Author Archives: Robert Ashdown

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 recording detailed notes on natural history at the gorge.

Overseer III. Bill Morley, Ravensbourne NP. Pic Bill Morley, 1954.

Bill Morley, Ravensbourne National Park overseer, 1954.

Bill Morley camping in Lethbridges Pocket, Mount Moffatt, before NP declaration, Jan 1979.

Bill Morley camping in Lethbridges Pocket, Mount Moffatt, before the area was declared a national park.  January, 1979.

Bill Morley with plant specimens ready for filing, May 1989.

Bill Morley with plant specimens ready for filing, Carnarvon Gorge, May 1989.

Bill Morley, doing slide show in info centre, Aug 89.

Bill Morley gives a slide show at the Carnarvon Gorge Information Centre, August 1989.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Echidna

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.

Carnarvon Gorge section, Carnarvon National Park

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.

Carnarvon Gorge wanderer.

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.

Magnetic Island

Trundling down to the dam for a drink. Highwoods, near Jimbour.

Links:

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)

Links

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.

 LINKS

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.

DCIM100EK113

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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.

LINKS

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.

LINKS

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

Links

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’.

LINKS:

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.

Links

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, K’Gari (Fraser Island National Park).

Red-browed Finch, Lake McKenzie, Fraser Island.

A tenuous grip on life. Red-browed Finch at Lake McKenzie, K’Gari. 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, K’Gari. 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 marvelous 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.

Links:

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.

References:

  • 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

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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

Dingo, the band. Let’s hope the rangers on K’Gari (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.

qweeqeqe

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.

Links:

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 kilometres 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 hectares in area, and is about eight kilometres across in a north-west to south-east direction and about four kilometres in width. The lake is mostly below two metres in depth, with a maximum depth of about nine 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 also 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.

For another explanation, we need to turn to the Karingbal people.

The first people

Lake Nuga Nuga lies within the home country of the Karingbal people. Their 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.

Karingbal people associate the origin of Wagan Wagan Lake with one of the most significant creatures in Australian Aboriginal mythology, the Rainbow Snake. Within the sandstone belt of central Queensland this creature was known as Moondagarri, Moondungera or Mundagurra. Areas associated with this creature 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 known as Mt Warrinilla or Round Mountain — Dhanamany to Indigenous people — 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.

And of the suddenly emptying lake? Karingbal people believe this was caused by one of the Rainbow Serpents moving from the lake and returning.

Despite what is written about the “lost tribes of the Carnarvons”  the Karingbal people have survived, and continue to rightly 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

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 Linda Thompson and Bernice Sigley for permission to use their images. Thanks also to Linda for the loan of the kayak, and to Bill Goebel and Peter Keegan.

I would like to express my respect for the Karingbal and Brown River Peoples and acknowledge their past, present and emerging Elders. I respect and recognise their ongoing connection with this land. 

References:

  • 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.

Links:

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.  

Hanging out at the Bribie jetty

I recently accompanied my son and father-in-law on a fishing trip along the jetty at Bongaree, on Bribie Island. Unlike these two fishing legends, I’m hopeless at catching anything, so it was not hard to be distracted by the sight of two unusual birds sitting with the Silver Gulls and Pelicans on the busy beach.

Pacific Gull, Bribie Island

Immature Pacific Gull (Larus pacificus), Bribie Island. All photographs by Robert Ashdown, taken on an Olympus OM-D digital camera using a 1980s 300mm manual-focus lens.

It was a pair of immature Pacific Gulls, which were quite confiding and allowed me to get a few images. I’d only ever seen this species before at Bruny Island in the far south of Tasmania a decade ago, so it was interesting to see them here in the north.

[Click on images for larger view]

Bongaree Jetty, Bribie Island.

Fishermen and resting birds, Bongaree Jetty, Bribie Island. Pacific Gull can be seen in middle foreground.

Pacific Gull, Bribie Island

Pacific Gulls, also known as Jack Gulls, Molly Gulls or Mollyhawks, are larger and heavier-billed than any other gulls. They are found on beaches, headlands and offshore islands in southern Australia, rarely straying further inland from the coast than saline coastal lakes and estuaries.

Pacific Gull, Bribie Island

Pacific Gull with Little Pied Cormorant and Pelicans, Bribie Island. Adult Pacific Gulls have mainly black and white plumage, with bright yellow bills. Adult birds pair permanently and tend to stay all year at the same stretch of shore. Young birds, however, disperse widely after fledging, travelling hundreds of kilometres up the east and west coast before returning south to breeding grounds a year of two later.

A nation-wide study on Pacific Gulls has shown that numbers of the birds are falling in some parts of Australia. At the same time research has revealed “unexpectedly intensive movement of the South Australian population of Pacific Gulls”. While the average movement  of adult Pacific Gulls is said to be about 40 km, one South Australian bird has been reported 400 km away. Said researcher Dr Bruce Robertson, “He packed his suitcase and went a long way and we don’t know why.”

Pacific Gull, Bribie Island

Pelicans grooming, Bribie Island.

Pacific Gull, Bribie Island

The big and the little of beach birds. Pelican and Little Pied Cormorant.

Pacific Gull, Bribie Island

Pacific Gulls feed on fish and squid caught at sea, crabs and sea-urchins plucked from reefs and beaches,  carrion and the eggs and young of other nesting birds such as gannets, shearwaters and petrels. Their flight is described as “graceful and leisurely, on deeply and slowly beating wings, broken by majestic soaring.”

Pacific Gull, Bribie Island

The Glasshouse Mountains can be seen beyond the Bribie Island bridge.

Pacific Gull, Bribie Island

A Pacific Gull sleeps among a flock of Silver Gulls.

Pacific Gull, Bribie Island

Pacific Gull with Darter.

Pacific Gull, Wilson's Promontory. Ross Naumann.

An adult Pacific Gull is a pretty stunning character. Check that bill! Bird photographed at Wilson’s Promontory by Ross Naumann.

Links:

Walking the gorge

I recently did two days of long walking with my son at Carnarvon Gorge.

It was a great time, and reminded me of just how much walking in such terrific places can help one re-focus on the good things in life. Here are a small selection of  images from the trip.

Ground orchid, Boolimba Bluff, Carnarvon Gorge

Ground orchid, Boolimba Bluff, Carnarvon Gorge. Photo Harry Ashdown.

Red-winged parrots

A recent work trip to the central Queensland sandstone country provided some great opportunities for bird photography, although much was done on the road in a bit of a rush getting from one spot to another.

Red-winged parrots, Arcadia Valley, central Queensland.

Arcadia Valley is between Injune and Rolleston. The brigalow scrub that once covered this area is now largely restricted to Lonesome National Park at the southern end of the valley. Vast fields of sorghum stretched off to distant sandstone escarpments as I drove south in the late afternoon light.

I’ve always loved spotting Red-winged Parrots (Aprosmictus erythropterus), and stopped to watch a small flock of these dazzling birds raiding the grain as long shadows crept across the fields.

Red-winged parrots, Arcadia Valley, central Queensland.

Red-winged parrots, Arcadia Valley, central Queensland.

Red-winged parrots, Arcadia Valley, central Queensland.

Red-winged parrots, Arcadia Valley, central Queensland.

Red-winged parrots, Arcadia Valley, central Queensland.

 

Green, grey

Perched uncomfortably in a grey mangrove tree, I was being eaten alive by sand-flies. I was coping with this, however, as I’d just caught a glimpse of my favourite bird.

I sat as still as possible, peering intently into the tangle of foliage on the opposite bank of this small, mangrove-lined creek on the outskirts of Brisbane. A pale grey, ghostly shape had just glided through a gap in the canopy, and the place had fallen silent — not a sound from the other mangrove birds that had been piping away seconds before. The place was tense. A predator was looking for a meal, and all were wary.

