Deniliquin – New South Wales

Fran and I drove north enjoying the views and countryside of northern Victoria and eventually southern New South Wales. There are farms and farming operations in this area, but much of the land is unable to receive dependable water so great expanses are simply rangeland or paddocks for grazing cattle and sheep. Much of the water in the rivers, as mentioned previously, is controlled and distributed for various uses by municipal powers. There is still a great deal of water when it rains and, or course, much less when it doesn’t. The dams and weirs and channels and canals send water out from the main river bed to those who need it and use it for agriculture or municipal purposes. Most of the land that we saw was dry and was now vegetated with livestock-resistant plants; many of which have become more common than the ranchers and habitat managers like to see. But when cattle or sheep remove the best tasting and most nutritious plants the invasive plants (whether alien or merely bad-tasting) can, and do, move in.

It was very surprising to see how much water sat on the surface of this land. It looks dry and it is dry. But there are fine sediments (perhaps clay or clay-like) that clog the pores between what seem to be sand particles which then allows for slow infiltration of surface water; most water that lands on and stays on the surface, evaporates. There were huge areas of water that was never more than a few inches deep. Flat land, impervious soils, and rain are a good recipes for shallow pannes. These shallow pannes were well-used by ducks, grebes, rails & crakes, and inland sandpipers like snipe; or in this case Painted Snipe.

Shallow wetlands form after the rains on great expanses of impermeable soil. An area like this can be dry and wet intermittently and hold all sort of wildlife. We wandered through a great deal of this sort of habitat with Fran always on the lookout for spiders and snakes.

I realize that we take very pictures of cultural things. I have lots of pictures of Sydney and a few of Alice Springs but not much else. I will make an effort to show the people, buildings, and land better over the next year.

We stayed in a small cabin at a Caravan Park in Deniliquin. This is sort of a resort, campground, and trailer park rolled into one. There are spaces for “caravans” or travel trailers with water and electricity, there are tenting spaces, pull-offs for people in vans, and there are cabins with kitchens and real beds; we opted for the latter. It was a pleasant place to stay; we later took another similar lodging in a different town that was significantly less pleasant. Most of the other people in the park were on vacation, fishing, or doing short-term work in the area.

Woodlands throughout Australia are pretty much all eucalypts – eucalypts of all sorts as there are about 400 species in the country (and less than ten species that don’t grow naturally in Australia). Many of them grow in mono-crop forests and some have a nice park-like feel to them. Other woodlands are thick and impenetrable.

 Each of the forests has a floral and faunal community specific to it. There are birds, mammals, insects, and reptiles restricted to certain plant communities. The plant communities are restricted by evolved adaptations to soil types, available moisture, elevation, slope, temperature, sunlight, and so on. The intersection of various conditions creates biomes or specific habitats within which the various organisms survive. You can’t grow a cactus in a swamp or skunk cabbage in a desert now can you.

The Singing Honeyeater is one of the birds that is rather widely found. We found it in eucalypts as you can see by the leaves, but they are found throughout the continent west of the east coast mountain range. In actuality the Great Dividing Range divides Australia in many ways; the population is largely along the east coast and the great expanse of dry and forbidding “outback” is to the west of the mountains.

The geologic history of Australia speaks to isolation. New Zealand split off about 80 million years ago and since then Australia has been associated with Antarctica or (for the past 45,000,000 years) on its own. Australia traveled alone for more than 30,000,000 years with its cargo of Gondwanan life. Pollen from eucalyptus trees (and Acacia) first appears in soils and rocks from about 25,000,000 ago. For the last 25,000,000 years Australia has been drifting north at a a rate of an inch or two a year; Antarctica has been stuck at the pole for about the same amount of time. The real point of all those numbers is to reference the long isolation of Australia and Australian life forms. They have had tens of millions of years to adapt and evolve generally unaffected by much of anything at all except their own climate and others on this island-continent; at least until humans arrived about 40,000 years ago. (Yes I really mean 40,000 years ago. The earliest North American signs of humans are well less that half that age.) Once humans arrived things began to change.

When climate changes the plant community will change as well and that will be followed by a change in animal populations, presence, and density. We are already seeing that as the earth warms; many plants in the arctic are now growing further north than they did when it was colder further north. The heat held by cities has also changed the floral and faunal components of large areas.

In Deniliquin we had a guide to get us through the large and remote expanses as we looked for secretive and uncommon birds. Success often requires help as good luck, good intentions, and physical effort are often not good enough. 

We walked these lovely woodlands looking for whatever we could find. As you can see we added another birder for part of our Deniliquin stay; Olivia from Mississippi, who had been birding in Australia for about six months. Many of the forest birds were similar to our flycatchers and chickadee groups in habitat choice and behavior. There was also a group that lived like North American nuthatches or tropical wood-creepers. There were parrots and birds of prey as well. We saw a few kangaroos in this area but most mammals are less active in the day time and would be easier to see at night (if only we could).

The Jacky Winter is a rather drab little flycatcher/robin type of bird, that sits rather quietly flicking its tail sideways, showing the white edges. It was a common bird of the open woodlands and was often seen on fence rows in farmland. The name comes from its song which is said to sound like “jacky-jacky winter-winter-winter”. 

The Hooded Robin is a woodland bird and is much like European robins not North American robins, which are actually rather large thrushes.  The Hooded Robin is a widespread species but not very common. Many of the Australian robins have red caps or chests, or heads. they are a rather attractive group of birds overall.

We traveled through riparian woodlands, open scrub land, narrow streams with emergent vegetation, and several eucalypt woodlands in the Deniliquin area. The habitat variation was a treat to see and provided many creatures with specific adaptations or preferences. Over the grass lands (the fields or paddocks often lined with old eucalypts) we saw quite a few birds of prey. The Whistling Kite was always in sight as was the Black-shouldered Kite and the Brown Falcon was not uncommon. However, it was the Spotted Harrier (shown below) that was the raptorial highlight of the day. Though we never were able to get too close to them, we watched a pair and grabbed a few images, as they worked over a large paddock.

We were in Deniliquin for three nights and enjoyed two half days and two whole days out in the field. The next couple blogs will be about this area. But, before departing it might be good to check in on Fran’s spider phobia.

The image to the right is of snake tracks across a dusty road we were birding along. We were in and out of the bush (wait ’til you see the pictures of the Owlet-Nightjar!) and never saw a snake; here or anywhere, not even a road kill. But when we returned to the car after birding this area there were three sets of snake tracks crossing the road within fifty feet of where we parked. The tracks shown were made by a large animal; over 100 pounds and probably ten feet long. This one was likely a Carpet Python (one of several species that use that name). We were never sure if they came after we arrived or crossed the road as we entered the bush where they were resting. It was disappointing not to see them but rather nice they headed away from us rather than toward us.

Fran never batted an eye about the snakes she was only concerned about spiders and I will have a good deal more to say about spiders later on.

The Deniliquin portion of the trip will continue in the next installment.

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