On the road....


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Oceania » Australia
September 8th 2019
Published: September 8th 2019
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After a slightly later start than originally planned, we headed off towards northwest Victoria and were on the road for our next adventure!!. It was a great drive, seeing three reptiles on the way: two bearded dragons perched beautifully on saltbushes and one of boggi's (shingle-back lizard) close relatives. Of course we stopped toget photosofthe beardies but they scooted off even as chris was getting his camera out! Boggi's relative had a death wish as he was about to wander onto the hwy. Ourlittlereptile wrangler hopped outpicked him up, gave him a little cuddle and stern talking to and then placed him safely on the other side of the road (where hewas headed!). After a brief stopin Ouyen to pay a surprise visit to say Hi to one of the XC Team Vic managers (who work at Ouyen p-12 college), we got fuel and continued onto our spot. We made it into camp about4ish and set up. It was great to be back here again after 2years and with only about an hour or so of good light left, Chris and Merlin headed off to find the illusive andvery rare Striated Grasswren. With a very contracted range, and such limited time, it was goingto bea challenge but Chriswas hopeful he might strike a few where hed found them previously. The mallee landscape is quite unique and so beautiful- short, patchy woodland of mallee eucalypts with green/grey foliage contrast the terracotta sandy earth spotted with clumps of spinifex. It was lovely to be amongst it but I was on guard as its very easy to become disoriented in mallee bushland and my sense of direction can be somewhat lacking at the best of times. Following the tracks, i came to where Chris was silently hidden amongst the bush, camera poised listening for the soft call of the Grasswrens. Next thing, i heard the shutter of his camera going nuts and i knew he had success. Slowly scanning with the binoculars, I was hoping i could catch a glimpse of this cryptic and furtive creature, when suddenly one little specimen filled my field of view. It was so cute with its white striations down its head and chest, a yellowy cream chunky tummy and a tail standing tall the height of the whole bird! As quickly as it arrived it jumped away and disappeared into the grasses. How lucky we were! With light rapidly fading, we quickly made it backto camp to get dinner. As night descended upon us, the beauty of remote wilderness came alive- 180 degree views of the night skies! With a fabulous look at The Dark Emu above us, we then headed into the campo for the night. What a wonderful start to the trip!!

The next morning (wed 4th) we got up early to a beautiful, but brewing, sky, had breaky, and then went exploring again for the grasswrens. To our surprise we got onto them again and all had spectacular views of this little guy hopping through the spinifex. We knew we had another big day ahead so had to keep moving. We headed back to camp, packed up and got on our way. As we were headed into SA we couldnt take any fresh fruit or vegies with us, so finished the last of our fruit just prior to the quarantine inspection stop. The best part of the drive was seeing so many wedgies (Wedge-tailed Eagles). As expected they were on roadkill, which in of itself is problematic as it means they often end up being roadkill themselves when cars/trucks etc see them too late (or dont slow up to allow enough time for the majestic bird to rise up and out of the way). These birds are simply magnificent and given their history (falsely being accused in early times of taking sheep) of being almost shot out of our lives and into extinction, we are so lucky to have them in our landscape. Onwards and upwards we travelled, stopping to do a fruit and veg shop and then continuing on to get to our destination- up near Hawker somewhere (top end of the Flinders Ranges). The landscape here and into Vulkathunha (Gammon Ranges) is spectacular. The ranges jut out of the ground from what appears to be nowhere and then drop away just as quickly. The profile is akin to that of the 'saw' blade in a pocket knife or a special front door key- almost unbelieveable and so dramatic - Geology 101 at its best!! Unfortunately the drive was taking longer than planned and bush camp sites seemed to be few and far between. With light rapidly fading - we made the difficult decision - to pull into Hawker caravan park - yes you guessed it! For those of us who know Chris and I well and/or have read stories of our previous travels, know that these decisions are made with a heavy heart and much deliberation (aka lively discussion). For any new friends, lets just say caravan parks are not our number one camping choice (even though they do have upsides!). Anyway, after looking this up, and realising the proprietor (John Hennessy - Hennessy being my family name!) must be my long lost uncle John, I assured Chris it would be fine. In we went, found a tucked away campsite and set up for the night. It was generally really quiet and we met a lovely hiker who was doing the 1200km Heysen trail - she had only 1 week left of her 8 week trek and it was fascinating hearing her story. Plus a bonus was the helicopter parked just over the fence!

