After settling in for a three-week stay as caretakers, we couldn’t wait to get out in the field at Boolcoomatta Reserve to see what had changed since the welcome spring rains had arrived.
Before we could do that, 19mm of soft steady rain fell the day after we arrived, filling up the clay pans and freshening up the landscape.
My husband Tony and I took our first drive following the rain to the Oonartra flood-out near the homestead. Many weed working bees have managed to clear out all the boxthorn growing there amongst the chenopod shrub-land. And there was our first huge surprise.
Acres of towering, flowering Native Hollyhock, some up to two metres high, as far as the eye could see. They even seemed to diminish the red-gum giants along the creek!
We returned many times to this spot and saw Diamond Doves collecting nesting materials; Rainbow Bee-eaters swooping and perching; Red-throats and several species of honey-eater all busy among the flowers. We saw Budgies and Cockatiels in big flocks chattering on their way to feeding grounds. What a joy to see them wild and free.
One morning we spotted through binoculars a snake draped along one of the lower branches of a dead acacia. It was soaking up some sun through its shiny chocolate bronze body, and the little birds around it didn’t seem too bothered. We won’t be walking through that area any time soon!
During work commitments around the reserve we were delighted to see so many birds that we have not seen on Boolcoomatta before, including Orange and Crimson Chats, Cockatiels and Budgerigars, a pair of Red-backed Kingfishers, several Spotted Harriers and a couple of Black-fronted Dotterels.
On our job list was a visit to the song meters set up to record for the critically endangered Plains-wanderer on the eastern plains to put in new batteries and cards.
Way out there in country that is a bit low-lying we had our second huge surprise. Right in front of the ute more than forty Flock Bronze-wing Pigeons rose up from the ground, wheeling and diving through the air, never very high, and showing off their beautiful colours. We had seen one perched on the bank of East Station Dam and thought that was pretty special, having never seen the species before. But now! Three separate flocks swooping in the distance before we had even realised what they were.
Driving around the eastern plains shrublands was a treat to the eye.
Matured annual plants of yellow ochre, chenopods ranging from smoky blue-green to mint green, to brilliant lime green in swampy areas still holding moisture, all underlain by terracotta earth.
We have spent 10 weeks at Boolcoomatta every year since 2015 and we have never seen the reserve looking as beautiful and as healthy as it does right now.
We found our last big surprise in the Bundera flood out. Here, during the dry years, vegetation was hard to find so we were overwhelmed to see the grasslands that are there now. So many varieties of native grasses covered the land as far as the distant, flat horizon. An absolute miracle of recovery. It was quite an emotional experience to see this transformation. We felt privileged to be there.