With Covid restrictions in South Australia relaxed a little, my husband Tony and I were lucky enough to spend three weeks in July volunteering at Boolcoomatta Reserve.
We knew that there had been very little rain there over the past year and the magnificent River Red Gums were looking thirsty, as you'd expect.
What we didn’t expect was to see the profusion of wildflowers blooming in the gilgais out on the plains and in crevices on the rocky slopes.
These bright little flowers bobbing in the breeze really brightened our time on the reserve.
Kurt Tschirner, Boolcoomatta Reserve Manager, gave us a list of jobs that included monitoring the fences around the exclosure zones to make sure that rabbits and kangaroos hadn't managed to get in to these zones, which are very attractive with abundant grass and shrubbery thriving where they're left in peace from herbivores.
Mistletoe was fruiting and the brightly coloured Mistletoe Bird was busy looking for a mate. The southern boundary fence also needed to be checked, we found no serious problems there, but so much enjoyed seeing the far reaches of Boolcoomatta again.
Graeme Finlayson, Bush Heritage’s ecologist for the South Australian Arid Rangelands, asked us to visit each one of the 25 song meters that have been placed out on the eastern plains to detect the presence of the endangered Plains Wanderer – an enigmatic little bird that he and Andrea Tschirner were lucky enough to find and photograph a few months ago.
Our job was to remove the batteries and SD cards, and bring them back to be recharged and downloaded, then take them back out and re-install them. The song meters are placed at one-kilometre intervals in a grid pattern and it took us several hours to visit them all.
Even though we didn’t see a Plains Wanderer, we were thrilled to see several flocks of Inland Dotterels and their tiny chicks that are invisible until they move. Orange Chats, a pair each of Brown Falcons and Spotted Harriers were other birds that we saw, all benefitting from the pockets of fresh growth in the gilgais.
Being out on these open plains with their long horizons, beautiful muted shades of ochre, blue, and grey, and listening to the perfect silence on a still and sunny winter day was such a treat.
We felt a long way from the troubles currently going on around our country and the world.
We joined with others in a survey of rabbit warrens that have not been ripped, some of which have been re-opened near areas where Purple Wood (Acacia carneorum) are threatened by rabbits grazing on the young suckers – which is the Purple Wood’s main method of reproducing. Various methods are being trialled to keep the rabbit population under control and protect the reserve.
Another job that we found satisfying was finishing off a post and rail fence around a heritage grave site believed to hold at least two graves; a reminder of the often harsh lives of the people who lived there more than 100 years ago. The fence will keep vehicles and other traffic from inadvertently driving across the site.
Besides working out in the field, where we usually boiled a billy for morning tea and took the opportunity to wander along the beautiful Oonartra Creek bed or enjoy hilltop views, we had other jobs at the workshop – greasing the tractor, fixing a problem with the trail bike, repairing doors, sweeping and dusting the museum display in the shearing shed, and cutting up scrap corrugated iron in suitable lengths for a planned reptile survey in the exclosures.
But it is was not all work! There were plenty of times for relaxing and just enjoying being in our favourite part of the world; marvelling at how much life is thriving even during periods of low rainfall.
The Bluebush, the Eremophila, the Slender Bell Fruit, the Dead-finish Wattle and the Mulga – all these and more were busy flowering and supporting the web of life on South Australia’s Arid Rangelands.