Friday, 31 July 2015

East MacDonnell Ranges

The East MacDonnell Ranges, as the name implies, lie to the east of Alice Springs and while less well known than the popular West Macs, are well worth a visit.
We based ourselves at the Ross River Resort campground located about 90km east of Alice Springs. From there we were able to access Trephina Gorge, N’Dhala Gorge and Ruby Gap Nature Parks and the Arltunga Historic Reserve.
The ranges are geologically complex, scenic and interesting and support a diverse range of habitats and plant communities. In addition to natural history there is human history, including petroglyphs (rock engravings possibly ranging in age from 10,000 to 2,000 years old) and mining history at Arltunga (gold) and Ruby Gap (gem stones). The historic Ross River Station homestead building is well worth checking out.
Trephina Creek and Trephina Bluff, a classic central Australian watercourse with sandy bed and River Red Gums (E camaldulensis) clinging to the banks.
Section of Trephina Gorge loop walk with red sandstone rocks and spinifex plus a Ghost Gum (Corymbia aparrerinja) against the incredibly blue sky.
The ranges support a high diversity of plant communities and plant species along with associated fauna.
Sign explaining the meaning of the above rock art.
Largest known Ghost Gum.
Ghost Gums (Corymbia aparrerinja) are an outstanding feature in the MacDonnell Ranges landscape. This particular gum at Trephina Gorge Nature Park is the largest known specimen in Australia and is measured at 33 metres high with an estimated age of 300 years. This tree is listed in the Northern Territory Register of Significant Trees and is registered in the National Register of Big Trees.
Flood debris high in Red Gum, Trephina Gorge.
Rainfall in this very arid part of the driest continent on earth is highly unpredictable and when a whole years rain falls in a day or two the results can be spectacular. The flood debris high in this Red Gum in the bed of Trephina Creek shows just how spectacular these rare events can be.
Conditions were generally good with many shrubs in flower however it was dry and birds were scarce away from the watercourses and gorges. We saw White-backed Swallows hunting along side Little Woodswallows in Trephina Gorge and also just above the gorge Black-faced Woodswallows.
In addition to the ever present White-plumed Honeyeaters we also saw Grey-headed and Brown plus Singing and Spiny-cheeked. There were lots of Mistletoebirds and mistletoe, especially in the acacias. Apart from a few Nankeen Kestrels and Brown Falcons no other raptors, apex predators, were sighted which confirmed the general low number of birds in the area.
Other bird species seen included Willie Wagtail, Magpie-lark, Pied Butcherbird, Weebill, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Hooded Robin and Splendid Fairy-wren.
The highlight bird species was a small flock of Spinifex Pigeons (Geophaps plumifera) we came across on the drive out to remote Ruby Gap. For me these birds are endearing, almost comical, with their rakish tall sandy crests and dumpy bodies. They are perfectly coloured to match the red rocky, grassy, spinifiex dominated terrain where they are so often found. The group was beside the track in rough acacia scrub on rocky ground with a grassy understory. No doubt they were feeding on grass and wattle seeds.
Most of the flock moved away into the scrub but a few lingered on rocks to see what the vehicle with the camera lens poking out of the driver’s window was doing, and they luckily stayed, posing nicely for some photos.
Spinifex Pigeon showing how the bird’s plumage matches the rock colours  well.
Two more birds stood on rocks just to the right of the bird above.
There are two races of Spinifex Pigeon, race plumifera with white under parts and race ferruginea with rusty-buff underparts.
While eating lunch in one of the two Trephina Gorge camp grounds on the banks of Trephina Creek below Trephina Bluff (see first photo above) we were entertained by two adult and one juvenile Pied Butcherbirds that came in to do the rounds of the camp ground scrounging any food left by the campers. They were very bold and are clearly used to people - plus they knew the camp routine well.
A couple had just set off for a walk from their campsite when we pulled in and the Butcherbirds arrived soon after. They picked up a good number of scraps in and around the camp and especially near the camp table. When they finished that site they moved on to the next. They also hung around us, no doubt hoping we might feed them a few morsels from our lunch.
Under the tables scrounging for scraps.
This adult Pied Butcherbird flew to a slender shrub near where we were eating lunch. The camera was ready to capture the moment.
From Ross River we headed back to Alice for a couple of days to get ready for a week out at Newhaven.

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