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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'.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

An Hour at Warrigal Waterhole

Driving the empty bus home recently from our central Australian tour, we stopped off at Warrigal Waterhole near Mount Isa, deep in the tropics in north-western Queensland. 'Warrigal' is a word once widely used - though less so now - for a Dingo, though it has also been applied to Aboriginal people living in a traditional manner, and feral horses. Since the root word was apparently from the language of the long-gone Sydney people (whose name may have been something like Dharuk) the use for the waterhole is either a 'whitefella' application, or a 'sounds like' borrowing from the local Kalkadoon language. 

Whatever the origin of the name, it was a delightful spot and an hour flew, despite sitting on granite rocks!

The access road is a four wheel drive track, and we had to abandon our bus early on and do a five kilometre return walk across rapidly warming open country - well it was only about 30 degrees, but warm enough.
The bus waits patiently; the road was more deeply rutted and gouged
than this picture suggests.
This is arid land, with tumbled gibbers (wind polished rocks tumbled from the eroding hills) and spiky Spinifex Grass (Triodia spp.) dominating. There are many termite mounds (the termites live by harvesting the spinifex), and a scattering of eucalypts and acacias.

Beautiful country in itself, but we were just passing though...
When we reached the gorge, there was still a serious obstacle to bypass...
He could well have been feral, but even 'domestic' cattle here are pretty wild;
we cautiously climbed the rocky hillside above him, and were relieved when he ambled off.
The waterhole itself is a beautiful oasis, cool and shady. Such places in desert lands are crucial for wildlife, and are great (and very pleasant) places to watch it.
The photos which follow were of birds drinking on a little sandy beach just out of picture in the
right foreground, and the rocks just behind it.
Even without them, the coolth of the shade and the reflections would have been beguiling enough.
While we were there ten bird species came in - of them I only failed to photograph a Grey-headed Honeyeater. One of the most ubiquitous - and delightful - birds in Australia is the Willie Wagtail, found from city centres to remote desert sites. And of course there was one here to keep an eye on us!
Willie Wagtail Rhipidura leucophrys, a fantail.
The most ubiquitous of the drinkers were Grey-fronted Honeyeaters Lichenostomus plumulus, found across much of inland Australia.

Grey-fronted Honeyeaters, above and below.
See here for a posting on this widespread genus of honeyeaters;
when I wrote it however I didn't have any photos of this species!
In the background of this photo is a young Long-tailed Finch Poephila acuticauda, here at the south-eastern edge of its tropical distribution. I hadn't expected to see them here, and it was one of four finch species which visited while we watched. Another finch gave us perhaps the most pleasure though, as we'd missed it in central Australia, and this was really our last chance for the trip.
Painted Finch Emblema pictum standing above the Grey-fronted Honeyeaters.

Painted Finches (showing black and red, in the foreground and on the rock to the left)
are widely found in the dry country, but only in rocky ranges where there is permanent water.
There is also a Long-tailed Finch at back left, and the ever-present Grey-fronted Honeyeaters.

Another Painted Finch (or rather the one above again), and top left (blurred by its movement) a Zebra Finch,
numerous throughout the Australian arid lands.
Zebra Finches Taeniopygia guttata (I've stopped pointing out the honeyeaters!).
Their little toy trumpet tootling calls are one of the key sounds of the outback. They are
superbly adapted to desert living, and I'll tell their story in their own posting one day.
The fourth species of finch was the pretty little Double-barred Finch Taeniopygia bichenovii, with blue bill and owl-like face; only one very poor photo I'm afraid.
One bedraggled little Double-bar, post-bath (plus Willie Wagtail, and the honeyeater of course).
Actually this is such a bad pic that I'm going to insert a better one of them, from a Darwin back yard!

Back to Warrigal Waterhole, where two species of elegant little doves were also much in evidence.
Diamond Doves Geopelia cuneata (red eye ring) and Peaceful Dove G. placida (blue eye ring, at the top) are,
like the finches, seed-eaters which must drink daily. Diamond Doves are Australia's smallest pigeon.
Lastly, a few individuals of one of our favourite dry country birds made a brief visit, but the bigger flock was too nervous of our presence to come down while we sat there.
Budgerigars Melopsittacus undulatus are real children of El Niño, breeding into vast flocks in the good times,
dying in the millions in droughts, with just a few surviving to build the new populations.

I've sat by many desert waterholes, but I can't remember such a peacefully busy time as we spent watching the birds come to Warrigal Waterhole.



Flabmeister said...

That bull looks very like (colour, shape of horns) the Spanish fighting bulls. I wonder if they have wasted decades developing breeds that occur naturally if left to their own devices.

Of course, this confirms your good sense in giving it a wide berth!


David Nash said...

Thanks Ian.
Further on your introductory comment about the name of the waterhole: Yes, warrigal is from the Sydney Language (attested in early records, and analysable as waRi 'distant' -gal 'denizen'), then spread in the 19th century interlanguage called NSW Pidgin. The word occurs in a number of official placenames mostly in the eastern mainland states (data from http://www.ga.gov.au/place-names/ ) which may well have been bestowed by Aboriginal and 'white'people combined, typically as co-workers in the pastoral industry. Of course, individual cases may have had some other kind of origin, but it is unusual these days to discover anything of their 'narrative of bestowal'. I'd be interested if you do learn more on the nice spot you visited.

Ian Fraser said...

Martin, that very thought occurred to me - I was especially taken by the black-tipped horns...

David, thank you so much for that input - I greatly value your expertise in these matters, and your generosity in sharing it. If I hear more of the origins of Warrigal Waterhole's name I'll certainly share it, though I'm not optimistic.