Built for the birds – Welcome Swallows and the Mungo Woolshed.

Built for the birds – Welcome Swallows and the Mungo Woolshed.

Mungo in late November is hot. By 11.30am walking outside is unattractive, no matter how captivating the big mob of Emus look in the heat shimmer. The historic rough-sawn bulk of the Mungo Woolshed promises relief, so I duck inside.

Emus at Mungo National Park

Just above my head, a Welcome Swallow dismisses me with a glance. Elegant and haughty, swallows are creatures of the air, not of the land. Humans, it seems, are nothing more to them than builders of convenient eaves for swallow nest sites.

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I scan the large room. No wonder the swallow seemed calm. The woolshed is full of swallows. I see thirty on the ceiling braces of one alcove. Each rafter holds a swallow, and every few minutes a soft blue blur reveals another swallow entering.

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Welcome Swallows are high speed aerial acrobats. They fly endlessly without tiring, sometimes completing figures-of-eight around your legs as you walk across a park. Mostly when you see them flying they are hunting – the small insects they prey on are invisible to our eyes, but the swallow’s acrobatic manoevres are the hunter in pursuit.

But the middle of the day in The Outback is hot. Even the insects seek shade (have you ever walked into an Outback dunny* on a hot day to find it full of flies? They get hot too!) Perhaps the swallows find it hard to hunt in very high temperatures and take a siesta in the woolshed.

The Mungo Woolshed may have been built for humans to make money from wool, but it has another purpose now. Its the Mungo Swallow-shed.

Visit the wildlife and heritage of Mungo National Park with us on our 3 day Mungo Outback Journey

 

*dunny: an outhouse toilet.

Australia still has megafauna!

Big animals impress. But what are ‘big animals’ – elephants, rhinos, moose? How about kangaroos, emus, wedge-tailed eagles and goannas?

Goanna/Lace Monitor

Australia has its share of megafauna, but we Aussies sometimes make the mistake of overlooking our big natives.

Goanna/Lace Monitor

On a steamy, sizzling hot January day in far East Gippsland I took a mixed group of nature photography & wildlife biology students walking in Croajingolong National Park, near Mallacoota. It was funny trying to keep them together – the wildlife students would stand for ten minutes identifying every small bird and lizard we came across, while the photography students yawned and fiddled with their camera settings. Minutes later, the photography students would be in raptures over a rock formation, snapping from strange positions, then comparing histograms – while the wildlife students wandered off in search of obscure insects.

But one sight kept them all fascinated for twenty minutes. It was a goanna (Lace Monitor), and a big one – 2 metres long.

Goanna/Lace Monitor

Single-minded, she swaggered out of the mat rush, crossing our path with only a glance in our direction. From her straight path and speed we could tell she was on a scent and getting close. None of us could smell anything, but a human’s sense of smell is embarassingly poor and anyway, we don’t have Jacobson’s organs*.

She was close to her quarry, and seized it moments later. It didn’t fight back. In fact, it hadn’t moved for weeks. A very large, long-dead, dessicated Flathead fish was her dinner and our highlight of the day.

Monitor Lizards, of which the eastern Australian goanna, or Lace Monitor, is a member, can eat anything. If its meat and its immobile, a goanna will eat it. If its meat and can be caught, a goanna will eat it. If you’re an egg, or a baby bird unable to fly, just hope that no goannas come by. You can’t hide from an indestructible, patient predator with a sense of smell that makes every bloodhound look like they have a head cold.

Goanna/Lace Monitor

Our goanna wrapped her jaws around the flathead and tossed it around until she could get a good angle. Head first she started to swallow it whole. Gulp, gulp, slowly, almost painfully she eased the stiff old fish into her throat, like a sword-swallower. You could see the outline of the fish inside her chest. Ouch!

Goanna/Lace Monitor

The photographers went wild! The shutter-clicks were like distant machine gun fire. The wildlife students watched in awe, no binoculars necessary for this close encounter with megafauna. You can hear their hushed excitement on this video: (video to come)

After swallowing her meal, she climbed slowly onto a fallen tree, eased her belly down, relaxed her legs, laid her chin on the tree and snoozed. Not even a hammock and a cocktail could have made her happier. She was one blissful reptile.

