake Nuga Nuga and its surrounds.

A small national park, but without the lake

The Arcadia Valley, like much of the central Queensland area, was once covered in a scrub dominated by the acacia known as brigalow (Acacia harpophylla). Clearing of this area for agriculture accelerated after the Second World War with the introduction of heavy machinery.

Jim Gasteen was involved in extensive surveys of the area in the 1970s as conservationists and scientists sought to have examples of the State’s biogeographic regions included within national park reserves. He describes (in 1982) what happened in the area with the commencement of the Fitzroy Basin Brigalow Land Development Scheme in 1962:

The plan by the Government was to allocate and clear 4.5 million hectares of brigalow-dominated country north from the Warrego Highway for closer settlement. As a result of this, and other extensive private clearing during the Scheme and since, most of the lowland brigalow scrubs had disappeared by the early 1970s, leaving vast areas of over-cleared agricultural lowland to the north, south and east of the central highlands. In addition, the more accessible mixed eucalypt ridges associated with the north/south coastal ranges have now been cleared for farming and grazing. Virtually the only areas which have escaped the onslaught of an expanding agricultural industry have been the more elevated ranges where the soils are shallow and rocky and which are too steep and difficult to clear.

Lonesome National Park.

A patch of original brigalow scrub preserved within Lonesome National Park, at the southern end of the Arcadia Valley. Expedition National Park can be seen in the background.

Gasteen’s survey work was a critical part of the successful acquisition of some central highlands areas in national parks or other reserves, including Expedition National Park and Nuga Nuga National Park. His The Queensland Central Highlands Sandstone Region Survey Report was vital support in the effort to protect some remaining habitat within reserves. After completing a large survey of Queensland’s wetlands in the 1970s, Gasteen named 11 specific wetland areas that he felt should be accorded national park status. Lake Nuga Nuga was one of these.

Hemmed in by the retreating scarps of the Expedition, Carnarvon and Kongabula ranges, which form a beautiful backdrop to the sea of pink waterlilies blanketing the lake surface, the Lake Nuga Nuga area contains important remnants of local native vegetation in the heart of the over-cleared Brigalow lands. This important wetland region supports a large and diverse wildlife population of immense significance to Queensland’s central highlands.

While the area adjacent to Lake Nuga Nuga was gazetted as a fauna reserve in 1969, it was not until 1991 that Nuga Nuga National Park was declared over a 2,550 ha area of bush. Extensions in 1993 allowed for the inclusion of a former Recreation Reserve, increasing the park’s size to 2,860 ha (about 28.6 sq km).

The lake itself is not part of the national park, but considered vacant crown land, a waterway which falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Natural Resources and Water. Attempts in the past to have the lake included within the national park failed after protests by some local land-owners.

Lake Nuga Nuga is listed in the National Directory of Important Australian Wetlands. It is one of 13 nationally-significant wetlands that fall within the Southern Brigalow Belt biogeographic region.

Lake Nuga Nuga

Intermediate Egret with captured Bony Bream, Lake Nuga Nuga.

Lying within the Brigalow Belt Biogeographic region, Nuga Nuga National Park protects some remnants of plant communities that were once more widespread when the Arcadia Valley area was covered in scrub.

The vulnerable Ooline (Cadellia pentastylis) is found here. This tree was once widespread from central and southern Queensland to north-west New South Wales. Ooline is a relic species from earlier and wetter geological time, and is now restricted to a few isolated areas, having disappeared from most of its previous range. The remnants in Nuga Nuga National Park are found in one of the best remaining examples of this habitat in Queensland.


Ooline, an unusual and uncommon tree, is a relic species from an earlier, wetter time.

As well as Brigalow itself (Acacia harpophylla), other notable plants species include Broad-leaved Bottle-tree (Brachychiton australis) and eucalypts such as Poplar Box (Eucalyptus populnea), and ironbark. Rosewood Acacia (A. rhodoxylon) dominates the summit and sides of Mount Warrinilla, with ironbark fringing the edges and scarps.

There are areas within the park composed of a combination of open or shrubby woodland communities dominated by Narrow-leaved Ironbark (Eucalyptus crebra) and Spotted Gum (Corymbia citriodora). Coolibah (Eucalyptus coolabah) woodland is also present.

