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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Magnificent Murchison (the Australian one!)

I have to specify that in the title, because elsewhere in the world people are likely to think of the superb Murchison Falls in Uganda - and they too will get a turn here in due course. I am prompted by my mention in the last posting of Augustus Gregory's mapping of part the Murchison River in 1848. Both features were named for Sir Roderick Murchison, Scottish geologist and president of the British Royal Geographical Society. 

The Murchison River is the second longest in Western Australia, flowing for some 800km from the dry inland Robinson Range to the sea at Kalbarri National Park near Geraldton on the semi-arid Indian Ocean coast, much of the water coming from overflow of salt lakes which fill only during cyclonic summer rains.
The red arrow point indicates Kalbarri and the mouth of the Murchison, flowing from the north-east.
The Murchison Gorge in Kalbarri NP is just magnificent, 80 kilometres of huge red sandstone cliffs above the sharply twisting river bed, with wildflower-rich sandy dry eucalypt woodlands on the plains above.

The Murchison, in the dry season, beneath the cliffs at Ross Graham Lookout, Kalbarri NP.

Dry woodlands, typical of the sandplains of Kalbarri above the Murchison.

"Nature's Window", a wind-eroded feature high above the Murchison.
Down at river level, a quiet pool. While the level is low here, after a dry summer when the cyclones
don't bring rain this far south, the flow can stop altogether.

Mind you, it can still rain there even in the dry season!

Semi-arid Kalbarri NP woodland rapidly becoming awash!
The rocks contain some fascinating stories too.
The tubes are in fact Skolithos - casts of the burrows of  worms that lived in a shallow sea here some 410 years ago.
Another fossil here, almost overlooking the Murchison, is one of the most exciting fossil traces I've ever seen. It marks one of the first forays ashore of a major predator, over 400 million years ago in the Silurian.
These tracks are those of a eurypterid, or 'sea scorpion', the top predator of its time, which
here followed small prey ashore onto a soft muddy shore, where they had doubtless thought they were safe!

Today the predators are generally out of sight, but the wildflowers of the Murchison plains are some of the most spectacular in Australia; let me share a few of my favourites with you.
Tall Mulla Mulla Ptilotus macrocephalus, in almost unimaginably massed flowering; this species is widespread across the arid inland, but I've never seen it like this.
Pink Milkmaids Burchardia rosea,  family Colchicaceae.
One of just five species in the genus,  this beautiful lily is restricted to the Murchison area.
For more about the somewhat mysterious person it was named for, see here.
Two superb big grevilleas light up the plains too, and are not found much further afield from here.
Grevillea candelabroides, above, and
Grevillea petrophiloides (Pink Pokers) below

Wiry Honeymyrtle Melaleuca nematophylla, another magnificent massed display.
And finally, a sandplains representative of one of the most beautiful West Australian genera, the Myrtaceous Verticordias - the genus name means 'heart turner'.
Verticordia monodelpha, guaranteed to turn both hearts and heads!
Which indeed is true of the mighty Murchison itself, and the rest of Kalbarri where it ends its journey. Make a date to get there some time, preferably in late winter or early spring.

I am about to head west myself, though not this far north this time, taking a group of people to explore the rich south-west corner. There'll be lots to talk about when I get back, so please don't forget me!



Duncan McCaskill said...

The Murchison Gorge at is indeed a fantastic place. I would love to go there again. I'm afraid I didn't see any Verticordia - perhaps I was in the wrong place or the wrong time (late October). The Kalbarri sea cliffs are also very beautiful. Some of my holiday snaps can be found from here: Nature's Window

Ian Fraser said...

Thanks Duncan - I'm glad you loved it as much as I did. Late October is probably past peak flowering that far north, though of course it's always good. We were there late August. I agree re the sea cliffs, but I was trying to keep it to the Murchison valley this time. Love your pics, thanks, especially the grasswrens - well done there; even though they're generally around the Shark Bay carpark, they don't sit still much! Could you see what the hobby was eating?

Duncan McCaskill said...

Thanks Ian. Re: "what the hobby was eating?": I really couldn't tell. Hobbys make a real mess of their kills. My best guess was Singing Honeyeater because there were the most common bird of the right size. If you want a challenge of identifying kills, you could try Hobby with kill and this one Collared Sparrowhawk kill. I have no idea what either of them are. Both photos were taken in or near my Canberra garden.