Grey Goshawk, Boondall wetlands, Brisbane. Grey Goshawks frequent most forest types, especially tall closed forests (including rainforests) in the coastal areas of northern and eastern Australia. They feed on birds, small mammals, reptiles and insects, capturing prey by striking with their long, powerful clawed toes. They pursue prey in flight, striking at speed, and even chasing prey into dense undergrowth.  Please credit: Photograph by Mike Peisley

Grey Goshawk, Boondall wetlands, Brisbane. Grey Goshawks frequent most forest types, especially tall closed forests (including rainforests) in the coastal areas of northern and eastern Australia. They feed on birds, small mammals, reptiles and insects, capturing prey by striking with their long, powerful clawed toes. They pursue prey in flight, striking at speed, and even chasing prey into dense undergrowth.
All photographs courtesy, and copyright, Mike Peisley.

My first close encounter with a Grey Goshawk in my local patch of bushland, years earlier, had really sparked my enthusiasm for raptors — our birds of prey. I’d stopped in my tracks to meet the steady, but wary, gaze of this impressive bird as it perched on the end of a eucalypt limb above the walking track, black eyes stark against pale grey feathers. Having seen these birds occasionally from a distance on the edges of distant rainforest, I was stunned to be face-to-face with one in this patch of bush where the suburbs meet Moreton Bay. The bird had quickly and silently taken off, leaving me hooked.

Like many other bird-watchers before me I took a deeper plunge into the addictive world of raptor identification — a pastime equal parts frustration and excitement. What was this raptor doing here in Brisbane, and what others might be around? With fellow local birdwatchers over the next few years, I’d pursued some answers to these questions, and found many raptors hanging out locally. Our finds included Brown and Grey Goshawks; Collared Sparrow-hawks; Pacific Bazas; Brahminy, Whistling and Black-shouldered Kites — and even White-bellied Sea Eagles — all nesting in the area. We soon realised just how important these habitats were for our birds of prey.

Grey Goshawk

Many years later, I still find raptors exciting to watch. Living on the Darling Downs, I’ve seen Spotted Harriers gliding over fields, Brown Falcons flapping about a clear blue sky, and Peregrine Falcons nesting on the cliffs of old quarries. Yet my favourite bird remains the Grey Goshawk, with whom my encounters are still rare and always thrilling. I’ve spotted one gliding over Queens Park in the middle of Toowoomba, and one day near Ravensbourne stood transfixed as a white phase morph of the species (the only pure white raptor in the world) glided past. That was one of the highlights of my life as a naturalist.

IMG_6537-crop-(Custom)-(2)

IMG_6539-crop-(Custom)

A naturalist? I remember telling a colleague that I was one of these, to which I received the shocked response, “You’re into running around with no clothes on?” It seems that being a naturalist (as opposed to a naturist, or nudist), is a pastime little known these days, and certainly less popular than watching football (and possibly running around nude). But it’s a long tradition, and a good-value hobby. Watching the natural world brings endless rewards. Part of the tradition is of course the sometimes obsessive need to impose order on what we see, to collect and categorise. Where once our predecessors kept bird eggs and cabinets of specimens, we keep notes, tick lists, make sketches and take photographs. And, of course, we share stories of what we’ve seen, which seems to close the loop on the enjoyable process of watching wildlife. I think it is the mystery and challenge, and the encounters with wonderful wild creatures, that make being a naturalist so rewarding.

IMG_5988-crop-(Custom)

Raptors are a great reminder of the mystery inherent in nature. Despite our technology we can’t just whistle them up, and identification (let alone an understanding of behaviour) takes dedication and skill. Long persecuted as predators that take our chickens or lambs, their ability to survive around us — largely unnoticed and given the chaos we wreak on habitats — is admirable.

As I sat in the mangroves that day, I was holding my breath. No doubt this mere glimpse would be all I’d get once more. But I was in luck, as a large female Grey Goshawk emerged from the tree line and glided right past me. My hands were shaking so much I could barely hold the binoculars still. Locking them briefly onto the bird’s face, I once more met the fierce and intelligent gaze of this most striking bird, before it was gone — as silently and as quickly as it had appeared.

I went home itchy, clothed and happy.

Mr Bad Example — ten years gone

“I met Warren Zevon in Emerald,” said Martin Ambrose, Senior Ranger in the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, as we drove along some dodgy road near Injune. Tracks from the classic 1978 Zevon album Excitable Boy had been blasting out of the speakers for a quite a few kilometres.

I’d discovered that Ambrose and I shared an appreciation of the music of the late Zevon, but this was a bit hard to believe. Zevon, the hard-rocking American singer-songwriter, known for his sardonic humour, brilliant musicianship, wonderful song-writing and heavy partying, hanging out in central Queensland? “I require evidence,” was my response. It appeared a few days later, in the form of this great photograph.

Warren Zevon with ranger Martin Ambrose (left) and (right).

Send lawyers, guns, money … and  newly-planted trees. Warren Zevon (holding pick like it’s a hunting rifle) with Forestry Officers Martin Ambrose (left) and Craig Whiteford (right). Photograph by Fred Wild.

In his blog page on Zevon, ‘Nu Country guru’ Dave Dawson states, “When Chicago-born singer-songwriter Warren Zevon first toured Australia with (well-known Aussie outfit) The Little River Band in 1990 he soaked up Aussie culture from the shade of the Hilton circuit.”

Zevon played 23 gigs that year in a tour that visited Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth. Tour lists do not mention that Zevon had briefly ventured off the coastal strip, accompanying The Little River Band when they visited Emerald to play at a charity concert following the big flood of that year. Zevon played two songs at the concert, which was held at the football grounds.

Martin relates how Zevon had earlier in the day planted a tree in the car park — a temporary location for the publicity photo shoot with the Queensland Forestry Department (who Martin then worked for) and Central Queensland News. “Forestry was seeking coverage for the Natureline, a corridor of trees being planted around the town of Emerald to reduce spray drift from cotton spraying around the margins of town. Fred Wild, aka Mr Natureline, got all sorts of famous people to plant trees to publicise the scheme.”

Says Martin, “Warren Zevon will be ten years dead on 7 September 2013. I would like to remember Warren by celebrating his significant contribution to conservation in Queensland.

The fuzzy box tree that he planted in the football ground car park in Emerald in 1990 was later unceremoniously translocated to the back yard of the Central Queensland News journalist Fred Wild, where it grew into a tree affectionately and widely known as ‘Warren’.

In the five years I was in Emerald, ‘Warren’ grew quickly to about four metres in height. The tree flowered and sheltered a fire ring that hosted many camp oven roasts. Under that tree, in a similar fashion to that ghost gum at Barcaldine, a range of well, and lesser-known ‘conservationists’ consumed roast lamb and red wine, while plotting strategies, drowning sorrows and celebrating small wins with contemporary issues in Central Queensland, including land clearing, tree plantings and land being declared as new national parks and wildlife refuges.

The Excitable Boy from New York and his little fuzzy box seedling unwittingly created a regular congregation of dedicated people who now have seniority in their respective careers across Australia.

I believe that ‘Warren’ eventually succumbed to clearing for redevelopment. However, the legend of the tree, and the man who planted it, lives on.”

Had any green Zevon anthems been forthcoming following his trip to the wilds of central Queensland? Almost. As Dave Dawson points out, Zevon indeed used his Aussie trip as inspiration for the title track of his eleventh album Mr Bad Example. No uplifting conservation theme here —  the song is a typical Zevon number, bristling with his trademark sardonic humour and caustic wit, a hilarious travelogue parody putting “shonky Aussie corporate crooks on the griller.”

And fourteen hours later I was down in Adelaide
Looking through the wanted ads sipping Fosters in the shade
I opened up an agency somewhere down the line
To hire aboriginals to work the opal mines
But I attached their wages and took a whopping cut
And whisked away their workman’s comp and pauperized the lot
I’m Mr Bad Example, intruder in the dirt
I like to have a good time, and I don’t care who gets hurt
I’m Mr Bad Example, take a look at me
I’ll live to be a hundred and go down in infamy

                                                                  “Mr Bad Example” (Warren Zevon/Jorge Calderon).