Lake Nuga Nuga NP.

Nuga Nuga National Park runs to the northern edge of the lake.

Remnants of Bonewood (Macropteranthes leichhardtii) scrub, a dry form of rainforest (or semi-evergreen vine thicket), are found throughout the park, while Currentbush (Carissa ovata) is a significant coloniser of vine thicket margins.

Lake Nuga Nuga.

Pelicans and cormorants over Lake Nuga Nuga.

The lake itself provides valuable habitat for water birds in an otherwise arid sandstone landscape.

At dawn and dusk the trumpeting of large gatherings of swans resounds hauntingly through the stillness of the lake’s ‘dying forest’. Walsh (1988).

Lake Nuga Nuga.

Tree Martins roost within the hollows of the many dead trees standing on the lake.

Many species visiting the lake are migratory and are listed under international treaties. Large numbers of birds such as Pelicans, Black Swans, Magpie Geese, Brolgas, Grey Teal, Great Crested Grebes, Pink-eared Ducks, Hardheads and Plumed Whistling-ducks use the lake at times.

Raptors such as Whistling Kites and White-bellied Sea eagles can be seen here. Whistling Kites have been adding to some nests in the lake’s dead trees for over 20 years (Walsh, 1999), and can be seen snatching Bony Bream from the water on warm mornings.

Whistling Kite, Lake Nuga Nuga.

A Whistling Kite watches for Bony Bream, Lake Nuga Nuga.

Whistling Kite, Lake Nuga Nuga.

Whistling Kite, Lake Nuga Nuga.

Whistling Kite, Lake Nuga Nuga.

Whistling Kite, Lake Nuga Nuga.

Whistling Kite, Lake Nuga Nuga.

Whistling Kite, Lake Nuga Nuga.

Whistling Kite, Lake Nuga Nuga.

The future?

Organised trips to Lake Nuga Nuga began in the early 1900s. In March 1931 The Royal Geographical Society of Australia’s Roma Branch organised the first major expedition to the lake. Led by Roma solicitor (and later Mayor) Fred Timbury, the party camped overnight before continuing on to Rewan Station and Carnarvon Gorge.

Timbury was an advocate of schemes (known as the Bradfield and Idriess) to redirect the flow of rivers inland and north for irrigation. His book Battle for the Inland, published in 1944, pushed these schemes.  Following trips to Lake Nuga Nuga and Carnarvon, Timbury gave a series of lectures at Roma, Injune and Mitchell on the beauty of the Carnarvon Ranges, featuring a series of ‘Magic Lantern’ glass slides prepared from expedition photographs by Roma photographer Otto Watson.

Fred Timbury

Fred Timbury at Lake Nuga Nuga, 1930s. Photograph by Ernie Ward, courtesy Peter Keegan. About the photographer (from Walsh, 1998): The inner Carnarvon Gorge was also well known to Tom and Ernie Ward, two local identities who had lived a hermit-like existence there during the latter part of the First World War, to avoid conflict with their German fatherland … the Wards had already photographically recorded Carnarvon … Ward’s Canyon was the closed, secluded side gorge used by the Wards as a supplies and equipment store, doubling as a darkroom in starlit nights to permit processing of photographic negatives in its flowing waters.

Since then, Lake Nuga Nuga has been an increasingly popular destination for campers, fisher-folk and photographers.

Lake Nuga Nuga by Bill Goebel.

Lake Nuga Nuga has been, and probably will be for many years, a place where photographers can wrestle with capturing the light. Photograph by Bill Goebel, 1950s.

Lake Nuga Nuga by Bill Goebel.

Lake Nuga Nuga in the light of a full moon. Photograph by Bill Goebel, 1950s.

Boiling the billy on sunset, lake Nuga Nuga. Photo courtesy Bernice Sigley.

The sun still sets over the lake half a century on. Boiling the billy, Lake Nuga Nuga. Photo by Bernice Sigley, 2003.

In 1986 photographer Steve Parish led the Wildlife Photo Experience Tour to the lake, and participants waded out to get a close look at the lake and its stunning native water-lillies. The lillies are there still, and make an excellent photographic subject.

