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When the drought breaks

Kurt Tschirner (Reserve Manager)
Published 02 Feb 2021 by Kurt Tschirner (Reserve Manager)

In Spring last year, drenching rains across South Australia ended a two-year drought for our Boolcoomatta Reserve, Adnyamathanha and Wilyakali country. The moisture transformed the arid landscape from brown to Irish green almost overnight, bringing a flush of forbs, grasses, grain- and insect-eating birds, as well as many other species, and highlighting just how resilient this country is.


Boolcoomatta and the surrounding region are no strangers to cracked soils and dry, crunchy leaves, but the past few years have been particularly harsh for people and wildlife alike.

In 2019, Boolcoomatta received just 57mm of total rainfall, and 86mm the year before that. But in 2020 we received over 200mm fall, with the bulk of that arriving in September and October.

On the eastern plains of Boolcoomatta, there were oceans of water flowing across the landscape. And because there was relatively little vegetation cover at the time, there wasn’t much to slow the water down; it moved en masse with such force that it blew out three of our dams on the eastern side of the property.

The response from plants and animals has been incredible. Native spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioide, or Warrigal Greens, a common bush tucker plant) is a common response species, and we had an absolute carpet of Hollyhocks (Lavatera plebeia) in the Oonartra flood-out – more than I’ve ever seen before.  

A lot of our native forbs responded magnificently, too, and our eastern plains went, almost overnight, from largely exposed, bare soils, to lush and green. Subsequent rainfall events have sustained that response, and while many of the plants have gone brown and crinkly now, that’s the nature of life here.

Perhaps the most amazing response though has been from the birds.

Two days before the rains arrived in September, flocks of budgies started showing up.

At the time we had some volunteers helping us out on reserve, and we were standing there looking up at these birds, wondering where they’d come from! They obviously knew something we didn’t.

Since then, we’ve had many more birds arrive. The rain allowed some perennial and annual grasses to regenerate, providing seed for granivorous (grain-eating) birds, and attracting insects for the insectivorous (insect-eating) birds. The October bird surveys, conducted by Birds SA, recorded more species per site than previous years, including two new species for the reserve.

That response from the land is ongoing. Now, I’m hoping for an average rainfall year that will keep promoting the growth and regeneration. If the rain could come nicely spaced throughout the year, that would be good, too!

Geri and Maia Tschirner in a field of Swainsona flowers post rains on Boolcoomatta Reserve, SA Geri and Maia Tschirner in a field of Swainsona flowers post rains on Boolcoomatta Reserve, SA
A dust storm on Boolcoomatta in November 2019 – a dry year. A dust storm on Boolcoomatta in November 2019 – a dry year.
Wildflowers on Boolcoomatta respond to the rains Wildflowers on Boolcoomatta respond to the rains
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