Friday, 6 September 2013

Salvator Rosa – Carnarvon National Park Queensland

Our southward journey home to East Gippsland Victoria followed an inland route, shorter and quicker than the coastal route as the roads are generally straight and flat with little traffic and few towns. This is no doubt why so many van-towing southerners come north each winter via inland routes.
The route was through cattle country which is in drought and very dry at present. The road kill was horrendous.  Roos and wallabies which bred up during the last wet period are now attracted to the fenced off road sides where there is good feed and in places even a green pick on the shoulders due to the extra rainfall runoff from the impervious road surface. Add large trucks and road trains travelling at speed at night and you have carnage. The crows, ravens and Black Kites however were enjoying a food bonanza. It was not unusual for as many as 15 Black Kites, and sometimes a few Whistling Kites among them, to fly up from a carcass as we approached.
Our plan was to visit the Salvator Rosa section in the remote far west of the Carnarvon National Park. From Atherton we drove west to Mt Garnet and then generally south through Lynd Junction, Charters Towers and Emerald to Springsure. From there it was west along the rough dirt Dawson Development Road and then south via cattle station roads/tracks to the Salvator Rosa camping area. Apart from the many patches of bull dust, the main hazard we encountered on this road were six or seven road trains carrying cattle. These huge trucks cannot move over and the dust they raise totally obscures the road behind and any vehicles that might be following them. So the only way to deal with this situation is to pull off the road and stop and wait for them to pass and the dust to settle before moving on again.
A double decker road train carrying cattle on the Dawson Development Road. The dust is obscuring trailers. The only way to handle this situation is to get off the road in a hurry and wait for the truck to pass and dust to settle before moving on.
The truck has passed however it is obviously not safe to return to the road until the dust has cleared.
Carnarvon is a large park generally covering rugged sandstone country, stretching from Salvator Rosa on the Nogoa River near the western end of the park via the shortest straight line distance, the way the crow flies, to the well known and spectacular Carnarvon Gorge at the eastern end - over 150 kilometres, making this a large park.
We had previously visited the other three sections, Ka Ka Mundi, Mt Moffatt and Carnarvon Gorge and had been prevented from visiting Salvator Rosa in the past due to rain, which makes travel on the black soil plains tracks impossible. 
Approaching Salvator Rosa. Note the Queensland Bottle Tree, Brachychiton rupestris, which is related to the Currajong, Brachychiton populneus, we find in East Gippsland. There are 30 species of Brachychitons in Australia. The Bottle Tree should not be confused with the completely unrelated Boab, Adansonia gregorii, which is found in the Kimberly and the Northen Territory.
The name Salvator Rosa was given by Major Mitchell whose party passed through the area in 1846 while exploring for an inland route to Darwin. There were various plaques/cairns and signage marking and commemorating this historic journey. The area feels remote today even with our modern vehicles and communication aids. I pondered how it must have felt for Major Mitchell and his party in 1846 exploring new country with no possibility of rescue if they got into trouble.
We managed to see 44 species of birds in this section of the park over two days, in spite of a large area having been recently burnt in a managed back-burn to control a wild fire and subsequent slow recovery due to the dry conditions.
Here are some photo highlights:
Pale-headed Rosella
There are six species of rosella, genus Platycercus, in Australia and two subspecies of the Crimson Rosella. The Pale-headed Rosella is the one you mostly see in Queensland. Like all of the other rosellas they are a multi coloured parrot. The following shots are of a male and female pair feeding together on the ground.
The male Pale-headed Rosella eating the slender seed pods to its left.
The female Pale-headed Rosella feeding on the same seed pods as the male above.
Collared Sparrowhawk
We had just left the camping area and forded the Nogoa River, definitely 4WD only, on our way south to explore the area when a raptor flew up from the river and landed in a tree just ahead of us. A check with the bins revealed a Collared Sparrowhawk based on its small size. The smaller Collared Sparrowhawk and larger Brown Goshawk look almost identical – see photo of a Brown Goshawk in the Wonga Beach – Cooktown – Atherton post for comparison.