Links:

“Like no other singer-songwriter of his generation, Warren Zevon addressed murder, desperate passion, espionage, crippling loneliness, and f*ck-you excess with a lethal wit and confessional grace that remain unrivalled. When the singer-songwriter-pianist succumbed to lung cancer in 2003, the music world lost a truly original voice.” — Rhino Records.

sadad

“Now it’s ten year later, but he still keeps up the fight.” Martin Ambrose casts a watchful eye on the vast expanse of Barakula State Forest, still pondering the question he put to Zevon, who politely refused to answer — “Just what was the song Excitable Boy all about?” Photo R. Ashdown.

Thanks to Martin Ambrose for the story, Stratego battles and Zevon road-trip singalongs.

A kettle* of kites

The Black, or Fork-tailed, Kite (Milvus migrans) is a hawk found mainly in Australia throughout the northern and inland parts of the country.

It’s a sociable raptor often seen around human settlements, where large flocks frequent rubbish dumps, stockyards, abbatoirs and roads.

black kite

The Black (or Fork-tailed) Kite is a “medium-sized, scruffy brown soaring hawk that often gathers at carrion, refuse and fires+.” This kite is about 47-55 cm long, with a wingspan of 120-139 cm. “Floats overhead on long, drooped wings with prominent spread ‘fingertips’; twists, tilts its long, forked tail.^” Photograph copyright Tom Tarrant, used with permission.

This species is also found across much of the world , including Europe, Africa, Asia and New Guinea. In Europe the populations are highly migratory, hence the specific name migrans. Populations of the bird in Australia do not regularly migrate, but are known to occasionally ‘irrupt’ in areas beyond their usual range.

Black kite

Black Kites soar or glide on flat or slightly arched wings, often with head hunched forward while body and wings twist and change position. They are highly manoeuvrable birds, side-slipping to snatch food from the ground or water.  Photograph copyright Tom Tarrant, used with permission.

While seen occasionally about Toowoomba in small numbers or individuals, a large movement of these birds across town is from all accounts a fairly uncommon event. However, this is indeed what’s happened over the last month, with groups of these birds numbering up to perhaps a hundred, or even more, moving across the town. Other species of raptor have been seen at times moving with, or through, the groups.

black kites

A flock of at least 50 Black Kites moving above Toowoomba, 14 April 2013. Photograph by Justin Shiels.

black kites

A week earlier, east Toowoomba. Photograph by Robert Ashdown.

While walking the dog in the park we spotted a large flock of these kites overhead, circling loosely on thermals and heading slowly east. As our small dog sat by itself in the open field, one bird suddenly appeared above us, peering intently at our little mutt.

black kite

A solitary Black Kite materialises low over us, twisting its head to peer at our small, worried dog.

Pluto

Pluto, the small, black, worried dog, is offered up as a sacrifice to the flock of raptors, all in the good cause of attempting to get a better bird photo. She does not look impressed. Black Kites eat all sorts of animals and carrion, including mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, amphibians, invertebrates and road-kill and other carrion. They patrol fire-fronts and roads and follow other birds and farm machinery to snatch flushed prey. Black Kites also love human scraps and forage by soaring and quartering before dropping on prey, according to Stephen Debus. I’d say this bird was wondering if our small, black hound was recent road-kill. Photograph by Robert Ashdown.

Says raptor expert Stephen Debus, “The Black Kite’s most characteristic behaviour is its effortless circling in inland or tropical skies, in flocks sometimes numbering hundreds or even thousands. It can ascend beyond the range of human vision  or suddenly appear overhead having descended from invisible heights.” Which is what this one pretty much did.

The dog was clearly threatened, peering up and growling before running to hide between human feet. It was hilarious to see this notorious bird-chaser on the receiving end for once!

Pluto

“They’re still up there, should I still be worried?”

The Black Kite is also known in Australia as the Kimberley Seagull because of its habit of gathering in large numbers to scavenge an abundant food source. They have also been known to flip over Cane Toads to feed on them while avoiding the amphibian’s poisonous parts. Photo copyright Tom Tarrant, used with permission.

See comments for updates.
Thanks to Justin Shiels, Tom Tarrant, Mick Atzeni, Richard Jeremy.
*Thanks also to Ian Menkins for the great collective noun. While the Oxford Dictionary associates the use of the collective noun ‘kettle’ for a group of fish, the term has also been used for hawks when flying in large numbers (see 1, 2) I might be stretching things a bit by using it with kites (too bad, it sounds good).

References:

+ Debus, S (1998). The Birds of Australia. A Field Guide. Oxford.
^ Pizzey, G. and Knight, F. (1997). The Graham Pizzey and Frank Knight Field Guide to the Birds of Australia.

Links and further information:

New summer singers

Cicadas have been described as Australia’s best-loved insect.° What other type of insect has species with such fabulous common names as Greengrocer (Cyclochila australasiae), Yellow Monday (Cyclochila australasiae), Redeye (Psaltoda moerens), Floury Baker (Abricta curvicosta), Razor Grinder (Henicopsaltria eydouxii) and Cherrynose (Macrotristria angularis)?

Since the first Australian cicada was formally described in 1803 (the Double Drummer, Thopha saccata), the list of known Australian species has grown to over 240. New cicadas continue to be found.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) ranger Rod Hobson, who shares an office with me and bunch of other characters in Toowoomba, has just had the honour of having his name attached to a recently described species.

Drymopsalta hobsoni, a newly described specis of cicada found only in Bringalily State Forest. This is the male holotype of the species ( QM T183037), which was found about 9 km form the Robert Wicks Research Station near Inglewood. Photograph © Queensland Museum, Geoff Thompson.

Drymopsalta hobsoni sp. nov., a newly described species of cicada found only in Bringalily State Forest, near Inglewood in southern Queensland. This is the male holotype^ of the species (QM T183037), which was found about 9 km from the Robert Wicks Research Station. Photograph © Queensland Museum, Geoff Thompson.

Drymopsalta hobsoni sp. nov. is one of three new species of cicada described this year by Tony Ewart and Lindsay Popple.* Tony and Lindsay had participated in a QPWS fauna survey at Bringalily State Forest, near Inglewood in  southern inland Queensland. When returning to the site subsequently for a follow-up cicada search, Tony located the new cicada.

D. hobsoni is described as ‘small (less than 15 mm in length) and inconspicuous’ — which is not how I’d describe Hobson. While Ewart and Popple do not suggest a common name, I’d go for something like “The Small and Inconspicuous (Unlike It’s Dodgy Namesake) Brown Cicada”, or similar.

The discovery and scientific description of these three new species of cicada has been part of an ongoing, systematic collection of cicadas throughout Queensland and parts of the Northern Territory. Many new species, especially smaller ones, are being discovered from a wide range of woodland, heath and grassland habitats. Apart from catching the cicadas, researchers also record their distinctive songs, which become valuable tools in identifying known species of these bugs in the wild and for detecting what could be a new species.

Drymopsalta hobsoni sp. nov. Female.

Drymopsalta hobsoni sp. nov. Female. “Cicadas occur in almost all parts of Australia, from the tropical north to Tasmania’s snowfields, from beach sand dunes to the driest desert. The variety of their habitats is almost endless.”° Photograph © Queensland Museum, Geoff Thompson.

While the three new species of cicadas are superficially similar in appearance, their songs are quite distinct from other cicadas — which is usually the case. However, two of the three new species (separated as species by a range of features) have quite similar calls. The buzzing, chirping calls of D. hobsoni and D. acrotela are very close, and the authors describe this as the first formal documentation of a ‘shared calling structure’ between two species of cicada in Australia.

 Etymology

Drymopsalta hobsoni was “Named after Mr Rod Hobson, who organised and arranged the original survey at Bringalily State Forest that led to the discovery of this new species. Mr Hobson has also contributed passionately to furthering the understanding of Queensland’s natural history, particularly in the Darling Downs region*.”

Rod has also had a new species of native snail named after him. See my blog entry from January 2011.

References

* Ewart, A. and Popple, L. W. (2013) New species of Drymopsalta Heath Cicadas (Cicadidae: Cicadettinae: Cicadettini) from Queensland and the Northern Territory, Australia, with overview of genus. Zootaxa 3620 (1).

° Moulds, M.S. (1990) Australian Cicadas. New South Wales University Press.

