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Notes on nature - Looking back on 2015

Mike Chuk (Bon Bon Reserve Manager)
Published 07 Jan 2016 by Mike Chuk (Bon Bon Reserve Manager)

It's time to look back on 2015 and share some of the seasonal happenings and everyday events that shaped the year at Bon Bon Station Reserve. It's a real privilege to live and work in this amazing arid environment and to have the opportunity to experience and interact with nature.

January to March – Rain, Roos, Sparrow Hawks and Bourke's Parrots

The hottest part of the summer wasn't too bad this year, with the hottest day around 44°C on the second of January. There weren’t any big flocks of zebra finches like last summer, but quite a few Red Kangaroos were regularly coming in to water at the homestead as the hot summer weather set in. Occasionally we'd see a Western Grey Kangaroo; they're quite rare at Bon Bon and we only seem to see them in summer. Galahs and Crested Pigeons came in big numbers.

Early in the mornings before much light, flocks of pastel coloured Bourke's Parrots flew in with their whistling wings and high pitched calls. They'd return again when it was almost dark. During the middle of the day ravens and other birds of prey headed for the water. Our resident Collared Sparrow Hawks rested with their feet just in the water and once in a while a Wedge-tailed Eagle would go for a wade in the trough.

A few days into January we started to get excited about good predictions for rain coming in from the North West. We headed for the car shed determined to get one of our new water tanks in place. After a couple of days work removing an old tank, fixing gutters and putting pipes in place, we had two additional tanks ready for rain.

The 8th of January dawned hot and humid, just like where we came from in western Queensland. By late afternoon storms were marching past and at sunset rain set in. There is nothing better in the outback than the sound of rain at nightfall as this often means it will rain all night. And so it did, steadily. We awoke to see the creek just starting to flow past the homestead; the best we have seen.

The new tanks were almost full! Our dogs enjoyed a swim in the deeper bits of the creek and the burrowing frogs had re-surfaced with joyful croaking (although it's not easy to see them).

At 9am the Bureau of Meteorology rain gauge showed 28mm, the best one day rainfall in almost three years. Rain set in at sunset again and another 16mm was in the gauge next morning and the creek was still running. Showers continued on and off for the next couple of days. Our neighbours also reported similar rain; it was time for celebration across the district.

Not a kangaroo track was seen near the homestead and the birds had dispersed; we didn't start seeing them again til February. We started to check for signs of plants responding, especially buffel grass – the major weed on Bon Bon. This was our first experience of summer rain and the buffel was primed to grow.

We got our spray gear ready and started work around the turnoff to Lake Puckridge from the Stuart Highway. We did 10 days control work and the DPTI (Dept. of Transport) contractors Cookie and Dale completed another five days. By then we were close to treating 90% of the infestations along the highway verges at least once, which is a great result in two years.

April – Sturts Desert Peas, Chestnut Breasted Whitefaces and Blue-winged Parrots

April came with an Easter visit from "The Babblers" group (Port Augusta bird watchers), with a few other birdos from further afield in SA. They particularly wanted to see the Chestnut-breasted Whiteface, the bird emblem of SA. (It's interesting to note that Bon Bon also has the floral emblem of SA - the Sturt's Desert Pea and the state animal – the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat).

Good numbers of whitefaces were seen at a number of locations, which was exciting for everyone and two other birds not previously recorded at Bon Bon, the White-browed Treecreeper and the Blue-winged Parrot were the icing on the cake.

May – Wombats, daisies, peas and rain

In May, with the help of ecologist Aaron Fenner we visited some of the well-established wombat habitat in the south-west of the reserve and set up a number of motion-sensing monitoring cameras to check on their activity. We were pleased to get a good number of photos showing healthy and active wombats. We also found another active wombat burrow system in Scotts paddock, this one is quite extensive and looks very well established, we assume it's has been there for a very long time.

More serious rains started in late May through to mid-June, with a total of more than 40mm falling. Many cool mornings came with heavy dew; we even experienced a couple of foggy mornings and even a hint of frost. For several cool, cloudy weeks we even had trouble getting the washing to dry – a rare phenomenon at Bon Bon!

In the south of the reserve in the sandy country, yellow and white daisies sprouted as well as several species of Swainsona peas which include the red Sturt's Desert Pea, the Orange Darling Pea and a large woolly purple one (Swainsona canescens) which doesn't have a common name that we know of.

August – Honeyeaters, desert peas,Tree Creepers and a caterpillar plague

In August we hosted an abbreviated tag along tour with Phillip and John (keen birdos from Victoria) and two of our volunteers, Ronnie and Meredith McInnes, took a break from track pruning and cleaning to have a look around the reserve as well.

They saw several nomadic honeyeaters that follow the flowering plants across the outback. Pied, Black and White-fronted Honeyeaters chirruped and chirped. The male Pied Honeyeater has a very distinctive display flight, climbing up then fluttering down. The Eremophilas were in full bloom as were the Swainsonias (desert peas) and many of the daisies.

In late August a homing pigeon arrived. This is the second time this has happened; the first time was around two years ago. We believe it was resting on a race from central Australia to Adelaide. It was quite tame and after enjoying a rest for about 10 days, it went on its way.

As cool, damp conditions gave way to warmer, drier weather a caterpillar plague arrived, suddenly our gardens and the surrounding areas were thick with caterpillars; they stripped most of the leaves off the saltbushes before they died off or pupated – leaving the gardens looking a little straggly for awhile.

