I’ll always remember October 2014 as the outback month. I spent it doing field research and photography in a place called Bowra near Cunnamulla in south-western Queensland (the last few days were spent even further west in Currawynia National Park to assist on another research project).
To give a bit of context, I split my time between tutoring for a Griffith University wildlife ecology course, volunteering for the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and some personal time to photograph the wildlife! Field work in these areas at that time of year (early summer) is quite demanding but the reward of seeing the amazing animals that call this place home makes it all worth it. Additionally, helping students discover wildlife and ecosystems that they have only seen in books is an amazing feeling. I have been to Bowra previously in 2011 as a student for the same Griffith University wildlife ecology course and wrote about it here: Bowra 2011
Birds of Bowra
Some of you will be familiar with Bowra as one of the best birding hotspots in QLD. It certainly lived up to this reputation; Bowra was teaming with bird life. Over the course of my stay I got several opportunities to photograph these birds and discover a few new species that I did not see during my previous stay. It was very hard to make a selection of images for this blog post, as I would love to share so many more than I can fit just here. I tried to select a variety of shots and species to highlight the amazing avian biodiversity present at Bowra.
The bird above is by far one of my favorite species (when asked what my favorite bird is fairy wrens always rate very high). Male splendid fairy wrens (Malurus splendens) pluck pink or purple petals and display them to females as part of the courtship display. Here you can see a male with a petal in his mouth.
I spotted this collared sparrow hawk (Accipiter cirrocephalus) sitting on a branch with what seems to be the half eaten body of a little friarbird. He or she is one half of a pair that was incubating on a nest in the area that we had spotted earlier. He or she spent nearly 15 minutes here while we sat quietly and watched. All of a sudden there was a loud swoosh and a brown falcon (Falco berigora) seemingly out of no where dive-bombed the sparrow hawk. The noise from the brown falcon’s speed was simply amazing. The sparrow hawk didn’t hang around much longer after that but probably took the food to his or her mate who was incubating a few hundred meters away.
I have never seen flocks of budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus) as large as the flocks on this trip. If you have never had the pleasure of seeing a flock of budgerigars, flying as one like a school of fish, iridescent green glinting in the sun, then you must put it on your list of things to see. The shear number of birds that were flocking and the noise of all those wings was mesmerizing.
One of the species I always look forward to seeing out at Bowra was the Major Mitchell’s cockatoo (Lophochroa leadbeateri). A beautifully, soft coloured cockatoo, in Queensland restricted to the mid and west south. On a few occasions in the late afternoons, they came in to drink at a small waterhole near the homestead. They never hung around long, this image was captured in the last minutes of sunlight.
Bowra is home to a number of spotted bowerbirds (Chlamydera maculata). This year we found two bowers, the structure males build to perform courtship dances to females. Unfortunately they were both in very difficult spots for photography, deep under shrubs there was always something the way. But I kept trying and I got lucky with this shot of the male performing to a female.
The restless flycatchers (Myiagra inquieta) can be seen catching insects above the wetland near the homestead. Under the right light the iridescence of their plumage is quite beautiful.
This has to be one of my favorite images from my outback month. I had been stalking this sharp-tailed sandpiper (Calidris acuminata) using my ghilie suit for a while. This was made difficult by a pair of black-winged stilts (Himantopus himantopus) with 4 juvenile offspring. The pair were constantly patrolling the area and alerting all birds to my presence. After a long while I managed to get a few meters from the sandpiper as he was jumping around and taking a bath in the shallow water. He either did not notice me or was used to my presence and I had plenty of time to get the settings right before he jumped again and I was able to snap this shot.
The image above is of a Hall’s babbler (Pomotostomus halli). A bird endemic to a rather discrete section of inland Australia and one of the main birds people come to Bowra to see.
A female mulga parrot (Psephotus varius) happily enjoying some grass seeds in the late afternoon. As with a lot of bird species, the females have duller plumage than the males, a form of sexual dimorphism.
Both of the Australian species of spoonbill made Bowra home during the time I was there. They were particularly hard to photograph as they spread their time between resting on a small island, backs turned, and foraging but being constantly alerted to my presence by that pesky pair of black-winged stilts. My persistence paid off when I was able to take this image of a yellow-billed spoonbill (Platalea flavipes) just after landing.
There were, as there usually are, a large number of rainbow bee-eaters (Merops ornatus) all over Bower. This shot was taken when finally I was able to get at eye level with the bird. You can really see what a wonderfully beautiful bird the rainbow bee-eater is with all those colours and their long downward curving beaks. Their agility in the air when hunting is captivating to watch.
Reptiles of Bowra
While Bowra is a hotspot for birding it also has a wide variety of other animals including some amazing reptiles. Below is a selection of what you can encounter during the day and the night if you are willing to grab a flashlight and head out in the dark!
A shingleback (Tiliqua rugosa) in typical defence display. It is probably the reptile with the most common names around the country including stumpy-tailed Lizard; boggi; sleepy lizard, bobtail lizard, two-headed lizard and pinecone lizard.
This lined earless dragon (Tympanocryptis lineata) was a highlight of the reptiles that we saw! As you can see in this image, it was perfectly camouflaged amongst the rocks. The scientific name for this species means ‘hidden ear’ (tympanocryptis) and ‘lined’ (lineata). Contrary to the common name but as the scientific name suggests this dragon does have ears. However, there is no exterior ear opening or as is the terminology for reptiles, a tympanum.
A strap-snouted brown snake (Pseudonaja aspidorhyncha) in not-so-happy flat posture. It was a magnificent, dark chocolate coloured, snake. There are several species of ‘brown snakes’ in Australia which come in a range of shade and colors. They are sometimes difficult or impossible to positively ID by sight only and a scale count and other criteria are required therefore next time you see a snake with a brownish tinge, it might not he what you think it is!
An eastern spiny-tailed gecko (Strophurus williamsi), sitting on an acacia and cleaning himself up, or eyeing up dinner? Members of the genus Strophurus have the ability to squirt a smelly ‘goo’ from their tail. They have specialised glands deep in their tail and will ooze or even squirt fluid up to half a meter when threatened. Luckily this guy didn’t squirt us!
This photo is a good reminder that I should always have the macro lens handy… This De Vis’s banded snake (Denisonia devisia) came out of nowhere and all I had was the wide-angle… A great encounter nonetheless.
Those of you with a biology background would have probably recognised this species. For the others, it is not a snake but a Burton’s legless lizard (Lialis burtonis). He was so relaxed that I had time to get back to the car and get the wide-angle lens to get a bit of a different shot. The last shot also shows how perfect the camouflage of this species is!
I hope this selection of images from my month in the outback gives you an insight into the ecology, landscape and wildlife of Bowra. Hopefully you enjoyed looking at the pictures as much as I enjoyed photographing the critters! I would like to thank everyone that was with me at some point during the trip, the AWC ecologists and photographer for sharing their knowledge and passion and the Griffith University team for having me as a tutor for a week.