Glossary

^ “The association of a name with a species, by necessity, must be associated in a way that is beyond question. When a researcher is naming a species (or describing a new species  as it is often put) a single reference specimen is chosen to represent the species; this is known  as the type specimen or holotype.”°

Holotypes form the core of the natural history collections of institutions such as the Queensland Museum (where the holotype of Drymopsalta hobsoni is stored).

Links

Rust never sleeps, part 3

A theme is developing. Maybe. More oxide-coloured images from west and east of the Great Divide.

Maclagan Memories Museum, Darling Downs. All images by Robert Ashdown.

Maclagan Memories Museum, Darling Downs. All images by Robert Ashdown.

Maclagan Memories Museum

Maclagan Memories Museum, Darling Downs.

Maclagan Memories Museum, Darling Downs

Maclagan Memories Museum, Darling Downs

Maclagan Memories Museum, Darling Downs

Maclagan Memories Museum, Darling Downs

Maclagan Memories Museum, Darling Downs

Maclagan Memories Museum, Darling Downs

Stockyard Creek Community Hall.

Stockyard Creek Community Hall.

The old gradually replaces the new.

The old gradually replaces the new.

Abstract oxides.

Abstract oxides.

Shades of ferrous.

Shades of ferrous.

Stockyard Community Hall fence. A rust-coloured dragonfly on a wire fence.

Stockyard Community Hall fence. A rust-coloured dragonfly on a wire fence.

Two rust-coloured dragonflies between rusted posts.

Two rust-coloured dragonflies between rusted posts.

 

A tiger at the Bunyas

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service ranger Bryan Phillips-Petersen recently took this photograph of a Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatis) on a track at Bunya Mountains National Park.

Tiger Snake, Bunya Mountains National Park.

Tiger Snake, Bunya Mountains National Park. Growing to a length of two metres, this is a large, highly venomous member of the Elapid family of snakes. This species varies in colour throughout Australia, but usually they have ragged-edged pale bands (hence the common name). In Queensland they are found in  some upland rainforest areas and in some coastal lowland parts of the Sunshine Coast. They feed mainly on frogs. The flattened head is a warning to stay well clear. Photo courtesy Bryan Phillips-Petersen.

It’s a beautiful reptile — a species that I’ve kept an eye out for at the Bunyas during visits over many years, with only one brief sighting that gave no chance for a photo.

Given its fierce look and common name, this is a snake that might invoke thoughts of an aggressive, attacking reptile. However, while this is a dangerously venomous snake responsible for fatalities, its reputation as a fierce animal is not deserved,  according to herpetologist Steve Wilson:

The Tiger Snake has an undeserved reputation as being very aggressive, yet it is quite a timid snake that avoids confrontation. Very large individuals are often quite unconcerned by the presence of people. Even when provoked they give plenty of warning with an impressive threat display, flattening the neck and forebody and hissing loudly.  Only as  a last resort will the snake strike, but given its abundance around southern cities it is not surprising that this highly venomous species is second only to the Eastern Brown Snake as the most common cause of snake-bite death in Australia.*

Bunya Mountains.

Rising abruptly from the surrounding plains, the cool peaks of the Bunya Mountains reach more than 1,100 metres above sea level and offer spectacular mountain scenery, views and abundant wildlife. Bunya Mountains National Park (declared in 1908) is Queensland’s second oldest national park. It shelters the world’s largest stand of ancient Bunya Pines (Araucaria bidwillii).The park is home to about 120 species of birds and many species of mammals, frogs and reptiles. Several rare and threatened animals live here, including sooty owls, powerful owls, the black-breasted button quail, a skink species and a number of mammals. Photograph Robert Ashdown.

Once the most common cause of snake-bite death, Tiger Snakes have now been surpassed by Eastern Brown Snakes. It is thought that this change may be due to the difference in favourite prey items. Tiger snakes like to eat frogs, which have declined in numbers in many areas favoured by humans areas due to habitat clearing and other factors. On the other hand mice — the favourite food of brown snakes — have only increased in numbers around humans.

Tiger Snakes are less common in Queensland than in southern parts of Australia, where they are widespread in cool moist areas such as swamp edges and creek banks. In Queensland they are found in upland rainforests such as the McPherson Ranges and the Bunya Mountains. They can also be found in coastal wallum and heath areas of the Sunshine Coast. An isolated population is found in the Mount Moffatt section of Carnarvon National Park.

*Reference: What Snake is That? Gerry Swan and Steve Wilson, 2008.

Links:

From a caveman’s pocket

Frilled Lizard (Chlamydosaurus kingii). Abergowrie State Forest, July 2010.

Frilled Lizard (Chlamydosaurus kingii). Abergowrie State Forest, July 2010. Photo Robert Ashdown.

Frilly Neck Lizard

when the dinosaurs
were wiped from the earth
you crawled inside
a caveman’s pocket
then re-emerged
in my backyard
flaunting the latest look
in post-medieval
protective neck wear

Michelle A. Taylor
If Bees Rode Shiny Bicycles
University of Queensland Press
2003
Michelle A. Taylor at UQP.

Humungous fungus amongus

Or something. Some photos taken on the weekend at Raels and Kim’s rainy front-yard.

Fungus

Photo Raelene Neilson.

Photo Robert Ashdown.

Photo Robert Ashdown.

Puffball fungus. Photo Robert Ashdown.

Puffball fungus. Photo Robert Ashdown.

Photo Robert Ashdown.

Photo Robert Ashdown.

Ringed Xenica, Geitoneura acantha. Photo Raelene Neilson.

Ringed Xenica (Geitoneura acantha). Photo Raelene Neilson.

Photo Raelene Neilson.

Photo Raelene Neilson.

Smilax australis. Photo Raelene Neilson.

Smilax australis. Photo Raelene Neilson.

Smilax australis. Photo Raelene Neilson.

Smilax australis. Photo Raelene Neilson.

Photo Robert Ashdown.

Photo Robert Ashdown.

Photo Raelene Neilson.

Photo Raelene Neilson.

Photo Robert Ashdown.

Photo Robert Ashdown.

Wombat Berry. Photo Robert Ashdown.

Wombat Berry. Photo Robert Ashdown.

Banded Grass Skipper  Toxidia parvulus. Photo Robert Ashdown.

Banded Grass Skipper (Toxidia parvulus). Photo Robert Ashdown.

Photo Raelene Neilson.

Photo Raelene Neilson.

Photo Robert Ashdown.

Photo Robert Ashdown.

Footpath frogs — more discoveries in the rain

The recent rain has been a blessing for frogs. For only the third time in ten years I noticed the call of  Graceful Tree Frogs (Litoria gracilenta) in our suburb. Their long, drawn-out wail preceded the deluge of ex-cyclone Oswald by several days. When I heard that mysterious call I knew we were in for some serious humidity.

This week my son’s friend David and his great dog Sam discovered a strange brown amphibian on our footpath one afternoon. To my surprise it was not a Cane Toad, but a Great Barred Frog (Mixophyes fasciolatus). This was a new species for my backyard list (I’m including the footpath of course).

Mixophyes fasciolatus, Toowoomba.

The Great Barred Frog (Mixophyes fasciolatus) discovered by David and Sam on our footpath, Toowoomba. Not all frogs are green with webbed feet. Growing to a length of 8 cm, these spectacular brown frogs have bands and markings across their sides and legs. All photos by Robert Ashdown.

The Great Barred Frog is one of six species of frog in Queensland belonging to the genus Mixophyes. They are usually found along creek lines in, and around, rainforests and wet sclerophyll forests. In  the Toowoomba area I’ve found (or heard) them only at escarpment locations such as Picnic Point and Jubilee Park (but haven’t been looking for them too much). It was a great surprise to have one in our busy street, slightly out of the forest.

Mixophyes fasciolatus, Burbank.

Great Barred Frog, Tingalpa Creek, Burbank (near Brisbane). You can see why they are named ‘barred’. These frogs have a terrific call — a loud ‘wark’ followed by grunting noises.

Mixophyes fasciolatus, Rockmount.