The tree creepers were seen again in July and August and then with chicks in October so we are hopeful they are settling in as permanent residents.

September – Ravens

September saw our annual monitoring underway with measurement of around 50 vegetation cover sites across the reserve. It also involved bird counts at the same sites.

Our ecologist Sandy Gilmore commented how over the seven years since Bush Heritage took over Bon Bon he had seen real improvements in the condition of the vegetation.

In particular the blue bushes and saltbushes (chenopods) which are the dominant species in the buckshot plains. Where once bare sticks were predominant, there is now a sea of quite lush bushes.

During the year we put up for sale some of the windmills no longer required. Most of our neighbours didn't want them – like Bon Bon they had moved on to solar powered bores. However, the big Southern Cross mill at South Mungillio Bore down near Kingoonya was sold and a contractor arrived in September to start pulling it down.

One of the casualties was a young raven orphaned when his nest on top of the windmill disappeared. He ("Mungillio") came back to Bon Bon and settled in well, eventually being adopted by the local family of ravens that live around the homestead.

He still drops in for a snack or flies along with us on an early morning walk. Ravens are one of the most intelligent birds and are quite vocal, we've really enjoyed having him around and watching him grow and learn to fly and find his food.

October – Dragons and Sleepy Lizards

Early in October the reptiles became active again, we saw bearded dragons and sleepy lizards out and about. This is the month where we have to be very vigilant and on the watch out for snakes. We saw plenty of snake activity out on the roads and tracks and we think they are most active here when they first start moving at the start of spring because they are pretty hungry. We also saw a number of goannas – a number of these are frequent visitors to the homestead gardens and surrounds. They get very quiet with people coming and going in their territory and we often have to be careful to not tread on them!

November – Sparrow Hawks, Grevillias and more rain

November saw young collared sparrow hawks in the nest over the path from the pergola to the homestead (this is the second spring in a row that they've nested in the homestead vicinity).

The parents had a few altercations with the young raven but finally things settled down. The youngsters left the nest on a very hot and windy weekend and we were worried they might not make it, but they had obviously become quite used to us. We could walk past them resting in the shade in the garden, near the water.

Bon Bon enjoyed a few good storms with patchy rain early in November which freshened up the vegetation and bought the grevilleas out in flower, this is a very spectacular sight (Bon Bon only has one grevillea species (G.nematophylla), which grows along the drainage lines).

December – Emu bushes, Red Roos and water birds

Early in December whilst working with the Green Army team on the Mt Vivian boundary fence, we came across a new plant for the reserve list, an emu bush, Eremophila paisleyi, pointed out to us by team leader Adrian Friedel. Bon Bon is blessed by a diverse range of emu bushes, (around 13 in total), which are so called because these hardy shrubs with attractive fuchsia-like flowers, are one of the main food plants for emus.

A sharp storm that delivered 12mm in less than half an hour topped up our rainwater supplies in mid-December. Not long afterwards we went for a look at the country west of the homestead and found that even more rain had fallen. A small swamp had filled and wading birds such as stilts and sandpipers stopped off for a few days. Water birds are rare at Bon Bon as most of the time there is no surface water. Nearby, green grass shoots attracted families of red kangaroos. It's amazing how quickly they migrate across the district following the showers.

We had a total of 150mm of rain during the year, pretty much the average. The past three years at Bon Bon have been similar with rain predominately falling in the cooler months. Given the highly variable nature of rainfall in the arid outback who knows what 2016 will bring!

Bourke's parrot. Photo Anne O'Dea. Bourke's parrot. Photo Anne O'Dea.
Caterpillar plague, Bon Bon gardens. Photo Julia Harris. Caterpillar plague, Bon Bon gardens. Photo Julia Harris.
Creek flow near homestead, Jan. 2015. Photo Julia Harris. Creek flow near homestead, Jan. 2015. Photo Julia Harris.
Orphaned raven. Photo Julia Harris. Orphaned raven. Photo Julia Harris.
Emu bush (Eremophila paisleyi). Photo Mike Chuk. Emu bush (Eremophila paisleyi). Photo Mike Chuk.
Sudell's frog (Neobatrachus sudelli). Photo Julia Harris. Sudell's frog (Neobatrachus sudelli). Photo Julia Harris.
Gould's sand goanna. Photo Nicky Rolls. Gould's sand goanna. Photo Nicky Rolls.
Grevillea in flower (Grevillea nematophylla). Photo Julia Harris. Grevillea in flower (Grevillea nematophylla). Photo Julia Harris.
Controlling buffel grass, Lake Puckridge turnoff, Jan. 15. Photo Julia Harris. Controlling buffel grass, Lake Puckridge turnoff, Jan. 15. Photo Julia Harris.
Removing an broken old water tank ready for a new one. Photo Julia Harris. Removing an broken old water tank ready for a new one. Photo Julia Harris.
Orange darling pea (Swainsona stipularis). Photo Julia Harris. Orange darling pea (Swainsona stipularis). Photo Julia Harris.
Sparrow-hawk chicks, homestead garden. Photo Julia Harris. Sparrow-hawk chicks, homestead garden. Photo Julia Harris.
White-browed tree creeper. Photo Steve Winderlich. White-browed tree creeper. Photo Steve Winderlich.
Southern hairy-nosed wombat. Photo by motion sensing camera. Southern hairy-nosed wombat. Photo by motion sensing camera.
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