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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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