Lake Nuga Nuga

Much of Lake Nuga Nuga is at times covered with the enormous purple, pink and white flowers of the native Giant Water Lilly (Nymphaea gigantea). Photos by Robert Ashdown.

Lake Nuga Nuga

Lake Nuga Nuga

The blogger doing what he enjoys most, messing about with cameras at somewhere like Lake Nuga Nuga. About 2003, with my trusty old Nikon F4 and 300mm mf lens.

Following in the footseps of some interesting photographers — the blogger doing what he enjoys most, messing about with cameras at Lake Nuga Nuga. About 2003, with his trusty old Nikon F4 and 300mm mf lens. Photo courtesy Bernice Sigley.

Val Palmer (1986) describes the joy of photographing the lake in the changing light of sunset:

With changing nuances of light, each image captured seemed to surpass the last. Such elation as the sun dipped lower, towards the bones of trees standing starkly from the lake! Then the ultimate simplicity as it set, a dull red orb, seeming to impale itself on the teeth of dead trees.

Sunset Lake Nuga Nuga

Sunset Lake Nuga Nuga

Sunset Lake Nuga Nuga

Sunset Lake Nuga Nuga

[Four sunset photos (above) courtesy Linda Thompson.]

Land currently farmed within the Arcadia Valley is regarded as the highest quality for agriculture, with a reputation as good fattening country for cattle. Pasture growth is good on soils derived from the original Brigalow, Belah, Ooline and Wilga softwood and vine scrub soils.

Another claim for use of the area’s land has accelerated, with mining exploration intensifying over the entire sandstone country of central Queensland, including the Arcadia Valley. Future threats to Lake Nuga Nuga may include water extraction and the introduction of new weed species.

The lake has seen a recent increase in people taking to its waters in powered boats. Nonetheless, it is still a serene location for most of the time. It remains to be seen what pressures will affect the lake and its small adjacent national park in the coming decades,  and how it can be best protected for generations to appreciate.

I’d like to think that the Moondagarri stay sleeping beneath the mountains that overlook this magical place.

Lake Nuga Nuga sunset

Lake Nuga Nuga sunset. Photograph by Linda Thompson.

Thanks to QPWS rangers and total legends Linda Thompson and Bernice Sigley for permission to use their images, and for the enjoyable times spent camping by Nuga Nuga. Thanks also to Linda for the loan of the kayak, and to Bill Goebel and Peter Keegan.


  • Finlayson, B. and Kenyon, C. (2007). Lake Nuga Nuga: a Levee-dammed Lake in Central Queensland, Australia. Geographical Research. 45(3):246-261. Online here.
  • Gasteen, J. (1984). Pelicans to the Rescue. Wildlife Australia, Autumn 1984.
  • Gasteen, J. (1998). Back to the Bush.
  • Gasteen, J. (1991). How can we Protect Queensland’s Diminishing Wetlands? Wildlife Australia, Spring 1991.
  • Walsh, G. L. (1985). Lake Nuga Nuga — A Need for Greater Protection. A Brief on the Historic Significance of the Lakes Area. Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service (unpublished).
  • Walsh, G. L. (1998). Carnarvon and Beyond. Takarakka Nowan Kas Publications.
  • Palmer, V. (1986). Nuga Nuga Dreaming. Wildlife Australia, Spring 1986.


More Black Kites

Black Kites have continued to hang around Toowoomba in great numbers, with huge flocks seen swirling above the local tip. A couple of dodgy images taken on my mobile phone.

Black Kites, Toowoomba tip.

Black Kites, Toowoomba tip.

Black Kites, Toowoomba tip.

For more on Black Kites see my April 2013 post.

From Mick Atzeni, 1/7/13:

After doing our western jaunt for the raptor census, Olive, Kylie, Claire Hanney and I caught the spectacle Saturday around 5pm along Hermitage Rd when hundreds and hundreds of kites were streaming in to roost.  It’s surreal and exactly as Pat described; like a huge mob of decamping flying-foxes. It is a must see. You just can’t comprehend the scale of it unless you’re standing there trying to count them. With so many birds in flight – many below the treeline and obscured by the buildings — it was incredibly hard to do so but 3000+ would be my conservative estimate.