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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, 6 July 2017

Longreach Waterhole, Northern Territory

[Apologies to my Queensland readers - there is a lovely Longreach Waterhole in central Queensland too, but that's a story for another day.]

We were on the way home after a blissful month on the road in northern Australia, heading down the Stuart Highway that bisects central Australia from north to south coasts, hoping - albeit with limited optimism - for just one more night under the stars before the final serious push. We found favourable mention of Longreach Waterhole on line and opted to give it a go; it was an excellent decision!
Views of Longreach Waterhole, above and below.
Some 12 sinuous kilometres long in Newcastle Creek, it is not possible to do justice to it in one photo.
Access is from the highway just north of the little town of Elliott; take the sandy track to the west immediately north of the first cattle grid and fence out of town. You probably won't want to spend a lot of time in Elliott, but you can get basic supplies there.

Elliott is over 700k south of Darwin, so it's well into the semi-arid zone.

Longreach Waterhole is part of the much vaster ephemeral Lake Woods, which in rare flood events can cover 125,000 hectares, and is listed by Birdlife International (a worldwide collaboration of bird conservation and research organisations) as one of their Important Bird Areas (IBAs). The whole of Lake Woods is managed as pastoral lease but, within the Lake Woods IBA, Longreach Waterhole Protected Area is managed by the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Service in consultation with the lessees. To be honest I don't fully understand the details of it, but one of the spin-offs is that it is accessible to the public and camping is free, albeit with no facilities. (Actually there is one toilet block where the access track meets the waterhole, but if you want to get away from people - which we see as a must - then you won't want to camp there.)

As you would expect from the discussion of Lake Wood, the surrounds of the waterhole are floodplain, which had been wet, if not inundated, not long before our visit.
The floodplain is dominated by flood-tolerant (or rather flood-reliant) species,
notably Coolabah Eucalyptus coolabah, which features notably in Australian folklore and songs, especially
the unofficial national song, Waltzing Matilda.
It is fair to say however that most Australians are unfamiliar with the tree itself.
Coolabah in typical floodplain habitat.
Straggly but very tough Bauhinia Lysiphyllum cunninghamii (family Fabaceae)
is another flood  plain specialist near arid land waterholes.
Most of the recent ephemeral growth on the floodplain had died back, but one herb was still flowering - and puzzled me.
Any assistance gratefully received!
All inland Australian waterways are dominated by just one species, the mighty River Red Gum E. camaldulensis, which can take long-term inundation, whereas the Coolabahs need to dry out more often, so are found further back from the water.
River Red Gum glowing at sunset, Longreach Waterhole.

It was, as I mentioned, towards the end of an exhilarating but also tiring trip, and we had a lot of driving coming up, so for most of the brief 24 hours we had there we were content to let life come to us, but there was a gratifying amount of that. Some of it was on the flood plain.
White-winged Triller pair Lalage tricolor. The male, on the left, is moulting into his breeding plumage.
They were part of a loose flock feeding on the plain, doubtless migrating south to breed (we were there
in early September), and it was not too far-fetched to ponder that we might meet up with them again at
home in Canberra! Trillers are small cuckoo-shrikes.
Grey-crowned Babbler Pomatostomus temporalis, foraging for insects in rotting wood,
above and below.
Immature Pied Butcherbird Cracticus nigrogularis. When adult it will be glossy black and white,
and be responsible for my favourite bird song of all!
Most of the activity however, was centred on the waterhole; despite it being only early spring the temperature climbed to well over 30 degrees. A parade of smaller birds used the branches above our camp to launch bathing forays and insect-catching sallies.
Rufous-throated Honeyeater Conopophila rufogularis, above and below.
This is a common little bird across the tropics, but I was a bit surprised to see it
this far south and in such an arid situation (though it does like waterside habitats).

White-plumed Honeyeater Ptilotula (formerly Lichenostomus) penicillata;this on the other hand is an abundant and domineering honeyeater of the Red Gums throughout
inland Australia. Indeed it is only when we get high into the tropics that this species drops out
and other honeyeater species have much of a chance to share the bounty of this rich habitat.
Rainbow Bee-eater Merops ornatus with dragonfly.
Probably a male, with thin tail streamer, but one has been broken off.
On the far bank (at least 100 metres away) water birds rested, keeping their distance from campers.

Black-necked Stork Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus, Australasian Darters Anhinga novaehollandiaeand Pacific Black Ducks Anas superciliosus.

Black-necked Stork, probably a young female (dark eye, not bright yellow,
and legs only pink, not bright red).
Magpie Geese Anseranas semipalmata, dozing.
Primitive waterbirds, the only members of their family; abundant in the wetter north, but great wanderers.
And constantly the waters themselves and the airways above them were rushing with activity.
Pied Cormorants Phalacrocorax varius; the traffic up and down the waterhole
in the lanes just above water level was intense.
Pied Cormorants fishing with Australian Pelicans Pelecanus conspicillatus.
Pelican fishing in shallow water, right in front of us.
Pelicans catching a thermal to move on, perhaps for hundreds of kilometres...

... higher...

... and higher yet.
Cormorants (and a sole pelican) flying along the waterhole.
Female Australasian Darter soaring.
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus flying.
Widespread in Australia and Africa, this pretty little ibis can also be found scattered in the Americas,
Europe and Asia.
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia.This is the world's biggest tern, found across much of the earth.
As it has done here, it can move far inland on occasions.
And all that was in less than 24 hours, with limited effort on our part. We look forward to stopping off there again one day; you really should consider it too...

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Flabmeister said...

Several other folk whose opinions, like yours, I respect have given Pied Butcherbird a mention in their their list of best bird song .. of all time. Although I had seen plenty of them in appropriate spots I have not really been exposed to their song until our current foray to the Great Lakes of NSW. Probably they are getting into breeding mode here and now so giving the syrinx some wellie.

I now appreciate what the praise is about and they are definitely very high in my list. (Memo to self: formalise list of bird calls and rate them!)


Ian Fraser said...

I have long and unhesitatingly listed them as my number 1, for several reasons. Firstly the rich and haunting tones themselves - like listening to a Bach cello suite. Then there's the whole performance - stretching up for the high notes, bowing right down for the low ones. And, for me it's always a sign that I'm back in the dry country (though as you point out they do come to the coast as we go north), a very good feeling indeed.

Flabmeister said...

By chance this https://goo.gl/hFT4c5 talks about Pied BB and their musicality. There are links to a couple of samples of the musical work referred to in that program in http://www.realtime.org.au/is-birdsong-music-ask-the-butcherbird/.

Sorry about all the links.