Close-up of  a Great Barred Frog’s eye. All Barred Frogs have large, dark, mysterious eyes, sometimes with silver, blue or gold in the iris. I remember the wonderful herpetologist Glen Ingram, while fired with enthusiasm at a public talk on frogs, declare that “Love is in the eyes of a Mixophyes.” When I took a close look at one, I had an idea what he meant. I have not kissed one though.

Mixophyes fasciolatus tadpole.

Great Barred Frog tadpoles are huge, sometimes growing to a length of 12 cm (including tail). They are strong swimmers.

I’ve only photographed three of Queensland’s six species of Barred Frog. The Giant Barred Frog (Mixophesy iteratus) is a spectacular amphibian, but one also sadly classified as endangered.

Mixophyes iteratus.

The Giant Barred Frog is just that — giant and barred. Its iris is a striking gold colour. Giant Barred Frogs, also endangered, are found in rainforest and wet sclerophyll forest, along riparian zones.

Mixophyes iteratus.

A Giant Barred Frog shows how well its marked and striped body merges with the leaf litter. All Barred Frogs are ground dwellers, without webbed toes. The call of the Giant Barred Frog has been described by herpetologist Eric Vanderduys as a “low, often soft ‘ork’, somewhat relaxed.”

Mixophyes iteratus.

The Evil Eye of Sauron … I must return his ring … no, hang on, it’s a Giant Barred Frog. The frog’s tympanic membrane — an ‘external ear’ — can be seen adjacent to the eye.

The Fleay’s Barred Frog (Mixophyes fleayi) is also classified as endangered. They are found only in mountainous rainforest and adjacent wet sclerophyll forest.

Mixophyes fleayi.

The endangered Fleay’s Barred Frog has an upper iris coloured pale blue, golden brown or silver. They have huge and powerful back legs. Their call is a stuttered ‘r-r-r-r-rork’.

Bird-bath bird-watching

IMG_4430

 Images from guest photographer Raelene Neilson.

A backyard bird bath is a win-win — the birds will visit and the bird-fan will welcome each visitor. The only problem is how much time can a bird-watcher sit and watch before other things call? The simple things in life can be the best indeed.

Here is a selection of images taken by Raelene at her ground level bird-bath at Geham, north of Toowoomba.

New tropical island yabbies discovered

While the impact of development on our coastal habitats is a topic constantly in the news, it’s sobering to be reminded that we are still finding out what species of plants and animals actually live in these fragile places.

Cherax austini

Cherax austini, one of two recently described species of freshwater crayfish from Whitsunday Island. Preserved specimen, photo R. Ashdown.

For zoologists, the discovery of a new species is always significant. It’s like finding another piece in the threatened and fragile jigsaw of life that surrounds us and on which we depend so much.

The Whitsunday Ngaro Sea Trail is a mix of seaways and picturesque walks across Whitsunday, South Molle and Hook islands. The walk leads through open forests, grasslands and rainforest, and includes climbs up rugged peaks and strolls along winding pathways.

Created by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS), the walking tracks and other infrastructure associated with the Sea Trail were yet more ‘development’. So, before this project was completed, a careful analysis of any associated impacts was carried out, to make sure they’d be kept as small as possible. As a part of that process, new surveys of the fauna and flora of Whitsunday Island were completed.

In 2010, while undertaking one of these surveys, QPWS employees Rod Hobson and Richard Johnson discovered the remains of a freshwater crayfish Cherax sp. These were forwarded to crayfish researcher Jason Coughran for comment. Jason recognised these remains to be those of a yet undescribed species. A return trip was arranged to collect live specimens for description, which was duly accomplished later that year. During this trip a second species of freshwater crayfish was also found on the island.

Rod Hobson and Richard Johnson in pursuit of an interesting reptile. Yelarbon. Photo R. Ashdown.

Rod Hobson and Richard Johnson in pursuit of an interesting reptile on a QPWS fauna survey, Yelarbon, 2006. Photo R. Ashdown.

These crustaceans have now been formally recognised as two new species — Cherax austini sp. n. Coughran & Hobson and Cherax cid sp. n. Dawkins & Furse (Coughran et al 2012).

Cherax austini and Cherax cid

Cherax austini (left) and Cherax cid (right). These specimens are the holotypes of the two new species, stored permanently in the collections  of the Queensland Museum. The museum’s zoological collections represent the ever-growing and priceless database of Queensland’s faunal diversity. [A holotype is the actual physical specimen of an organism that was used when the species was officially described]. Photo courtesy Queensland Museum.

Freshwater crayfish, known variously as yabbies, lobbies, crawchies, craybobs, craydads, marron, gilgies and koonacs, are creatures well known across Australia. There are over a 100 species (family Parastacidae) in Australia, with more than 20 native to Queensland, including one of the smallest in the world (the Swamp Crayfish Tenuibranchiurus glypticus, which reaches about 25 mm in length — by contrast, the Giant Tasmanian Crayfish Astacopsis gouldii reaches up to about 4.5 kg in weight and is the world’s largest freshwater crayfish — see * below)

SWAMP CRAYFISH, TENIBRANCHIURUS GLYPTICUS. Thorneside.

The Swamp Crayfish (Tenibranchiurus glypticus), at about 2.5 cm in length, is one of the world’s smallest freshwater crayfish. Thorneside, Brisbane. Photo R. Ashdown.

Queensland species belong to three genera: Cherax (smooth freshwater crayfish or freshwater yabbies); Euastacus (spiny freshwater crayfish) and Tenuibranchiurus (swamp crayfish).

According to the authors of the paper on these two new Cherax species, there is no information on any other species of freshwater crayfish inhabiting islands this far north in the Coral Sea, apart from a single specimen of the Orange-fingered Yabby Cherax depressus collected at Lindemann Island about 12 km south of Whitsunday Island. The next closest island species is the Sand Yabby Cherax robustus, found on Fraser Island, about 700 km south. Interestingly, Cherax austini displays a feature (a median ridge on the cephalon) that is associated with crayfish in the extreme south-west of Western Australia (Coughran et al 2012).

The results of genetic work on the two new species, however, show that they are related to the mainland Cherax depressus group of yabbies, but as with island species of all types, they are busy evolving down their own divergent paths.

Cherax depressus.

An Orange-fingered Yabby (Cherax depressus), roaming around a walking track like a small armoured tank after heavy rain at Lota, Brisbane. Photo R. Ashdown.

Euastachus suttoni

Euastacus suttoni, a colourful member of the spiny crayfish group, strikes a defensive pose as the terrifying photographer approaches. Bald Rock National Park, New South Wales. Photo R. Ashdown.

While probably confined to Whitsunday Island, the discovery of these two new species highlights the importance of continuing surveys on other Coral Sea Islands. There aren’t many suitable wetlands on Whitsunday Island, so checking out ephemeral wetlands and drainages on other islands in the group may just reveal further new creatures.

When species are restricted to islands, careful management is needed, as they are potentially vulnerable to various human-induced and naturally-occuring impacts. The value of national parks for protecting biodiversity is once again underlined. Cherax austini was discovered in a single Melaleuca (paperbark) swamp, a particular type of habitat that is classified as an “endangered” Regional Ecosystem. This particular location is one of only four protected areas of this habitat type in Queensland. The specimen was first detected as shell remains in midden formations around the shoreline of the swamp, probably from a predator such as an Eastern Water Rat.

Cherax cid was found in a small, clear flowing stream within notophyll vine forest, a type of coastal rainforest scrub. The specific type of Regional Ecosystem that this locality fell within is found only within six protected areas in Queensland.

The discovery of new species of such well-known creatures as yabbies is a pleasant surprise. It’s a find that once more increases our understanding of the the size and beauty of Australia’s biological diversity — our irreplaceable natural heritage.

Common yabby, Cherax destructor

The Common yabby (Cherax destructor), a well-known (and dined-upon) crustacean of the Australian west. Lake Broadwater Conservation Park, near Dalby, Darling Downs. Photo R. Ashdown.

