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Monday, 12 December 2011

the wild west

The western downs regional council in southern queensland was a home-away-from-home in 2011. The two-weeks-on and two-weeks-off work cycle meant that i spent nearly half the year out here (or there). During that time, I got to meet many of the local wildlife that have found and made their home in the forests and grasslands of the western downs, where now they are extracting for coal seam gas. From the coalmines near Condamine, to the Wandoan sun, many bared the secrets of their souls...
The western downs, like any other place on earth, is inhabited by indigenous and non-indigenous populations.

First the natives:
EMU
The largest living bird in Australia (2nd largest in the world) is the emu.
Emus live on wild fruits, berries and grass leaves and small insects.
They grow up to 2 metres tall but they cannot fly.
I met this emu dad (mum) and his chicks on the little-used and little-known dusty Crowsdale-Camboon Road in the deep south of Banana shire.
Endowed with good eyesight and hearing, Emus can detect predators in the vicinity.
They live in grasslands all over Australia.
Late in the day these emus look like a painting on the landscape, but no work of art, no photograph, can depict the thrill of seeing them in their natural environment.
Sometimes they are as one with their surroundings.
Emus can live up 20 years in the wild. They are predated by eagles and hawk dingos and igoys.
KOALA
The koala is not a bear but a marsupial.
They live in eucalypt trees, feeding on the young leaves. Koalas are good climbers but slow and clumsy on the ground. They sleep most of the day in the fork of a tree, foraging for food at night.
The name Koala comes from an Aboriginal word meaning "no drink", as Koalas get enough fluids from the eucalyptus leaves they feed on. 
Koalas are very placid and do not move around much, but this one got startled  and climbed up a small tree. It probably hasn't seen or heard a car or even come in contact with humans before.
I was not expecting to find this fair-sized koala, and was pleasantly surprised to meet it in a forested road reservation off the Goombi-Fairymeadow Road in Greenswamp.

Australian Bustard
Bustards, which weigh 14 kg, are the heaviest flying birds in Australia, and amongst the heaviest in the world.
A wet and wary bustard off the West Myall Road/Roma-Taroom Road junction near north of Roma.
These huge birds reach heights of 120 cm and wingspans around 2 m. Bustards prefer to walk because of their bulk, though it is quite a spectacular sight to witness them in flight.
Near construction works in Chinchilla-Tara Road.
Australian Bustards are found on dry plains, grasslands, in open woodland and low shrublands. 
They are vulnerable to predation by introduced predators such as dingoes, cats, foxes and igollotes.
Off Greenswamp Road.
This species is also called the Plains Turkey or Wild Turkey.

GOANNA
Goannas or monitor lizards are a common sight in Australia. 

Goannas are darkish in shades of grey, olive or brown and most of them show lighter coloured patterns. These are white or yellow spots, or stripes. One day I almost ran over a brighter coloured (orange-striped) goanna, but wasn't fast enough to take a photo before it ran off into the bush.
Goannas are predators with sharp teeth and long claws. They forage and hunt for lizards, snakes, insects, birds and eggs and even small mammals. Like most native fauna, goannas are rather wary of human intrusions into their habitat, and will most likely run away into the scrub, or up a tree like our friend here.
Goanna off Greenswamp Road.
Recent studies suggest that goannas are venomous. Keep away from them.

ECHIDNA
The Echidna (or Spiny Ant-eater) is one of only two surviving monotremes, (link between the reptiles and mammals). Echidnas are widely distributed throughout Australia. They live in a variety of habitats, from dry deserts to humid rainforests.
They rest in hollow logs, under stones, clumps of vegetation or in short burrows. The Echidna is not an aggressive animal but has remarkable defensive ability when it feels threatened. It rolls itself into a ball, with prickly spines out to protect its soft under-parts.
Apparently echidnas are falling prey to feral cats, dogs and humans.
We met this spiky creature whilst zooming along the Warrego Highway between Miles and Roma. I thought it was hitch-hiking. We didn't have any room in the car anyway, so we directed it back to the bush.
KANGAROO
The kangaroo is Australia's largest living marsupial and national animal. Kangaroos of different types live in all areas of Australia, Kangaroos are herbivorous, eating a range of plants. 
Most are nocturnal but some are active in the early morning and late afternoon. 
I spied this beauty as the sun was setting. It tried to hide behind a fence post.
At the Argoon-Kilburnie Road in Callide.
There is no farming of kangaroos but they are harvested in the wild by licensed hunters. Harvesting of kangaroos for export started in 1959. Today kangaroo meat and skins are exported to more than 55 countries all over the world. Kangaroo meat is one of the finest healthiest and leanest game meats with fat levels of less than 2% and is high in protein, zinc and iron. Its appeal stems from its delightful well-flavoured, slightly gamey taste.
The other threat to kangaroos aside from cullers and hunters are the roadkillers - vehicles. 
Off Mooga-Mooga Creek, Roma-Taroom Road.
Estimates vary but every year hundreds of thousands of kangaroos end up as roadkill. Many kangaroos (and wallabies) get killed when they go to the roadsides to feed.
Near Juandah Creek, Wandoan.
Rain and roads promote grass on the roadside verges. 
Dawson Highway, just below Specimen Hill on the Callide range.
Bitumen roads draw in heat from the sun during the day then in the cool of night creates condensation causing green grass to grow. These grass attract the kangaroos  usually in the early mornings and at dusk.
Off Inverness Road, Callide range.
This poor roo must have died a slow and painful death. Its legs got tangled up in a barbed wire fence trapping it.
In a matter of days, especially in the hot sun, it was just skin - no, just hair and bones.

SNAKES
 A very sluggish carpet snake off Crowsdale-Camboon Road. We hiked in about 1km, along a meandering creek when I heard my mate, who was about 100m back, yell out. I thought 'uh-oh. I hope he hasn't rolled an ankle.' I walked back to find him excitedly showing me this photo.
A red or brown and very dead snake. 
This was a roadkill on Greenswamp Road.

The Brigalow scaly-foot is a legless lizard, lead grey to greyish brown in colour that grows to approximately 60cm.
From the rolling hills of Woleebee.
Blue-tongued lizards are prey to cats and foxes.
This lizard was in three parts, perhaps attacked by a fox. It was in a drain of the Kogan-Condamine Road.
Rocket frog? I'm not sure. I found this sharing a home with some green frogs in Paradise Downs Road.
Whilst at the wild west, I also witnessed a murder, but that's for another blog...
There's more pictures of wildlife of the western downs here: locals-of-the-crossroads.

The immigrants: see part 2. the wild wild west