The bird waggled its tail and I thought it must have been bathing in the river and was shaking off water even though it did not look wet. Reading a field guide later I learnt that the tail is waggled from side to side when the bird lands, a behavioral characteristic of this species and to a lesser extent in the very similar Brown Goshawk.
After landing in this tree the Collared Sparrowhawk waggled its tail from side to side - a characteristic behaviour of this species.
Striated Pardalote
We found many pairs busy excavating nest tunnels in sandy banks along the 4WD tracks and small watercourses. I am always amazed that such small birds can use their bills to excavate tunnels in hard sand. The loose material is removed from the tunnel using their feet. Once the tunnel is completed a bark and grass nest is then constructed in an enlarged section at the inner end of the tunnel. Tree hollows may also be used.
The Morcombe Field Guide shows five races of pardalote, the ones we saw at Salvator Rosa were melanocephalus, Black-headed Pardalote. In East Gippsland we have ornatus, Eastern Striated Pardalote.
I interrupted this Black-headed Pardalote's tunnel excavation work. Along with its nearby mate it is looking down at me the intruder and waiting for me to leave so it can resume work which I noticed it did once I had moved away a short distance.
Plumb-headed Finch
A flock of some fifty or sixty birds was feeding on the ground near Major Mitchell’s Spring. They were very nervous and hard to get close to for a good photo. As soon as you got too close they flew up into nearby trees where they waited to see if it was safe to return to feeding on the ground. The shot below is of a male and a juvenile bird.
The male Plumb-headed Finch has a plumb coloured throat patch just visible in this shot - the female does not have this patch but is otherwise similar to the male. The bird behind is a juvenile.
Apostlebirds are gregarious, social and often tame birds when they live around places such as campgrounds where they are exposed to humans who either deliberately feed them or inadvertently leave food scraps and crumbs about.
As we packed up to leave, a few of the local group moved into our campsite strutting about boldly looking for any discarded food. I am sure they have learnt that food scraps are a strong possibility when we humans leave a campsite and it was not just a coincidence that they turned up as we packed. I took the opportunity to get some photos, however their occupation of the site and my photo session were suddenly and rudely interrupted by one of the local Magpies who swooped in with its snapping bill sounding like castanets.
The Apostlebirds retreated to the safety of a tree above the campsite from where they looked down with noisy protest as the Magpie now strutted about the campsite to see what tit bits might be on offer. Of course there were none as we are particularly strict on not feeding wildlife or even inadvertently leaving or spilling food. The protesting Apostlebirds attracted one of the local Laughing Kookaburras, which flew in to see what was up, only adding to their trouble.
I managed a couple shots of one of the Apostlebirds as it protested to no avail from the safety of a high perch.
This Apostlebird is complaining noisily following its displacement from our campsite by a Magpie.
This Apsotlebird is focused on the Magpie below. It soon gave up the protest and moved to another camp site to scavenge for food.
There were good numbers of Red-backed Fairy-wrens occupying reeds and dense vegetation along the edge of the Nogoa River. To my surprise I found a male Superb Fairy-wren in full colour along the River edge. Checking the guides, I found these birds must be at the extreme northern edge of their range at Salvator Rosa. The edge of our campsite was bounded by a large log on which someone had carved a fairy-wren – I thought it was good enough for a photo.
Fairy-wren carving at our Salvator Rosa campsite on the Nogoa River.
The Carnarvon National Park has many spectacular sand stone cliffs and erosion over millions of years has produced many unusual rock structures both large and small – a visit to this park is highly recommended, especially to the Carnarvon Gorge at the eastern end of the park, which unlike the other sections, is easily accessed.
There are thousands of interesting sandstone formations within Carnarvon NP. This one is in the Salvator Rosa section of the park. Note the epicormic growth on the eucalypts following a back-burn to control a wildfire.
From Salvator Rosa we headed west to Tambo and then south via Augathella and Charleville to Cunnamulla where we planned to spend a few days at Bowra Sanctuary before heading home.

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