We woke early (Thurs 5th), had a quick breaky and whilst doing so noticed the pilot getting the chopper ready. Merlin and I were hovering most obviously until he called us over and said we could take a closer look - yey for us!! It was a eurocopter (nowadays also known as an airbus). He was working on a government project in a remote location transporting equipment to build critical communication infrastucture - pilots have such amazing and diverse roles and this further cemented Merlin's keen ambition to get his helicopter licence during his lifetime! We left Hawker on our way to Vulkathanha (Gammon Ranges) staying at the Wirti Urdla (weetootla gorge) campground. This is the home of the Ctenophorus vadnappa (Red Barred Dragon) and we were keen to see this special little species. In addition we were hoping to see more wildlife, and notably the cute Yellow footed Rock Wallaby. It is a long drive in and although the landscape was striking it was so very dry and dusty. We had noticed this along the way as we had been heading north that the land everywhere was so parched. We entered through the community of Nepabunna with the most beautiful aboriginal artwork of locals and wildlife adorning the entrance and exit 'gates' to the town. We eventually arrived at our campsite and whilst idling to determine the best position, saw with concern what seemed like a tornado of dust/sand funneling through the whole campground- eating, cooking and generally setting up was going to be interesting!! Added to this, the temperature had somehow soared to 30+ and brought with it the friendly flies. After a long drive, with not much daylight left, and given the conditions, we decided to go for a little walk and explore. Not long into the walk Chris radioed to say he had found the Vadnappa (a striking little dragon with red bars, yellow throat and blue back) - we couldnt believe it and as quickly and quietly as possible, caught up to where he was on the track. Merlin joined Chris and they both positioned themselves to try and get great views (and some shots) of this cute little critter. He was hiding in a crevice due to the heat of the day....all his Christmases had come at once as we threw him a few little mealworms. He eagerly popped his head out to lap them up and it gave us a chance to see him all the better. The area in here was so dry and devoid of any food so he was happy! After spending some time with the little guy, and as dark was fast approaching, we headed back to camp to try and cook dinner in the sandpit. On our way back we heard the distinctive thump thump of the rock wallaby. We scanned the riverbed and found it nestled in at the base of the rock face. It was beautiful but so sad as it was trying desperately to find food. He scampered off and we headed on. Next a wedgie flew across the track as we had disturbed it feasting on carrion. Unfortunately due to the conditions, there are a lot of carcases here so at least the birds of prey have something to eat. Given the conditions we decided to wait until morning to see what the plan will be- stay another night or keep heading north.

The night started off as quite calm but then the wind whipped up yet again so breakfast was tricky the next morning (Fri 6th). We decided to do the gorge walk to the waterhole. It was a lovely walk, and the scenery was striking - similar in nature to Ormiston Gorge but not at the same scale. The waterhole was a refuge for the wildlife but just a fraction of what it would normally be if there was no drought. Deep in the gorge the wind had dropped to almost nothing so we were thinking another night would be the plan. However on the walk back the wind progressively increased to yet another tornado in the campground! We had more to see further north so decided to head out. Our aim was to get to Clayton River as there is a beautiful campsite there. Years before when we travelled this trek on the Birdsville Track at this site there is a famous artesian well which can be pumped into a shallow pool to allow travellers a warm bath- it was divine after a hot dry day. However sadly, again due to forces of climate change, this is now dry. We had a terrific drive and arrived at Clayton river late afternoon. We headed straight into a great spot on the dry creekbed, and when setting up saw two stunning resident brolgas checking us out. How amazing to be able to share the night with these elegant creatures? We had just enough daylight to go for a quick explore and then cooked dinner and called it a day.

On Sat 7th we woke to the distinctive calls of the brolgas who, by the sound of it, were in close promity and wondering where we were. We got up had breaky, packed up and headed out to see what was here. Not long into our wanderings Chris came back to us with a gecko he found and hadnt had time to identify it yet. Merlin was on the case and straight away ruled out various species and then based on his investigation of its feet, claws, colouration and distribution, identifed it was a Purple Dtella (Gehyra purpurascens). This little creature was just so cute (imagine a gecko with its little pads and of brownish/purple hues with marbled black markings all down its body). Anyway so of course it was time to make this guy famous and take its photo. We safely popped him into the billy until we were ready. Chris and Merlin carefully took him to the spot he was found and placed him gently on bark, ready to take their shots. Merlin fired off a few and then the dtella had enough and literally disappeared!! Unbelieveable- Merlin and Chris are pretty good at finding and catching up these critters but on this occasion, it got the better of them. Luckily we had some beautiful views of him and at least he was safe back in his home. We then headed off, aiming to get further up the Birsdville Track to Tippapila ck. The landscape here is vast, with flat gibber plains as far as the eye can see broken up by only sporadic sandy saltbush dunes and mirages!! The wildlife out here are hardy animals. Emus, Red Kangaroos, and some special birds -Australian Pratincoles (dainty elgeant little buff coloured birds), Gibberbirds and Chats - all call this place home. We arrived very late in the day with not much light left and found a little spot nestled close to the creekbed against the treeline.

Sun 8th was going to be a special day - we were hoping to see some other grasswrens and an inland taipan (from a wise distance). We headed off early to explore the area and as the heat of the day started to settle in, we were hopeful we might strike it lucky. Although, we saw some great species, the key ones we were looking for eluded us, for now. After this we had morning tea and decided to pack up and keep heading north- we were only a day or two away from our first key destination, Ethabuka ( a Bush Heritage Reserve in QLD). We started on the trek and found that our timing perhaps wasnt that great, as there were streams of vehicles coming in the opposite direction as they made the mass exodus from the Birdsville Races. Normally this wouldnt be a problem, but on the incredibly dry and rocky track, it made the driving an intense art form- trying to pick the best line! As you can imagine, my offers to drive and give Chris a break were immediately (but gratefully) dismissed!! We continued on and found an amazing oasis which was a perfect place to stop for lunch - it was teeming with life. Excitedly we crossed into QLD and onto Birdsville to stock up on fuel and water before heading further north. The next part of our journey will take us to Ethabuka, then north and west across the top of the Simpson desert, into NT and arriving at Alice Springs. Hope everyone is well back home and thankyou to all our house sitters. Stay safe and have fun til next time!

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