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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'.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Bladensburg National Park

I'm always keen to highlight Australian national parks, and I've been meaning to focus on Bladensburg for some time. This park is a treasure; I'd been there a couple of times, both with 'fair weather only' vehicles in terms of Bladenburg's terrain, and both times it rained, necessitating an ignominious retreat. Finally last year we planned our holiday route to central Australia to enable a couple of nights camping there; it does require some planning as it is in a fairly remote part of the country.
Location of Bladensburg National Park, at the end of the red arrow in central Queensland, just north of the Tropic of Capricorn. It is some 15km south of the town of Winton, via perfectly good two-wheel drive roads, as long as it's dry!The Lark Quarry dinosaur 'stampede' site and museum is in the general vicinity too.
It covers some 85,000 hectares of the north-eastern edge of the Channel Country, a vast area of grassy plains, broken by low eroding ranges and mesas ('jump ups' locally), dominated by a complex network of braided creek lines draining into central Australia via rivers including the Georgina, Diamantina and Cooper Creek - names redolent of Australian folklore and folksong! Here they disappear into a series of waterholes, all but the deepest of which dry out in drought times, though in exceptional years - a very few times per century - the waters reach Lake Eyre in northern South Australia. Last year was certainly not such a year (and there has been very little rain since) and the country was parched. A few of the photos below were taken on a previous brief visit, in May 2010. 

The only really significant watercourse in the park is Surprise Creek, which cuts across the north-west corner of the park - the only camp ground in the park is here, extending along a few hundred metres of the bank, with basic facilities, but totally appropriate to the situation.
Bough Shed Hole camp, among (but never directly under!) River Red Gums, Eucalyptus camaldulensis.
Surprise Creek Top Hole. Both waterholes were already isolated, and would certainly be a lot lower now.
But one day - perhaps with luck even soon if the aftermath of Cyclone Christine gets that far east - they will fill again and Surprise Creek will even flow for a while.
The property, part of the land of the Koa people, was taken up as a pastoral lease by one Henry Cory in 1874. In 1993 it was bought by the Queensland government, and declared as national park - the name being that of the station - in 1994. The station homestead is now the park headquarters.
Old Bladensburg Homestead, in the midst of a vast and currently dry plain.
The plains comprise cracking black soils which expand and contract as they soak and dry, making it nearly impossible for trees to establish. Tough grasses tend to dominate. 
Mitchell Grass Astrebla spp. plains, very droughted.

Cracking soils in the Mitchell Grass prevent tree establishment by breaking rootlets.

Spiky hummocks of spinifex, or porcupine grass, Triodia spp, are hardier and less prone to grazing than the Mitchell Grass. Such hummock grasslands comprise nearly a quarter of Australia's land area.
Some of the more spectacular big birds of Bladensburg live out on these plains.
Brolgas Grus rubicunda; it often surprises me to find these cranes, essentially wetland birds, in such arid landscapes.

male Australian Bustard Ardeotis australia.
Black Falcon Falco subniger.This redoubtable hunter is relatively thinly scattered across Australia, and is our second least common falcon.
 It is easier however, especially in the dry times, to find life around the jump-ups and eroded gorges.
Jump-up capped with Ironwood Wattle Acacia estrophiolata.
Scrammy Gorge. With the thin hard cap breached, the softer underlying material is crumbling,
undermining the walls and widening the gorge.
It is purportedly named for stockman Scrammy Jack, for his crushed right hand - 'scrammy' is alleged to mean 'left-handed' in an English dialect, but I can't confirm that.
Spinifex Pigeons Geophaps plumifera are typically associated with spinifex on and around rocky ridges.
They are one of the most delightful of all pigeons, both in appearance and their whirring runs across the ground.

Spinifex Pigeons with a friend, a Euro Macropus robustus, which shares their habitat preferences.
Red-winged Parrot Aprosmictus erythropterus female inspecting a nest hollow along Surprise Creek.
This Spotted Bowerbird Chlamydera maculata hung around camp with an optimistic expression.
And surely the long-promised posting on bowerbirds must be getting closer!
In addition to the bold and handsome Yellow-spotted Goanna that I introduced you to here, another, smaller, lizard lived along the creek too.
Gilbert's Dragon Amphibolurus gilberti.
Also known as the 'ta ta lizard'; males, like this one, sit up and wave to competitors
to announce that the territory is still occupied.
I was tempted to tell you that the lizard is waving goodbye for the day from me, but that would be altogether too twee. Instead I'll finish with three of the characteristic eucalypts of the park (along with the River Red Gum, along all the creeks, that I mentioned above in the second caption).
Ghost Gum Eucalyptus (Corymbia) aperrerinja, struggling on a stony plateau, but prevailing as this tree always does.
The wonderful species name is taken from the Pitjantjatjara language of the central deserts
- still very much a living language.
Coolabah E. coolabah, made famous by its appearance in Waltzing Matilda, Australia's 'unofficial national anthem'.
(It would be fair to say however that most Australians haven't actually seen one.)
They live on the flood plains, but where the River Red Gums are absent they grow along the creek lines too.
Desert Bloodwood E. terminalis, a particularly elegant tree which grows right across the central deserts.
But I can't always help being corny, and I have a weakness for sunrises, especially as a New Year symbol.

Sunrise over camp, Bladensburg NP.
But corn aside, Bladensburg is a special park and I'd commend it to you very highly indeed. Let me know if you get there.


1 comment:

Flabmeister said...

I had always wondered about the name "Channel Country" until we flew over it on a recent return to Australia. Obviously many good reasons to visit the area on the ground and only one (black soil) to avoid it (as a driver)!