*The large and the small (from Rod Hobson, 7/4/2013)

It has long been a matter of Aussie pride among those of us interested in our freshwater crayfish (from perspectives other than gastronomic) that we have both the largest and smallest freshwater yabby in the world. Whilst there is no argument whatsoever about our having the largest our contention that we also have the smallest is hotly contested by our friends from under The Star Spangled Banner. Our local contender is the Swamp Crayfish Tenuibranchiurus glypticus, which is a Wallum denizen of south-east Queensland reaching a grandiose length of 25 mm. South of the Mason-Dixon in the Deep South of the USA the flyweight belt is claimed by the Dwarf Crayfish Cambarellus diminutus. The Dwarf Crayfish is one of 17 species of freshwater crayfish of the family Cambaridae found in Mexico and the Gulf States of the USA. This family are all generally known en masse as dwarf crayfish, or more likely as crawdads or craybobs. Crawdad and craybob have also been absorbed into the Australian vernacular for our freshwater yabbies but are actually American terms. We owe a lot to The Beverly Hillbillies.

Cambarellus diminutus is a rare and threatened species known only from about 15 locations in Mobile County, Alabama and Jackson and George Counties in Mississippi. This crawdad also reaches an upper length of 25 mm so it’s actually a photofinish for the title of the world’s smallest crayfish. It’s a tie and we cannot, in all fairness, claim our crustacean, as the world’s smallest yabby. We still, however have a “no contest” for the world’s largest in the Tasmanian Giant Crayfish Astacopsis gouldi tipping the scales at 5 kilograms wringing wet and attaining a length of 80 cms. In fact not only is Astacopsis the world’s largest freshwater crayfish it is actually the world’s largest freshwater invertebrate. Let’s see someone beat that one!

Reference:

Coughran Jason, Dawkins Kathryn L., Hobson Rod and Furse James M., 2012. ‘Two new freshwater crayfishes (Decapoda: Parastacidae) from Whitsunday Island, The Coral Sea, Australia’ in Crustacean Research, Special Number 7, 45-51, 2012.

Links

Personality-plus birds

Some more great images by guest photographer Mike Peisley.

Torresian Crows

These images were all taken in and around the wetlands and coastal areas of the Brisbane bayside areas of Boondall and Shorncliffe. Mike’s patience, observation skills and technical prowess have seen him capture images overflowing with the subjects’ personality.

Riders on the storm

Queensland is still counting the cost of   ‘ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald’, with major flooding and damage to property and infrastructure right down the east coast.

Humans were not the only species affected, with seabirds being blown far from home by the wild weather during January 2013.

Black Noddy _Mike_P (1) copy

Black Noddy, photographed at Shorncliffe by Mike Peisley. Blown off course by Cyclone Oswald, this is a bird usually found on islands and cays, including the Capricorn and Bunker groups, the Great Barrier Reef, Norfolk Island and the Coral Sea. It’s a species that occasionally visits Stradbroke Island and eastern New South Wales.

In the Darling Downs area, a range of unusual species were recorded. Birds either seen flying or found exhausted included Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Sooty Terns, White-tailed Tropicbirds, Frigatebirds and a Bulwer’s Petrel. The latter was a very interesting record — although there have been several confirmed sightings of Bulwer’s Petrels in Queensland over the years, this was the first specimen of this species obtained for the State, and only the second specimen for Australia.

White-tailed Tropicbird 2 Mick Atzeni copy

White-tailed Tropicbird, found in Toowoomba — a long way from ‘home’. This is a true ocean-going bird (pelagic), only coming ashore to breed. For eastern Australian birds, breeding takes place at Fiji – New Caledonia and the Tuamotu and Walpole islands. Photograph courtesy Mick Atzeni.

Toowoomba Bird Observers (TBO) president Mick Atzeni has been collecting records of the unusual sightings, adding to the group’s extensive database on the birds of the Toowoomba region.

“To see seabirds flying around paddocks and over local dams was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most people,” said Mick.  “It was bitter-sweet, because these birds were starving, exhausted, and lost.”

Wildlife carer Trish LeeHong cared for some of the exhausted birds, which stretched the resources of her always-busy and not-for-profit Wildlife Rescue, Rehabilitation and Education Association. Several were restored to health and released at Deception Bay.

IMG_5646 copy

Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Toowoomba. The common ‘muttonbird’ of Queensland’s warmer coastal waters, responsible for the wailing, crooning sounds often heard at night on Great Barrier Reef islands (but usually not in the Toowoomba suburbs). Photograph courtesy Pat McConnell.

Mick reported that dead Sooty Terns were found in the middle of Toowoomba, at the Murphys Creek township and at Lockyer Siding, while a Wedge-tailed Shearwater was found in James Street near Clifford Gardens, Toowoomba. Exhausted White-tailed Tropicbirds were found at Meringandan and Withcott, while Sooty Terns and a Wedge-tailed Shearwater were seen flying over the Lockyer Valley by TBO members.

Sooty Tern_Mick Atzeni copy

Adult Sooty Tern, Toowoomba. Also known as ‘Wideawake’, the Sooty Tern’s habitat is tropical and sub-tropical seas as well as islands and coral cays. Photograph courtesy Mick Atzeni.

QWEQE

Juvenile Sooty Tern, Lota. Photograph courtesy James Hunt.

“Wedge-tailed Shearwater and White-tailed Tropicbird are new birds for the official TBO bird list,” said Mick. “This was our first live record for Sooty Terns in the area we survey, as the only previous record was a dead one found on the Range Highway in 1976 (during a  previous cyclone).”

The body of the Bulwer’s Petrel, which unfortunately died soon after being found,  was lodged with the  Queensland Museum at Southbank, where its identity was confirmed. Stored as part of the Museum’s natural history collections, the specimen will be valuable for future studies.

Bulwers Petrel (9) copy (Large)

Bulwer’s Petrel, collected at the Oakey Army Base, on the Darling Downs. This small, sooty-brown seabird is found in tropical and sub-tropical waters around the world. Usually a solitary bird when at sea, this species gathers to breed on islands in the Pacific and north Atlantic oceans. Bulwer’s Petrels have only been sighted in Australian waters on several occasions. Photo R. Ashdown.

Ian Gynther, Senior Conservation Officer with the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, spoke to the ABC about the Bulwer’s Petrel.  “It’s only a tiny thing. When they’re not breeding they spend their whole life at sea — you could imagine the waves and wind they put up with at the best of times.”

“This is a prime example of how our knowledge of a bird that’s seldom recorded has been greatly increased by somebody with sharp eyes at Oakey,” said Ian.

Black Noddy _Mike_P (5) copy

Black Noddy on the wing at Shorncliffe — grace, style and frequent flyer points. Photograph courtesy Mike Peisley.

Storm-soaked Torresian Crow

Hmmm … maybe not so much grace, but a survivor nonetheless. Storm-battered Torresian Crow, Shorncliffe. Photo courtesy Mike Peisley.

  •  Find out more about The Toowoomba Bird Observers.

Thanks to Mick Atzeni, Mike Peisley, James Hunt, Pat McConnell and Rod Hobson.

Life at the edges continues

Like humans, wild creatures get hammered by storms and cyclones. How do the little things survive? Many of them of course don’t, while others find safe places to ride it out, and some get blown to distant locations. And of course, water brings life in many ways, long after errant ex-cyclones have departed. Once-dry creeks spring to life.

Soon after Oswald my son and I went dragonfly chasing with some naturalist mates. Water ran through patches of sunlight, while all about was evidence that great masses of water had recently torn downhill.

Redwood Creek, Toowoomba

A small creek runs through Redwood Park, at the base of the Toowoomba escarpment. Often dry, it was now alive with water, light, life and sound. Photo Harry Ashdown.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Redwood Park, Toowoomba. Four-barred Swordtail, Protographium leosthenes.

A Four-barred Swordtail (Protographium leosthenes). A member of the Swallowtail family of butterflies. All other photos by R. Ashdown.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Redwood Park, Toowoomba.

Odonata expeditioners Rod Hobson, Al Young and Mark Weaver seek that perfect image of butterfly or dragonfly. Redwood Park, Toowoomba.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Redwood Park, Toowoomba. Common Flatwing. Austroargiolestes icteromelas.

