Monday, 30 June 2014

Culgoa National Park NSW

From Gundabooka NP we drove north to Bourke where we regrouped and took on water, fuel and food for a trip out to remote Culgoa National Park on the NSW/Qld border, a 180km drive north east from Bourke on dirt roads. 
To enlarge photos left click on any image and then view other images by scrolling backwards or forwards. Click on the cross at top right hand corner of image to close and return to post. 
Black soil road on the Culgoa River floodplain on the road to Culgoa National Park. A few mm of rain can bring travel on these roads to a halt. The trees are coolabah.
On the drive out we were lucky enough to find a flock of about 120 Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos feeding on the ground near the road. A couple of sentries perched on the top of a dead tree kept an eye on us and gave warning when I got too close. The birds on the ground departed for another spot a few hundred metres out from the other side of the road, the sentries were the last to leave. All I could do was try and get a few flight shots as they departed and a photo of the sentries.
This is one of two pairs of sentries keeping watch while about 120 of their mates
are feeding on the ground nearby.
A warning from the sentries and the birds departed in groups with the bolder more confident ones leaving their run until I had come closer.
The red tail feathers shows this bird to be a male - the females have more yellow
or orange tail feathers.
The Culgoa National Park adjoins the Culgoa Floodplain NP in Queensland. Both parks contain a range of habitats including claypans, lakes, dunes, gibber, grassy plains and the Culgoa River flood plain with extensive stands of coolabah (Eucalyptus coolabah). Other vegetation communities include mulga (Acacia aneura), gidgee (Acacia cambagei), brigalow (Acacia harpophylla) and white cypress pine.
The area is in drought with no significant rain for 18 months. The grazing properties along the route looked like they were doing it hard with mostly bare soil and next to no feed. While conditions in the park looked better it was still tough for the wildlife and we found bird diversity and especially numbers, (abundance) low in the park.
The Culgoa River in Culgoa NP, reduced by drought to isolated pools. The coolabah trees along the banks have put out extensive root systems to support themselves in the fine silt.
Now and again when travelling you have chance encounters with other travellers that prove to be rewarding and memorable and we had such an encounter at Culgoa NP. We did not expect many/any other campers at the park given the time of year, drought conditions and relatively remote location. So we were a little surprised when we arrived to find a group of four camped at the Culgoa River Campground. They were glad to see us, as their only vehicle’s batteries were flat. Sorting this out broke the ice and after introductions and the usual questions regarding why we were all there we discovered one of the group was on a trip for a post graduate Arts Degree.  
This includes research into pastoral history in the area with special interest in the Great Artesian Basin, the related natural springs and man made bores, and the critical role these sources of water played both in the past and today to underpin grazing enterprises in the area. Rainfall is simply not enough in this area to sustain pastoral operations during the hot summers, dry periods and the frequent severe droughts.
A generous offer for us to join the group in a Park Ranger led visit to many of the artesian springs/soaks, bores, tanks, dams and various old homestead buildings, including an impressive shearing shed constructed from local timber poles, was gratefully accepted and our birding plans were happily opened out for the day. During the day we ended up travelling some 150kms over a maze of bush tracks in both the NSW and Queensland sections of the parks returning to camp well after dark for a shared meal and time around the camp fire.
The following photos and captions provide a brief picture of the day with a few bird photos inserted here and there.
Some of the group at one of a number of artesian springs/soaks.
In some locations water must be lifted from the aquifer using pumps - in the past windmills were used. This one once pumped water to an adjoining tank and open earthen dam,
often referred to as tanks in the outback.
An underground water source, in this case the Great Artesian Basin aquifer, a windmill, tank and stock trough, absolutely essential in this country to run a stock grazing operation. Many of these water sources are now being removed as a way of controlling feral animals such as
goats and pigs in the park.
We stopped briefly to look at this very obliging Brown Falcon which perched quietly
as three vehicles stopped and then drove on by.
A close view of the bird above. Brown Falcons are a very successful arid land predator
- they are both widespread and numerous across much of Australia.
Approaching the old woolshed (large building on right) and associated buildings
including shearer's quarters, kitchen etc.

A pair of Galahs, a male and female, looked on from their gidgee tree as three vehicles pulled up and we all piled out to look at the woolshed and associated buildings. They would rarely see any human activity at these long abandoned buildings.
The eight stand woolshed is now used by nesting Fairy Martins and a Willie Wagtail has nested on a cable suspended from a timber beam. The large and impressive building has been
constructed from local native cypress pine poles.
Lunch at Toulby Station. The early pioneer pastoralists had to be tough and resilient
to make a go of life out here.

The day really highlighted the importance of water in the outback and its critical role in our history and ongoing occupation of this dry country and also the impact it has on the natural environment. Given our interest in birds, the way rain and other sources of water influence bird populations and movements across the landscape was really evident.
We spent another full day in the park birding in various habitats and over two full days and part of a day either side we recorded 40 bird species. Bird photography opportunities were limited by the low numbers of birds plus the birds were extremely wary and this made getting near enough for photos very hard.
There are large numbers of kangaroos in the park. Red Kangaroos look to be the most common species - this is a large old man Red.
I could not get close to this flock of Apostlebirds. They were alarmed by my presence.
A cropped version of the above image showing the birds in various stages of flight.
Chestnut-rumped Thornbills were very common - this is a less common Inland Thornbill which are similar and often forage alongside the Chestnut-rumped Thornbills.
A Peaceful Dove on left and two Diamond Doves on right having a drink in a nearly dry dam. Seed eating birds such as doves, pigeons, parrots and finches must drink daily so the presence or absence of water has a large impact on their numbers and distribution.
The visit to Culgoa was well worth while however from a birding point of view it would be better to visit this area after good rains when conditions would support a much greater diversity and abundance of birds.
After Culgoa, we decided to change our itinerary and spend more time up north and less later in Victoria where it has been cold and wet. So we drove north from Culgoa to Cunnamulla where we planned to spend four days at Bowra Santuary. For about half of the 200km drive, the country was in drought. However conditions started to slowly improve and were clearly better across the vast Mitchell grass plains south east of Bourke.
Stock grid on the road at the NSW/Qld border. The country here was very dry brigalow,
gidgee and mulga with only goats seen.
Mitchell Grass plains with much better conditions supporting cattle with calves at foot. The area around Cunnamulla was lucky to catch some useful rain a few months earlier.
At a lunch spot near a small creek line with some pools of water we found the area alive with birds including budgies, white-browed woodswallows, zebra finches nesting, and a pair of hooded robins just to name a few species.
I was surprised to find a pair of Hooded Robins, this is the male, at our lunch stop near a creek on the Mitchell Grass plains. I always thought of them as a woodland bird?
A male Zebra Finch, another arid land outback bird that does very well in hard conditions, though their numbers boom and bust with the seasons.
A female Zebra Finch. Several pairs were building nests in the tree above our lunch spot. There was water in the creek nearby and no doubt plenty of grass seeds on the adjoining grass plain.

The better conditions and bird activity at out lunch spot reinforced our decision to travel north, especially having read that Bowra had received some rain earlier in the year.

1 comment:

  1. Great report John.
    Seems odd to be sitting here in Victoria reading about dry habitat, etc.
    Nice to see those Red-tailed Black Cockatoos!
    Regards to you both,