Goanna/Lace Monitor

Keep an eye out for the megafauna in the wilder parts of Australia – goannas live everywhere in Australia except for the cities and built-up areas (and the island of Tasmania). They are most active when temperatures are warm but not too hot (20C – 30C). We often see them on our 4 day Wildlife Journey to East Gippsland (where this story occurred) and occasionally on our Mungo Outback Journey and Wild Top End trips.

*Jacobson’s Organ – an odour-tasting organ in the mouth of monitor lizards and snakes

 

Friday Five: Great outdoor things to do this week 17 August 2012

Mungo!  This is a great time to be in Mungo!  Mungo is to Australia what the Taj Mahal is to India, and the Colloseum is to Italy.  Few know that on the south-western corner of NSW right near the Vic border is a site of world significance for humankind.  The oldest human ritual buirial IN THE WORLD occurs here.  The oldest human cremation IN THE WORLD – here.  The oldest group of human footprints IN THE WORLD.  Here again.  Not in Africa, not in Europe.  Here.  And, a dry lake bed full of wild Kangaroos, Emus.  Sand dunes littered with fossils.  UNBELIEVABLE.  Come with us on our Mungo Outback Journey. http://www.echidnawalkabout.com.au/en/tours/mungo-outback-journey  Or get yourself up there, stay in Wentworth (lovely Outback town) and get on a tour with Graeme Clarke at Harry Nanya Tours.  http://www.harrynanyatours.com.au/  We work with Graeme on our Mungo Outback Journey and he is awesome!

2. Birrarung Marr, Melbourne’s newest major park.  It is just east of the Federation Square complex on the north bank of the Yarra and an easy walk.  A great place for a picnic, or a refreshing stroll on a beautiful sunny winter day.  Views along the Yarra towards  Melbourne give you a sense for the land before the city grew: a bountiful place of river and hills. I don’t know what it is about this park that gives that feeling.  It is unlike any other park in Melbourne in its sense of long history.  The Aboriginal Culture of Melbourne is represented here, maybe that’s the special essence.  Touch-screen displays on the wall of the ArtPlay building have recordings of Aboriginal People telling their stories, and the art and sculpture throughout the park have a strong indigenous theme.  http://www.thatsmelbourne.com.au/Placestogo/ParksandGardens/AllParksandGardens/Pages/4433.aspx

3. Ian Potter Gallery of Australian Art.  Just near Birrarung Marr, and a great place to run to if it rains! It’s not really outdoors but it has pictures of the outdoors!  Watch out! This marvellous FREE gallery will trap you for several magical hours!  I never want to leave.  The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collections are incredible.  Ever wondered why Emily Kngwarreye’s paintings fetch millions?  For years I was a bit lost on that.  But then I went to Ian Potter and stood in the room with one of her enormous paintings and I was hooked.  No photographic representation does it, you have it to see the real thing.  Open Tuesday to Sunday 10 – 5.    http://www.fedsquare.com/culture/the-ian-potter-centre-ngv-australia/

4. Hidden Secrets Tours.  Get out into Melbourne’s laneways and cafes with an expert. This is a great way to see a city, with all its life and vibe – cities are living organisms, a bit like coral reefs.  All these creatures creating their own habitat!  The other great thing about these tours is that they are truly sustainable & eco-friendly!  It’s a walking tour!  No fuel required!  No takeaway cups – drink coffee in the way it should be drunk: from a proper cup sitting at a table! Support small, independent shops that employ local people and keep their profits here in Australia.

http://hiddensecretstours.com/

5.  Ouyen/Hattah Kulkyne NP. If you’re feeling the chill at the end of winter go north!  You don’t have to go to another state – just crossing the Great Divide takes you to a land of sunshine and sand.  Head north-west to Roger’s childhood home near Ouyen (south of Mildura).  Stay in a simple but comfortable motel, eat in the marvellous Ouyen Pub (great meals, great prices, very friendly locals!).  During the day head out to the Hattah Lakes and take a walk around a brimming lake in the middle of a desert.  Full of birds, it is just a wonderful place at this time of year. http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/hattah-kulkyne-national-park