A pair of Common Flatwings (Austroargiolestes icteromelas) in the ‘wheel’ position. The male (front) is transferring sperm to storage sacs in the female. The female later uses the sperm to fertilise eggs as she lays them.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Redwood Park, Toowoomba.

Water Striders (Limnogonus luctosus).

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Redwood Park, Toowoomba.

Ashdown and Hazza look for things to shoot, Redwood park. Photo courtesy Mark Weaver.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Murphys Bridge, Lockyer Creek.

We moved downstream. Murphys Bridge, Lockyer Creek. Slightly closed to traffic for a bit thanks to Oswald.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Murphys Bridge, Lockyer Creek. Australian Tiger, Ictinogomphus australis

Dragonflies scooted about near the bridge. The beautiful, aptly named Australian Tiger (Ictinogomphus australis).

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Murphys Bridge, Lockyer Creek. Australian Tiger, Ictinogomphus australis.

The same species, photographed against the wrecked poly water tank wrapped around the bridge.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Murphys Bridge, Lockyer Creek. Australian Tiger, Ictinogomphus australis.

Poised for take-off. Australian Tiger again, different angle.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Murphys Bridge, Lockyer Creek. Hemicordulia superba. Superb Emerald.

This one may look at first glance like an Australian Tiger, but the seasoned eyes of the dragonfly spotters immediately pegged it as different. It’s a Superb Emerald (note the colour of the eyes). Hemicordulia superba. The only shot I managed to grab of it. Normally found further to the east, perhaps blown inland by the winds of Oswald.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Stockyard Creek, Rockmount.

We moved on again. Rod surveys Stockyard Creek, near Rockmount.

Dragonflies_02_03_13-171

A female Scarlet Percher lays eggs in the water, male still attached.

Gold-fronted Riverdamsel. Pseudagrion aureofrons. Stockyard Creek.

Gold-fronted Riverdamsel (Pseudagrion aureofrons), Stockyard Creek.

Dragonflies_02_03_13-151

The cyclone formerly known as Oswald

Tropical Cyclone Oswald hit the coast of Queensland in January 2013 and headed south as  an “ex-tropical cyclone”, causing havoc and heartache for a considerable length of time.

Three images sent to me by artist Adrienne Williams once again reminded me of the power of water at such times. Adrienne lives at Mount Perry, south-west of Bundaberg — an area hit particularly hard by wind and rain.

flood-cut roads #1

These photos show the minor pot-holes created in the three roads linking Adrienne’s home to the rest of the world after ‘ex-cyclone’ Oswald passed by. They received 600 mm of rain in 72 hours. That’s Sunday, the ‘50% Lab 50% Rotti’ casting a cool eye over the scene. All photos courtesy (and copyright) Adrienne Williams.

adrienne #3

adrienne #2

It’s difficult to find one site on the web that gives an overview of the history and impact of this particular cyclone. It’s just all too big. The strength of nature when things gets fired up is expressed instead at a local level in images like these from Adrienne.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) website states that “Although the considerable majority of cyclone impacts are located in north Queensland, occasionally a cyclone affects areas further south down the east coast.” Oswald certainly fell into that category, even reaching Sydney eventually.

If you’re after some great stuff on cyclones, the BOM site has a stack of fascinating information on these things in Australia, including the following snippets on Queensland cyclones:

  • There have been 207 known impacts from tropical cyclones along the east coast since 1858. Australia’s deadliest tropical cyclone occurred on 4 March 1899 when a cyclone hit a pearling fleet in Bathurst Bay (north of Cooktown) and caused a massive storm surge accounting for 307 known fatalities.
  • On average 4.7 tropical cyclones per year affect the Queensland Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre Area of Responsibility. There is a strong relationship with eastern Australian tropical cyclone impacts and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation phenomenon, with almost twice as many impacts during La Niña than during El Niño. The likelihood of this occurring by pure chance is remote (significant at 99% level).
  •  The Queensland region of the Gulf of Carpentaria region has been hit by several disastrous tropical cyclones. These include The 1887 Burketown cyclone, The 1923 Douglas Mawson cyclone, The 1936 Mornington Island cyclone; the 1948 Bentick Island cyclone and Ted in 1976.

Some of Adrienne’s beautiful artwork can be seen at www.adriennewilliams.com

Damselflies

I’ve been gradually enlightened about the mysterious and marvelous world of dragonflies and damselflies. 

Dragonflies have always fascinated me, but I’ve only recently  been switched on to their more delicate relatives, the damselflies.

Gold-fronted Riverdamsel. Pseudagrion aureofrons. Stockyard Creek.

Gold-fronted Riverdamsel. Pseudagrion aureofrons. Stockyard Creek.

This post is dedicated to Barry Kenway, highly-respected and knowledgeable Toowoomba naturalist, who passed away last week. I had the good fortune to spend some time with Barry, and Rod Hobson, chasing dragonflies in February 2012 (see Rockmasters and other legendary dragonflies). Barry’s knowledge about, and infectious enthusiasm for, these wonderful creatures was a joy. It would be hard to forget Barry’s smile as he spied yet another species of Odonata zipping about a creek sparkling with summer light.

Barry Kenway and Rod Hobson

Barry Kenway and Rod Hobson, Rockmount, February 2012.

Here’s a gallery of damselflies I’ve encountered over the last few years. They are a challenge to photograph! 

Damselflies are primitive insects belonging to the order Odonata (a name that refers to the large teeth-like mandibles of both larva and adult). There are two suborders of Odonata in Australia — the damselflies (Zygoptera)and the dragonflies (Epiproctophora or Anisoptera). There are 12 families of damselflies in Australia.

How do damselflies differ from dragonflies? Damselflies are generally very slender insects, with fore- and  hindwings similar in shape and venation and usually held closed above their bodies at rest. Their larvae have external gills on the end of the abdomen. Dragonflies are stouter and stronger flying insects, with fore- and hindwings more or less dissimilar in shape and venation, which they hold spread out when at rest. Their larvae have internal, rectal gills.

Brachychiton survivors

Most working days I walk through Queens Park on my way to and from town, passing a beautiful Queensland Bottle Tree (Brachychiton rupestris).

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba. I ended 2012 by taking some extended leave, and each morning I walked the little black dog through the park, gradually slowing down and looking around instead of rushing to work.

While I’m a bigger fan of wild areas, there are always things to discover in parks. The more I looked at this tree, the more I saw and liked. Walkers, dogs, joggers ands cyclists pass directly under its canopy, lost in their thoughts and usually oblivious to its charms.

Over the next three months I kept looking, photographing it with whatever I had on hand. Not knowing anything about Brachychitons I was concerned when it shed most of its leaves in the hot, dry October/November weeks, thinking it was drought stressed.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

A carpet of dead leaves during dry summer months. All photos R. Ashdown.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

However, a bloom of new orange and pink foliage belayed my fears. I found out later that this is a characteristic of these trees — they often do this before flowering, and they can also shed leaves to conserve moisture during prolonged drought.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Queensland Bottle Trees often shed their leaves before flowering, or during drought times. New growth is a beautiful pink colour.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Good to see I’m not the only one admiring this tree.

Also known as the Narrow-leaved Bottle Tree, this is one of  31 species of Brachychiton, with 30 found in Australia and one species in New Guinea. The common name “bottle tree” refers to the characteristic trunk of the tree, which can reach up to seven metres in circumference. Fossils from New South Wales and New Zealand have been dated at 50 million years old.

Pale-headed rosella in Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Pale-headed Rosellas seem to enjoy chewing the bark of bottle trees. A pair  regularly hang out quietly in the tree.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba

The tree supports  a mosaic of lichens, usually very pale and hard to see during dry times.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Midday, and bloody hot! A distinguishing feature of this particular tree is a water-mark that runs down one side. These trees do not store reservoirs of water, but their interior is made of a spongy, fibrous material that holds moisture. Photo by Harry Ashdown.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Sometimes, despite there being no rain for days, moisture seeps down the water-mark. Maybe early morning condensation moving down branches?

