Friday, 27 August 2010

Floating Islands Reserve, Part 2

Re the final sentence in yesterday's blog:

This morning we checked the mammal traps again and success - another house mouse and a Swamp Rat Rattus lutreolus. Trevor was very pleased. "How do you know it's not a Bush Rat?" he was asked. Apparently the Swamp Rat is an overall brown colour and it has a stubby nose. The hind foot colour (Bush Rat, pale and Swamp Rat, dark) and the proportion of tail-to-body length are also important.  Later we found an extensive tunnel and runway system and set another trap nearby in the hope of catching another Swamp Rat.

Floating Islands Reserve

Whenever we travelled to Melbourne when I was a kid dad would stop half way for a break at Floating Islands Reserve in Stony Rises near Colac. It's about an hour west of Geelong.

The islands in the little lake really did float, blown around by the wind. They weren't small either - they had trees growing on them. The theory is that in 1952, a very wet year, the lake filled and some peat detached from the bottom of the swamp. The reserve still exists but the islands no longer float because the lake dried out. The trees have now rooted into the lake bed.

The Stony Rises is an area of basalt rocks and swamps that was a lava flow in the recent past and, in parts, the original vegetation remains because it was so difficult to clear and farm. The flora in Floating Islands Reserve is relatively intact with an overstory of Eucalytus viminalis and Acacia melanoxylon.

This week we set up fifty mammal traps to see what what living there or, to be honest, I should say Trevor set up the Elliott Traps. He has the licence and the expertise. First he mixed up a mess of oatmeal, peanut butter and Golden Syrup and rolled it into small balls. One ball was placed in each trap along with a crumpled sheet of paper towel to provide shelter. Each trap was placed in a likely spot roughly ten metres apart along a transept.

This morning we checked the traps - and found one house mouse, and one Dusky Antechinus. The latter was a female with young in her pouch which Trevor said was right and proper because the males all died a month or so ago after exhausting themselves during frenetic sexual activity and fighting. She was weighed, measured and released. Tomorrow morning we check the traps again.

Saturday, 21 August 2010


The more I learn the less I know. There are huge gaps in my knowledge of the natural world. And I'm forgetful as well so I've forgotten some of the things I know I used to know. Perhaps it would be better if I specialised, built up a supreme body of knowledge around one area, such as birds. But that would mean ignoring everything else and the world of nature is so interesting so that's not going to happen.

One day on our recent trip to Alice Springs Rosalind and I decided to have a rest (nap) after lunch to recharge the batteries. Helen, who is 'more senior' than both of us, announced that she wasn't going to be in that because she had fewer years in which to explore. What a great role model. (I still had a nap though.)

Here are some things I don't know anything about. We found minute lichens and liverworts (I think) growing in damp depressions in desert woodlands around Alice. Don't they look interesting?

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


I'm back in cold Geelong after a week of beautiful week in central Australia but with lots of memories and images to sustain me. We live in an amazing country and exploring a small part of it with friends of similar mind was great fun.

We expected to see kangaroos but didn't see any, we expected to see emus but didn't see any. We expected to see lizards but only saw three. We saw very few insects despite the fact that there were so many plants flowering and seeding, we saw very few tracks in the sand and there were birds around but I thought I would see more honeyeaters. It's hard for a fleeting visitor to get a feel for what is 'normal' after a long drought but we got the impression that biodiversity isn't exactly normal in central Australia.

There has been a fantastic new book published focusing on Australian succulents, Australian Succulent Plants: An Introduction by Attila Kapitany, and a webpage that I must explore at but in the meantime here are a few of the succulents we saw around Alice.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

A floral harvest

More pretty pictures from around Alice. The variety of plants has been wonderful to see and these are just a few of the many. But you won't see the splendour until you actually walk around and look because many are small or insignificant - just driving along the road at 110 kph you'd think there was nothing to see. I'll add names after I get home -  I'm sure Rosalind, Helen and I will be emailing each other madly after we've had a chance to edit our photos and consult the references.

Saturday, 14 August 2010


Minutes and hours are insignificant in the landscape around Alice. Here you have to think in years, millions of years. The rocks speak of eons. The geology is breathtaking in its beauty and so are the many plants we have found flowering.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Prickly customers

Yesterday we drove north of Alice Springs as far as the Plenty Highway (flat) and today we went west to Ellery Creek (hilly). We stop numerous times to check out the vegetation and always find interesting plants, and as all three of us take photos non-stop we're having a grand old time.

It's been interesting to see that many of the plants here have developed a defence mechanism - namely sharp prickles. I've been pricked many times this week as I walk through the scrub or lean on an elbow, sit down, lie down or lean over to get a photo. The spinifex is the worst but at least the plants are spaced apart so you can usually weave a path between them but the others are innocent-looking little things that like to surprise. (I don't know what these are as yet - haven't had time to hit the books.)

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Centre

Alice Springs has changed quite a bit since I was last here over 30 years ago but really the town is a town like many others. But we didn't come to see the town. We came to search the surrounding countryside for plants because they've had rain here, they're close to breaking the annual record.

This is the view behind our caravan park and we have spent a bit of time exploring the vegetation there.

But today we went out to Desert Park, were there all day and came away having only seen a fraction. It's a very impressive area with paths leading through recreations of several types of inland landscapes. As you can see in this photo the park buildings have been designed to nestle into the landscape.

We found lots of plants flowering. Just a taste: Amyema maidenii, Indigofera leucotricha, Ptilotus helipteroides and Solanum quadriloculatum.

And for something different: We also went to the excellent  display of birds of prey at Desert Park. A cute Southern Boobook was a highlight.

We're here for four more days and our plan is to go north, west, east and west again. I can't wait.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Fire wood or habitat?

I hope this works - I've never done a link like this before. Have a look at this excellent footage from a fixed camera. Phil Lewis has more films on YouTube that I must check out.