Dead tree at Bowra lagoon on sunrise
The iconic leafless poplar box trees at Bowra lagoon on sunrise. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

And a note of warning for photographers

The late afternoon flocks of galahs and Major Mitchell cockatoos head for the skeletal arms of the poplar box trees. But the birds are not in their usual abundance.

Leafless and symmetrical, one seemingly lifeless Eucalyptus populneus stands defiantly in the warm bore-fed lagoon at the Bowra Wildlife Sanctuary. Daily, its form takes on the hues of the rising and setting sun – yellows, light pink to rich red – before returning to grey-white for most of the day.

It and other more irregular poplar box specimens across the lagoon are the favourite launching perches for flocks and individual birds who drink and sometimes bathe in the sodium-rich and slightly sulphurous oasis.

Most rewarding

Run by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), Bowra is a 14,000ha former cattle station just northwest of Cunnamulla in Queensland’s southwest corner.

It is regarded as one of the most rewarding inland birdwatching destinations in the country – particularly for some threatened species.

Bowra’s intact vegetation structure and permanent waterholes provide an oasis of integrity – a refuge for declining wildlife and an ecological foundation from which to help rebuild the region’s once dazzling wildlife community,” the AWC says.

But after two years of drought, Bowra is not looking its best – and neither are the birds and animals that have come to depend on it for sanctuary and sustenance.

Wallabies in drought conditions
Bowra’s few remaining wallabies and kangaroos are doing it tough. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Over 200 species

Each night at 6 o’clock the resident volunteer caretakers (usually Birds Queensland members from around the state) conduct ‘birdcall’, where guests report the species and number of birds seen at one time in one place during that day.

The checklist they work from covers more than 200 common, nomadic/migrant, infrequent and difficult-to-find bird species. And in ‘normal’ conditions the nightly total would regularly approach 100 types – including some of the region’s nine threatened species.

But the drought has changed all that, and in the five days I was at Bowra in early June, the birdcall average was around 60 species a day. Finch species (none), honeyeaters, woodswallows, cuckoos, kingfishers, water birds and raptor species were all in short supply.

Largely absent

Bucking the trend, however, were Bourke’s parrots and orange chats (groups of 30-40 each were regularly reported), blue-bonnets, red-capped and hooded robins (everywhere), white-winged fairy wrens and crimson chats – among others.

Bourke's parrots perched on dead trees at ground level
Bourke’s parrots were among those bucking the trend at Bowra. Photo ©Tony Neilson

Largely absent were the usually abundant emus, kangaroos and wallabies – but their bleached bones stood out in the orange dust; a stark memorial to those that stayed too long.

Judging by their condition and the sheen on their coats as they bent to drink from the lagoon in the late afternoon, the feral goats had done very nicely, thank you. But the word was that they would soon fall to the cull.

Feral cats have also established themselves on the property (see separate story).

Duty caretaker Mike Gilpin says it only takes 16mm of rain to soak the ground sufficiently to make the internal tracks impassable and refresh the land. But there is not much likelihood of that happening anytime soon.

Close-up of red-capped robin on branch
Bold and beautiful, the male red-capped robin, Bowra. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Photographers beware

Bowra is still well worth a visit. But if you are photographer, there is a draconian condition of entry you need to be aware of.

The AWC now bluntly tells visitors in an arrival handout that it ‘owns’ the intellectual property rights to all images taken at Bowra. While I don’t mind sharing some stuff for promotional purposes (if they ask nicely), the IP embodied in the images we photographers spend huge amounts of time and money creating is entirely ours.

Apparently, the move is intended to ensure photographers credit Bowra as the location of their images (something most of us would do as a matter of course). But the ‘we own the rights to your pictures’ claim is alarming.

©Natural Images 2018



©2018 TONY NEILSON All Rights Reserved. All images are protected by Australian copyright law and cannot be downloaded or reproduced without my permission. Please contact me.



  • Lindsay Fisher June 18, 2018 at 7:51 PM Reply

    So sad to see Bowra like this. We look forward to returning one day, after they have had rain which we hope will be this year.

  • Rex Whitehead June 18, 2018 at 10:59 PM Reply

    Bowra is on my Bucket List Tony. Thanks for your coverage.
    Yes, that is a concern regarding the ownership, of any photographs taken. However, that maybe a trend of the times.
    As I have heard, (not confirmed yet), that any photos taken at the iconic Mount Isa Rodeo, are the property, of the Rodeo Committee.
    I don’t know how anyone can police it, as they sure ain’t getting my camera equipment, or SD cards, etc.

    • Tony Neilson June 19, 2018 at 2:09 PM Reply

      My main beef about this sort of thing is that having paid our entry/camping fees etc, they try to apply an additional ‘tax’ on anyone with a camera. Certainly not the right way to go about winning friends – other that those who dislike us photographers.

  • Mike Bysouth August 7, 2018 at 9:14 AM Reply

    Sime NPs around the country make similar claims. To some extent fair enough for photography done purely for commercial purposes, but not for amateurs.

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