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Rain at last — summer thunderstorms appear in December 2012.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Workers return home through welcome rain …

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

… while, soaked with water and lit by the twilight, the tree glows quietly.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

A dark, rain-soaked trunk sports subtle hues …

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

… and the lichens seem to spring outward.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Before long we are back to long, searing days again in January 2013’s record heat wave.

Queensland Bottle Trees are endemic to a limited region of Australia — Central Queensland through to northern New South Wales. In 1845 the explorer Thomas Mitchell led an expedition seeking an overland route from Sydney to the Gulf of Carpentaria. He ran into these trees on his journey, within the brigalow (Acacia harpophylla) scrub that covered much of central Queensland. Mitchell found some trees so wide that a horse standing side on was said to disappear from view. This tree would be the saviour of many early squatters.

Barakula State Forest, Kurrajong.

A name-carved bottle tree has witnessed families come and go in Central Queensland.

The Bottle Tree’s most striking characteristic was that its trunk was not made of sapwood like ordinary trees, but rather consisted of a spongy fibre, which was also filled with moisture. In times of drought, settlers would cut down bottle trees and peel off the bark —  exposing the fleshy fibre, which cattle would eat. A large tree could satisfy a hungry, thirsty herd for weeks.

Indigenous peoples of course knew the value of this tree, carving holes into the soft bark to create reservoir-like structures, and the seeds, roots, stems, and bark have all been a source of food for people and animals alike long before white settlers arrived. The fibrous inner bark was used to make twine or rope and even woven together to make fishing nets.

Kurrajong

The strange, spongy bark of a Queensland Bottle Tree.

Auburn River NP 2004.

Bottle tree seed-pods, Auburn River National Park. This is a close-relative, the Broad-leaved Bottle Tree (Brachychiton australis).

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Seed-pods of Brachychiton australis. Photo courtesy Vanessa Ryan.

Deemed a ‘useful’ tree, bottle trees were often left by settlers when they were clearing land. Today, solitary specimens are often seen in fields. To me they are reminders of times not so long ago when vast areas of central Queensland were covered in scrub.

Near Proston, Bottle trees

Near Proston, Central Queensland. A hill once covered in ‘softwood scrub’.

Kurrajong, Roma.

Farmlands and remnant bottle trees, Roma.

Kurrajong, Roma.

Roma, central Queensland.

In the brigalow-dominated landscape of the Queensland bio-region known as the Brigalow Belt, Queensland Bottle Trees were found within pockets of ‘softwood scrub’ —  or ‘semi-evergreen vine thicket’, a type of scrubby, dry rainforest. These ecosystems show some of the characteristics associated with the wetter tropical type of rainforest but are less luxuriant, lacking species such as tree ferns, palms and epiphytes. They also have a reduced canopy height and are simpler in structure.

A Brachychiton standsout amongst the silver foliage of Brigalow (Acacia harpophylla).

A Brachychiton stands out amongst the silver foliage of Brigalow (Acacia harpophylla). Arcadia Valley, central Queensland.

Auburn River NP 2004.

Queensland Bottle Trees are lit by the afternoon sun within remnant softwood scrub, Auburn River National Park.

Isla Gorge NP

Down at ground level within softwood scrub at Isla Gorge National Park (the trunk of a bottle tree is on the right). The technical term for these scrubs is ‘semi-evergreen vine thicket’.

Adaptations found in these forests to drier environments include smaller, thicker leaves, swollen roots and stems, and an (optional) deciduous habit — meaning that plants can preserve moisture by losing their leaves in times of extreme drought.

Auburn River NP 2004. Bottletree, Brachychiton.

Auburn River National Park. A Queensland Bottle Tree stands over the flooded river, 2004.

Auburn River NP 2004. Bottletree, Brachychiton.

The same location — a Broad-leaved Bottle Tree in its original habitat. A tad wilder, and a lot more interesting, than Queens Park.

Since white settlement approximately 83 percent of this type of ecosystem has been cleared, and the remaining patches are classified as endangered ecological communities.

About 20 percent of the remaining patches are found in protected areas, such as Cania Gorge, Carnarvon, Bunya Mountains and Expedition national parks. I’ve spent some magic hours walking within these remaining patches of softwood scrub, and it’s always exciting to come across a large bottle tree within its original habitat.

Kurrajong

A mighty specimen reaches high above cleared farmland in central Queensland.

Bottle Trees are also sought-after ornamentals, and line the streets of towns from Brisbane to Roma.

Queensland Bottle Tree, Brisbane

Queensland Bottle Tree, Brisbane (thanks, Susan).

Queensland Bottle Tree, Anzac Square, Brisbane. Photo courtesy Vanessa Ryan.

Queensland Bottle Tree, Anzac Square, Brisbane. Photo courtesy Vanessa Ryan.

My solitary Queens Park tree, looking down onto Toowoomba’s central business district, seems odd and out of place to me in this cultivated landscape — a strange, silent, and somewhat troubling reminder of wild times past, when tangles of un-tamed vine scrub ruled much of the land now civilised and ordered by farms and towns.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Bottle Tree, Queens Park, Toowomba

January 27, 2013. Ex-tropical cyclone Oswald works its way down the east coast, bringing heavy rain and winds, and soaking ground for thirsty trees.

Bottle Tree, Queens Park, Toowomba

Bottle Tree, Queens Park, ToowombaBottle Tree, Queens Park, ToowombaBottle Tree, Queens Park, ToowombaBottle Tree, Queens Park, ToowombaBottle Tree, Queens Park, ToowombaBottle Tree, Queens Park, ToowombaBottle Tree, Queens Park, Toowomba

Queensland Bottle Tree.

Next day. The rain and wind has gone, the ground is soaked, shadows are back with the afternoon sun.

Queensland Bottle Tree.

Water still soaks down the tree’s side.

Queensland Bottle Tree.

A millipede enjoys the water.

Queensland Bottle Tree.

 

Second chance for a Brown Falcon

Brown Falcon (Falco berigora), Goomburra

Brown Falcon (Falco berigora) on the wing, Darling Downs. Described in a field guide as “pot-bellied and scruffy”, I consider this to be a most striking raptor. All photos R. Ashdown.

On the second day of November in 2012, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service ranger Rod Hobson spied an adult male Brown Falcon trapped on a barbed-wire fence on the Back Flagstone Creek Road, at Lilydale, to the east of Toowoomba.

He extricated the injured bird and left it with wildlife carer Trish LeeHong at Murphys Creek. Trish who does a wonderful and difficult job looking after all manner of native creatures.

Nineteen days later Rod returned the rehabilitated bird to Lilydale for release. “The female will be here somewhere,” Rod said as we approached the spot. Sure enough, we soon found the female falcon perched close to the road.

Female Brown Falcon

The female Brown Falcon eyes us warily from her perch close to the road. One of six Australian falcon species, Brown Falcons are typically seen perched on fences, poles, tops of dead trees and even electricity wires.

Rod carefully extricated the the feisty male falcon from a carrying box and it was soon on its way skyward.

Brown Falcon

Rehabilitated male Brown Falcon, not happy about being handled by a human. The dark facial markings  and dark eyes, as well as conspicuous orbital skin and other bare parts, is typical of our falcons.

Brown Falcon

On its way up and out. Brown falcons are slow and heavy fliers, with a flight action described as “often erratic with jinking and side-slipping”. They can fly swiftly in pursuit  of prey, with short, stiff wing beats.

Brown Falcon

Heading off. Brown Falcons glide on raised wings, and soar with rounded wing-tips upswept. They often give cackling, chattering and screeching calls.

Brown Falcon

The released falcon gains some altitude. A soaring raptor is a sight to lift the spirits of any naturalist!

Brown falcons are one of my favourite birds, so it was a thrill to see one up close and to witness it winging its way back into the skies.

Postscript: Last week Rod revisited the spot and spied the male and female falcons sitting together  A good news tale!

Thanks to Trish LeeHong, Jonno McDonald, Raelene Neilson and Rod Hobson.

Trish LeeHong was the founding secretary of the Toowoomba branch of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland  A wildlife carer of over 20 years’ experience, she has a BAppSc in Animal Studies with Honours in echidna research at the University of Queensland.

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