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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, 14 September 2017

Kata Tjuta 2; life among the domes

Recently I posted on Kata Tjuta in the central deserts, one of the special places of Australia. I promised to revisit there before the end of September to introduce some of the animals and plants I've come across among and around the great domes. Inevitably there are more plants than animals, not least because of the numbers of visitors much of the time, and because many desert animals are nocturnal, preferring to shelter during the hot dry days. Here is a brief array however to start with.
Mud Dauber wasp, family Sphecidae; like many animals, this one was attracted to
water dripping from a tank provided for walkers.
One of the many dry country cockroaches.
A bug - ie a Hemipteran - sucking sap with its proboscis inserted into the shrub's 'veins'.
Brooks' Ctenotus Ctenotus brooksi (and bonus beetle - for the skink anyway).
This skink, rusty to match the iron-rich desert sands, is found from the centre across the western deserts.
Black-breasted Buzzards Hamirostra melanosternon at their nest on the plains near the domes.
The only member of their genus, they are thought to belong to an old line of Australian raptors
(and are certainly not close to the northern hemisphere buzzards).
Anywhere there is water in the deserts - such as at the walkers' tank mentioned above - there
will be Zebra Finches Taeniopygia guttata. Exquisitely evolved for dryland living, they
are found across inland Australia.
Which brings us to the plants of the domes, and fortunately I can offer you a few more of them than of animals. They're in no particular order - I hope you can just enjoy them! 
Kata Tjuta Wattle Acacia olgana (above and below) forms thickets in the gorges; it
is also found in ranges in the nearby north-west of South Australia.
The scientific name comes from the former name Mount Olga for Kata Tjuta,
applied in colonial times. (See previous Kata Tjuta post.)

Dead Finish Wattle Acacia tetragonophylla. This is supposed to be one of the last plants standing in a severe drought, hence the name.
As you might expect from such a hardy plant, it is found right across the inland southern half of the continent.
Acacia inaequilatera, named for the phyllodes which are unevenly divided by the central vein.

Rulingia (or Androcalva) loxophylla, family Malvaceae.
In wet years hundreds of kilometres of outback roads can be lined with this plant.
Upside-down Plant Leptosema chambersi. Everything about this plant is upside-down in fact! Not only are the flowers at the bottom of the plant,
but they themselves are upside-down. I have seen plenty of evidence in the form of numerous footprints
of birds visiting the flowers, but I can't suggest how the unusual position or orientation of
the flowers assists in pollination.
Goodenia cycloptera (I am almost sure of the species, but it is variable and there are
several similar ones).
Olearia ferressii, a daisy of sheltered gorges of the central Australian ranges.
Corkwood Hakea lorea, family Proteaceae.
This small tree is found widely across central and northern Australia.
Honeysuckle Grevillea, G. juncifolia.A particularly lovely grevillea, also found across much of the drier parts of the country.
Showy Indigo Indigofera basedowii, a shrubby pea which favours the shelter of gorges
in the central desert ranges.

Fanflower Scaevola parvifolia, family Goodeniaceae, in Walpa Gorge.
Scaevola basedowii; this one was in the past included with the previous species.
This is the second species we've met named for Herbert Basedow, a South Australian geologist,
anthropologist and explorer who spent many years between 1903 and 1928 recording the lives of the
central desert people, and collecting plants as he went.
Desert Heath Myrtle Aluta (formerly Thryptomene) maisonneuvei, a tough inhabitant
of exposed red sand dunes in the central and western deserts.
Crimson Foxtails or Silver Tails Ptilotus sessilifolius family Amaranthaceae.
One of many species of Ptilotus found across the inland, which can dominate entire landscapes after rain.
Jockey Caps Prostanthera striatiflora family Lamiaceae.
The mintbushes are a large genus of aromatic shrubs endemic to Australia; most
live in the more humid near coastal zones, but this one is widespread in inland ranges.
Desert Lantern Flower Abutilon leucopetalum family Malvaceae.
And yes I know the name means 'white petals', but I didn't name it! Actually flowers can be white or yellow.
Butterbush or Berrigan (and many other names across the country) Pittosporum angustifolium
(formerly P. phillyreoides), a widespread inland tree whose closest relations are in east coast rainforest.
Spearwood Pandorea doratoxylon family Bignoniaceae, above and below.
The dense twiggy climber has light tough flexible stems which are indeed used for spear shafts;
the scientific name means the same as the common name.
It seems only to grow in rocky gorges.
Hopefully this celebration of life among the domes has given you another reason to visit Kata Tjuta soon - there are certainly plenty of reasons to do so!

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Flabmeister said...

You mention that Acacia inaequilatera has phyllodes unevenly divided by the central vein. I think the same applies to Eucalyptus obliqua. As it is seized upon for the specific name I assume it is rather unusual attribute. Is there a known advantage to the plant from this "trick"?


Ian Fraser said...

You're right about E. obliqua, also locsally Acacia obliquinervia. Your question is, as ever, an excellent one. It is hard to imagine that it could be an advantage per se (inter alia we'd expect it to be a lot more common if so); I think there are probably more situations than we realise where such a character, neutral in itself, is genetically linked to another which is selected for. (See a discussion on European owl colour morphs changing with rising temps in an upcoming book!)

The C Word said...

Hi Ian, I'm Jack from the Aussie Bird Count (being held 23-29 Oct during National Bird Week) and I wondered if you might share some birds you have seen across Australia ... or perhaps those that you count during the Aussie Bird Count on your blog. Would be great if you could contact me on birdweek@thecword.com.au - Cheers, Jack